The Route: Ascent of Hay Stacks from Gatesgarth Distance: 7.0km (4.5 miles) | Time: 3-4 Hours | Height gain: 570m/1870 ft Start: NY195150 | Map: OL4 | Date: 24/04/2011
Hay Stacks is something of a mystery. It’s elevation is relatively small and it is surrounded by some of the mightiest fells in the Lake District yet is has an unbeatable appeal to both hikers and walkers. One of those reasons could perhaps be that from its summit you are presented with some of the finest views in Lakeland; – Great Gable, Scafell Pike, Pillar, High Crag etc, etc. Or maybe it’s because of the dramatic cliffs that fall away to Warnscale Beck below or then again perhaps it’s the famous and beautiful Innominate Tarn upon its summit plateaux that draws you. Whatever the reasons I too had been drawn to this mini mountain which offered so much for the avid hiker.
My chosen ascent route was the obvious and popular trail up from Gatesgarth Farm over Peggy’s Bridge then heading upwards towards the Scarth Gap Pass. At the mountain pass at Scarth Gap a sharp right leads you up a series of rocky ledges where the use of hands is happily much-needed. Having negotiated the ledges a small tarn presents itself to you, then, a small ridge leads to the summit proper. This ridge has a cairn at each end and from here the views are simply unbeatable. The daunting peak of High Crag dominates the skyline from here and the view back to Buttermere is also a mightily impressive one. Great Gable and Kirk Fell attract your attention to the south with Fleetwith Pike to the NE, all around an unmatched scene of England’s finest presents itself to you for your hardy efforts.
From the summit I headed along the clear path winding towards Innominate Tarn, the tarn now made famous by the scattering of Alfred Wainwrights ashes upon it a decade or so ago. This simple act now brings thousands of walkers – like pilgrims – from all over the world, to this once quiet spot, but thankfully I had it pretty much to myself on this occasion.
Beyond the tarn the descent route takes the form of an incredibly dramatic rocky passage which winds down a precipitous stoney path until it meets the tiny outflow from Blackbeck Tarn. The views all along the descent route come near to matching those seen from the summit, and you could be forgiven for imagining that you where in fact hiking in some far-flung mountain range not one on your very own doorstep in little old England.
After passing the tarn a small ascent takes you across some wild and almost untouched land until you reach Dubs Quarry (mans only real touch and blot on the landscape) which was once served by a tramway from Honister. Before the Quarry however I deviated from the normal descent route, instead taking the option to traverse across the lower slopes of the steeper Green Crag side of the valley, hoping to search out the small mountain refuge bothy that clings to its sides. The bothy is an old quarry hut which is now the refuge of climbers and hikers passing along this way. I have a grand idea one day to revisit this route having first ascended and then hiked along the Buttermere Buttress all the way from Red Pike and then hankering down overnight in the bothy, (but that’s for another mountain day).
After successfully finding the location of the bothy – which I shall not give away as is custom – I carried on descending rapidly down the steep and incredibly scree strewn path until I hit a small wooden footbridge. From the footbridge if you turn around to face the way you have just come the full magnificence of this mountain amphitheatre can (and should be) fully appreciated. Looking up to the heights of Hay Stacks poking out above the rocky buttresses high above it is hard to imagine that you have actually been up there and made it back down – and in such a short time span. Walking out through the mountain corrie it is both awesome and spectacular, words often unsparingly used, but in this instance totally appropriate for the landscape around.
All too soon the path levels out and a steady plod sees you back to Gatesgarth Cottage and on this occasion the incredulous sight of an ice-cream van. Not being one to knock the opportunity I ended an incredible mountain day with an incredibly over-priced ice cream cornet, but I am pretty sure I will remember Hay Stacks long after the memory of the ice cream has faded, and that’s just as it should be as this hike should definitely be number ONE on everyone’s hiking agenda when they visit the English Lakes.