Walking the Wainwrights in 30 Walks - Walk 9 The Gables and Kirk Fell

10th April 2016

I guess it's fair to say that days like today on the fells are what walkers dreams are made of, they come few and far between and I can count possibly on one hand how often I have walked with the sun shining down through a cloudless sky set against the whiteness of fresh snow underfoot, it's something of a rarity that should be grabbed by both hands.

From midweek I was able to plan this walk despite working on the Saturday as it turned out, Sunday was the best day of the weekend with blue skies forecast and showers which would fall as snow over higher ground and in fact, fell as low as the valleys.

So, I had my perfect forecast and all I needed was my walk which I had chosen as this one, another tough one considering I would be in work the next morning but worth it nevertheless due to its rewards, a favoured well trodden route of mine which collects six Wainwright summits starting and ending at Honister from where Grey Knotts is reached steeply from the Hause, thereafter and easily, Brandreth is summited. From Brandreth I head towards Green Gable over Gillercomb Head before switching back close to the summit of Green Gable for a descent on Base Brown then to re-ascend steeply back to gain Green Gable.

From the summit of Green Gable Great Gable is easily reached via Windy Gap before descending steeply over Beck Head before the sixth and last summit is collected in Kirk Fell, thereafter a glorious stroll back to Honister via Stone Cove and Moses Trod, all under a Spring Sun from end to end.

Wainwright Guide Book Seven
The Western Fells

-Great Gable

In appearance, too, Great Gable has the same appealing attributes. The name fits well. This mountain is strong yet not sturdy, masculine yet graceful. It is the undisputed overlord of the group of hills to which it belongs, and its superior height is emphasised tremendously by the deep gulf seperating it from the Scafells and allowing an impressive view that reveals the whole of its half-mile altitude as a unremitting and unbroken pyramid.


Ascent: 3,290 Feet - 1,003 Meters
Wainwrights: 6, Grey Knotts - Brandreth - Base Brown - Green Gable - Great Gable - Kirk Fell
Weather: Dry and Sunny Throughout. Highs of 13°C Lows of -1°C Feels Like -2°C
Parking: Parking Spaces, Honister Hause
Area: Western
Miles: 9
Walking With: On My Own
Ordnance Survey: OL4
Time Taken: 6 Hours 30 Minutes
Route: Honister Hause - Grey Knotts - Brandreth - Gillercomb Head - Base Brown - Green Gable - Windy Gap - Great Gable - Beck Head - Rib End - Kirk Fell - Rib End - Beck Head - Stone Cove - Moses Trod - Drum House - Honister Hause

Map and Photo Gallery


Blencathra from Castlerigg Stone Circle.
I was making good time so I decided to stop off at a few Lakeland hotspots to take advantage of the fresh snow and blue skies.

Looking in the other direction towards Skiddaw, Skiddaw Little Man and Lonscale Fell.
On the mornings of all mornings I had Castlerigg Stone Circle all to myself.

Cat Bells reflections over Derwent Water from Ashness Jetty.
Next I drove along the Borrowdale Road before stopping off at Ashness Jetty.

Cat Bells, Maiden Moor and High Spy reflections over Derwent Water.
It wasn't just me at Ashness Jetty, around three tri-pod camera's had been set up along the shoreline.

One last photo of Cat Bells before I leave.

Grey Knotts from Honister Slate Mine 08:00am -1°C

My good time keeping had now come and gone due to stopping by at Castlerigg and Ashness Jetty but it was worth it even managing to arrive at Honister Slate Mine just before eight am. Usually I would park further down Honister Pass at some convenient parking spaces no more than a ten minutes walk but seeing as time was of an essence today I decided to part with £3.50 and leave my car at the "Walkers and Wainwrights" car park, feeling rather humoured after reading a sign left by the Mine stating that if you didn't pay your car would be "Slated in" and not clamped, I only hoped they had the patience for me to pay on my return before "slating my car in"

I had to stop myself from rushing during kit up which normally sees me forget something vital so I parked my backside on the rear panel of the car and laced up not forgetting my Gaitors which have seen their fair share of action these last few months. Adding more layers seemed the right thing to do despite it feeling mild under the bright morning sunshine as sooner or later whilst on the tops I just knew I'd be reaching for the jacket again, where actualy hours into the walk it still felt mild across the summits as it did in the valleys, shows what I know but I stubbornly kept my jacket on anyway until the last summit.

