Wainwright Walks 11: On the Edge! Helvellyn

Hills: Birkhouse Moor, Helvellyn
Wainwrights: ditto
Hewitts: Helvellyn
‘Furth’ Munros: Helvellyn
Trail 100: Helvellyn. Triple BOGOF (and then some!)
Who: Me (and various other members of guided group)
When: Saturday 17 May 2014
Weather: absolutely stunning!
Time: who cares on a day like that.
Sadly absent: Stuart 😦
Thankfully absent: bog
Sadly present: the inevitable transport issues 😦

A lot of the last few blog posts have been an attempt to catch up my walking in the Lake District to the present day. Well, I’m nearly there, as this was (rather bizarrely given only May) my last Lakes walk of last year. A couple more have been done this year though on which posts will be coming soon – honest!

Just like my report on the Fairfield Horseshoe, no adjustment of computer screen for realism is required. The sky really was that shade of blue and no camera trickery was required. Quite frankly I couldn’t have asked for a better day to take in what might be England’s best classic ridge walk.

Inevitably however some of the usual elements of one of my reports are present i.e. if nothing goes wrong with the weather something else usually will – in this case a transport issue to contend with. One of the other usual elements of walk reports was in theory present, and in fact physically present in the Lake District but not actually present on the walk. 😦 I am also still resisting any pressure to go the full Julia Bradbury route and buy some embroidered combat trousers! 😀 There are some steps which are just too far when doing Wainwright walks and this is one of them. I also massively breached trip report protocol with the post walk drink which was not either Rioja or Malbec but enough of that until later! 😯 😯

I think that the Stanmore run which precedes our mad weekend dashes to the Lakes, Snowdonia, etc is almost a transport issue in itself. It requires me to get up at stupid o’clock (somewhen between 5 and 5.30 😯 ) jump in the car and drive round to North London then go into work, then make the long drive North after work. Stuart and I had hoped to get away from work a bit early but unfortunately neither of us managed to get away as early as we had hoped and it was 6 before we left Stanmore. A clear run at the M6 turned out to be too good to be true and somewhere around Stoke a warning light started flashing on the car. We managed to deal with the problem temporarily to get us through the weekend but a trip to the garage was once again called for. 😦 This meant that by the time we hit Keswick it was nearly midnight and we were both knackered – not the ideal scenario for an attempt at what we expected to be a challenging walk. 😦

Up at 7 the following day and it became clear that Stuart was not feeling at all well which clearly was not due to any unscheduled visits to the pub for pre walk drinks as neither of us had had anything to drink. He was happy for me to go and do the walk anyway so 10am saw me setting out from the extortionately priced car park (£7! 😯 ) at Glenridding along with about 12 other people. I’d booked onto a guided walk with the Keswick Mountain Festival as I figured this would be a good way to do it given my general dislike of exposure and scrambling.

The pace was pretty reasonable with a number of stops – if I hadn’t been in a group I probably wouldn’t have bothered with so many as I tend to like to just plod steadily upwards and keep going apart from brief photo breaks. We had an extended break for lunch on Birkhouse Moor with some great views looking over to the day’s main target. Birkhouse Moor itself is one of those hills you do wonder why Wainwright bothered writing a chapter about but the views were good so I guess that is why.

After lunch, it was a quick and pleasant walk along to Hole in the Wall where the real magnitude of the day’s task began to become apparent. The guide gave a brief spiel about using 3 points of contact in scrambling. Not mentioning 5 points of contact which I would have to resort to more than once!   😦 It was quite windy, not enough to be dangerous but enough to notice it. Reasonably quickly we were up to High Spying How and the start of the scrambling.

I didn’t take too many pictures when on the ridge itself – reason being that I was trying to concentrate on what I was doing. The exposure didn’t seem to be too bad but it is definitely somewhere you don’t want to trip up. After a while I decided that I would drop to the bypass path – if I’d been on my own I’d probably have stayed on the top of the ridge a bit longer but I have to take my time when doing anything at all scrambly and didn’t want to hold anyone up. I’ve heard the bypass path described as exposed – and looking at it from Swirral Edge later I could see why – but I didn’t find it to be a problem. There are a couple of bits where you have to clamber over rocks but it was generally fine. This also allowed me to bypass the chimney which was obviously something of a bottleneck on the route – understandably a lot of people had decided that this route was a good choice for what continued to be a lovely day.

