Pets allowed
Allowed with Restrictions
Elevation Gain
850.00 m (2,788.71 ft)
Trail type
Loop
Distance
8.50 km (5.28 mi)
Please respect the outdoors by practicing Leave No Trace. Learn more about how to apply the principles of Leave No Trace on your next outdoor adventure here.

This strenuous but short loop takes you to one of the Lake District’s most prominent peaks, so named because of its pyramidal appearance when viewed from Wasdale—though it is generally dome shaped from any other perspective. Regardless of viewpoint, Great Gable has a commanding presence and ominous profile in the area, unlike many of the other more unassuming and humble peaks in the area.

Note: The stats/directions here are recorded from the Black Sail Youth Hostel as a starting point, a wonderfully remote place to stay if taking a few days to explore the region. For day trips, however, this hike can also be done starting from Gategarth (54.523252, -3.246911), on the opposite side of Hay Stacks, or from the hamlet of Wasdale Head (54.469163, -3.257079), where many hikes in the area begin. If beginning there, travel up through Mosedale Beck, then go northeast through Black Sail Pass (54.491251, -3.250708), effectively looping around Kirk Fell (802 m). From there, you have a straight shot across the valley to Haystacks on the opposite side.

From the Black Sail Hut, England’s most remote youth hostel nestled deep in far reaches of Ennerdale Fell, hike north up the open slopes of Hay Stacks. There is no real path to follow, but the underbrush is low and thus easy to forge your own path. Since this 0.7-kilometer stretch climbs over 300 meters right at the start of your hike, before you may have settled into your legs, it can be a bit of a tedious slog.

Once you hit the top of Hay Stacks (597 m), follow the ridge on a very distinct gravel path that sees a fair bit of traffic. In the summer, at least, Haystacks has become one of the most popular tarns in the area, accessible to those not fit enough to try for the higher-level peaks like Great Gable, Kirk Fell, or Pillar.

Hike 0.5 kilometer east along the ridge, just passing the Innominate (520 m) and slightly larger Blackbeck (490 m) tarns. These peaceful little lakes are perches atop the very mountains themselves and offer a rest opportunity. You’ll keep following this grassy, gently sloped ridge just over 1 kilometer more until you reach the craggy gully separating Hay Stacks from Brandreth (715 m).

Descend into the gap, dropping about 150 meters, on some crude stone steps and scramble almost 300 meters up the opposite side. Be very wary of slippery and loose stones here, especially in winter when ice and snow stick between the stones. We passed a women bleeding rather profusely from a head wound she got slipping down the descent off Brandreth going in the opposite direction as us; the blood splatter on the stones we encountered later on the scramble up was a bit horrifying.

From Brandreth, continue for 1 kilometer, climbing pretty significantly up another scree slope at the end onto Green Gable, the smaller sibling to your final destination. Green Gable (801 m) is a rather unspectacular summit, so move quickly on by dropping into Windy Gap, a narrow scree-filled notch that funnels harsh winds through it. Again, this descent is on loose scree, with plenty of opportunity for postholing and ankle twisting in large rock gaps. Be careful. From the lowest point of the gap (752 m), climb up the opposing side onto Great Gable (899 m). The distance between Green and Great Gables’ summits is only about 1 kilometer, but plan on this rolling stretch of trail to take quite a bit of time.

Once at the summit of Great Gable, marked by a classic summit cairn, you can explore a bit. Look for the tarnished copper plaque commemorating the Fell & Rock Climbing Club members who died in World War I. For this reason, Great Gable is actually a common spot to spread loved ones’ ashes (hopefully that doesn’t gross you out too much!). What better place to be laid to rest than with a wide, sweeping vista of rolling green fells of the Lake District and great views of both Ennerdale Fell and Wast Water to the southwest. Approach the south edge to look down off the precipitous, steep cliffs of the southern face. This cliff, while better viewed from the bottom, is called the Great Napes Wall and is punctuated by the Napes Needle, a monolithic stone obelisk used for technical rock climbing.

To return, descend back down into Windy Gap and from there drop straight back into the farthest reaches of Ennerdale Fell. You can descend directly off the slopes but it is far steeper to do so. If you began your hike at Wasdale, descend the west face and drop into Beck Head, the pass between Great Gable and Kirk Fell. To return to Black Sail Hut from the bottom of Windy Gap, simply follow the flat trail for 3 kilometers through the valley along the River Liza.

Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)

Summer
Spring

Congestion

Low

Parking Pass

None

Open Year-round

Yes

Pros

One of the best views in the Lake District. Non-technical year round. Challenging. Idyllic scenery.

Cons

Scree scrambles. High winds. Marshy ground.

Trailhead Elevation

944.88 ft (288.00 m)

Highest point

2,949.48 ft (899.00 m)

Features

Family friendly
Near lake or river
Big vistas
Wildlife
Bird watching
Wildflowers

Typically multi-day

No

Permit required

No

Location

Field Guide

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