Thursday, 28 February 2013

Travel: Helvellyn, The Lake District, Northern England

Helvellyn: A satisfying and rewarding challenge.


Two hillwalkers about to start their ascent of Helvellyn.
Compared to some of the mountains in the world it almost seems a bit inappropriate to describe Helvellyn as a mountain, given that its peak is only 950 metres high.  However, don’t let its comparative lack of height fool you, as Helvellyn nevertheless provides a challenging but satisfying ascent for beginners and experienced hillwalkers alike.

When I made the trek a few years ago I considered myself reasonably fit and yet before very long at all I still found myself having to stop every fifteen minutes or so to catch my breath, so take plenty fluids and be prepared for a day of tough physical exertion.

It’s most definitely worth the effort though, as Helvellyn presents an interesting and varied ascent, and an impressive panoramic view of the Lake District from the peak.  The first few hundred metres are pretty much a regular incline until you get to Red Tarn, a pool containing trout and herring which you pass on the way to Striding Edge, but once you reach Red Tarn this is where things start to get interesting as the climb suddenly become a lot more tricky.

Localphone, android app

The next step of the journey involves a scramble along Striding Edge, one of the most popular scrambles in the Lake District and quite a nerve racking experience for an amateur hillwalker like myself.  I found out later on that Striding Edge is a notorious accident spot and unfortunately walkers have died from falls while scrambling along the ridge, so it’s not something to be undertaken lightly.

Things start off easy but soon get a lot trickier once you reach Striding Edge.
Fortunately I did the trek with a mate who is an experienced hillwalker and he was therefore able to offer useful advice and safety tips as we made the scramble and I would definitely recommend taking along a professional if you decide to attempt a climb of Helvellyn.  It’s also perhaps wise for relative beginners to stick to the summer months because Striding Edge can get dangerously icy during the winter, and as you can see from the photo, a ridge like Striding Edge simply isn’t worth taking chances with.

Once you complete the scramble along Striding Edge, however, things become much simpler as the final two hundred metres or so of the ascent involves a gentle stroll along a more convenient plateau.   The summit itself is marked by a stone shelter and after such a strenuous climb it’s a rewarding experience to finally reach the peak and be able to spend a generous amount of time at the summit just taking in the impressive views of the Lake District.

Some of the surroundings viewable from the summit of Helvellyn include Scafell Pike, Fairfield and Ullswater, and it was interesting to note that although all the nearby peaks are of very similar heights, only some of the mountains were snow topped which seemed strange given their close proximity and similar heights.

Intrepid Guerba Ltd.

Once you’ve fully enjoyed the views, the next stage is the descent and rather than retrace your steps, the traditionally more popular route is a scramble down Swirral Edge.  This is a lot shorter and less nerve racking than Striding Edge and before long the edge (or arête) transforms into a regular steep hill which soon rejoins the path leading to Red Tarn from the start of the climb.

All in all I perhaps went into my visit to Helevellyn a touch naively and didn’t expect it to be quite as challenging as it was.  However, it was also a lot more satisfying and rewarding than I was expecting and at the end of the day I was left with a gratifying sense of achievement as my mate and I enjoyed a well deserved relaxing game of pool back at a pub next to the local car park.

A view of the Lake District from the top of Helvellyn.
As already stated, anyone interested in visiting Helvellyn would be strongly advised to go along with an experienced hillwalker.  It would also be very wise to avoid the winter months as even when conditions at the bottom seem fine, the peak can still be covered in over a foot of snow.  Specialised climbing equipment can also be advised, depending on the conditions.  Consulting the Weatherline website is also strongly advisable in order to get an idea of the conditions to expect and thus prepare accordingly.

Anyone interested in visiting Helvellyn can find out further information from the Helvellyn website.  The Lake District Walks website is also worth checking out:
Lake District Walks

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