Because It's There
Trail UK|March 2017

When a mountain is as great as Gable, what more of an excuse do you need to climb it? Oh, yes: winter.

Ben Weeks

I'm going to let you in on a bit of insider knowledge. When articles like this are written it’s preferable that they have some kind of ‘hook’. There’s a whole bunch of hills out there, and it’s helpful to justify why we’re telling you about mountain A rather than peak B. This is no great secret; in fact it’s a fairly typical element of magazine writing. I’ll tell you what is a secret, though: up until recently, I’d never been up Great Gable. Yeah, I know. It’s one of the elite Lakeland fells, which any hillwalker worth their salt absolutely positively HAS to have climbed. And I hadn’t. So, with a day of on-and-off weather free in the Lake District and with no other objective leaping out to sell itself, putting that embarrassing omission right became the ‘hook’. 

Seathwaite was dull and grey. While the summits were buried in snow, the lower slopes were bare and damp. The slippery cobbles alongside Styhead Gill were not the terrain stiff winter boots were created for. They felt clumsy and unwieldy on the man-made steps. Seen from afar, the snowline on a distant mountain looks precise and immediate. On the ground, it’s a far vaguer affair. A light dusting indicated the start of it. With height this icing sugar sprinkle became denser until the terrain morphed from exposed ground with patches of snow, to snow with patches of exposed ground, to a thick covering of show with just rocks and a few lengthier stalks of vegetation poking through. And at this point, paths become irrelevant. It’s a liberating experience. Most of us are so used to following the dashed lines on OS maps – be they robustly constructed purpose-built trails or boot-worn tracks in the earth – that it’s difficult to force ourselves to ignore them; we’re seemingly pre-programmed to plug in and follow. But if you can’t see them…

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