Great Gable Wild Camp

Last week saw the hottest temperatures of the year and while I don’t like the heat when walking, I decided to make the most of it and head off for a wild camp in the Lake District and wild camp up on Great Gable.

Studying the forecasts I was completely unsure what would pan out and where to go. I fancied Snowdonia, but cloudy on Monday and hazy sunshine on the Tuesday didn’t really inspire. The Lake District looked a little more promising, with thick hill fog down to 200m on the Monday and clear skies on the Tuesday but no mention of the haze. Truth be told, I read a few forecasts for the Lake District and decided to take the most optimistic. There were a lot of mentions of thick hill fog down to lower levels and this could scupper any chance of a sunset, but I tried to read between the lines seeing that some valleys would be sunny in the evening and summits partly sunny as well as cloud clearing to the Irish coast. Combined with the high pressure, I decided that getting high enough could possibly yeild a chance to get above the clouds and hopefully catch an inversion.

I did some research, first checking TPE to see the position of the sun. In truth, it wasn’t in it’s best position but I could see at sunset we would get side light looking down Wast Water at least but knew Pillar and other hills would block the last of the sun. I checked the maps and the only other place that interested me was Helvellyn as the sun would rise in line with Swirral Edge, but I knew it would likely be clear skies and not much fun. Itching to go somewhere, I decided to take a risk on Great Gable.

Next, having not been up before (one always on my list) I did a Google search for ‘Great Gable Wild Camp’ and saw only a couple of posts with precarious pitches. Being a caution to the wind guy, I decided to go anyway and asked my friend, Harsharn Gill if he would like to go. Fortunately he had been before and after a little persuading about the weather, he agreed.

I met Harsh in Manchester and made the drive over to Wasdale, the heat already starting to sear. I decided to go via Hardknott Pass to take in the weather and views, but also to try and get an idea on the cloud level. At this point it was already at around 400m and it was thick with not much sun, but we could see little promises of it breaking up. We arrived at Wasdale Head and decided to have a quick lunch in the pub in no rush to get up.

Setting off, it was 26c and sunny in the valley and made walking very difficult. I was carrying around 25kg and no matter how much water I drank I felt incredibly sick and was hoping it wasn’t a sign of heat stroke. We took the path to the col between Kirk Fell and Great Gable and it was up, up and up. I was looking at the cloud and while thankful it was breaking a little, I was ready to get into it for some relief from the heat.

At the col, we saw some sensible campers who had pitched near the tarn before Great Gable but onwards and upwards we must go, up the hard going scree and rocky path. Harsh had suggested we didn’t take this route down, which I was glad for as I could see it would be slow going if we did. We arrived at the summit around 19:15 and we were still thick in the cloud. We had seen a couple of brief breaks and amazing views on the way up but I was starting to become unsure if it would clear, it was forecast to be much better than this by now.

We had a scout around for some pitches for our tents and realised just how baron the summit is, it’s a boulder field with little patches of grass there only to tease you. Eventually we found a sloped pitched possibly big enough for my Terra Nova Ultra Quasar but nothing really for Harsh’s tent. We decided to pitch mine before sunset, just so we knew if we couldn’t we would need to retreat quickly after sunset to find pitches lower down, maybe back at the tarn. Fortunately, I got pitched and while Harsh looked at it saying I wouldn’t sleep, I was happy enough to take the risk to be within metres of the summit for sunrise the next morning.

We headed off into the mist, looking for Westmorland Cairn as Harsh said that was the best interest for sunset looking down Wasdale. The mist was that thick though, it posed some navigation problems. While looking, the clouds started to break and shift and Pillar came into view as well as the Ennerdale Valley. It was all of a sudden starting to look good. We finally found our way to the right side of the mountain and the cairn only happened to be metres away from a pitch Harsh had spotted for himself earlier on! That’s how thick the mist was before.

I grabbed the following shot and it really does show us above the cloud as it was clearing. This was looking over to Sca Fell which you can just see poking out in the distance.

Great Gable Cloud Inversion - Lake District Photography

Great Gable Cloud Inversion – Lake District Photography

I moved on just past this boulder and looked down the gulley towards Wast Water, moments later the cloud had cleared this much but I loved the mist floating about at the top and clinging to the sides of Kirk Fell:

Great Gable Gully Cloud Inversion - Lake District Photography

Great Gable Gully Cloud Inversion – Lake District Photography

And another one:

Great Gable Cloud to Wasdale - Lake District Photography

Great Gable Cloud to Wasdale – Lake District Photography

I moved on around to Westmorland Cairn where Harsh was hanging around and by now the cloud had really started to break up, Fortunately, it was hanging around in the valley above Lingmell Beck between Great Gable and the Scafell Range. I was able to catch this Brocken Spectre while looking over to the Scafell Range.

Great Gable Brocken Spectre - Lake District Photography

Great Gable Brocken Spectre – Lake District Photography

Below Westmorland Cairn is a pinnacle like ridge with some great features. At the bottom, cloud was swirling around a path which looked really inviting and the cloud had broken up in many places. While I love being above the cloud with inversions, I often prefer it when they break up a little to reveal the details of the landscape below. For me, photographically this is the happy medium and this was probably one of my favourite shots of the evening. This is looking down to Wast Water with Sca Fell on the left.

