Last of the Lake District winter?

After spending the morning photographing a guest house in Keswick on Wednesday, I decided I could sneak an afternoon in the hills before heading back to finish the edit.

A thaw was on the horizon for the next few days, and given the softness and depth of the snow pack it should all disappear disappointingly quickly. We’re a week into March already, so there’s no guarantee that it will get replaced before the season is out, which means making the most of any opportunities thrown the way of us chionophiles.

After deciding I wanted to be somewhere west looking back east to catch any fading glow of light on the fells, I made my way round to Buttermere via Whinlatter pass.

The clouded summits of High Crag and High Stile exuded meagre streaks of white, and the denuded crags of Fleetwith Pike and Haystacks were an even sadder proposition. It would have to be something higher and closer to the snowier huddle of the central Lakes. If this was to be the end of winter for another season, why not bow out on my favourite Lake District mountain, Great Gable.

The snowless Fleetwith at least informed me I’d be able to get to the top of Honister Pass without any threat to life, limb, or more expensively, bodywork. I’d start the walk from there, passing over Grey Knotts, Brandreth and Green Gable en route.

The only problem with beginning a walk from an elevated starting point is the mind convinces the body the task ahead is going to be much less strenuous than it inevitably ends up being.

If sticking to the path, the climb to the summit of Grey Knotts doesn’t allow for any energy – saving zig zagging, it’s straight up and get on with it.

From there to Brandreth you are then rewarded. A barely undulating high level walk with Lakeland giants on all sides. The one out of bounds side (to walkers) of Great Gable, Gable Crag lies dead ahead, with Great End and the Scafells to the left, and Kirk Fell and Pillar to the right.

Frozen pools of water often make for interesting foregrounds with their transient textures and colours, and a string of them along this stretch of fell can usually be made use of in winter. Today metallic skies blistered and ruptured with passing snow showers made the perfect overhead accompaniment as I played with my foregrounds, as ever engrossed in the process. Engrossed enough to step backwards and through the brittle surface ice. Twice. Laughing and cursing at my own fecklessness, cold wet feet forced me to get on the move again.

Green and Great Gables are close neighbours, meaning the summit views east and west are quite similar. As skies above cleared temporarily, it was the view east that drew me away from my route and down Green Gable’s flanks towards Styhead. The tarn was soaking up some of that overhead blue, but I needed to descend to get it all in the frame. By the time I’d got to where I needed to be the light had faded, but it’s still a fine view.

As the skies shifted back to their previous grey I swapped lenses to zoom in a little on Scafell over the flanks of Great Gable, the difference in colour temperature of the slightly sunlit foreground to the colder grey background giving just enough separation between the contiguous layers of crag.

I moved back to the summit of  Green Gable to regain the path, stopping briefly at Windy Gap to don crampons and unholster the ice axe as the route ahead up on to Great Gable was banked very steeply with snow.

As is usually the case I found myself next to the Westmorland Cairn shortly after finding myself at the summit. There’s a wonderful feeling of space here as the mountain collapses away to Wasdale in a jumble of scree and rocky ridges. Given merciful conditions I can sit here for hours, and have done on many occasions.

As the sun was still right in frame I had to contrive a couple of compositions to get a shot of the view, hence the stunted sky.

Soon enough that problem was solved unsatisfactorily as the cloud descended and I first lost the light and then the entire view. Mindful that I’d forgotten my headtorch, I wasn’t inclined to linger in a battle of wills with the weather, and after one last self indulgent pose I made my way back via the outward route.

For more images from this part of the Lake District, visit the Wasdale and Eskdale Gallery.

If you’re interested in learning more about photography, why not book yourself on one of my half or full day workshops.




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