One Minute Mountain: Great Gable

Bite-sized intros to Britain's favourite hills. This month Alex Roddie heads to Great Gable, the symbolic heart of mountain Lakeland.


A perfect day in Wasdale  © Pavement Monkey
A perfect day in Wasdale
© Pavement Monkey, Feb 2010

Height: 899m (2949ft)

Personality: Iconic. From some angles it's a big hulking splodge that's been likened to the head of a giant octopus; but seen from its most celebrated side Great Gable is a graceful pyramid soaring above Wasdale Head. Centrepiece of the Lake District National Park logo, it has a symmetry of form unusual in Lakeland fells: blunt ridges, and smooth, sweeping flanks rising up from the valleys below to the crags near the summit.

What's in a name? It's thought that the name Great Gable is purely descriptive: the Wasdale aspect does look rather like the gable end of a house.

The experts say: According to Lakeland guru Wainwright (heard of him?), 'The truth is, Great Gable casts a spell. It starts as an honourable adversary and becomes a friend.'

Best feature: Napes Needle is an 18m spire of rock concealed amongst the crags of the Great Napes on the southern flank of the mountain. First climbed in 1886 by W.P. Haskett Smith, it's still a popular objective for rock climbers and may be easily viewed by walkers on the South Traverse.

great night on napes needle  © tjmillen
great night on napes needle
© tjmillen, May 2009

Greatest route? The most interesting route starts at Sty Head, cutting directly across the flank of Gable via the South Traverse, otherwise known as the Climber's Traverse. Passing below the crags of The Napes and the famous Napes Needle, this rising line takes the walker through spectacular rock scenery. There's a little scrambling and plenty of loose scree along the way. After following the South Traverse all the way to Beck Head, continue to the summit up the rocky NW Ridge. A full-on scrambler's alternative line on this route will see you 'threading the Needle' before climbing the exposed crest of Sphinx Ridge - see the UKH Route Card here.

Who does it? Great Gable is one of the most popular fells in the Lake District, and climbed by hillwalkers of all ages and abilities. Rock climbers flock to the Great Napes during the summer, and winter climbers to Gable Crag on the north side. Every November, a Remembrance Day service is held on the summit, originally to commemorate members of the Fell and Rock Climbing Club who were killed during the First World War. The annual event now attracts hundreds of walkers.

Pub quiz trivia: Great Gable has more history than most peaks. But even if you know all about the climbing history, you might not know about the ruined smuggler's hut concealed on Gable Crag not far below the summit.

Where to stay? Wasdale Head has two campsites; I favour the basic site across from the pub. If you'd rather have a roof over your head, the Wasdale Head Inn offers accommodation.

Local boozer: Ritson's Bar at the Wasdale Head Inn is the spiritual home of Lakeland mountaineering, and always has a fine selection of ales on tap.

Ruth and a raven on Great Gable looking down Wasdale  © Ice Nine
Ruth and a raven on Great Gable looking down Wasdale
© Ice Nine




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