Great Gable to Wast Water Inversion - Lake District Photography

Great Gable to Wast Water Inversion – Lake District Photography

It really was pretty amazing how quick everything had broken up. It had quickly gone from a day of hoping it would break to hoping it wouldn’t break too much. Fortunately, the cloud seemed to want to stick around in the valley between Great Gable and the Scafell Range as well as clinging to the tops of Kirk Fell. I decided it was time to crack out the telephoto lens and do some more simplistic shots. I love watching the cloud swirl round and within moments the same picture will never be achieved ever again. This shot was of Kirk Fell enveloped in that cloud. I love how the top of the clouds seem to be on fire with the setting sun:

Kirk Fell Clouds - Lake District Photography

Kirk Fell Clouds – Lake District Photography

While here, I spotted Harsh milling around taking photos, so I asked him to move more into frame while I grabbed this telephoto shot of him with the clouds in the distance. I love people in the landscape shots, I just never get around to doing them enough. With conditions like this though, it would have been rude not to:

Great Gable Photographer - Lake District Photography

Great Gable Photographer – Lake District Photography


I moved back around to my first compositions as the clouds were really looking good over Kirk Fell and snapped this too:

Great Gable Clearing Inversion - Lake District Photography

Great Gable Clearing Inversion – Lake District Photography

At this point, the shadows in Wasdale were getting a bit too deep and decided my efforts would be better focused looking over towards Pillar, Ennedale and the Solway Firth. I took this shot with the telephoto with the last of the clouds rolling over. I believe that’s Red Pike on the right and you could definitely see Scotland in the distance. Speaking of which, for a day so hot, the clarity had become so clear. You could see the Isle of Man, Snowdonia, Scotland and of course, England. That’s four countries!

Ennerdale and Scotland from Great Gable - Lake District Photography

Ennerdale and Scotland from Great Gable – Lake District Photography

At this point, I returned to my tent as the sun dropped into a low bank of cloud and I thought that was it for the night. I was certainly glad to have made the call to go for a wild camp and my instinct, for once, had paid off. While I was photographing, I had noticed the rest of the Lake District had been mostly clear and the inversion had mainly been around the range we were on, so I was thankful not to have gone for Helvellyn and glad I stuck to being close to the Irish Coast with the big mountains. With the sunrise the next morning being so early, I wanted to get back to my tent to try and have my tea and get some shut eye. I decided to do some obligatory tent shots though, especially with the moon behind and a little cloud still lingering around Sprinkling Tarn underneath Great End. During taking shots though, what would you know? The sun broke through once more and cast some nice red light on the mountains.

Great Gable Wild Camp - Lake District Photography

Great Gable Wild Camp – Lake District Photography

With the sunset still going on, I headed back over the hill to see if I could make any compositions. I found these few rocks catching the light and on any normal day I may have been happy with the shot, but there’s just something not sitting right with me on this one:

Great Gable Sunset - Lake District Photography

Great Gable Sunset – Lake District Photography

I went back to my tent for a second time and had my tea. It was a hot night and I slept with my inner tents both doors open, just leaving the fly mesh to stop the midges. To say the slope I was on and with a few rocks, I didn’t actually find the pitch too bad, I’ve certainly had worse. I got a few hours kip and it was up at 04:30 for the sunrise. I have to admit, I really felt like getting up wasn’t worth the effort as I hate clear skies almost as much as flat grey skies for photography. However, I also knew the heat was only going to build so getting up later wasn’t an option and I made my way out. However, even under clear skies, the mountains can make up for the lack of detail in the sky.

One of the things I did see was the shadow of Great Gable stretching clearly across Wasdale out towards the Irish Sea. I don’t think I’ve ever seen something so defined before. It reminded me of them shots of Everest’s shadow from the summit. It was great. Oh yeah, you can also see Harsh’s tent and pitch in this shot. He found someone else’s peg there too, so not the only person to have spotted this!

Great Gable Sunrise Shadow - Lake District Photography

Great Gable Sunrise Shadow – Lake District Photography

I decided to concentrate my efforts once again around Westmorland Cairn, looking towards the Scafell’s as I knew the light would hit them first. Unfortunately, it took a little while for the sun to get high enough to hit my foreground but when they did I decided to make this panoramic, again you can see the shadow of Great Gable clearly in the image and I bet a shot you can only get at certain times of the year:

Great Gable Sunrise Panoramic - Lake District Photography

Great Gable Sunrise Panoramic – Lake District Photography

Shortly after this I headed back to my tent and packed up as quick as I could and walked back to Harsh. He was in his sleeping bag, eating breakfast, not expecting me to be ready. I checked my phone and saw he had suggested we leave at 08:30. Packed and ready though, he agreed to come down with me. I wouldn’t have got back to sleep anyway in this heat with the brightness. Leaving camp it was already 18c at the summit at 06:30 in the morning, by the time we reached Styhead Tarn, the heat was blazing and in the valley it was 27c at 08:30. Harsh was glad I was eager to get down, I don’t think we would have been wanting to go down any later and definitely felt sorry for those going up.

All in all, a worthwhile trip for conditions I probably won’t see for quite some time.