Two Mine workers who I thought might like my £3.50 are struggling to start a generator which keeps starting then dying straight away after a big puff of black smoke is released, I deem the workers too busy and troubled this Sunday morning about my parking fee before stuffing the coins back into my pocket all the while feeling ready for the steep haul onto Grey Knotts summit whose path can be made out via a diagonal line seen running through the centre of the photo.

The ascent starts first over frozen ground with eye catching views over Honister Pass, Honister Crag and the Yew Crag Mines over on Dale Head while my ears were never far away from a generator which just didn't want to start.

Black Star, Dale Head and Hindscarth seen from my ascent on Grey Knotts.
Just in case you didn't notice, I'm in the snowline now which consisted of just a couple of centimeters of fresh powdery snow.

A long distance view over the Borrowdale side of the Honister Pass towards Blencathra and the Helvellyn Ridge.
It's just a case of following the wire fence all the way towards the summit, what you see from Honister Hause is probably only half of the actual fell, the good news is despite there being a few false summits along the way what you do see from the car park is the hardest part of the ascent. The fell side eases in steepness allowing the lungs to return to normal, another way of doing this is to stop and look back on your view which today, was enough to leave me speechless.

Valley mist rising above Seathwaite revealing Rosthwaite Fell, Seathwaite Fell, Glaramara , Allen Crags and Esk Pike.

Pillar from Grey Knotts summit cairn.

I keep with the fence line sometimes through frozen bog and at one point, a short scramble is required which a young child might enjoy, here the fence is in ruin due to walkers using it as an aid rather than pull themselves up over the rock which this morning was either covered in slime, ice or bone dry, but this was never a problem though as there are many other alternatives around the rock slab.

Soon after the fence pulls in sharply to the right revealing the summit crags from which the summit is easily reached via another rock shoulder although again, there are easier ways to gain the summit if you approach from the north.

It felt like Christmas as a child, stupid I know but during that short ascent on the summit I didn't want to look up, I wanted to savour the view from the top.

I wasn't to be disappointed.
Here we have Glaramara, Allen Crags, Esk Pike, Bow Fell, Great End, Seathwaite Fell, Broad Crag, Scafell Pike and finally Base Brown over the wonderfull Gillercomb Valley which is where I'm heading next after visiting my next summit of Brandreth.

Grey Knotts Tarn.
It wasn't the conditions that were going to hold me back today, It was the views, which were simply outstanding.

Brandreth, Green Gable and Great Gable from Grey Knotts Tarn.

Long distant views over Grey Knotts.
It's when presented with views such as these does the adventurous side come out in you, sometimes opting not to keep with the fence but to explore the views from the high points found along the ridge.

Such as this view over Fleetwith Pike and the North Western fells.
With the bulk of Grasmoor dominating the view as does Hindscarth Edge and Littledale Edge.

The Buttermere Valley with views as far as the Loweswater Fells.

Green Gable and Great Gable from Brandreth summit cairn.

Feeling rather spoilt with the stunning views in every direction including this view over Green Gable and Great Gable and to top it all, there wasn't another soul around, well, for now that is.

It's time to leave Brandreth and head out over Gillercomb Head towards Green Gable, but I won't be going all the way to the summit just yet.

Kirk Fell, Looking Stead, Pillar and in the distance, Red Pike (Wasdale) Scoat Fell and Haycock forming the Mosedale Horseshoe.

