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Helvellyn is England's highest mountain, after Sca Fell and Scafell Pike, at 950m. To celebrate her 40th birthday, my friend invited some of us to join her in climbing it. She had climbed it a few times before and came up with suggested routes for us, as our motley bunch had various levels of experience in walking and climbing.
Probably the most famous route to the summit is Striding Edge. Any pub worth its salt in the area will have magnificent aerial shots of this. This is more of a scrambling route and should really only be undertaken by experienced hikers, as there have been a number of accidents and even fatalities on this route in the past. It is also not a great route for those with a fear of heights, as the path is quite narrow in places. This discounted our intrepid leader and at least one other member of the party. With the seemingly random Lake District weather patterns this turned out to be a very good idea. Another famous route is Swirrel Edge, also challenging, but less scary apparently.
Birthday Girl (BG) decided we would climb up at Thirlmere. A taxi took us to the start point, which was about 25 minutes from our hotel in Gledridding. There is a car park here if you wish to start/return to the same point. I forget the name of the car park (there are several) but there was a little church there. BG picked this route as it was one of the safest and one member of the party had never walked 'properly' before. Apart from being safe it is actually the steepest route. All in all it took us three hours to reach the summit but a lone walker or more experienced group could do it in two hours. We did stop a lot for photos of the views, snacks (mainly me), drinks and conversations with sheep (also mainly me - Essex sheep look at me with interest when I "Baa" at them, but these ones tended to ignore me. Perhaps I hadn't got the local dialect right). When we started out it was quite humid and the initial three-quarters of a mile was quite tough, with the humidity and steep slopes. We also found a swarm of gnats that enjoyed us as a tasty treat. I later counted 48 bites on my arms alone. BG had hiked from here a number of times and had not encountered this before, but application of insect repellent before starting off in the summer months may not be a bad idea.
Due to the exertion required for the steep uphill climb and the humidity we took on quite a bit of water at this stage. It is always a good idea to take more water than you think you will need. As we got higher up, the views became amazing but clouds came down and occasionally obscured them. At times they also obscured us from each other and by the time we got to the top, visibility was barely 10m. In fact we saw nothing at the top. My friend showed me photos of the views and they are spectacular with Red Tarn (a hill top lake) shimmering in the sunlight. Nothing shimmered when we were up here, but some of us shivered. There are benches to sit on and people had packed lunches but to be honest it was windy and cold. From the (now sweaty) T-shirt I started in, I had layered up with my sweater and waterproof and had my hood up to protect myself from the wind and cold. We stopped for photos by the monument, but to be honest it is just a bunch of cold people in anoraks standing by some bricks with nothing behind them...
Any discussion about returning via Striding Edge amongst some of the party was abruptly cancelled with the poor visibility. The selected route down was a long one, but it was scenic and safe and we set off to Nethermost Pike which was a beautiful walk of undulating hills, and the mix of downhill walking (with a bit of up) and the sense of achievement kept us walking merrily along. Next we traversed Dollywaggon Pike down to Grisedale tarn. I found this bit quite tough as we had been hiking 5-6 hours by this point and tiredness had set in. Down to the tarn is rocky 'steps' and you have to concentrate on where you put your footing as the rocks aren't large so your balance can be lost. Apart from a few 'drunken' style wobbles we were fine. The zigzag route down seems to go on for ever, and the cooling cloud cover was long gone.
The tarn in lovely and we saw some people camping here, although there are no facilities. It is also a popular spot with mountain bikers and fell runners. One member of our party elected to stay back and carry on under her own steam. As she was an experienced walker and the hard part had been done, so we proceeded without her. From the tarn to Patterdale, the walk is fairly flat though uneven and rocky in places. We didn't see many other people again until we got to Patterdale (where there are a few homes and farms) but there are lots of sheep to keep you company, some more vocal than others. From Patterdale the last mile or so is on road, which returns you to Glenridding where we were staying. It was a very long mile by this point! All my lower body muscles were starting to put up a complaint with every step I took.
Overall our walk took us about 11 miles over about nine hours. Individually it could have been done faster, but might not have been such fun (I dispute the fact that I was having fun at the end!). Overall we all felt a sense of achievement, especially those that had not done anything like this before. You can get a certificate from the tourist information office, and my friend bought us all a mug with 'I climbed Helvellyn' on it.
If you are planning to do a major hike like this whilst in the Lake District I have the following recommendations/suggestions:
-Consider your fitness and prepare with shorter hill walks. I tend to walk in Essex which is fairly flat, so found the incline a challenge in places.
- Have a good breakfast before you set out and take lots of snacks like dried fruit to keep your energy up.
- Carry more water than you think you will need and stop regularly to rehydrate.
- Wear good walking boots or shoes
- Wear layers such as sweaters and fleeces that are easy to remove and don't take up too much room in you bag/can be tied around your waist. Water-resistant trousers are a good idea if you have them.
- Take a fold up waterproof jacket.
- We used walking poles which I think are a great idea where hills are involved.
- Maps of the routes - and an understanding of how to read them! Official Ordnance Survey maps are not like the ones on your Sat-nav!
Helvellyn, lying as it does between the lakes of Ullswater and Thirlmere, is one of the most imposing of lakeland's mountains. At 950m it is only counted as the third highest mountain in England, but with its wide top and two sharp sided, narrow topped ridges, it holds a high place in the affection of lakeland's fell walkers.
Location and Access
To climb Helvellyn, climbers can take either one of two routes. You can either park at Swirls on the Thirlmere side and take the easier route, or park at Glenridding on the Ullswater side in order to attempt the more difficult Helvellyn by the Edges.
The Thirlmere Route
The Thirlmere route is recognised as the easier route, as much as the ascent of any large mountain can be easy. Given the long, broad nature of Helvellyn's back, it can tend towards being a slog, but at the same time the easy to follow route and rapid gain of height make it a very satisfying high mountain for families or less confident walkers.
