Guided Mountain, Hill and Fell walking, and mountain skills training courses in the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales
Next to Scafell Pike, Helvellyn is probably the most visited of all the Lakeland fells, and for very good reason. At 950m (3116ft) Helvellyn is the highest peak in this eastern range of fells, and the third highest in England. The summit offers arguably the most complete panorama of all the Lake District fells.
The name Helvellyn, originally from the Celtic / early Welsh points towards some of the earlier settlers in the region. Most likely named after Red Tarn, below the summit to the east, Helvellyn translates as Helfa – Llyn, meaning Hunting Ground by the Lake. The Celtic speaking, Iron Age settlers here likely hunted red deer, wild boar and wolves in this area.
Two memorials adorn the exposed summit plateaux. The Gough Memorial, at the head of the Striding Edge path remembers Charles Gough, who died after a fall from this spot in 1805. Remarkably his faithful terrier remained to guard his remains until he was found three months later. A second memorial stone, next to the Wythburn path records a strange and unique event which occurred in 1926. Sponsored by the Manchester Evening News, the record braking Australian pilot, “Hustling” Bert Hinkler, and co-pilot John Leeming landed their bi-plane, an Avro 585 Gosport, on the summit plateau, before taking off again by nose diving off the east face!
Formed from an ancient volcano some 450 million years ago, the famous Helvellyn ridges and corries were carved by glaciers during the last ice-age. The contrasting aspects left behind by these glaciers offer us a number of routes to the summit to suit all tastes. For those looking for a gentler approach, the Western routes offer a (relatively) quick way to the summit – following mostly good paths, and with an opportunity to tick off a number of other gentle summits during the course of the day.
For those seeking more of an adventure however, the rocky ridges and hanging corries of the East side represent real mountaineering terrain. The legendary Striding Edge is probably the best known scramble / ridge walk in England that must be on every aspiring hill walker and mountaineer’s bucket list!
Once on the summit, spare a thought for the Fell Top Assessors. Employed by the Lake District National Park to collect weather information, the Fell Top Assessor will make the climb to the summit daily throughout the winter months, to collect vital weather readings and check snow and ice conditions. The information provides the basis for the hugely popular Weatherline service which offers essential information for climbers and walkers.
Helvellyn via The Edges
A complete circuit of the Helvellyn traversing the iconic scrambles of Striding Edge and Swirral Edge.
Between 5 – 8 miles (depending on the route) with approx. 900m of ascent. Expect to take 6-7 hrs.
Quite simply, the best mountain day in England. (In my humble opinion!)
A traverse of Helvellyn via Striding Edge and Swirral Edge must be on any hill walker or mountaineer’s tick list. This classic route starts and finishes in Glenridding, and is easily accessible from both North and South Lakes, as well as from the M6.
A choice of approach routes gives interest from the very beginning – approaching via Keldas and Birkhouse Moor takes us away from the popular route and follows much quieter paths through woods and meadows, whereas the approach via Red Tarn, usually busier, takes us through the more rugged Glenridding Valley, past the historical remains of the Greenside Lead mines to reveal views of Keppel Cove and Catsye Cam, almost Alpine in nature.
Either approach however quickly brings us to the start of Striding Edge, where the Grade 1 scrambling begins. Achievable by most, a steady approach is needed, and a good head for heights is essential whilst we traverse this knife edge ridge. Although most of the difficulties can be avoided, the interest here for most is in the challenge. Towards the end of the ridge comes the crux, the seven meter descent of twin chimneys that guard the western end of the ridge. Thankfully an abundance of good foot and handholds, once found, mean that the climbing here is never as difficult as it first appears and once down the main difficulties are over.
From here we scramble up and over scree and short rocky sections to the summit for a well deserved breather.
From the summit we continue our circuit by descending Swirral Edge – shorter and not as technical as Striding Edge, this route still requires a great deal of care and attention as we drop towards Red Tarn.
Once Swirral Edge is done, we have an option to add a few miles to the day by climbing Catsye Cam ahead of us. At 890m high, Catsye Cam’s classic pyramid shape draws the eye from any direction, as Wainwright said; “If Catstycam stood alone, remote from its fellows, it would be one of the finest peaks in Lakeland” - one for the connoisseurs!
From the west
A number of gentler approaches to Helvellyn present themselves from the West, although these routes should still be considered as serious high level mountain walks.
Suitable for those who enjoy a more casual day out, or perhaps even accompanied by young children.
From Swirls Car Park, Thirlmere.
5 miles with approx. 750m of ascent (taking the most direct route up and down. There are countless other options if we wish to lengthen the day.)
This is the most direct route up Helvellyn, and is steep in places! However, a good path, restored and maintained regularly make this a great option.
Leaving the car park, there is interest straightaway as we follow Helvellyn Gill towards Brown Cove crags, a popular playground for winter climbers. The well maintained footpath steepens as we climb steadily above the the crags, and delightful views unfold of Thirlmere below, and Blencathra and Skiddaw to the north.
Beyond the top of the crags, a short detour takes in Helvellyn Lower Man (from the Celtic maen – large rock, another hint at the iron age culture of early settlers in this area.) From here it’s a short hop to the true summit where it’s well worth spending a bit of time exploring the various memorials and of course marveling at the grand panorama in front of you.
The quickest way down is back the way we came, however, for those with more time there are a myriad of other routes we could take, all of which can eventually loop back to our starting point. The summits of Whiteside, Raise (home of the famous Lake District Ski Club), and the Dodds to the north, and Nethermost and Dollywagon Pike to the south are all within reach of the enthusiastic!
And Finally, The Big One – A full traverse of the Helvellyn Range.
11 – 15 miles depending on route, with around 1100m of ascent.
For the more ambitious and experienced walker, this is a grand route, bagging a number of summits as we go.
Starting from Stannah, and climbing Sticks Pass, we’ll detour first to take in Stybarrow Dodd and Watson Dodd before heading south over Raise, Whiteside, Lower Man, Helvellyn, Nethermost Pike and Dollywagon, before dropping down to Grizdale Tarn. From here, the keen can potentially take in Seat Sandal, or maybe even Fairfield before dropping down to the road at Dunmail Raise.
A long day, but always memorable, ticking off 8-10 Wainwright summits!