The Greatness of Gable 2003

posted 6 Oct 2016, 08:14 by Dave Tomlin
If anyone thinks that observing the two minutes silence atop Great Gable is taking the easy option for Remembrance Day then think again! It is a punishing climb by anyone's standards - it starts steep, continues steep and gets even steeper - more rock climbing than hill walking towards the top. It is certainly a test of fitness where your heart and lungs attempt to burst free from your rib cage!
Owned by the National Trust since 1924, Great Gable mountain (899 metres or 2949 feet) is at the centre of an area of 3000 acres of high fells acquired by the Fell and Rock Climbing Club as a memorial to the members who lost their lives in the 1914-1918 war. In June 1924 a dedicatory tablet was unveiled at the summit and since then a Remembrance service has been held there every November. For a number of years a group from 2nd Warwick have taken the pilgrimage to Great Gable for this service. 

In November 2003 nine of us undertook the trip, setting off from Warwick on Saturday morning. A brief stop in Ambleside was followed by a scenic drive over Hardknock Pass. Initial plans for a walk at the highest point of the pass were quickly abandoned due the strong, bitingly cold wind. We opted instead to walk around the Roman fort on slightly lower ground. The views were spectacular.

The base of Great Gable stands about a mile from the campsite , which is a field opposite the inn at Wasdale Head. When we arrived the cloud level was high enough to see the peak, an unusual site apparently. 

We returned from a late afternoon stroll to Wastwater in the dark, evening starting early in the Lakes at this time of the year. A decent meal and a long evening at Wasdale Head Inn followed. It is entirely reasonable to assume that the evening before adds to the challenge of the following day!

To the amused looks of fellow campers all nine of us piled into a six-man tent for the night. It should have been warmer that way but the bitter wind seemed to pass straight through the tent after howling its way towards us down the valley. 

Sunday started chilly and thankfully dry but now the cloud obscured the peak. We cooked up the sausages and bacon we had taken for breakfast and we set off just before 9am full of bread and grease. We were among the last to leave the campsite. It doesn't look far on the map and I was sceptical that it could take so long to cover such a short distance. However the assurances that 'so long as we keep going we'll make the top for 11am' seemed to suggest otherwise! 

It was a colourful scene as a continuous straggle of walkers marked the path ahead. The steepness of the ascent and the reason for allowing two hours to complete it quickly became apparent. This is a challenging walk. The grassy bank quickly gives way to rough stony ground that moves underfoot in an energy sapping way. Every footstep must be carefully placed but the frequent pauses to recover our breath allowed time to turn around and enjoy the emerging views. 

Approaching the summit from the west, a scramble up rough strewn rocks, the summit was covered in an eerie mist diffused by the low Autumn sun that crept above the horizon of the peak in front of us. The silhouettes of the walkers who had already made the top created a scene befitting of a science fiction movie. As we approached, the silhouettes gave way to a colour filled scene of fleeces, waterproofs and hats. This is quite bizaar in what should be such a desolate place. It was cold, very cold...and we could lean on the strong gusts of wind.

The short service included the observance of two minutes silence - nobody had told the wind to be quite though so it was a noisy buffeting silence of rattling windproofs! The sobriety and location of the service combined with the sense of personal achievement at completing the climb makes this a memorable experience. 

If the ascent is punishing then a warning should be attached to the decent. OK so breathing is easier but what about our knees? The views were good on the way down, which was excuse enough to be slow. It isn't pretty, actually 'bleak' is probably a better description, but then the cloud lifted, blue sky emerged and the true magnificence of the scenery was revealed.

I didn't want to leave the place but we needed to pack up and make tracks for a long, busy journey back to Warwick. So why did we do it? And why will we do it again? Shep told me before we went that we do this trip 'because it's fun!' It wasn't only fun, it was special! Cheers guys for a great weekend!

By SallyC 2003