Looking south over Gillercomb towards the dominance of Great End, Esk Hause and Esk Pike.
I shall have to keep my eye on that cloud, theres an outside chance of a inversion creeping over but it remains confined to the Glaramara ridge. agreat treat for anyone over there today.

Great End, Allen Crags, Rossett Pike and Esk Pike views from my Brandreth descent.
I had long over stayed my time and Brandreth summit as I started to make the slight descent over Gillercomb Head before the steady slog towards Green Gable summit, for the first time this morning I had spotted movement below Green Gable seen somewhere in the rocky outcrops ahead.

Green Gable and Great Gable from Gillercomb Head.

Great Gable, Beck Head and Kirk Fell from Gillercomb Head.
Feeling utterly optimistic I utter the words, I shall be over there soon.

Kirk Fell, Pillar, Scoat Fell and Red Pike (Wasdale) as I pass one of the Tarns over Gillercomb Head
Note the Tarn isn't frozen which just showed how mild conditions are across the summits here today.

Blencathra seen with the Central and Eastern Ridges from Gillercomb Head.
Today was certainly a day for long distant views.

And close up ones for that matter...
Here's a close up of Allen Crags, Esk Hause, Great End and Esk Pike, a small capture of Sprinkling Tarn can be seen if you look closely.

Descending towards Base Brown.
It was a steady pull which saw me almost within ear shot of Green Gable's summit before I started my descent towards Base Brown where I tried to block out the memory that I would have to return the very same way, more so due to ice which had formed over much of the path, this however was avoidable but only as I got closer to the grassy col which divides Base Brown from Green Gable, here I step out on to the grass fearing it's best to slip on grass rather than rock.

A long distant view of Blencathra from Base Brown summit cairn.
As wonderful as the views were, it was now time to head back.

Here, stopping to look back on Base Brown and the row of stone cairns that line the path towards Green Gable summit.

After leaving Base Brown summit I soon found myself at the grassy col which is probably where I geared myself up for the tricky ice lined path ahead, I again had the option (lower down) to ascend via the grass which flanked both sides of the path but I chose to ascend directly and dealt with the ice which I might add was avoidable at all times, if anything all it cost was to keep a constant eye underfoot.

Shortly after taking this photo another walker is sighted who had just arrived at the Col no doubt from the Gillercomb Valley, I could see that the chap was wearing shorts and it looked like he was layering up, a wise decision, perhaps he too had felt the chill with the more height gained.

The valleys of Ennerdale and Buttermere from Green Gable summit

I soon reached the summit of Green Gable and was surprised to find it to myself, not that I was complaining mind. Below, and in the distance I could see two walkers making their ascent via what would seem a pathless route above Moses Trod and below Brandreth's summit, their figures moved slow over the snow covered ground.

The chill I had felt just below the summit of Green Gable had returned but I momentarily chose to ignore the almost 'instant' pain I felt in my fingers caused by the wind chill instead veering away from the summit cairn before quickly returning consciously thinking, it's not going to get any milder from here on in.

A wise decision to de-shoulder adding my hat and gloves before striking out from the summit for the second time towards Windy Gap.

Great Gable from Green Gable.

Descending Windy Gap.

The descent was as familiar as ever with a loose path underfoot, here the snow was still fresh and powdery and didn't cause any issues whatsoever, on a positive note the path ahead looked positively free from snow which should mean for a speedy ascent.

But before all that I pass the four walkers who had ascended from Styhead Tarn via Aaron Slack, 'mornings' are passed as was a brief chat about the views before they started their ascent on Green Gable and me, Great Gable, it wasn't to be our last meeting of the day but more on that later.

The Ennerdale valley from Windy Gap.

Not far from the summit now.

I had left the walkers taking in the views of Styhead Tarn and the Ennerdale Valley back at Windy Gap, I only stopped once to look around as I saw them approach Green Gable summit. Looking back although it probably didn't feel it at the time I had made it towards the summit in what felt like no time at all only encountering snow drifts from the shoulder, then across the plateau towards the Memorial Plaque while following a single set of footprints ahead of me.

