Saturday, 19 June 2010

Helvellyn via Striding Edge and Swirral Edge

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Route: Glenridding, Mires Beck, Little Cove, Birkhouse Moor, Hole-in-the-Wall, Low Spying How, High Spying How, Striding Edge, Helvellyn, Swirral Edge, Red Tarn, Red Tarn Beck, Glenridding Beck, Greenside Road

Date: 19/06/2010
From: Glenridding

Parking: Car park in Glenridding
Start Point: Glenridding
Region: Eastern Fells

Route length: 7.4 miles (11.9km)
Time taken: 04:55
Average speed: 1.5mph
Ascent: 828m
Descent: 828m

Wainwrights on this walk:
Helvellyn (949m), Birkhouse Moor (718m)

Additional summits: High Spying How (863m)

Other points of interest: Striding Edge, Swirral Edge

Mine and Sara's first real walk in the Lake District, and a fairly ambitious one at that. We did this walk in the summer of 2010, not long after we had gained our real interest in walking. We were deciding what to do one free weekend when I caught my first glance of Striding Edge on the internet and that was it, the campsite was booked and off we went. What better introduction to the charms and excitement of the Lake District?

The Helvellyn range is well served by a large car park in Glenridding and it was here we got our first taste of what to experience on Striding Edge. A sign very clearly stated that it should not be tackled in winter without full winter equipment and it's not often you see that. Fortunately for us, it wasn't winter. It was the middle of summer and one of those hot, clear days that are few and far between on our small island. Having got our stuff ready at the car, we started our way up out of the car park towards Mires Beck.
The footpath that climbs up alongside Mires Beck
Sara surveys the ever increasing panorama of Ullswater as we climb
The climb up the path is hard work, made doubly so thanks to the heat. Attacking Helvellyn is pretty challenging from all directions thanks to the direct nature of the paths that lead you to the summit. Nearing the top of Mires Beck, the path turns to the right before the steep section that climbs onto Birkhouse Moor. Despite being an eastern ridge of Helvellyn, Wainwright affords it it's own chapter making this (unknown at the time) the first Wainwright for the day at 718m.
The path up onto Birkhouse Moor
It's from Birkhouse Moor that you get the first view of Helvellyn and the two arêtes that guard the eastern approaches; Striding Edge and Swirral Edge. The path follows a south-east heading as is descends a few metres before climbing back up to Hole-in-the-Wall, the beginning of Striding Edge though not the most exposed. Striding Edge is an incredible sight and might not appear that narrow in many of the pictures but that sensation disappears as you stand between two quite imposing drops. The best view along the ridge is from High Spying How (the highest point at 863m), about half way between Hole-in-the-Wall and the final scramble up on to the summit. It is here that the ridge becomes particularly narrow and steep sided.
Helvellyn and Red Tarn from Hole-in-the-Wall, the start of Striding Edge 
Striding Edge and Helvellyn from High Spying How 
Panorama from Striding Edge including Helvellyn, Swirral Edge, Catstye Cam and High Spying How
Looking back along Striding Edge from the top of The Chimney
As you can see from the pictures, strolling across the very top of the ridge is not for the faint hearted but can be avoided if desired by following the path below on the northern side of arête. The final part of Striding Edge requires a scramble down The Chimney, a large column of rock that stands between you and the scramble up Helvellyn. Sara and I had no trouble monkeying down but, again, it can be avoided by following a path to the south this time.
Sara at the foot of The Chimney. Looks are deceiving though as it is much higher
Following The Chimney is the steepest part of the walk, a scramble up onto the summit plateau.
Looking up the scramble that takes you onto Helvellyn
Taking a break offers a fine view of Striding Edge, The Chimney is the second rocky mound on the ridge
A large cairn marks the top of the scramble and the start of the large, flat summit of Helvellyn. The third highest peak in England at 950m, Helvellyn is a magnificent mountain, mainly due to the excitement of its many approaches. It's suggested that it's name derives from the Cumbric words "hal" (moor) and "velyn" (yellow). Sara and I spent some time on the summit soaking in the views before starting the descent back down Swirral Edge. The flat summit made the first British mountain-top landing of a plane possible, when John F. Leeming and Bert Hinkler successfully landed and took off again, in 1926. The event is marked by a slate which reads: "The first aeroplane to land on a mountain in Great Britain did so on this spot. On December 22nd, 1926 John Leeming and Bert Hinkler in an AVRO 585 Gosport landed here and after a short stay flew back to Woodford".
The summit of Helvellyn
At the top!
Striding Edge as viewed from Helvellyn. The height difference between Striding Edge and the summit can clearly be seen 
Sara admires the scenery. Catstye Cam is the pyramid-shaped mountain in the background
Swirral Edge offers a similar experience as Striding Edge but is much shorter and I got the feeling it was less exposed. This may be due to the fact there's no real path to follow as you pick your way carefully down the rocks. Like Striding Edge though, Swirral Edge is a notorious area of accidents so care should be administered at all times when climbing or descending it.
On Swirral Edge looking towards Catstye Cam
Striding Edge including High Spying How and The Chimney
After reaching the bottom of Swirral Edge, we passed on the opportunity of climbing Catstye Cam and made our way down to Red Tarn for a quick break and to dip our feet in the cool water. It was a welcome relief to what had become a very hot day. You can see from the views of Striding Edge above, the sides aren't as steep as they appear when you're stood on top of it.
On the shores of Red Tarn
The path that returns you to Glenridding follows the route of Red Tarn Beck underneath the eastern flanks of Catstye Cam and down to Greenside mines. The mines have an interesting history, particularly in the 1950s where the Atomic Weapon Research Establishment wanted to use the lower levels to test their seismic instruments using large explosions. The experiments were short-lived. You can read all about it here.
Red Tarn Beck
Birkhouse Moor from Greenside Road
From Greenside mine, all that is left is a yomp along Greenside Road back into Glenridding.

It might have been a tad ambitious tackling Striding Edge and Helvellyn as a relative novice but it was definitely worth any apprehension I experienced. It's a real adventure, especially for first timers and one I wouldn't hesitate to do again. As with many walks in the Lakes, I'd avoid it if the weather was poor (unless of course, you are confident and well equipped). There are slightly less adventurous ways to the summit of Helvellyn (from Glenridding) but these require a much longer walk to get up onto the ridge. However, it would be a real shame to miss Striding Edge without at least getting to the Hole-in-the-Wall and seeing it for yourself.