Photos: Great Gable, Christmas Eve

Here are a few photos from the recent walk courtesy of Daniel. I will upload mine when I get home. Enjoy!

Great Gable, Christmas Eve

After successfully negotiating the holiday get-away traffic, my brother and I took the opportunity to undertake a quick walk in the Western fells. We were aiming for Glaramara from Wasdale Head, but being only the second party up to Styhead, the thick powder snow frustrated our progress, so we settled instead to make an assault on Great Gable.

The conditions were truly amazing. Never have I seen snow lying so extensively over the fells, and although I have had memorable winter outings in previous years, the conditions and visibility made this short outing in a different class altogether. It was hard progress, and halfway up I was ready to turn back, out of condition from a wearisome Autumn and prompted by words I wrote here recently – one needs to know the limit between submitting to and conquering one’s emotions and desires. Clouds were also beginning to build over the higher fells.

Fortunately, we reached the summit within the time limit I set myself. What a reward that greeted us. Having entered thin cloudbase lower down, we exitted this same cloud just below the summit, the silver wisps gradually clearing to deep blue, as we made the last few steps. The panorama was incredible. It was as if we had stepped out upon a blanket of cloud, accompanied only by the surrounding high tops.

The richness of the colours struck me. The intense white of the snow and hoared rocks contrasted with the pure blue of the skies. Having been weaned on the dull greys of hillfog and earthy hues of rock and fauna, these familiar companions now enchanted my senses, snow formations finely sculpted by wind and ice crystals nourished by the cold. I longed to linger and devour the spread of winter vestments that nature had laid out.

Behind us the sun conjoured a Brocken Spectre and hemmed it with a halo of rainbow colours. I now felt in the company of angelic hosts, sharing their abode of the hills and sky. Shortly after the cloud broke to reveal walls and fields far below us, all neatly laid out, but constrained by the rough, tumbling fells that reered up beyond the intake walls. However, we felt separate from our lowly beginnings in Wasdale, highly elevated, soaring and our eyes roving hungrily in the void that stretched out in all directions around us.

Having set off late in the day, our moment to experience the magic of the mountains was fleeting. The sun began to take on a firey hue, as if impatient to bring the day to an end and rest on far western seas. Reluctantly, we set off on the final part of our journey, but chose to decend through the Hell Gates on Great Gable’s western flank. This is the quickest way down the mountain and also the most exciting, but I have never experienced it in winter conditions such as these and sadly do not expect to again.

We were sad to leave such a divine vista, but joyful for the chance to appreciate the Lakes in stunning Alpine-esque glory.

Photos will follow in the next few weeks.

What lies ahead

I hereby break my semi-unwritten rule of writing a post when I have no mountain exploit to speak of.

Soon I will be in the Lake District and able to enjoy the winter conditions, which are unusually good at the moment, and happily qualify well for summer Quality Mountain Day in the logbook, because of the extra demands of winter!

Otherwise, I am looking forward to reading more about the early Victorian pioneering mountaineers, such as Edward Whymper, which started me thinking: why it is that the modern reader is inevitably drawn back to the tales and adventures of these distant figures from the past?

For me it is to do with the spirit of adventure that infused everything to do with them. Often it seems that they climbed just because they could and because the mountains ‘were there’. They had the chance to do something new and brave and be all the better for it. Many had no ties to work because of family wealth, which seems alien in modern times, but a lifestyle which is attractive to those fettered by commitments.

They were much the same as modern mountaineers, who are draw to high peaks and obvious fault lines in rock faces. However, when I place the stories of Victorian mountaineers against the colourful photographs of modern professional climbers, with, of course, the obligatory sponsor, blog, latest equipment, somehow the allure is deadened in the latter’s case by the commercial veneer.

As has been said, mountaineering, poetry and philosophy are all intimately linked, and I hope to explore more of this and other themes in the future.

In terms of future walking aside from the Lakes, a return visit to North Wales is planned for the end of January, this time to the Ogwen Valley, and then a special treat in February – a week of winter mountaineering in Scotland. I am hoping that the present snow and ice will give a good foundation to conditions in the New Year.

For the moment, I would like to quote from Blake, the very inspiration for the title of this blog and well overdue an appearance. I have chosen his poem Memory because I like the contrast of day and night, happiness and sadness and its carefree nature for the most part.

Memory, hither come, 
And tune your merry notes;
And, while upon the wind
Your music floats,

I’ll pore upon the stream
Where sighing lovers dream,
And fish for fancies as they pass
Within the watery glass.

I’ll drink of the clear stream,
And hear the linnet’s song;
And there I’ll lie and dream
The day along:

And, when night comes, I’ll go
To places fit for woe,
Walking along the darken’d valley
With silent Melancholy.


I like emotive music. Some would say it is depressing, but I appreciate it because it builds an atmosphere and stirs my imagination. In an interlude to the Mountain Leader posts, I want to explore something more reflective and poetical, emotions, feelings and thoughts which  have been prompted as I have come into contact with nature and the elements.
An atmosphere can be experienced both physically or emotionally, and it can be created. The word ‘atmosphere’ literally means ‘air sphere’ (from the Greek words ἀτμος and σφαιρα). The question is, then, in your particular spheres (work, family, leisure), do you choose to react to, or be governed by, atmospheres?

Last weekend I spent time at the local climbing wall. I felt the fear. “I can’t hold on.” Sweaty palms. “I don’t want to fall”. “What if I fall?” My muscles were quaking, but my mind was lucid. “Focus. You can do this.” The top was close and so too the prospect of fulfilment. So then, do you allow fear to conquer or force it to submit? When I next climb, fear will not be far away. However, the exhilaration of overcoming a challenge is powerful.

My body needed rest from its’ exertions. Forearms screamed, muscle fibres torn; I could barely write my own name with a pen, but the satisfaction was sweet. So too was the unconscious exodus into slumber, which inevitably drew the day to a close. Indeed, Sleep is described as a welcome victor of the vanquished in Macbeth:

Sleep that knits up the ravell’d sleave of care,
The death of each day’s life, sore labour’s bath,
Balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course,
Chief nourisher in life’s feast.

I needed rest, yet I had no control over it. Submission is healthy according to circumstance, but in contrast to Macbeth, Sleep is also described as the destroyer of the gluttonous in Works and Days:

Dawn advances a man on his journey and advances him in his work,
Dawn which appears and sets many men on their road, and puts yokes on many oxen.

Beware that to which you submit. Anger is recorded clinically in the Oxford English Dictionary as ‘the active feeling provoked against the agent; passion, rage; wrath, ire, hot displeasure’. In its own way, anger sets an atmosphere too, and yet are you conquered or the conqueror? It is said:

For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved.

Like sleep, I cannot survive without the planetary atmosphere. I must breathe. If I do not breathe, I die and become lifeless. To breathe is to be alive; to feel is to be alive. However, to be overcome by fear, sleep or anger is to die. To be a slave to a master, be it physical, mental or emotional, is to lose your freedom, unable to be true to yourself or live as you ought.
A mountain tests one’s fear and body’s mettle, but knowing when to submit is most vexing. Whatever atmosphere you set or encounter, learn when to be a master and when to be a slave.
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