Great Gable summit and FRCC World War Memorial.
It was simply amazing to find myself on Great Gable totally alone, next I did something I have only ever done once before and that was to climb to the top of the summit rock and take in the mountain scenery before me.

Scafell Pike, Sca Fell, Piers Gill and Lingmell from Great Gable.
And once again I found myself finding more reasons to stay than to leave, but I couldn't stay here no matter how much I wanted, Kirk Fell is calling.

Kirk Fell seen over Beck Head and Beck Head Tarn.
I had left the summit behind and soon, spotted the walker I had seen at the Col between Base Brown and Green Gable, he's still wearing shorts and sporting a long grey beard, I just got the feeling he was of experience from just the one glance. A wave is passed followed by a nod as I follow the successive stone cairns towards the north ridge, a descent that I have never attempted before in snow.

Decending the north ridge with views of Beck Head.

It's a tricky and sometimes skillful descent even in the best of conditions and todays descent took some patience, best not to rush under such conditions. I follow the stone cairns and indeed a set of boot and paw prints negotiating the awkward twisting path laced with boulders after every turn. Soon a rock step was reached which in ascent is nothing to get bothered about, yet here in descent, under the shadow of the mass of Great Gable extremely careful footings are required and I don't mind admitting most of this rock step was descended by easing my backside down rather than to outskill the slippery rock.

Having committed by throwing my walking poles ahead first I eyed up my route, then thought about where I was about to place my hands (clearing the snow from the rock first) having already packed my gloves away the snow felt cold but it was the needy thing to do. Once the route had been set I ungracefully eased myself down feeling that something had been achieved along the way as I glanced back up at the cold rock, sometimes allowing the sun to shine through brightly by stepping sideways.

With the rock step behind me, and thankfully my poles wrapped back around my wrist I continued my descent as it would seem I wasn't completely out of the woods just yet, I made the mistake of keeping my eyes on the path and not what was ahead which steered me via a row of cairns towards Stone Cove and not Beck Head which was starting to disappear from view. I took light of the situation spotting a point along the narrow path from which I could descend no more, from here I track back towards Beck Head via a narrow climbers path before re-emerging overlooking Beck Head which was by now in brilliant sunshine, I brushed away the snow from my Gaiters, nipped my trousers up and started the last part of descent.

Looking back up the north west ridge.
I had spotted these three walkers and their dog during my descent but thought that I had missed them soon realising that they were still below me as we stopped to chat about how good the conditions were, the walkers spoke with experience and their intrepid full days spent on the fells in their younger days admiring my own route at the same time, not forgetting the elderly lady who wore a pair of metal 'Ernest Shakleton' type sun glasses.

Wast Water, Illgill Head and Yewbarrow from Beck Head.

Views over Green Gable and Great Gable from my ascent on Kirk Fell via Rib End.

Great Gable over Beck Head.
Beck Head Tarns shimmered under the approaching midday sun, despite the three walkers I had just passed I was lucky enough to have Beck Head to myself. Feeling head strong I don't stop and strike out passing the larger of the two tarns which by now had lost its glimmer as the sun was momentarily blocked by passing cloud, the sunlight soon returned leaving my ascent a rather sticky one as I ascended my way over Rib End pausing not because I needed too, but to look back on Great Gable from my commanding position.

Great Gable from my ascent on Kirk Fell.

Scafell Pike, Mickledore, Sca Fell and Lingmell from Kirk Fell.
Despite Kirk Fells brutally steep south ridge the ascent from Beck Head is nothing more than a steady tramp were even after a hard day on the fells the views are enough to take any aches or pains away, especially on a day like today.

