The Gable Girdle

27th July 2012

Its fair to say that this gem of a walk had been lying in waiting just for that perfect day & seeing as we are all experiencing a little sun after that dismal June, said walk kinda crept out of the closet & every so gently at the start of the week, came a knocking at my head.

This however wasn’t the The Gable Girdle, what had been lying covered in dust was Great Gable’s South Traverse & something that had been beating at me for well over twelve months. I then got it in my head that The South Traverse demanded attention & a whole lot of respect, coming from experience I was right to have my precautions. The South Traverse follows an almost parallel line across the southern flank of Great Gable & the mighty Great Napes, then taking in one of Lakelands most veered spectacles; The Napes Needle. Two words in; the Great Napes & the Napes Needle was once considered far beyond reach for yours truly.

But it is not, if you are cautious.

Wainwright described the route as a doddle compared with Jack’s Rake or even Lord’s Rake & quite right too. There is no feeling of exposure whatsoever & yet as dramatic as the South Traverse is, I think like the previous Rake’s mention that I would only ever attempt the South Traverse in conditions as I had today, that is off course my own thoughts on the subject.

After I had initially decided that I would gain Great Gable’s summit via The Girdle route, it was only then that my pig headed & stubborn mind set in, I so wanted the weather to be just right.

This involved me engaging the weather forecast on a hourly basis, cometh the last 24 Its heart breaking & soul destroying watching those forecasts, especially when there is something bursting to get out.

I had what seemed an even keel, but I had to put some trust in said forecasters, it seemed Lakeland would be blanketed by a band of showers that would slowly spread east as the morning went on.

My trust prevailed & despite me only reaching Lakeland at an unusual mid-morning, it was clear to see that; indeed the showers had passed & beyond the breaks in the cloud, the sun was raring to appear, this gave me the final nod for The Gable Girdle.

This is the finest mountain walk in the district that does not aim to reach the summit. A.W

Wainwright Guidebook
The Western Fells

It is not level going: the route lies between 1500’ and 2500’, with many ups and downs. There are rough places to negotiate and nasty scree to cross and climb, but no danger or difficulties. It is a doddle compared to Jack’s Rake or even Lord’s Rake. Here one never had the feeling that the end is nigh.

Boots, not shoes, should be worn and they must have soles with a firm grip, or there will be trouble on the boulders. There are few sections where the splendid views may be admired while walking: always stop to look around. The small children, who are natural scramblers, and well–behaved women – but nagging wife’s should be left to paddle their feet in Styhead Tarn.

The journey demands and deserves concentration.


Ascent: 3,372 Feet 1,028 Metres
Wainwrights: 1, Great Gable
Weather: Overcast With Sunny Spells, Humid. Highs Of 18°C Lows Of 16°C
Parking: Wasdale Head (F O C)
Area: Western
Miles: 6
Walking With: On my own
Ordnance Survey: OL4
Time Taken:

5 Hours

Route: Wasdale Head – Moses Trod – Gavel Neese – Beck Head – Great Gable – Westmorland Cairn – Sty Head Stretcher Box – South Traverse – Napes Needle – Sphinx Rock – Gavel Neese – Moses Finger – Moses Trod – Wasdale Head

Map and Photo Gallery


The Gable Girdle route in 3D


10:44am 16°C

Great Gable from Burnthwaite Farm.

I arrived at Wasdale head after what felt like an incredibly long journey, adding to this was the de-tour that now takes you through Gosforth upon further road construction at the Santon/Wasdale junction. I find myself following a stream of equally confused motorist through the narrow lanes as I enter Gosforth at 20mph. It’s six miles from the centre of the village & this takes an incredible half an hour due to the fact that the car in front on me isn’t used to driving on narrow lanes.

Parking was easy for the school holidays I thought to myself, the cars already parked were awkward in the fact; that they had all boxed each other in – all facing the camp site, this I have never seen before as I head for a grass verge & out of the way.

It takes me no less that five minutes to kit up, door closed, tailgate down, boots laced, & I’m outta there.


Great Gable before crossing Lingmell Beck.

Inspiration was coming by the bucket load, I hadn’t felt so inspired to get boot onto fell since I climbed Sharp Edge some months ago.

