Late December in the Lake District, the sun is shining and I have about three hours of daylight left to make the most of. But where to go? A quick study of the Lakes map shows the radial pattern of the valleys emanating from the high central fells around ScaFell Pike. At this time of the year the sun sets in the south west. The Wasdale Valley is aligned south west/north east with Great Gable at its head – perfect. With relatively quick access from Honister Pass I have time to get up there to watch the sun go down – straight down the Wasdale Valley.
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Honister Pass is a 20 minute drive from my house in Keswick so by 2pm I was making my way up the steep rocky trail towards Fleetwith Pike. At the top of the hill I swung left to pass below Grey Knotts and Brandreth and onwards over Green Gable. From these slopes you get superb views down both the Buttermere valley and Ennerdale. A low winter sun adds drama and contrast.
The only people I encounter on my way up are a couple racing to get down before dark. Without proper preparation (plenty of warm clothing, food and drink and a fully charged head torch) this would be a very foolhardy time of day to be climbing a mountain. The climb up from Green Gable to Great Gable is very steep and involves scrambling up and over loose scree and rocks, not one for the faint-hearted.
The top of Great Gable is convex which means from the summit itself you don’t get a full view. By descending 100m from the summit heading south west the slopes steepen below you and you get superb views down into the head of Wasdale. Here you will also find a huge pile of stones on a ledge, this is the Westmorland Cairn which makes a great foreground subject.
Planning a Trip
For my walk up Great Gable I parked at Honister Pass (NY 224 135). Allow at least 2-3 hours for an ascent and similar for the descent. Leave a note in your car to say where you have gone, a return time and that you expect to return in the dark so that nobody alerts the mountain rescue unnecessarily.
If you are planning to do similar, please pay special attention to the weather forecast and be prepared for the mountains. Leave plenty of time for getting up and have a very good plan for getting down if you intend to stay high for a sunset – you will be coming down tricky and technical ground in the dark. Mountain knowledge and navigation skills are essential.
A good local forecast for the lake District including fell conditions is: