Saturday, 21 February 2015

Helvellyn, Nethermost Pike & Dollywagon Pike

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Route: Glenridding, Greenside Road, Greenside Mine, Stand End, Lucy's Tongue, Sticks Pass, Raise, White Side, Lower Man, Helvellyn, Swallow Scarth, Nethermost Pike, High Crag, Dollywaggon Pike, Seat Sandal, Hause Gap, Deepdale Hause, St. Sunday Crag, Blind Cove, Harrison Crag, Thornhow End, Patterdale

Date: 21/02/2015
From: Glenridding

Parking: Roadside parking in Glenridding
Start Point: Glenridding
Region: Eastern Fells

Route length: 13.8 miles (22.2  km)
Time taken: 06:45
Average speed: 2.04 mph
Ascent: 1500m
Descent: 1531m

Wainwrights on this walk:
Raise (883m), White Side (863m), Helvellyn (950m), Nethermost Pike (891m), Dollywaggon Pike (858m), Seat Sandal (736m), St. Sunday Crag (841m)

Other Summits: Helvellyn Lower Man (925m), High Crag (Grisedale) (884m)

Other points of interest: Greenside Mine, Sticks Pass, Grisedale Tarn

With Spring just around the corner, there was time for one last winter walk in the Lakes this season before the long, warm days of summer take over. Better make it a good one then - Helvellyn perhaps? Helvellyn is probably the most notorious of winter Lakeland fells thanks to the twin arêtes that guard approaches from the east. It tends to claim a few lives each year and 2015 is no different. There are, however, much less exposed and less steep routes up onto the summit plateau, you just have to go out of your way a bit, which is exactly what we decided to do.

I knew that Swirral Edge would be out of the question thanks to the damning reports coming from the fell top assessors - recommendations for skills and experience that I don't possess. Therefore, we decided early on to approach Helvellyn from the north by the most sedate path leading from Sticks Pass. You may remember I tried the route a few years ago and was forced to abandon it on account of the wind. While the forecast wasn't ideal, it was far better than last time and certainly made for a classic winter day out.

