Helvellyn via Striding Edge

Helvellyn is the third highest peak both in England and in the Lake District (don’t worry, I’ll name the two higher mountains in a later post – we tried to climb those as well!). It can be reached from many directions along numerous trails, but the most famous, interesting, and exciting route is from Glenridding via Striding Edge: the knife-edged scrambling trail, or arête. (Note: Helvellyn is a big mountain – it deserves a big blog post. You have been warned.)

This had been a target of ours through many months of planning for the trip, so after a few preliminary hikes in Wales and England, we now wanted to take advantage of the excellent weather conditions. As I had declared in my first post about this trip, it was time for us to “bag some Wainrights!”

I say to-may-to, and you say to-mah-to.
You say walk, and I say hike.

I first want to acknowledge one of the great distinctions between the English language spoken in the US, the UK, and Namibia. As an American, I will consistently use the term “hike” to describe all of our activities along these footpaths. My British friends call them “walks,” even when they involve considerable distance, elevation gain, and unsteady terrain. My Namibian friends know “hiking” as “hitchhiking,” which I did in my university days in Scotland, but now only do in their country.

Because some of our activities were not much more than strolls along the lakes, I will accept the Brits’ referring to them as walks. But I maintain that Helvellyn is not a walk – I won’t call it anything less than a hike. And what a wonderful hike, at that!

Looking back down to Glenridding and Ullswater at our first rest stop.
Click on the image to zoom in and see the people ahead of us.

The wall set our course in the middle third of the trail.

The summit of Birkhouse Moor, our first Wainright!
The view across the valley to Glenridding Common, where we had hiked two days before to Aira Force.
Have you ever felt “bogged down?” We had to walk through real bogs!
The wide summit of Helvellyn in the middle, with the trail to the Hole-in-the-Wall and Striding Edge on the left, and the pyramidal Catstye Cam on the right.

The higher we climbed, the colder and more windy it got.
Taking it all in …
After passing through the Hole-in-the-Wall, we could now see to the other side of the ridge we were climbing.
By the Hole-in-the-Wall, where the hiking ends and the scrambling begins.

As we approached Striding Edge, and the final third of the ascent, the skies were clear but a cold wind was blowing. We could see the optional footpath down the right side of the ridge, but we chose to scramble along the arête.

Joanie had just scrambled down to this ledge.
Another couple, who opted to take the footpath, watched our progress.
Some of the younger folk were much quicker than we were.

The angle of this shot makes it look like we can just stroll up to the summit – but it’s still a long way off.
The optional footpath below the arête switches back and forth to both sides of the ridge.

It was fun but slow-going, and the Helvellyn summit never seemed to get any closer.

Looking back, with another good view of both the arête and the optional footpaths.
One of my favorite pics: Joanie, after another down-climb, watching her every step.
Mastering her ladder technique on another down-climb.

Charles Gough, a Striding Edge fall victim, was immortalized by both Walter Scott and William Wordsworth. I didn’t tell Joanie about him until we reached this memorial.
As the summit flattens, we were aided by the well-trod foot steps of thousands before us.
The summit cairn. You grow quite attached to something for which you’ve worked so hard!

As the highest point around, the panoramic views were spectacular!

The view west from Helvellyn. (I’m sorry the wind blocks out my description.)

The view east from Helvellyn. (I’m sorry the wind blocks out my description.)

This panoramic shot shows the long, flat summit and also Catstye Cam, Red Tarn, and Swirral Edge.

As many ways as there are to climb up Helvellyn, there are just as many routes down. A matching bookend to the ascent of Striding Edge is to scramble down Swirral Edge, thus completing a horseshoe loop around the Red Tarn. Instead, we chose to “bag another Wainright,” and hiked across the high fells to White Side, for our third of the day.

This cairn marks the start of Swirral Edge (unseen, down to the right), with the long trail to White Side in the distance.
On the west side of Helvellyn, we could see nearby Thirlmere.
The steep and slippery condition of the path is hard to show with the camera.
Looking back to Catstye Cam and Swirral Edge descending from Helvellyn.

The wind-blown summit cairn of White Side.
Now the long walk down…
No, she’s not running.

The way up…
The way down…

After ten miles, 3,200 feet of climbing, and our first three Wainrights, we returned to Glenridding for a fulfilling dinner in the beer garden of The Travellers Rest pub. The beer, the fish and chips, and the mushy peas couldn’t be beat!

Author: Chris

Until 2019, I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Namibia focused on Community Economic Development. Before that, I was a high-tech executive, small business owner, consultant and business broker.

6 thoughts on “Helvellyn via Striding Edge”

  1. Wow Chris,this such a beautiful adventure.Being a Nature lover myself i would do this definitely.
    Enjoy the Trip.

    Rudiger
    From a Winter

  2. OMG! What an undertaking! (Not to be confused with an “undertaker”!) The views are so spectacular!
    Interesting “rest stops”!

    How long did it take you guys to go the 10.5 miles?

    What a well-deserved meal… even if it was “mushy-peas”! Such a fabulous experience! And, so fun to read/see where you’ve been. Looking forward to the next chapter! Thanks for doing this. What a great way to relive your trip!

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