Kirk Fell summit is just ahead.
After ascent on Rib End Kirk Fell's grassy summit plateau was soon reached under what felt like a blazing hot afternoon sun yet despite the blue skies once the ascent was behind me the cold summit wind started to cool things down. Here for the first time in as many summits there was no need to visit the north summit (out of shot and over to the right) instead I make a steady line towards the main summit soon passing a young couple, nods are passed and with a little eagerness I'm starting to assume I may get Kirk Fell summit to myself too.

The Scafells over Lingmell from Kirk Fell summit.

The grassy plateau soon gave way for scattered rock underfoot during the last pull towards the summit where I found a chap sitting in the summit shelter enjoying his lunch, there was plenty of room in the shelter for me but it felt like I would be invading his privacy so I hooked myself around the back of the shelter and out of the wind, finding a large boulder to sit on I start to de-shoulder my pack and start to eat lunch, all the while looking across to the Scafells.

I'd certainly found the best table in the house.

Soon a woman approaches from the south ridge and passes with a hi, the chap in the shelter is just about ready to leave and she too it would seem didn't want to invade his privacy of 'feel cramped' soon finding a rock to sit on about five paces behind me, we never spoke until I was ready to leave where we struck up conversation on her ascent from Wasdale Head via the south ridge...I've got to admire your determination I remarked, she replied that she would normally walk with her husband who couldn't make it today and that she had climbed via the south ridge before and felt comfortable doing it again on her own, and that, it was her way down too, she spoke of the fells with a fondness before we parted with 'enjoy the rest of your day'

I re-shouldered and before hand I thought about leaving my jacket off but the cool summit wind went right through me once I stood up as it was decided, I'd try to get warm again before de-layering.

Great Gable seen with Great End from Kirk Fell Tarn.

Great Gable and the Napes over Beck Head
Taken during my descent of Rib End.

Views over Beck Head, Great Gable, Stone Cove and Green Gable.

It was time to start my descent onto Beck Head, at which point four walkers are sighted making their own ascent, I soon make out that it's the same four walkers that I had chatted to on Windy Gap some hours ago as we stop to chat again more about how well the day had turned out, it was only afterwards did I consider their starting point which must have been Wasdale Head to Styhead then Aaron Slack and so on.

In this photo my route back to Honister can be seen first by making a little (felt much more at the time!) re-ascent onto the base of Gables north ridge before descending into Stone Cove from where I'll pick up the Moses Trod path below Brandreth also flanking Grey Knotts towards the Drum House before descending back to Honister, it felt like the home run and I was more than pleased with my time and to celebrate this, I finally took my jacket off and rolled up my sleeves.

Green Gable and Greengable Crag seen towering above Stone Cove.
This is a very rewarding part of the walk, feeling relaxed I kick down a gear and enjoy my walk back to Honister.

Kirk Fell is viewed with Pillar and on the other side of the valley Hay Stacks is seen with the High Stile Ridge extending all the way to Great Borne at the end of the Ennerdale Valley.
Mouth watering views as I start to bring my walk to a close.

Green Gable, Windy Gap and Great Gable from Stone Cove.

Views over the Ennerdale Valley towards Kirk Fell, the top of the Black Sail Pass, Looking Stead, Pillar, Black Crag and Scoat Fell.

The Buttermere Valley.

The sun was still beaming down and the white parts of my skin are now starting to turn a light brown, indeed the windchill has put some colour on my cheeks which I'm sure will be the start off as a nice sun tan. Ahead as I approach Drum House walkers are sighted some on route towards Dubs Hut and beyond, others on their way back to their cars the same as I am.

I flick my camera to the off position and draw closure on todays walk as I head towards Drum Hause passing folk just out for a short walk from Honister taking advantage as I have of a glorious day in Lakeland. Already the snow was starting to melt and had completely disappeared from the Grasmoor Fells and on a wider scale towards Skiddaw and Blencathra too, but it had done its job securing a delightful last reminder of winter somewhere in between Spring and Summer.

I don't think we could ask anymore from mother nature than we got today in Lakeland.


Back to top