This of course will wear off the moment I hit the fell side, but boy did it put me in good stead.

As I cross the bridge I notice this young chap sketching a scene from Lingmell Beck, inspiration at work again I thought.

The cairn on the other side of the bridge marks the path for the steep ascent on Gavel Neese, as you can see it starts of over grassy hillside until the scenery changes to rock underfoot, renaissance of Kirk fell & indeed Lingmell occur here!


Lingmell, Lingmell Beck, Wasdale Head, Yewbarrow, Illgill Head & Wast Water from the steep climb.

It certainly doesn’t take long for the views to open up & are a constant reminder just over your shoulder as I itch my way up the steep grassy path.


Did I mention it was steep!

Here looking towards Gavel Neese, The Napes & Beck Head towards the left.


Commanding views over Wasdale.


The Napes from Gavel Neese.

The Napes really start to dominate the climb as I pause for thought as to what lies ahead, here I am about to leave the comfort of this rocky staircase & flank left for a boulder-some path. From down below the path to Beck Head gives the walker a false sense of security upon reaching it for indeed the steep climb continues.

Yet on the plus side, its not very far to go & once at Beck Head the hard work is done for the rest of the walk!


Beck Head beckons with the comforting sound of Gable Beck for company.


Kirk Fell, Beck Head & Beckhead Tarn.

It was time for a quick breather before the onslaught of a rough climb to reach Great Gable’s summit just over my shoulder. Beck Head is a place I failed to reach during almost whiteout conditions in January this year whilst on an assault on Kirk Fell & Great Gable so seeing it as tranquil as today brought back some great memories & a perspective on how both Kirk Fell & Great Gable are linked together.

The views from Beck Head in conditions as I had today were simply outstanding…


The Ennerdale Valley & something I have never witnessed before, the whole High Stile Ridge with Haystacks on the near right stretching over Scarth Gap to the huge bulk of High Stile incorporating High Crag & Red Pike (Buttermere) further along the ridge we have Starling Dodd & last but not least Great Borne.

Time for the final assault.


Gable Crags from the foot of the path.

This, besides the South Traverse of whichl I was yet to encounter was a highlight of the whole walk & was definitely right up my street, the path starts off in a zig-zag fashion easing the steepness away from the climb, don’t worry about loosing the path here as there seems to be at least three paths on the ascent that all meet up on the same path anyway. I followed a path towards the right of the climb however upon reaching the top of the crags I was greeted with a more substantial path with huge cairns over towards my left.

I kinda let out a D’oh! but in this the path that I used was just as substantial, just without the cairns, what am I going on about! all paths lead to the summit!


Green Gable & Green Gable Crag.

Green Gable was looking busy today as I spotted quite a few walkers leaving its summit for Windy Gap sadly out of shot just to right no doubt heading for a summit on Great Gable. The path you see is the Black Sail pass leading into the Ennerdale Valley, one I am yet to grace myself.


Looking north over Brandreth & Grey Knotts & a selection of the north western fells. Blencathra can be seen in the very far distance in the right of the picture.


Looking over Kirk Fell & Beck Head from a little higher up the path.


Glorious Ennerdale & the High Stile Ridge, over on the right is the dominance of Grasmore.


Time to get gritty.

I loved the final ascent or scurry as I like to put it, it looks a tiresome affair but in actual fact this ascent over stationary boulder was a little adrenalin pumped twenty minutes.


Looking back on Kirk Fell, this time showing the summit plateau together with Pillar Scoat Fell, Steeple & Haycock in the background.


Approaching the summit.


Great Gable summit.

There was lots of people around the summit, mostly as predicted coming up from either Green Gable or Styhead Tarn. I circle the summit looking for somewhere to sit as I nod my good morning to a couple much the same age as me, I come to rest at the memorial plaque & take out my sandwiches.

It feels surreal for a moment, frozen in time even, given the fact that I share the summit with at least 15/20 other people there is not a breath of wind & the air is silence, just how I like it.

I took this picture of this guy with one hand on my camera, It was a split second picture as I was just about to put the camera down -  the sun had been obscured behind cloud as the guy span around in a panoramic fashion calmly & slowly holding his camera.

