The last day of my holiday in Borrowdale, and I still hadn’t been up on the high fells. It was raining when I woke up and the weather forecast suggested that it would continue for a while before clearing late morning, so I decided I’d have to venture out, and after a hearty breakfast, that’s what I did. Unfortunately, I discovered, yet again, that weather forecasts can be unreliable. On Monday and Tuesday it had been better than forecast, and I was keeping my fingers crossed it would be the same outcome as I set out heading towards Seathwaite, with the intention of climbing Great Gable.
It was raining, but I was wearing appropriate clothing that would keep me warm and dry. I certainly wasn’t the only fool setting out. I spotted a number of walkers setting out up on to the fells.
Although when I reached Seathwaite I stopped to chat with a couple around my own age, who had decided to leave it for another day. Undaunted I continued along the path
until I reached the picturesque Stockley Bridge,
where I turned up the path that started to climb up the fells up to Sty Head.
It’s a good, engineered path (at least most of the way) so I made good progress.
But it continued to rain and I could see that the tops of the nearby fells were shrouded in cloud. Never mind, I thought, it’ll clear up soon! Looking back down the valley I convinced myself that there were signs that this was happening.
I made steady progress, enjoying the walk despite the rain (fortunately it was coming from behind me; much preferable than having it hitting me in the face)
and after a couple of hours I’d made it to Styhead Tarn, which is almost at the top of the pass. Now this is a wonderful viewpoint at the foot of Great Gable and with Scafell Pike, Scafell and their adjacent siblings dead ahead. But today the high fells were largely covered in cloud so most of the summits weren’t visible. In fact I began to wonder whether Scafell Pike actually existed! But I could see that those mountains I could see had a covering of snow towards the summit. Now this wasn’t what I was expecting.
I stopped for a while to refuel and took stock. A group of walkers ahead of me had turned off and it looked like they were going to tackle the Corridor route to Scafel Pike. That didn’t seem such a good idea to me. And it probably wasn’t such a good idea to head up Great Gable either, as I could see some snow settled towards the top. But feeling optimistic I decided to carry on.
Reaching the stretcher box at the top of the pass, just beyond the tarn, I turned right to take the path up Great Gable.
It was continuing to rain as I climbed, but I was making good progress.
But then the rain got heavier and there was some hail mixed in with it. Never mind, carry on. Looking down I could imaging what a fantastic view I would have had on a better day. I could also see a small party coming up the path further down, so that encouraged me to carry on.
Getting closer to the top, there was some patches of snow underfoot. But nothing too serious. I can cope with that!
But then it started to snow. I reckoned I hadn’t too far to go so decided to carry on, but as I climbed the snow started to come down harder. Eventually I realised that’s I’d reached the summit, but visibility was very poor as the snow continued to fall and it was windy too. So I huddled down behind the cairn.
The summit of Great Gable is one of the best viewpoints in England with views across to the Scafells and down Borrowdale, Wasdale and Ennerdale. But I couldn’t see a thing. I’d been up here once before, when I was about 17 with a party from school led by a Maths teacher who was a keen walker. We didn’t have snow that day but there was low cloud so when we reached the top that day we were in thick mist and couldn’t see anything. This time it was even worse.
The cairn and rocks I sheltered behind was the site of a monument dedicated to the members of the Fell & Rock Climbing Club who died in World War I. The club bought 3,000 acres of land including Great Gable which it donated it to the National Trust in memory of these members. An annual memorial service is held here on November 11th, Remembrance Sunday. I braved the wind to take a look at the monument.
By this time the group coming up behind me had reached the summit and, as you do, we had a chat. I was feeling a little vulnerable up on top on my own in the snowy conditions so asked if they would mind if I tagged on to their group as they descended down the “Windy Gap” and then back down to Seathwaite, which was also my intended route down. It seemed the sensible thing to do (as I hadn’t been that sensible carrying on up on my own when conditions were deteriorating).
We located the path we wanted to take (not so easy in poor visibility) and started to make our way down. It’s quite steep and required a bit of scrambling, a little tricky in descent, especially with snow underfoot. But this path is more sheltered and there was less snow and as we descended conditions underfoot improved.
Reaching the hause, in better conditions I’d have liked to have climbed the neighbouring fell of Green Gable, but today continued on down the scree covered path that would take us back down to Styhead Tarn.
The Scafells were still hidden in the mist, but looking back I could see that the cloud was clearing off Great Gable and conditions were certainly improving. If I’d reached the top an hour or two later then I might have had a view. Ah well, the Fates are clearly determined to stop me experiencing the great views from the top of this mountain.
I continued back down to Borrowdale with the group. As we descended, conditions were certainly improving, although it continued to rain.
After crossing Stockley Bridge we continued down the path to Seathwaite. A short distance along the metalled road from the farm towards Seatoller we parted company when the group reached their vehicle which they’d parked up on the verge.
I continued the last mile back to the farm and was glad of a soak in a deep hot bath.
So my last day in Borrowdale had been something of an adventure. On reflection I’d have been better if I’d set out a little later. But I hadn’t and encountering the conditions when I reached Styhead, I really should have turned back. I still would have had an enjoyable walk, though I know I’d have been disappointed not to have made it to the top. But hindsight is a wonderful thing and decisions have to be made on the spot. Luckily, I didn’t come a cropper, but on my own I could have done, particularly if conditions had deteriorated still further.
So I’ve been up Great Gable twice and on both occasions haven’t been able to enjoy the views. But the mountain hasn’t gone away so I’ll just have to look out for a good day when I’m not in work and get up there again. Mind you, will I be able to trust the weather forecast?