Descending from Helvellyn up to the 'start' of Striding Edge

Heads down on Helvellyn – or – Striding Edge the wrong way round

Striding Edge the wrong way round? The ‘right way round’ sounded daunting enough to me, when I signed up for Michelle’s ‘summer trip up a Mountain’ group on Facebook. I’m not the most cavalier of ridge / high track walkers (witness my cramped fingers after a day on the Rum Cuillins – you can only grip an outcrop for so long you know..) and I’d got the Assault On Striding Edge route kind of mapped out in my head. That was before the weather changed our plans. The plan was to walk up and over Striding Edge (not off it, which some have sadly done in poor weather conditions). We would then walk onto Helvellyn and then back along Swirall Edge to the Helvellyn Youth Hostel. We were staying in the hostel the night before. But the weather cares not for plans or Facebook discussions and had decided to ramp up the winds to predicted 60mph gusts and add in some low cloud and heavy rain. So a change of route was required.

Front of Helvellyn YHA Hostel
Front of Helvellyn YHA Hostel

The change of route was debated and decided on during Saturday evening, once we were all assembled at the hostel. Actually, credit for the actual map consultations and planning goes to Mac and Steve, both of who have led parties before (Steve organises the annual Snowdon In The Snow trip). I make it sound like a quick decision, they were in fact still ‘debating’ over breakfast! Some of the rest of the group also knew the area but too many cooks and all that, so Mac and Steve were left to reach a consensus. As for the rest of us, it was a first-time visit to the Striding-Helvellyn-Swirral route, the common connection (mostly) being that we’d met on the previous Snowdon trip and / or are compadres in Marsden or the Huddersfield area. All are lovers of hills, dales, moors and mountains (or at least, are mountain-curious) . A couple were training for forthcoming charity events. All were good fun, friendly folk and whilst I really like the solitude of just myself and Brodie on many a moors walk, I do like a gregarious gaggle too.

Common Room map reading in Helvellyn YHA Hostel.
Andy, Emma and Mac consult a map of the area in the hostel common room.

It was also the first visit to the hostel for most for us. It was really welcoming, great food and the Sneck Lifter didn’t run out, so no complaints there! YHA provide a brilliant service.
Map consultation - Helvellyn hostel

map reading consultation - Helvellyn hostel
Steve’s map consultation – Helvellyn hostel
Man repairing trousers
Steve repairing his walking trousers, before too many beers make needle-craft too tricky

Three of us were allocated a room with four young lads from a family group. Poor lads: they were all reading when I went into the room to get my phone charger at 10pm but were all asleep when myself, Andy and Mario finally left the common room at 1 a.m (!) to hit the sack. I was as quiet as possible (because I’m like that) but Andy crashed into the room, put the main light on to find his toilet bag .. and I’m sure all three of us snored during the night. It must have been like operation Shock and Awe and they would have been done-in the next day!

The walk itself:

Rather than start with Striding Edge, we headed up the path from the Hostel car park, which took us past the old lead mine buildings (converted to a mix of outward bound centre and holidays rentals, from what I could see) and then onto the track which kept Catstye Cam to our left (with its top in the mist). The path up to Helvellyn felt like a relatively quick ascent and had some switchbacks so wasn’t too aggressive a haul uphill. Hard work though in the rain! Even though it was claggy we had good views down the valley back towards the Hostel and beyond to Glenriding. The views in front and to either side of us were non-existent on the whole.. cloud, mist , fog, curtains of rain.. you get the idea.

Map of Helvellyn and Striding Edge area
The map is a screen grab of the OS Getamap website.. a service worth looking at. I would normally use the Viewranger phone app and would have created a route on the go but didn’t get my act together this time around.

We walked up the winding path to the area above ‘Red Screes’ on the map. And that’s when the wind, which we had been partially sheltered from, really kicked in.

Red Tarn Beck Helvellyn
At the start of the ascent – just up from the Hostel. Actually, the wrong path and Mac quickly realised, so we crossed the beck at the bridge I was standing on and then headed uphill, to the right of this shot.
Map reading helvellyn area
Mac checks the map before we head up towards Red Screes.. with some of the group in the distance with the Hostel down below them (out of shot). Mac is one of the most companionable, generous walk leaders (and fellas) you could meet. Part of Leeds Mountain Club for many years and they’ll have been the better for it I’m sure.
Path to Red Screes, Helvellyn
Some of the group heading up the zig-zagging path below me. I zig-zagged myself actually, between front and back of the group on the day. Helvellyn would have been behind and to the left of them if we could see it in the low cloud.

By the time we reached higher ground above Red Screes it wasn’t raining too much. But the combination of low cloud and strong winds meant the temperature had dropped dramatically (even though we were well warmed up from the ascent). So it was time to put an extra layer on. Which was easier said than done: everyone had to hold onto whatever layer they were donning or swapping. A loose grip would have meant any garment would have disappeared immediately in the direction of Catstye Cam!

On top of Red Screes, Helvellyn
On top of Red Screes, Helvellyn .. Andy looking how most felt: where were the views and blue skies?!

From Red Screes we traversed south across a fairly featureless plateau (albeit with some height gain) up to Helvellyn trig point. This section took about an hour or so I think but was ‘featureless’ in that it was encased in a shroud of low cloud. I’d like to head back on a fine day as the views down to Brown Cove and across to Swirral Edge and the distant lakes peaks must be fantastic. Ah well.. not this time.

We had a food break just after the Trig Point and I sat down on one of stone benches .. and detected a distinctly unappetising smell. A quick visual check showed that someone had used the low wall protection of the cross-shaped seating as a toilet screen and then just covered their doings and tissue remnants with some small stones. Great. I know we all get caught short.. but wandering of for a couple of minutes, away from where people will obviously shelter or stop for some food has got to be the decent (only) thing to do. Moan over.

