Kirk Fell & Great Gable from Wasdale Head

2nd September 2023

It's ironic that after months of rain the weather broke on the first official weekend of autumn, with more warm sunshine forecast which I'm hoping to take advantage of with a couple of days of leave during the week. I would normally link Great Gable and Kirk Fell from the top of Honister Pass, collecting Grey Knotts and Brandreth before returning via Stone Cove and Drum Hause, but I've never climbed the two from Wasdale Head until today.

With David walking a rather epic route of the Kirkstone Pass fells with Kayleigh today, I'm joined by Rod and his daughter Louise, who you might remember joined us on the Blea Rigg to Tarn Crag walk a few weeks ago.

With a firm forecast, the walk was confirmed as early as Wednesday, and if anything, the forecast just got better and better. After what seemed like months of dreary weather, we finally got the green light to get our highs on two of Wasdale's most iconic summits.

Wainwright Guide Book Seven
The Western Fells
Linking with Great Gable is the depression of Beck Head to the east; westwards is a counterpart in Black Sail Pass.

Ascent: 3,436 Feet - 1,047 Metres
Wainwrights: 2, Kirk Fell - Great Gable
Visiting: Kirk Fell North Top
Weather: Warm Dry & Sunny Highs of 24°C Lows of 16°C Summit Cloud At Height
Parking: Car Park, Wasdale Head
Area: Western
Miles: 7.5
Walking With: Rod Hepplewhite & Louise Hepplewhite
Ordnance Survey: OL4
Time Taken: 6 Hours 30 Minutes
Route: Wasdale Head - Mosedale - Gatherstone Beck - Gatherstone Head - Top of Black Sail Pass - Kirkfell Crags - Kirk Fell - Kirk Fell North Top - Rib End - Beck Head - Great Gable - Breast Route - Sty Head - Moses Trod - Burnthwaite - Wasdale Head

Parking Details and Map
Nearest Post Code: CA20 1EX
Grid Reference: NY 186 708
Notes: Probably one of the more popular car parks in Lakeland due to its proximity to Scafell Pike meaning that the car park at Wasdale Head is very popular all year around and is large enough to accommodate around forty cars and mini buses. Despite its popularity you may only struggle to park here during mid Summer or late into the afternoon.


Map and Photo Gallery


Kirk Fell and Great Gable from Wasdale Head 16°C 8:00am
We had arranged to meet at 8:30am at Wasdale Head and despite getting stuck behind a petrol tanker between Grizebeck and Broughton Mills I managed to arrive early where I planned to take a few photos from the shores of Wast Water but I had to shelve the idea given the amount of traffic heading towards Wasdale Head. The car park was already half full with more cars arriving by the minute yet as always, Wasdale remained peaceful. I took my time kitting up in the warm morning sunshine as I waited for Rod and Louise to arrive.

Pillar seen beyond Wasdale Head Inn.

Rod and Louise arrived around 8:30am after explaining that they too had been stuck behind a tanker, although I doubt it was the same one. Rod and Louise began their kit up straight away, and within ten minutes we were ready to leave for Mosedale, unlike most of the car parks occupants who all seemed to be heading for Scafell Pike, a fine day for it, though.

We left the car park and headed towards The Inn walking against the traffic as we passed the Barn Door Shop before opening the gate at the side of Ritson's Bar, where Rod and Louise went for a quick toilet break. I used this time to remove my Montane hoodie, which I rolled into my pack before being joined by Louise and Rod minutes later. As we left, two women stopped to ask "was this the way to Scafell Pike" so I directed them back through the car park towards Brakenclose.

The Mosedale Valley with Red Pike (Wasdale) (left) and Pillar ahead.
With the hustle of Wasdale Head behind us we walked into an almost deserted Mosedale Valley with just two walkers a good way ahead of us.

Looking back on Yewbarrow, Stirrup Crag and Dore Head.
I don't think Rod and I can walk through Mosedale without exchanging our war stories on our numourous descents of Dorehead Screes seen centre right.

Guardian of Mosedale.
As we ascended towards Gatherstone Head we were watched by this nosey sheep who hadn't moved since we spotted her about 200 yards back down the path.

The top of Black Sail Pass from Gatherstone Head.
The temperature was rising now, and as a result, sweat had been rolling down my forehead for the last ten minutes, so as we crossed Gatherstone Beck I scupped a couple of handfuls of water over my face, then rinsed my buff in the water before wrapping it around my right wrist to help cool blood flow. Up ahead, we spotted three walkers top out on Black Sail Pass, their destination unknown.

Looking back on Looking Stead and Pillar.
While feeling thankful for the shade.

Old gate, top of Black Sail Pass with Brandreth and Fleetwith Pike beyond.
Louise reached the top of the pass first and waited for myself and Rod to arrive where we spent a few minutes taking in the views and surveying our ascent via Kirkfell Crags.

Kirkfell Crags on Kirk Fell.
We had the choice of ascending via one of two paths that split below the lower crags; two walkers were already on the right path, so we decided to ascend left between the two sets of crags which would eventually narrow into a gully.