I must thank him one day for the summit shot, but I doubt I’ll ever see him again!


Wast Water from the Westmorland Cairn.

Found a 150 yards away from Great Gable’s summit is the Westmorland Cairn, erected in 1878 by two brothers of the name Westmorland. The Westmorland brothers considered this sight to be the finest mountain viewpoint in the whole of Lakeland & you have to agree, it really is stunning setting.

Directly beneath the Westmorland Cairn sits the might Napes, nervously I shudder along the edge for a quick picture…


The Great Napes, ok Paul, back up.

This photograph comes absolutely no-where near the presence that I felt as I took it, its just the one photo & to be perfectly honest it isn’t even that good, but what it doesn’t show is the sheer magnitude of Great Hell Gate’s scree run & the top of the Napes.

The South Traverse runs underneath this magnificent vast outcrop of famous Lakeland rock & in a little while I shall be in amongst it.

Leg wobble? Damn Straight!

Please take a look at the next photograph of the Great Napes taken back in May from Lingmell seen in the above picture.


A, White Napes

B, Rock Island

C, Little Hell Gate

D, Sphinx / Cat Rock

E, Napes Needle

F, Needle Gully

G, Ridge

H, Westmorland Crags

I, Westmorland Cairn

J, Great Gable Summit

K, Hell Gate Pillar

L, Great Hell Gate

The last but one photo was taken at I’ the Westmorland Cairn, maybe its a good idea that  I couldn’t see what laid in wait beneath me.


Also taken from the Westmorland Cairn was this shot I took of the Scafell Range, the photo again doesn’t do the view any justice in that this is possibly the highest regarded ridge in the whole of England & for some including myself the UK.

The ridge starts of with Skew Gill beneath Great End’s summit over on the far left – continuing along towards Ill Crag, Broad Crag & Scafell Pike & Sca Fell & Slight Side. Underneath the ridge runs the Corridor Route & the magnificent Piers Gill & Lingmell Beck, on the right & in the foreground is Lingmell.


Leaving the summit behind for the descent to Styhead.


Seathwaite Fell, Styhead Tarn & Sprinkling Tarn from my descent.


Styhead Stretcher Box.

It was only a brief stop at the Stretcher Box mainly for this photograph as I was only here two weeks ago & back then the Stretcher Box was pretty crowded with walkers.

Behind the Stretcher Box & to the right is the start if the South Traverse marked by a solitary cairn, but first…


A photo of Skew Gill & Great End from the start of the South Traverse.


And Piers Gill & Lingmell.


High Kern Knotts from the start of the Traverse.

The adrenalin starts to pump…


Crossing the lower Crags on Kern Knotts.

This was my first taste of the South Traverse & it certainly got the heart pumping, a short scurry over huge boulders was met afterwards by an equally tricky yet enjoyable descent down to the patch of grass you see lower left.


The Great Napes lie in wait, but first its a scree crossing across Great Hell’s Gate, my route shown below.



Looking up on Great Hells Gate.


After leaving Great Hells Gate a small cave is passed; the only place that provides shelter & indeed water along the South Traverse.


After a short whole another scree section is traversed, here looking towards Hell Gate Pillar & the Tophet Bastion.

I press on…


Until I spot my first close up & personal viewing of Napes Needle.


Napes Needle.

Sadly for me this was about how close I will get to this Lakeland spectacle.

I leave the South Traverse beneath me for an assault on the rugged crags to get a closer & more in-line shot of the Needle, this requires an approximately 130 ft climb firstly over a section of loose scree which then moulds away to a grassy ridge, this is done with care as I prepare lo leave the ridge for a final climb over huge rock, it is here I claim defeat & retreat back down to the grassy ridge.

I have always gone along with the notion in that; should I have to question myself the first answer that comes to mind is always the one I will take. The final climb to the second rocky ridge was just to far & I deemed it unsafe for me to continue, I retreat back down the loose gully.


Napes Needle from the Dress Circle.


The Cat Rock.

The Cat Rock is essentially the Sphinx Rock except seen from a different angle, as I make my way around the traverse beneath the Cat Rock I find another scree ascent is needed.


