Second attempt to finally bag Kirk Fell after last years bad back failed expedition. Plan A was to park again at Seathwaite, head up Sour Milk Gill, along Gillercomb, over Green Gable, Windy Gap, skirt around Great Gable across Beck Head and up to Kirk Fell. From there we’d turn back east up and over Great Gable then down to Sty Head and back to Seathwaite. However, there was also a second option from Kirk Fell, if time permitted. Inspired by a thoroughly enjoyable route on Sca Fell some months ago, we would descend to the iconic Wasdale Head Inn for a pint, then walk up the valley to Sty Head and back to Seathwaite. The thought of stepping on the hallowed turf of Wasdale once again was an appealing incentive.
After a few rainy Sundays we had an encouraging Met Office forecast, improving in the afternoon, dry with a chance of cloud on south western tops, then deteriorating evening. Fingers crossed for views on a new Wainwright, I’d waited many years to get up Kirk Fell.
- Distance = 11.2 miles (18 km)
- Duration = 8hrs 50mins, (start 10.50am, finish 7.40pm, 50 mins at Wasdale Head)
- Total Ascent = 5,352 ft (1,361 m), max height Great Gable 2,949 ft (899m)
- Start/Finish = Seathwaite Farm (or as close to as possible)
- Date/Weather = Sun 31st Aug 2014, weather good, cloud on high tops, improving
- Click on my Social Hiking Route Map below to zoom in/out
Route Summary – in 4 stages
- Seathwaite to Green Gable; (1 hour 30 mins)
- Green Gable to Kirk Fell; (2 hrs 45 mins with delays)
- Kirk Fell to Wasdale Head; (55 mins)
- Wasdale Head to Seathwaite; (2hr 35 mins)
Route Detail & Pics from Sunday 29th June 2014
Stage 1 – Seathwaite to Green Gable; (1 hr 30 mins) – Despite a late 10.35am start we managed to get a decent parking slot, luckily not too busy. So boots on, poles extended, knee supports velcroed up, looking good in T shirt & shorts:-) Joined other walkers for the 5 min road walk to Seathwaite farm before turning west, crossing the river and starting the climb up Sour Milk Gill. Always nice to begin a walk with a stiff climb. (It’s not really).
Progress was surprisingly swift, maybe I was keen to exorcise a few demons from last years painful slog. There was rueful recognition of two places I’d had to stop for a lie down, bad backs are buggering things. After minimal height gain views start immediately down along the valley. Then the usual mountain suspects open up southwards with a nice angle on the Sca Fell range.
We were soon up above the waterfalls far quicker than last time thank goodness. The angle then eases very nicely for the walk along Gillercombe. We briefly considered then reconsidered adding Base Brown to the route as the goal was my missing Wainwright of Kirk Fell. Progress was again good and we soon reached Green Gable for a quick food and route assessment stop. Unfortunately we also found cloud was still hanging over the big mountains. Always best to remain positive though and that forecast suggested it might lift.
Bit of a technological delay on Green Gable as my phone was suffering random shutdowns caused by a device storage issue. Swapped batteries which seemed to sort it. Now for the route assessment, I felt fit for a welcome change, so persuaded Alan that instead of skirting round Great Gable we should go over the top. I was already wanting to do the Wasdale diversion after Kirk Fell which would already push time constraints. But what the heck, if it meant missing an evening meal and getting a takeaway in Penrith then it’d all be worth it. Alan wasn’t sure about the craggy route west from Gable down to Beck Head in cloud as neither of us had done it before. He was convinced the weather had turned with low cloud set in. I said confidently that we could use my phone GPS for the route and at least we wouldn’t be delayed on top as nthere’d be no glorious summit views.
Stage 2 – Green Gable to Kirk Fell; (2 hr 45 mins with delays) So Plan B was agreed, my phone was route tracking again, and down into Windy Gap we clattered.
We were up to Gable quicker than expected, that scramble can be a pain but I’ve learnt to stow my poles now which frees the hands. I dont do this enough, it’s just sheer laziness. A few people on top as usual, no chance of a cloud break so we sat on the sheltered side for food and then nipped over to see the memorial. Gable’s just not the same without those amazing views, although at least Alan’s legs were hazed out for the summit shot.
Ok back to the route checking, there were 2 path options to Kirk Fell showing on the map, Alan was happier with the less rocky one so off we went. It looked steep but should be easily followed in the cloud especially by checking the route on my phone. I even had a compass on my wrist, now had I looked at this we wouldn’t have had any problems whatsoever. But I didn’t and we did.
The Gable incident – how not to navigate in the hills! We started along a cairned path which was clearly the craggy direct descent we were trying to avoid. I checked my phone and angled south west to pick up the second path. This was easier said than done and after a bit of faffing we found a kinda path which seemed right. This started getting into steep scree so we angled south catching a glimpse of what looked like a path through the cloud. Alan was having grip problems on the scree whereas my Pacer poles were proving invaluable. The cloud then cleared for a brief moment allowing a quick photo, we still didn’t fully realise we were in the wrong place until another check of my phone. Instead of giving it a quick glance, I stopped and discovered it had been frozen including the GPS tracking. Bit of a schoolboy error. We had become slightly separated, I was still up for skirting round as we could see down the scree but Alan couldn’t grip at all. I headed off north west to try and find the correct route but Alan wasn’t able to follow, so he shouted for me to continue on whereas he would head back up and we could meet later at Sty Head. I carried on skirting on poor ground realising this was inadvisable so turned back up. This involved some easy scrambling, I got the phone restarted and soon found the main cairned path. Then sprinted back up to Gable summit to find a surprised Alan taking a quick break. We then retraced my steps and carried on along the cairned route which was fairly straightforward eventually descending to Beck Head, the col below Kirk Fell.
