Penny above Styhead Tarn
On Saturday the prospect of cloud free summits and gentle winds tempted us to head to Wasdale and Great Gable. Penny felt like she had more energy than recently (now 15 weeks pregnant)
and so we decided to walk to Styhead and then make a decision on whether to go for the summit, climb up to Windy Gap and then return via Beck Head or to traverse under the Napes.
After a few days with little motivation due to some typically grey and damp Lakeland weather we decided that it was time for some proper exercise. Our plan did involve cheating slightly by starting at Honister Pass (350m) but then it would be a good walk ticking five Wainwrights, Grey Knotts, Brandreth, Green Gable, Great Gable and Base Brown. We were keen to make the most of the weather, with the potential for views into Buttermere, Ennerdale, Borrowdale and from the top of Great Gable Wasdale so we started late as the clouds were forecast to lift.
Ennerdale Water and Crummock Water from Brandreth
We followed the path next to the fence directly up from the national trust car park to the summit of Grey Knotts, it was a bit of a slog but you can’t complain if 45 minutes of exercise puts you at 700m. Here we found a sheltered spot overlooking Buttermere and the High Stile range and had our lunch. Brandreth is a short relatively level walk from Grey Knotts. It is excellently positioned for views into both Buttermere and Ennerdale. From Brandreth we got our first views of Great Gable; its summit was in the cloud but I was optimistic about the clouds continuing to lift.
Ennerdale from Green Gable
A short descent and slightly longer climb took us to the summit of Green Gable. Wainwright comments about how many people cross Green Gable on their way to Great Gable and how it literally lives in the shadow of its bigger neighbour. I was impressed with the views of Gable Crag (this contains Engineers Slab VS, a Hard Rock route) and again the head of Ennerdale. From here we descended 60m to Windy Gap which we last visited with Brad and Kristen in severe winter conditions
Us on the summit of Great Gable
The final climb up the summit of Great Gable involved a climb of about 150m. The path whist rocky and steep was in good condition, Wainwright recommends this as the best of the routes to and from the top of Great Gable. From the top we could see the familiar sights of Wasdale. Scafell was clearly visible with it huge crags but the summit of Scafell Pike was in the clouds. To reach Base Brown we had to retrace our route back to Green Gable. When we reached Windy Gap we were asked to help a couple of coast to coast walkers to get to Honister youth hostel. They had kept going too far up the valley and had walked off their map. We told them of our route of ascent and used their camera to take a photo of our map just in case they needed it.
Base Brown was a pleasant surprise, it has views west across the hanging valley of Gillercombe to Gillercombe Buttress and views east into Seathwaite. As we continued north the ridge ended and we followed an interesting path down before heading cross-country to cross Sour Milk Gill, head past Seathwaite Slabs and over ‘the last hill’ to reach a point overlooking Honister. All that was left was the descent to the car and then a stop at Gatescarth Farm for large well-deserved ice creams!
The team with Ennerdale behind
After a short day out on Friday (icy paths, poor vis and an assempt on Catbells) Penny, Kristen, Band and I headed to Wasdale to circumnavigate Great Gable.
The forecast was for a cloud base of about 700m, brisk north-westerly going north-easterly winds and a slight chance of snow showers. The plan was ingenious to stay low until Styhead and then climb to Windy Gap. By this time the wind should be on our backs for the return to Wasdale.
A rapid lunch
As we walked up to Styhead Brad and I were eyeing up the may snow and iced up gullies. Piers Gill, Skew Gill and Straight Gill all looked in condition and I fear our wives may not have shared our enthusiasm. It became very wintery as we approached Styhead and the contour round to the gully leading to Windy Gap went through a couple of very deep drifts in small stream beds.
The slog to Windy Gap was unpleasant, spindrft was everywhere and the wind was in our faces. We stopped about halfway up for a hurried lunch. The drifts at the col were impressive, reminiscent of the cols I ski toured over last year between Austria and Switzerland. A swift descent into Ennerdale saw the conditions improve considerably and the view towards the sea was spectacular (see photo).
All that was left was to descend down to Wasdale. It was good day out, choosing an appropriate route for the weather and very satisfying. I fear the group who failed to make it back to the Black Sail Hut may not have had such a good day.