Once round the chimney it was time for the final haul up to the summit. You can either scramble up on rock or bypass on a steep scree path to the left. I took the latter option which in hindsight was probably a mistake – it was very loose and eroded. More annoyingly, there is presumably about to be a major path restoration operation and there were bags of rocks dumped all over the path – most of which were in the way! 😦 Pretty much hauled myself up it bodily and then found myself on the broad plateau summit. Time for a look round, take some photos and think ‘did I really just come over that?’ 😯 😀

Then a quick stroll over to the summit with expansive views all round. Oh and my second non-Scottish ‘Munro’! As well as being one of 6 English mountains over 3000ft (known as ‘Furth’), Helvellyn is a Trail 100, a Wainwright, a Hewitt, a Marylin, a Birkett, a Nuttall and a HuMP. So I guess that means 8 ticks 😀 , although I’m only really counting Wainwrights out of this list.

We didn’t spend too long at the top as time was marching on and it had taken time to get across the arête. I had considered extending the walk over Lower Man, White Side and Raise and coming down the Keppel Cove zigzags, not least because I didn’t like the look of Swirral Edge, but time was marching on so Swirral Edge it was. Have to admit this was my least favourite part of the whole walk – having found Striding Edge pretty much fine the descent off Swirral, whilst not really a scramble, is steep and very loose with some nasty drop offs. I did have to resort at various points to ‘five points of contact’ otherwise known as use of the arse crampon, and whilst this might look stupid it seems to be effective, if somewhat slow. How loose the route was, was demonstrated by a bloke who asked if I was okay as he was about to stride past me then promptly slipped, thankfully catching himself. Looking back, it doesn’t look that bad, but it’s definitely a place where caution is needed. The reward was some brilliant views over to Striding Edge and to Red Tarn, which is definitely ‘Gorm’ rather than ‘Dearg’!! for those of you that know your Gaelic!

In the end I decided to leave Catstycam for another day as time was marching on and I wanted to get back and meet up with Stuart for the Mountain Festival. I suspect Swirral Edge is a lot easier to go up than down so could go up that way when I go back to do White Side etc. Hang on a minute, when? 😯 I’m not supposed to be actively trying to bag Wainwrights! Back at the car around 5 then on to Keswick, and an evening spent chilling out with Stuart on the shores of Derwentwater. 😀 As I said earlier in the report normal trip report protocol was overturned in favour of some pink sparkling wine which was just the ticket as a celebratory drink! 😀 Oh, and a free whisky from a promotional stand as well. 🙂

The verdict? A cracking ridge walk,  one I’d wanted to do for some time but been a bit nervous about doing as well, so really good to do it and on such a lovely day as well. I think it would be a piece of cake for a lot of people although probably not in high winds or bad weather. But why would you want to do a walk like this in bad weather? Definitely one worth saving for a good day! 😀 The only problem was the car needed a new radiator 😦

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4 thoughts on “Wainwright Walks 11: On the Edge! Helvellyn

  1. I love your ‘arse crampon’ expression – you should copyright it or we’ll all start to use it! 😉

    Swirral is far worse than Striding – like you say, it’s a choice of either very loose paths either side (the one on the left is pretty lethal as, if you slip, you’re dead) or a fairly tough scramble down the rock in the middle. Going up I use the rock scramble, going down I vary depending on how chicken-hearted I am that day.

    A friend of mine was going down the loose path to the side of Swirral over Red Tarn when a huge flat boulder he was on set off down to the tarn with him on it! 😮
    Carol.

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  2. Feel free to borrow the expression! 😄

    I think I took the left hand path – ugh! Far rather look silly descending on my bum than fall over a precipice!! I still have White Side etc to do so will poss use the Keppel Cove route or go up from Thirlspot.

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