So that was interesting! From the col we could look up and see that the second path was somewhere amidst the steep scree whereas the main route was fairly obvious – and we should’ve just followed that. We should definitely have used a compass too but hey every day’s a learning day in the hills 🙂
After a short break we were off again for the ascent up Kirk Fell a new Wainwright for me and disappointingly still covered by cloud. Now I have a certain crazy belief about cloud that if you think positively it will lift. Unfortunately I had an Alan with me who can be adverse to this positive thinking lark. I implored him to visualise a clear top, he wouldn’t play of course but I persisted and he reluctantly complied. Behind us Gable stayed shrouded but Kirk Fell cleared as 2 positively charged old guys neared the summit. Just as were about to enjoy the moment, 3 runners suddenly appeared behind us with one gaining fast. He told us his mate Chris was doing a charity round and was getting a bit “doolally” through dehydration. We happily topped up his water supplies as Chris arrived for a frantic summit photo before they quickly ran off into the mountain horizon. A bizarre but uplifting moment, Chris was on the Joss Naylor Lakeland Challenge (JNLC, for over 50’s) having started at Pooley Bridge then up (amongst others) Arthurs Pike, Loadpot, High St, Thornthwaite, Kirkstone Pass, Red Screes, Fairfield, Dunmail Raise, Steel Fell, High Raise, Bow Fell, Great End, Styhead & Gable. From Kirk Fell he had the Pillar, Steeple, Haycock, Seatallon to Greendale section, where apparently legendary Joss was waiting. To a normal fell walker this all seems incredibly impressive, hope he made it. We qualify for this Round but at 48 miles, 17,000ft of ascent over 30 peaks, we are unlikely to particiate 🙂
Amidst the blur of fit 50yr olds I’d not yet taken in the event of finally reaching Kirk Fell, and it was completely clear. I prodded Alan with a loud “told you”, he grudgingly smiled. Quick photos, a shaky video and a very very quick route assessment which involved looking at Wasdale and nodding our heads. Despite the delays up on Gable we were about to head down to the Wasdale Head Inn. Not a descent to look forward to but beer awaited us at the bottom!!
Stage 3 – Kirk Fell descent to Wadsale Head; (55 mins)
The Kirk Fell to Wasdale Head descent is known for being unrelenting and unforgiving. So poles out fully, knee supports tightened and charge! Feel the pain, enjoy the views!
Three dots started moving up towards me, remember Competitive Dad from the Fast Show? Bloke running up with (I assumed) his 2 very young daughters trying to keep pace. Said they’d be doing a race up here soon so needed to check it out. Gulp.
Five mins later I was in the pub. Shock horror, NO Loweswater Gold! However this was ok.
Classic Alanism whilst sat here, the sun went in and Alan immediately started fretting stating, “the weathers definitely turning, theres been a change, it’s a lot darker suddenly, something evil approaching, oh hold on it’s ok I’d just put my sunglasses on”. We have hours of jovial fun together in the hills you know. Now one thing we learnt from doing this Wasdale diversion descent last year from Sca Fell, was that we should only have one pint. This was fully appreciated on the ascent up to Styhead that day. Definitely one pint. Must admit this time that pint was gone quickly. So after 1 + a half pints it was time to turn back to Seathwaite.
Quick walk around the pub. Oddly it was totally empty just like last year, albeit with a few people drinking outside. Our memories of the Inn many years ago were different, very busy & atmospheric. Not sure how it’s doing these days.
Stage 4 – Wasdale Head Inn to Seathwaite via Styhead; (2 hr 35 mins) After sitting supping beer it takes a little will power to start walking again. Being hungry helped, I wanted me dinner! So off we set, slowly at first along the level ground, looking up at our descent route on Kirk Fell and the scree slopes of Gable.
Actually it wasn’t too bad, not one to look forward to after relaxing at the pub but nice knowing its just a little bit further then no more ascent. One hour 35 mins from the pub to Sty Head Tarn. The forecasted evening drizzle hadn’t arrived, Gable was covered in grey cloud yet the Sca Fells were bathed in low golden sunlight with whisps of white cloud dancing across the summit. Was going to get poetic then. Let’s just say it was very nice ok.
The rather wonderful thing about staying in the hills late is all the other day walkers have already gone down. Apart from a couple camping we were alone at one of the Lakes busiest spots. Then it was the straightforward route easing down Sty Head Pass to Seathwaite. No probs apart from the section before Stockley Bridge which doesn’t agree with my knees.
My first mountain was Great Gable and my first mountain trips were from Manchester to Wasdale. So the place has an extra special aura in the pantheons of my mountain history. Whatever the hell that means. To sum up, this was a cracking day in the Lakes and a cracking route. Any feeling of accomplishment is tempered by thoughts of the amazing fell runners who glide effortlessly over peak afer peak. But they’re probably not right in the head 🙂 In the pub afterwards Alan suddenly said “actually I HAVE done that route from Kirk Fell up Gable before, must have gone straight up, it was no bother, had totally forgotten”. The plonker 🙂