On a personal note, I first climbed this route at age eight (showing how difficult it is!). Also in the party was my Granny, at that point again about eighty three. Although the climb itself was a challenge, I remember the walk with real affection and can still picture the magical view from the summit, looking down over the two slender ridges.
Helvellyn by the Edges
The Edges route is justifiably the more renowned. Running from Glenridding up over Birkhouse Moor and through the hole in the wall (a famous gap in a drystone wall), it ascends Helvellyn by the scary scramble of Striding Edge before tracking across the more shallow Swirral Edge and on to the triangular point of Catstycam. This is thrilling mountaineering: balanced on the craggy rim of Striding, the black water of Red Tarn shivering away to your side.
Climbers should be warned, however, that this is not a route for the fainthearted. Striding Edge is counted as a scramble, and in Winter becomes a formidable challenge not to be attempted by the inexperienced (I know I wouldn't risk it). It is a route where you should check your weather before leaving, and go prepared to turn back should the clouds descend. I don't want to put you off, because it really is a fantastic route - just be warned that it is also one of Lakeland's more challenging.
Helvellyn is unusual in boasting both magnificent views and a fascinating climb, with plenty of variation in scenery and of course the unique pair of ridges. It is also a mountain that resonates with hillwalkers: once you have climbed Helvellyn, you will always have a subject for conversation in a hiker's pub! It is also relatively easy to link to other mountains if you want a very long day out - although I've never tried it myself, the route over Dollywagon Pike is meant to be fantastic.
Because of its fame, Helvellyn does tend to be climbed by a lot of people. You will also see those on the mountain that make you very frightened for their safety - such as the school party in jeans we saw on Striding Edge. It is a mountain that holds genuine danger, and which should be treated with caution.
Just a warning
At the risk of sounding preachy, I'm going to add this note to all of my walking reviews. Mountain weather and mountain ground are both unpredictable: however easy your planned walk, do not go out without a good map and compass and serviceable waterproofs. Walking and the outdoors are incredible, but they are also very powerful - make sure you treat them with respect!
Of course I would recommend that everyone climb Helvellyn - as long as you have a decent level of fitness and a good assessment of your own capabilities. The inexperienced will enjoy the walk up from Thirlmere, and from here can see the route up on to the ridges and work out if they would be happy to attempt it. For anyone who has done any amount of hill walking, the Edges is a route that really does credit to a magnificent Lakeland giant.
Living in the Northwest and being a keen walker/climber the Lake District has always been my favourite playground. And my favourite climbing frame in Lakeland has always been this mountain. Helvellyn.
Helvellyn stands at 950 meters or 3117 feet above sea level. It is the third highest mountain in England. Situated in the Eastern Fells Helvellyn stands out from its neighbours with its jagged edges and dominating dome summit. This really is the Lake Districts signature peak and has given climbers and walkers hours of fun for many many years.
There are many different routes up Helvellyn, routers that suite every standard of walker. There are ridges and cliffs that can keep more hardcore climbers happy, and during winter months there are some really challenging climbs given the right winter conditions.
The most popular and well-known route up Helvellyn is Striding Edge. This is seen as one of the classic walks in the Lake District and is a real challenge for even seasoned walkers. The route starts in the scenic village of Patterdale. You follow the path up onto the ridge and then start the assent to the summit. The ridge itself is the most impressive in England. The drops are shear and the top of the ridge narrow. There is an easier route along the ridge, of to the right there is a small path that run just below the ridge and is far less exposed.
When you reach the end of the ridge there is a tricky little step down, and then its a quick climb upto the summit. The top of Helvellyn is quite a contrast to the sharp ridge you have just come up. The summit is a large flat dome shape. A few years back someone actually landed a small plane on the summit! The views from the top are wonderful; on a clear day you can see most of the Lake District fells and surrounding areas.
The best way back down is probably Swirral Edge. A great ridge that is often over shadowed by its close neighbour. This is still a tricky descent and concentration is needed as the rocks are often slippy and dangerous. As you come back of the ridge and down into the valley you can make you're way past Red Tarn with its dark brooding waters and back towards Patterdale where a nice cold beer await you.
The walk itself is about ten miles and will probably take you between six and eight hours. This is not really a walk for people who don't have a head for heights or don't have a good level of fitness. This is a challenge that should not be taken lightly. If there is snow on the summit this route is very dangerous, there have been several deaths on Striding Edge over the years, and unless you have crampons and an ice axe and the skills to use them, this route should be avoided in winter!
Patterdale is a great place for walkers, there are a few nice hotels and guest houses if your planning on making a weekend of it. Or if you just need to refuel after your walk there are some nice pubs, which welcome walkers and serve good quality food. There are also some quaint little shops in Patterdale that you can enjoy browsing round.
If you like the idea of climbing Helvellyn but are a little worried about your chances of getting up Striding Edge fear not. There are several other easier ways up the mountain. One I recently tried is from a car park next Thrilmere. This tackles the mountain from the other side and is far easier. There are no sharp ridges and there is an easy to follow path straight to the summit.
This route is about 4 or 5 miles and should not take you more than four hours. It is not as interesting or exciting as the edges but is safe and should be within the grasp of almost any walkers. I did this one last January when there was a serious snowfall. Was no real problem as there are no exposed sections and nothing to fall off!
Overall Helvellyn has to be one of the best mountains the UK has to offer. There is so much variation in routes and something for everyone. Surrounded by history and legends Helvellyn really is an imposing beast, but if does offer a softer more sensitive side. This is a mountain that anyone who loves the great outdoors, simply must give a try.
I love this mountain, have been up it four times, and everytime it offers something different. A true classic!