Louise ascends towards the gully.
We were overtaken by two wild campers who, as it turned out, had camped at Scoat Tarn before heading over Pillar for an ascent on Kirk Fell and, after checking their map, only made it as far as where I stood to take this photo before heading back without comment. Louise waited for Rod and I to arrive before making the decision to clamber up onto the grass ledge above the gully. The reason for this was because a large boulder choked the head of the gully.

From the gully I take in the views into the Ennerdale Valley and beyond.
Looking towards Looking Stead, Black Sail Hostel, Hay Stacks, the top of Scarth Gap, High Crag, High Stile, Grasmoor, Whiteless Pike, Eel Crag, Sail, Scar Crags, Robinson, Hindscrath, Dale Head and finally Fleetwith Pike.

Kirk Fell North Top and Great Gable from Kirk Fell.
Louise waited for Rod and I to top out at the gully head before we all joined the shoulder of Kirk Fell bound for the summit.

Kirk Fell North Top, Green Gable and Great Gable from Kirk Fell.
Back in the sunshine we reached a deserted Kirk Fell summit but were soon joined by two women who we had seen ascending Kirkfell Crags earlier. After 'mornings' were exchanged we left the summit and made our way towards the tarns seen below.

One of two nameless Tarns on Kirk Fell.
The two tarns are divided by a narrow stretch of water, which usually requires a stride to cross, but after rain, this stride had turned into a four-foot gap. Rod went first, followed by Louise, then myself. 

Kirk Fell summit from the North Top.
As forecasted the cloud is beginning to build.

Green Gable and Great Gable seen beyond Beck Head.
Seen as we descend Rib End on Kirk Fell.

Views into Ennerdale from the ascent on Great Gable.
With the entire High Stile ridge in view from High Crag to Great Borne.

Views over Beck Head towards Kirk Fell, Pillar, Scoat Fell, Red Pike (Wasdale) and Haycock.

Louise continued to lead the ascent following the cairns that needlessly blended into the landscape. Louise sure has the walkers eye for detail. The path led us to a gully which I had remembered descending several winters ago. While we waited for Rod to catch up, we were joined by a solo walker who was ascending at good pace. We let him pass, and as he began his ascent on the gully he stopped and sat down. "Sorry, my vertigo has just hit me" he explained. Looking sheepish, he gathered himself as all three of us had a look of concern spread across our faces. We'll hang on a few minutes, mate, I explained. Make sure you're alright. "Nah, I'll be fine" and with that, we advised him of an alternative route that would avoid the gully.

Rod and Louise, Great Gable summit.
After scaling the rock gully, the summit of Great Gable came into view, which was only a short distance away. Talk about a direct ascent, I muttered. The summit was, as expected, busy, and after taking a couple of photos, we left agreeing that we should eat lunch at the Westmoorland Cairn.

Louise taking in the views over Wasdale Head.

Looking down on Tophet Bastion with Great Hell Gate seen left, and Little Hell Gate seen on the other side of the grassy ridge.
While heading towards the summit earlier I was sure I had spotted a friend of mine, Andrew Foster, and his dog, Billie, and sure enough, as we dropped down on the Westmoorland Cairn, there Andy was with Billie. This must be the third or fourth time I've 'bumped' into Andy on the fells the chances of which are pretty rare. Andy had ascended via Great Hell Gate, seen to the left, only accessible by a path that Wainwright named Gable Girdle, which is also used by climbers who go on to climb Napes Needle and the Sphinx Rock.

Whilst eating lunch... appeared from nowhere.

Cloud circling Tophet Bastion.
What better way than to enjoy lunch quietly immersed in this wonderful summit cloud.

Sty Head with The Band on Great End seen to the right and Seathwaite Fell to the left.
We left the summit and made our way over to the Breast Route while still in the cloud. The path was busy with walkers in descent, three of whom were in a world of their own as we clipped at their heels, ready for a break to pass them; even though they knew we were there, not one of them stepped aside to let the faster descenders pass.

Descending back to Wasdale Head.
Flanked by Lingmell and stunning views of Yewbarrow and Red Pike (Wasdale)

Looking back to Sty Head from the footbridge over Gable Beck.

After a few brief moments at Sty Head, we began our descent, which for the most part was rough underfoot, but the cloud drama and light in its wake were enough to take the descent off our minds. We continued with less breeze now which had been replaced by hot sunshine, and no matter how much I drank, I could feel my lips turning gooey through dehydration. Below, Lingmell Beck the plunge pools where hoards of sunbathers and swimmers enjoyed the autumn sunshine as if it were the first day of the summer holidays. With Gable Beck reached, we crossed the footbridge, from where I checked the path on Gavel Neese to see if I could see Andy in descent, but there was no sign of him. Despite the hot sun, we are flanked by bracken on the turn ready for autumn. As we joined the footpath through Burnthwaite Farm, Louise was delighted to spot three hens clucking away.

Footpath back to Wasdale Head, with more heading towards the plunge pools and a carpark full of sun-dazzled windscreens. Cars reached we began our kit down, removing boots while rubbing my feet through the heat of my socks. I don't know how Wasdale does it; there must be fifty to sixty cars here on one of the hottest weekends we've had in weeks but there's a calmness that surrounds the valley, the intimidation of being surrounded by England's highest ground.


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