This time I go for it.

The Cat Rock is now at an angle where it changes transformation into the head of an Egyptian Sphinx.

The Sphinx is seen centre left & as with the Napes Needle requires an ascent over scree, grass & a little scramble towards the top. Locating & reaching the Sphinx seemed to be safer so with the adrenalin pumping the tired legs I make the ascent.

It most definitely was worth it…


The Sphinx Rock.


The Sphinx Rock.

The climb towards the ridge where I took this photo was probably on the edge of my climbing capabilities, either that or the adrenalin was refusing to push me any further, getting back down to the path required a questionable amount of concentration on my part if not only just to reach the loose scree.

I pick my way back down the huge slabs of rock at times snagging my walking pole in the process, I feel myself getting a little irritable as the tiredness from the ascent/descent kicks in.

I promise myself a small rest when I reach the path below not before an extremely loose yet slightly enjoyable descent via the loose scree & my arse.

It is here I take away a small piece of the South Traverse right underneath my finger nails!


Looking back on Little Hell Gate.

One hell of an odd encounter if I ever saw one.

As I approach Little Little Hell gate I hear the distinct noise of loose scree sliding down the fell side, at this point I am un-aware of where it is coming from as I yet to breach the set of Crags you see in the picture.

As I round the crags it becomes apparent that two people, a man & a women the same age as me are sliding down Little Hell Gate on their backsides, the woman screams at one point not knowing if her slide is going to stop, it does & she comes to rest right on the path.

As of yet they haven’t seen me & when they do they appear a little startled, they appear friendly as I soon realise they are the same couple I nodded good morning to a little over an hour ago whilst at the summit. Erm… is there a path here the guy asked? Your stood right on it I explain to the guys wife who hasn’t moved since her emergency scree stop. What? right ok? is there a path from the summit? me still not believing that this couple slid all the way down from the summit on Little Hells Gate, it shows a path on the map the guy says, I check my map & indeed there is a path from the summit, it appears mate, your a little of course, the path is probably a good 80 metres in the opposite direction, oh right he replies, We share a laugh after they realise their mistake as I point them back along the South Traverse & in search of Styhead Tarn.

A couple of things gave me pause for thought as I left them was just how non-panicky the couple were? If that had been me sharing a joke would of been the last thing on my mind, maybe people react differently? one thing I know is they sure were glad to see a friendly face.


Wasdale is left overcast before I re-join with Gavel Neese for the final descent.


Wasdale from Moses Finger.

I head down Gavel Neese for my final descent of the day, with now tired feet above all else as I look down at my boots & think; you lads have earned your keep today, I have put you through hell (literally) & you have not let me down.

The descent is matching anything along the traverse, its loose as I lean all my weight into the fell causing little rock slides along my way, this is Gables way of telling me you are not truly off the mountain yet, I yearn for the grassy stuff to cushion my aching feet & as steep as it was I form a trot because right now all I want to do is wash my now red dirt hands & dip my head in Lingmell Beck.

Lingmell Beck is finally reached as I throw of my pack & almost have a stand up bath at her shoreline, this feels good. It is here also I treat my boots to a wash within her rapids.

I wander back to my pack & perch myself upon a boulder & eat the remainder of my lunch, Chicken Mayo sandwiches washed down with Robinsons fruit juice.

A sausage roll for afters wasn’t the best Idea, I might as well of stuffed a packet of crackers into my dehydrated body, it takes me neon to chew & swallow as again I finish of the remainder of my hydration pack with long gulps of Robinsons.

I just wanted to pay one final place a visit before I get back to the car.


St Olaf’s Church, Wasdale.

Buried within a coppice of trees lies England’s smallest church. It is said that the there has been an Altar Stone here dating back 1’000 years. The grave yard is home to many a climber who have died conquering the fells spanning back hundreds of years.


The roof beams are said to have come from Viking Ships.


The beautiful stained glass window found behind the Altar at St Olaf’s.


The World War One war memorial to the fallen members of the Fell & Rock Climbing Club depicting Napes Needle in the south window at St Olaf’s.


Back to top