Great Gable is a mountain lying at the very centre of the English Lake District, seen as a pyramid from Wasdale, but as a dome from most other directions. It is one of the most popular of the Lakeland fells, and there are a variety of different routes to the summit. Great Gable is connected by the high pass of Windy Gap to its smaller sister hill, Green Gable, and by the lower pass of Beck Head to its westerly neighbour, Kirk Fell.
Great Gable and its lesser known companion Green Gable rise at the head of Ennerdale, with the walkers’ pass of Sty Head to their back. This links Borrowdale to Wasdale, giving Gable a foothold in both valleys. The Borrowdale connection is quite tenuous, but Great Gable is domaneering presence of Wasdale in that it is paramount in almost any view up the lake. Once seen, the naming of the fell Great Gable needs little explanation.
The north face is formed by Gable Crag, prominent in vistas from Haystacks and the surrounding fells. This is the longest continuous wall of crag on the fell and reaches up virtually to the summit. Scree slopes drop away below to the headwaters of the River Liza, starting their long journey down Ennerdale.
There are few crags on the eastern slopes, although these drop steeply to Styhead Tarn, a main feeder of the Borrowdale system. Approximately 30 ft deep this tarn occupies a scooped hollow, dammed by boulders which have fallen from the slopes above. It is reputed to contain trout and is a popular location for campers. The southern flank of Great Gable drops 2,300 ft direct to Lingmell Beck, one of the main feeders of Wastwater.
Below the summit are the Westmorland Crags, and then a second level breaks out lower down. These are Kern Knotts, Raven Crag and Great Napes, all with great tongues of scree at their base. Last but not least on the west rough slopes fall below the rocks of White Napes to the narrow valley of Gable Beck, a tributary of Lingmell Beck.
From the north west corner of the pyramid the linking ridge to Kirk Fell runs out across the col of Beck Head (2,050 ft). There is a small tarn in the depression, and sometimes a second after heavy precipitation. Both are blind, seeming to have no apparent inlet or ouflow. Gable Beck runs southwards from Beck Head, while an unnamed tributary of the Liza flows north.
The main backbone of the Western Fells continues along the north east ridge to Green Gable, dropping to Windy Gap (2,460 ft) as it rounds the end of Gable Crag. This ridge is rough and rocky, further worn by the boots of numerous walkers. Stone Cove lies on the Ennerdale side whilst the rough gully of Aaron Slack runs down towards the Styhead Tarn.
The south east ridge provides the link to the Southern Fells, across the pass of Sty Head. This is a main crossroads for hikers and climbers, the summit being at around 1,560 ft. On the opposite side is Great End in the Scafells. Kern Knotts lies on the south eastern ridge, as does the small pool of Dry Tarn. The south western ridge provides high level connection, dropping down Gavel Neese in the angle between Lingmell Beck and Gable Beck.
Lying on the edge of the Scafell Syncline, the various strata dip towards the east. The summit area is made up of a dacite lava flow, Scafell Dacite, directly underlain by the Lingmell Formation. This tuff, lapilli tuff and breccia outcrops a little in a westerly direction from the summit. Around Beck Head is evidence of the Crinkle Member, welded rhyolitic tuff and lapilli-tuff with a little breccia. A dyke of andesite and hybridised andesite porphyry is forms Kern Knotts.
The summit of Great Gable is strewn with rocks and boulders and the tallest point marked by a rock outcrop set with a cairn.
Due to its prominent central position within the Lake District the summit has some of the best panoramic views of any peak in the area. All of the main fell groups are laid out, serried ranks of hills filling the skyline, although surprisingly Wast Water and Windermere are the only lakes that can be seen.
A hundred yards south west of the summit, overlooking the Napes, is the Westmorland Cairn. This cairn was constructed in 1876 by two brothers named Westmorland to mark what they considered to be the prime view in the Lake District. From here ground drops away into the profound abyss of upper Wasdale. More cairns mark the top of Gable Crag. It is testament to the high regard that many walkers and climbers have for Great Gable that the summit has become a popular site for the scattering of ashes following cremation.
Routes to ascend to the summit start from all of the main dales that radiate out from central Lakeland. From Wasdale the south west ridge up Gavel Neese provides the obvious, and subsequently steepest and roughest, line to take. This can be ended either via Little Hell Gate, a well named and atrocious scree gully, or more sedately at Beck Head.
The trek up Ennerdale is long, unless staying at Black Sail Youth Hostel and again Beck Head provides access to the summit area. Climbs from Borrowdale or Wasdale can also make use of Sty Head pass, before trudging up the south east ridge, or the scree filled Aaron Slack.
Finally Gatesgarth, near Buttermere, or the top of the Honister Pass can be used as starting points, traversing the high hinterland of Grey Knotts and Brandreth to arrive at Windy Gap or Beck Head. Among less direct ascents, a popular alternative is to climb Sour Milk Gill from Seathwaite in Borrowdale, first climbing Green Gable before traversing Windy Gap.
The ‘Gable Girdle’, a circuit around the fell at mid height, as described by Wainwright, links a number of existing paths, namely the north and south traverses, Sty Head Pass, Aaron Slack and Moses Trod. The south traverse climbs westward from Sty Head and gives access to the Napes and Kern Knotts for rock climbers.
The route is rough but allows the ordinary hillwalker to view Napes Needle, Sphinx Rock and many of the other famous climbs. The north traverse similarly runs under Gable Crag with more excellent rock scenery, arriving eventually at Windy Gap. In the west the two traverses are joined by a section of Moses Trod, which runs up the southern side of Beck Head. “Moses” was quite possibly an apocryphal trader-cum-smuggler, based at Honister Quarry.
Great Gable has cliffs to the north, Gable Crag and also to thensouth, Westmorland Crags, the Napes and Kern Knotts. The Napes are important in the history of English rock climbing: W. P. Haskett Smith’s climb of the remarkable detached pinnacle of Napes Needle in June 1886, now graded Hard Severe, is thought by most to mark the origins in England of rock climbing as a sport in its own right, as opposed to a necessary evil undergone by mountaineers on their way to the summit.
Those wishing to ascend Napes Needle should be warned that a safe descent is far harder to achieve than the ascent as there are no permanent anchors or bolts to abseil from.
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