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Through The Viewfinder and What Alice Found There
After the last few hectic months where my weekends have been taken up with other things, I have finally managed to hike my 99th Wainwright! My target for this year of 100 fells has been edging closer for a while now, but knowing that my next hike will take me to my goal is such a great feeling! And the fact that the walk that brought me up to number 99 included Great Gable made it feel even better, after our failed attempt to climb this popular peak earlier in the year when it was snowy (read the blog post here).
#Last time we attempted Great Gable we planned to take in Green Gable and Base Brown at the same time, starting the walk from Seathwaite. After the snow, ice and wind battered us to the point of turning around and abandoning the hike, this time we were determined to conquer the summits so decided on a different starting point o take in a total of five Wainwrights instead of just the three. We parked in the National Trust car park behind the YHA along Honister Pass, next to Honister Slate Mine. To get to the footpath we had to cross the yard from the slate mine, with huge slabs of rock lying about everywhere - you could fill your boot with these offcuts for £20 which would be quite a good deal if you had a decent sized boot! Anyway, we joined onto the footpath which very quickly climbed up the steep face of Wainwright number one of the day - Grey Knotts. After a tough ascent over slippery, boggy ground we eventually reached an easier sloping path and could relax and look back on the view. To the left we could see the slate mine with the orange tour bus heading up and down the mountain ferrying visitors around. And to the right we could see down the winding route of Honister Pass with the beautiful mountains in the background. The weather had started off cloudy and as we climbed higher we slowly entered the cloud, meaning for a while we were immersed in thick fog - as with most of my hikes! However, up towards the top of Grey Knotts we did finally rise out of the clouds with a slight inversion and blue skies, before the mist returned and we were engulfed once more. The cloud cleared again for our brief stop on the summit, giving us enough chance for photos at the top and a quick view of Buttermere and Crummock Water before turning and heading up to summit number two - Brandreth.
The hike over to Brandreth didn't take as long as I expected, maybe because it was foggy so we couldn't see the distance we needed to walk, making it seem a bit quicker. One thing we did notice despite the fog was how rocky the ground is up there! In his book 'The Western Fells' Wainwright described the summit of Brandreth as "a desert of stones" and he's not wrong! It seemed that the path up to the summit, and the top itself, were a maze of cairns, boulders and very rocky paths leading all over the place. Once up on the top we couldn't decide which cairn was the true summit, but after referring back to my trusty Wainwright book we soon identified it to be the one with the metal pole sticking out of it! After stopping for obligatory summit photos we moved on to our next target - Green Gable.
Again, the walk over to Green Gable seemed relatively easy and quite quick. We arrived at the summit unaware of which direction Great Gable was in, as the fog was now so thick we couldn't see any of the other peaks surrounding us. We took our summit photos and decided to try and head for the next one before having our picnic, and just at that moment the clouds parted and revealed the enormous peak that is Great Gable, looming down on us looking very menacing! This was it - I had attempted this hike before and been forced to turn back, and now I was there face to face with this great mountain once again, determined to make it to the top this time. In order to start the climb up Great Gable we first had to drop down onto the col known as Windy Gap, which had some good views down to Styhead Tarn (the point where we had to turn back on our last attempt). Once down at Windy Gap, Great Gable looked even more huge and very rocky, but nothing was going to stop us this time so onwards we climbed to begin the steep ascent.
The route up Great Gable was quite tough. It was steep and extremely rocky, and because of the mist and recent rain it was also quite slippery in places. I was using my hiking poles to steady myself for the first part of the climb, but then it turned into a proper scramble and the sticks went away so I could pull myself up the rocks with both hands. After what felt like an age of rock climbing the path eventually started to even out again and slowly the summit cairn came into view through the fog. I couldn't believe it - we'd finally made it! I almost ran to the top and touched the cairn, feeling triumphant after our previous defeat. Now that we'd finally reached the top we suddenly realised how hungry we were. Pleased to have conquered this mountain at last, we sat down to enjoy some soup and a sandwich and enjoy the moment, despite the fact we still had no view because of the mist.
Towards the end of our picnic the mist began to lift so we took our chance and started to head back down while the route was clear. Heading down on the rocks was just as tough as going up, and we had to take our time and be careful not to lose our footing on the loose ground. Once back down at Windy Gap we then had to head back up Green Gable the way we had come, then at the summit we veered off to the right in the direction of Base Brown - the final Wainwright of the day. We very quickly lost the path to Base Brown amongst the boggy ground and returning fog, but once again when the air cleared we got ourselves back on track, with views now stretching far enough ahead that we could see our next destination. We dropped down a lot going towards Base Brown which was fine but it meant that we would have to climb back up this way as there was no other route back to Honister Pass where the car was - which was a depressing thought as our legs by this point were pretty tired!
When finally reaching the summit it suddenly hit me - this was my 99th Wainwright! When I set my target of 100 at the beginning of 2017 there was a part of me that doubted I could do it. Not because I'm not capable of the hiking part, but because I didn't think I'd be able to find the time. Although it has been a struggle recently with a lot of other things going on, the fact that I've still found time to do what I love shows that you can never be too busy to make your dreams come true! It's been an aim of mine for the last few years to complete all 214 Wainwright fells and over the last 12 months I have been ticking off so many and moving through them at such a good rate that I'm hoping it won't take me forever to complete them. It was very daunting when I began this challenge thinking that I would have to climb 214 mountains, but as time goes by the mountains start to feel like old friends (as weird as that sounds) and you look forward to each hike with new determination to conquer each one. I'm so happy I've made it this far - it might not be as impressive as the guy who completed all the Wainwrights in the space of one week (is he insane?!) but to me this is a great achievement and I don't actually know anybody else personally who has hiked this many of them so I feel pretty good!
The last part of our walk took us back up Green Gable (for the third time that day), round the edge of Brandreth, along an old track named Moses Trod, and out towards the slate mine. On the map we could see a disused railway further along, but upon reaching it we discovered it was now being used as a path which conveniently led right down to the slate mine car park. With great views down Honister Pass once again and the slate mines dotted about behind us we made our final descent of the day. After a quick look at some of the slate sculptures and the old mine train within the car park of the mine, we finally reached the car, took our boots off and relaxed, feeling very good about the days adventures!
if anyone wants to give this hike a go my route is below:
My next hike will take me up to my 100th Wainwright so I feel like I should choose a good mountain for such a big milestone. I'd love to make Blencathra my number 100, but the weather can be very unpredictable up there! I'll keep my eye out for a clear weather window but might have to choose a smaller mountain instead if the snow and ice reaches the mountain tops before I've had chance to get back out there!
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Landscape & travel photographer from Cumbria, UK.