Sunday, 23 October 2016

Helvellyn

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Route: Helvellyn YHA, Glenridding Common, Whiteside, Lower Man, Helvellyn, Swirral Edge, Red Tarn Beck, Glenridding Common, Helvellyn House YHA

Date: 23/10/2016
From: Helvellyn House YHA

Parking: Helvellyn House YHA
Start Point: Helvellyn House YHA
Region: Eastern Fells

Route length: 6.2 miles (9.9 km)
Time taken : 03:08
Average speed: 2 mph
Ascent: 760m
Descent: 752m

Wainwrights on this walk:
White Side (863m), Helvellyn (949m)

Additional summits: Helvellyn Lower Man (925m)

I recently had an interesting request from a friend, to join them on a hike up Helvellyn. Nothing wrong with that, though there was one unique aspect of this walk - it was to be done largely at night. This would be a first for me.

The reason for a night-time excursion was to be on the summit for sunrise which, as we wouldn't be wild camping, required a 5am start to be walking by 5.30am. To make life a little easier for ourselves, we chose a straightforward route to the summit, avoiding places like Striding Edge and Swirral Edge, which would have been a waste at night anyway.

To save time, we parked at the Helvellyn House YHA, part way up along the Greenside Road, saving us a considerable walk up from Glenridding. In all, we gave ourselves 2 hours to reach the summit. It was obviously too dark for my little camera to take any pictures of the climb, photos will follow later on. However, the walk up the track to Brown Cove was easy enough under the power of torchlight with GPS assisting in location finding.
Walking on torchlight
Despite starting under a starry sky, clouds quickly rolled in as we climbed and we were facing the prospect of disappointment but we continued on regardless. The track climbs steeply up Glenridding Common where we discovered a strong wind blowing across the ridge, making it incredibly cold on the tops.

It wasn't long until we reached the summit of White Side and took the opportunity to get some more layers on - there would be little shelter from the wind until we reached Helvellyn. The photos pick up the story as we left the summit.
The north-west ridge of Helvellyn
The clouds begin to break as dawn approached
With the minutes rapidly approaching the magical moment, there was one last significant climb left before reaching Helvellyn's broad summit plateau, up the ridge above Brown Cove Crags. The cloud base had begun to rise and fall and we were treated to tantalising glimpses of Brown Cove and Catstye Cam - maybe things wouldn't be so terrible after all.
Clouds stream over the summit of Helvellyn
Approaching the summit
It had brightened up considerably by the time we reached Helvellyn's summit and we arrived at the cross shelter just in time to see a spectacular orange sunrise that illuminated the clouds that were whipping over the summit.
The trig pillar on Helvellyn
The sun makes its first appearance
Sunrise
Watching the sunrise from the shelter
A summit shelter silhouette
Every so often, the view to Red Tarn would be revealed, much to our delight. We spent the next hour or so, alone on the mountain watching the sun slowly making is way up into the sky while the clouds progressively broke up. We were sustained by some bacon sandwiches, cooked freshly on the summit by virtue of a portable stove and kept warm by swigs of hot coffee. It was a special moment.
Catstye Cam appears through the cloud
Sunrise over the shelter on Helvellyn
Watching as the sun makes it way up
Catstye Cam
Swirral Edge
Dawn on the summit
The trig pillar
The view west
Bacon and coffee depleted and the sun well and truly up, we decided to begin our descent down Swirral Edge, the parallel ridge to Striding Edge. Though shorter and less narrow than its neighbour, Swirral Edge still requires care and attention but is an excellent scramble. Winter on Swirral Edge is a different prospect and requires both the right equipment and experience of winter mountaineering.
Beginning our descent of Swirral Edge
Swirral Edge and Catstye Cam
Swirral Edge
Clouds on Helvellyn's east face
Swirral Edge
Swirral Edge and Catstye Cam
Red Tarn
Helvellyn
Swirral Edge
Once we were all safely down, a long stroll downhill alongside Red Tarn Beck was our route back to the Youth Hostel and the car. It was quite satisfying passing all the people making their way up for the day, given that it was still only 10am. Before long we were back at the cars heading back for a well-earned shower and a debrief of the morning's adventure.
Helvellyn
The view into Glenridding Common
Glenridding Common
Catstye Cam
Swart Beck
This was a largely new experience for me and despite the cold, the night walking and the early start, this is definitely something I would recommend.