From the Helvellyn Trig / seats it was a short walk to the start of the descent down to the ‘end’ of Striding Edge. I’m writing this like I know – but most of what I have read or watched on YouTube shows the Helvellyn/Striding Edge scramble as normally tackled ‘uphill’ e.g you have come across Striding Edge first. With us doing it the other way around and it being very wet, the footing on some of the stones was pretty slippy. I’m not sure of the geology of the area (will check) but you had to watch your steps on some stones, as they had a slight soapy feel to them. Hand grips definitely required on most of the steep downwards journey.

Descending from Helvellyn up to the 'start' of Striding Edge
Descending from Helvellyn up to the ‘start’ of Striding Edge.
Checking out Striding Edge
Mac and Steve going ahead and checking out Striding Edge..

Once we were all down to the saddle between Striding Edge and Helvellyn, the conditions were checked out (the rain had cleared but the wind was still in full-effect). Not everyone was an experienced ridge walker and the weather was poor so, sensibly; Mac, Steve and Richard checked out both the ridge and the side path. After a group discussion all confirmed they were happy to stay ‘on track’ rather than do a return route via Helvellyn and Red Screes etc.

From Striding Edge looking back to Helvellyn descent
From Striding Edge looking back to Helvellyn descent

I had crossed onto Striding Edge with Mac as the ‘halfway’ (very appropriate!) hiker between the really experienced guys and the more inexperienced gang .. to assess just how do-able it would be in the weather conditions and I had a good photo opp 🙂

I thought I’d be more trepidatious but those Rum Cuillins amongst other mountainous excursions in the last few years have made me more sure-footed or given me a less clouded head for heights. Either way, I was happy to traverse across and reassure the others that the short initial side path, whilst having a drop to the side was comfortably traversable. Actually, that particular route was a false start (!) in that it there was a wider, clearer path to the right (as seen from Helvellyn descent) of the stone stack at the end of Striding Edge. It was the better option, so most took that route.

I went ‘over the top’ of the stack with Steve and Rachel (a) as the wind had dropped and (b) I actually wanted to challenge myself (within self-imposed health and safety guidelines etc..). We then reached the start of Striding Edge proper. Two of the group had obviously committed to walk the ridge and had set off as soon as we descended Helvellyn. Steve was aware (in terms of clocking who was accounted for at the end) and they were experienced, independent adults etc so off they went. The remaining group split into two – those going along the Edge / ridge (Steve, Rachel and Richard) and the others taking the distinct side path that is a few feet below. Mac was at the front of this second group to ensure no problems. The winter / awful wet spring had had an effect in places and whilst no sections had been washed away as such, the path narrowed or had degraded in parts. And I stopped at the back : I appointed myself watch-out (get me) although I was mostly focusing on solid footing and stopping for the occasional look at the (by now) clearing view of Red Tarn below us. And of course taking photos 🙂

Red Tarn from Striding Edge
Red Tarn from Striding Edge – panorama. With added cloud. Click to enlarge.

I could see Steve and Rachel above me on a couple of occasions and then a while later, in the distance (up high) Andy and Emma, who had traversed the ridge once and were on their way back along it for good measure. Near the end section of the side path I decided that, gusty wind or not, I wanted to actually get on to the ridge and get a sense of the views (if that was possible with all that cloud).
Walker On Striding Edge

Up I headed (Richard is prominent in the photo above, Steve and Rachel further back) .. my timing was pretty good, I found a scramble route up to the ridge and .. yes the weather was clearing. But it was still gusty! I braced myself and had a look about. I could see a clearing Red Tarn and Swirral Edge on one side and what I think would have been Grisedale Forest and Grisedale Beck (prominent in white water spate) in the other.

Striding Edge looking towards Grisedale beck
From Striding Edge looking towards Grisedale Beck

Having been a bad (self-appointed) back-stop and deserted my station, I walked along the ridge to the end, which entailed a bit of using hands to step down off of some of the larger outcrops (again, some being a bit slippy from the rain).

I allowed myself the conceit of ‘wasn’t too bad really’.. but of course I only walked the ridge right at the start, then took the side-path for most of the traverse and then went back up on to the ridge near the end. I gathered the buffeting / gusting wind in the mid section was pretty challenging.

Mark Kelly Hike hiking blog Striding Edge
A self-portrait, hoping to capture the start (or end) of Striding Edge behind me. Didn’t quite work but the slight giddiness of having been up there and also seeing clearer weather is evident!
Striding Edge Tomfoolery and Japes
More giddiness – from Steve and Richard also, err, happy to have completed the walk.
Looking back towards Glenridding and beyond from Striding Edge
Looking back to the start .. towards Glenridding and beyond from Striding Edge. Richard from our group framing it all nicely. The rest of the group down below us..

I’d like to head back up to walk the whole route on a calmer (and sunnier) day for sure.

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9 thoughts on “Heads down on Helvellyn – or – Striding Edge the wrong way round

  1. Great stuff! I’ve only done it the ‘traditional’ way myself – up Striding and down Swirral! (Except when I’ve done it via several different routes from the western side……….) 🙂

  2. A great post Mark, and a really entertaining read!

    I lived in Patterdale for 2½ years, and got to know ‘The Edges’ pretty well – for me there’s only one way, that’s up Swirral and down Striding. The ascent of Swirral is more entertaining than the descent (and safer in winter conditions), and you also go down from the summit to Striding Edge, rather than slogging up the tedious final slope.

    Well done for taking to the edge on a windy day – it’s a bit of a test of ‘bottle’ in those conditions.

    • Thanks Paul! That would have been a nice part of world to live in. I maybe should get carried away and plan two return trips, each starting with the a different edge 🙂

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