We began in Glenridding, the starting point for most people climbing Helvellyn - where a large car park waits to swallow up visitors. During the summer, most head for Birkhouse Moor and Striding Edge but we had a different agenda on our mind, that of getting to Sticks Pass and accessing the summit ridge that way, avoiding any steep or technical ground. The valley of Glenridding (rather than the village) is home to the Greenside Mine, once one of the largest lead mines in the Lake District, and its access track leads right up to the mine and the high fells beyond.
Greenside Road leading to the old Greenside Mine with Green Side (the fell) in the background
Birkhouse Moor
We followed the road up the valley to the old mine buildings, many of which are now holiday cottages. Swart Beck, as it tumbles down the hillside, bears the remains of extensive engineering that is very interesting in an industrial sort of way. The mine was open until 1961 before it closed having excavated over 3 million tonnes of ore. Interestingly, the mine lived on for a few years after closure under the watchful eye of the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment - testing the theory of disguising explosions in large underground chambers by muffling the sound of the explosion using the rock. A number of explosions were tested and the results proved conclusive. After just one short year, the mine was handed back to the Greenside company.
The heavily engineered Swart Beck
Holiday rentals now form the main industry at Greenside
Glenridding from the Greenside Mine
A zig-zag path winds up the hillside behind the mine, rounding Stang End and reaching the bottom of a vast hanging valley, suspended between the fells of Raise, Green Side and Sheffield Pike. Despite the piles of old mine spoil, it feels like a remote and lonely place. The main path passes Lucy's Tongue, the location of Greenside's main entrance. The path remains fairly flat before it begins a slow climb up alongside Sticks Gill beneath the shadow of Raise. Despite the sun, the ski run on Raise was in full swing with a number of people slaloming down the hillside. The Lake District Ski Club operate a poma style ski lift from pylons on Raise when weather conditions are suitable for skiing or snowboarding. The lift is over 300 metres long and the runs are in a natural snow bowl called Savages Gulley where snow drifts form.
Glenridding with Place Fell behind
The mountainous Catstye Cam
Birkhouse Moor from Stang End
The craggy flanks of Sheffield Pike
Lucy's Tongue, once the main entrance to Greenside Mine
Spoil beneath Green Side
A look up the hanging valley of Sticks Gill towards Raise
Raise
The path heading towards Sticks Pass
Winter and Spring in one picture
The hanging valley above Glenridding
The ski run on Raise
As we approached the summit of Sticks Pass, the wind picked up and the clouds descended. It looked like it may be another one of 'those days'. We togged up and forged on, following the wide path up towards the summit of Raise. A few areas of névé threatened the use of crampons but these were fairly easily negotiated before we reached the ice coated cairn on the summit.
Raise from Sticks Pass
St John's in the Vale and Keswick
A few icy parts had to be negotiated on the way up
The summit of Raise
As was the case last time I was here, we couldn't see across to White Side or Helvellyn on account of the low cloud. What we could see looked a bit bleak, a wind swept and desolate wilderness that you only get during winter. We were cheered a bit after passing a group of mountain bikers slogging up the other way if they had made it his far there was hope for us. While approaching White Side, the wind and clouds began to ease a little and everything started to look a little brighter.
White Side hides in the cloud
A moment later the clouds lifted
White Side and the head of Keppel Cove
White Side provides a superb viewpoint for Catstye Cam which really does carry a real mountain profile from wherever you look at it. It also peers ominously down into Keppel Cove below. It's easy to forget just how high you are on these fells due to the easy nature of the approach. As we approached the narrow ridge which leads up the Lower Man the wind dropped remarkably and the clouds lifted well above the summits. It seemed that luck was on our side today.
Catstye Cam above Brown Cove
The summit of White Side looking towards the Central Fells
Helvellyn Lower Man rises ahead
Lower Man and Browncove Crags
Helvellyn and Lower Man as the sun starts to appear
Sheffield Pike and Glenridding
Catstye Cam and Keppel Cove
White Side with Raise beyond
Cornices on the ridge leading up to Lower Man
We approached the foot of the ridge leading to Lower Man, the exact point we reached a few years ago before having to turn back. The snow was slippery and steep enough here to warrant the use of crampons so I put them on before venturing up the hillside. The sunlit ridge was too impressive a sight not to fire off a few photos en route.
Helvellyn
Walkers on Swirral Edge
Sunlight catches the ridge to Lower Man
Catstye Cam, Swirral Edge and Helvellyn
Lower Man is one of only a handful of peaks in England that are over 3,000ft in elevation. In fact, visiting today meant that I had now climbed all of them which was a small personal victory. It also marks the beginning of Helvellyn's famous summit plateau; a broad, largely flat expanse that stretches a few hundred metres in a north-south direction. So much so that in 1926 Bert Hinkler, an Avro test pilot, landed a small plane on the summit.
Lower Man
The two sides of Helvellyn
Trig point on Helvellyn
Yours truly at the pillar
We followed the main path to the trig point which stands a metre shorter than the actual summit itself which is marked by a cairn near to the large wind shelter a few metres to the south-east. We paused in the shelter for a quick bite to eat which gave me the chance to head over to the exit of Striding Edge to capture a picture of the magnificent ridge in its winter attire.
Helvellyn's summit looking towards Striding Edge

Swirral Edge and Catstye Cam
Striding Edge
The broad ridge leading to Dollywaggon Pike
Helvellyn's shelter
Striding Edge
A memorial to Charles Gough, one of Helvellyn's first recorded casualties
St. Sunday Crag
Between Helvellyn and Grisedale Tarn, the ridge undulates over a number of summits, a fairly easy stroll even in winter. The first summit is that of Nethermost Pike, a short distance to the south over the depression of Swallow Scarth. Like Helvellyn, Nethermost Pike has a craggy eastern face juxtaposed with a sloping, grass-covered western aspect. It even has its own arete leading to the summit though nothing quite like Striding Edge. On that subject, though, from Nethermost Pike, it's clear to see just how high and steep-sided Striding Edge really is.
Helvellyn and Striding Edge from Swallow Scarth
Lad Crag on Helvellyn
Striding Edge and Grisedale
The summit of Nethermost Pike
Nethermost Pike
High Crag is a short distance again from Nethermost Pike and despite having a noticeable peak and cairn atop it, many regard it as part of Nethermost Pike rather than as a separate fell. Just under a kilometre to the south-east is Dollywaggon Pike, the final high fell in the Helvellyn range. The summit cairn can be found on a small extension leading to The Tongue and provides a superb view of Grisedale to the north east, Fairfield and St. Sunday Crag to the east and Nethermost Pike to the north.
Looking towards Dollywaggon Pike
Grisedale and Place Fell
High Crag
Grisedale
High Crag and Nethermost Pike
Dollywaggon Pike's summit
Nethermost Pike and Ruthwaite Cove
I had decided long before this walk started that I wanted to climb Seat Sandal as part of this round, seeing as I would already be half way up it by the time I reached Grisedale Tarn, the legendary resting place of the crown of the kingdom of Cumbria. The downside to this would be descending some 300m only to re-climb 150m of that to Seat Sandal, a fact that left me alone as the rest of the group headed towards St. Sunday Crag and the return leg back to Patterdale.
Fairfield over Falcon Crag
St. Sunday Crag looking magnificent
Grisedale Tarn and Seat Sandal
Fairfield over Grisedale Tarn
The climb ahead up Seat Sandal
The slopes of Dollywaggon Pike with Grisedale Tarn and St. Sunday Crag in the background
The path down Dollywaggon Pike is actually easy enough to descend, the sunshine had melted any icy parts and there was a distinct spring-like quality to the air. The melt had made the crossing over to Seat Sandal a bit boggy, though these quickly dried up as I began the climb towards the summit. It's a steep climb but is completed in a few breathless minutes (about 20 to be precise).
The summit of Seat Sandal
Snow showers over Grasmere
St. Sunday Crag and Fairfield separated by Deepdale Hause
A scattering of rocks tops Seat Sandal and a pair of cairns make reaching the true summit a bit of a challenge. Both would have to be visited to make sure. A swift and rocky descent following the path to the east brought me down to Grisedale Hause and a high-level route that skirts the flanks of Fairfield and Cofa Pike before reaching Deepdale Hause. Sounds easy, though with the snow and ice around I managed to miss the final part of the path, finding myself a few contours below the hause in a steep, grassy no man's land.
Fairfield Brow over Hause Gap
Falcon Crag and Tarn Crag on Dollywaggon Pike
The route up to Deepdale Hause
The path was easy to follow at first
Dollywaggon Pike
Weather approaches over Seat Sandal
After rectifying my mistake by hauling myself up the hillside, the weather closed in and things turned pretty grim for the remainder of the walk. The wind picked up and began lashing hail across the path up St. Sunday Crag. Luckily for me, the route is both easy to follow and one I've done many times before. I didn't linger on the summit on account of the weather but it did ease a bit as I made my way down towards Birks.
Deepdale Hause
The splendid Helvellyn ridge
Some large snow showers began to pass by as the wind picked up

Dollywaggon Pike and Nethermost Pike
Fairfield
St. Sunday Crag
St. Sunday Crag's summit
Gavel Pike looking towards Brock Crags, Rest Dodd and Gray Crag 
The large expanse of Birks
Sheltering from the elements
I decided to give Birks a miss this time, I really couldn't be bothered with another (albeit short) climb and had my focus set on reaching valley floor below. A noticeable path leads across the slopes of Birks above Harrison Crag, eventually dropping down to Thornhow End and Patterdale below. It was snowing by the time I reached the YHA, though I'd achieved a lot on my tour of Glenridding and Grisedale.
One last blast of sunshine as I descend down to Patterdale
Ullswater and Place Fell in the early evening
Snow
It really was another stunning winter day in the Lake District and it was highly satisfying to complete a walk we attempted a few years ago. It also added the achievement of climbing all of England's 3,000ft peaks which isn't something I set out to do but is an inevitable by-product of climbing the Wainwrights. Throw in a climb up the infamous Helvellyn and the result is a truly memorable day.