Undeterred by my “practice” walk, today I resolved to climb Helvellyn by the famous Striding Edge route. The weather forecast for the rest of the week didn’t look promising, and this was the only day I was sure of getting some sun. Striding Edge can be dangerously slippery in the rain, so it was today or never.
I parked my car in a village on Ullswater lake, and set off on a well-marked path, part of a steady stream of other walkers. The path led steadily up grassy hills, with fine views back across Ullswater. After I reached the crest of the first hill, a magnificent vista opened up of the high fells, with the massive bulk of Helvellyn looming up in the distance. The summit looked very far away and very high. On each side of the mountain a steep ridge led up – Striding Edge, my way up, to the left, and Swirral Edge, my return route to the right.
I’d climbed Helvellyn once before by a different route and looked down on these “edges”, wondering how anyone could possibly walk along them but when I got closer and could see the path along Striding Edge, I felt a bit reassured.
There was indeed a steep drop on both sides, but by being careful and holding on with both hands, it was possible to clamber over or around the ridge.
Occasional flat platforms in the rock gave me a chance to catch my breath, admire the stunning views over the fells, and see how other climbers were doing. Some had obviously been here many times and progressed fearlessly and quickly, but most proceeded as slowly and cautiously as I did. Eventually I reached the end of the ridge, from where I had to scramble with my hands to the summit up a steep rocky slope. I was rewarded by a spectacular view back down the mountain, over the Edges and back to Ullswater.
Although the climb was bigger than the first day – Helvellyn is 950m high – the good weather, the more gradual slope at the beginning and the excitement of negotiating Striding Edge meant that it felt much easier. I had a quick sandwich lunch at the shelter at the top, admiring the view, before the increasing cold (the sun was now hidden in cloud) encouraged me to start the return trip down Swirral Edge. This ridge required much less hand and foot climbing and I was soon back on a grassy slope.
My trekking guidebook encouraged me to make one last climb up to a small isolated peak called Catstye Cam – from where the view was possibly even better than before, because you could see the sheer cliff under the summit of Helvellyn. What’s more, the sun had returned and unlike the main summit, there were no people. I sat down for a break and to take in the stunning scenery.
From Catstye Cam, the trip back seemed longer than the climb up and even became a bit boring at the end, but my spirits rose when the village came into sight. I arrived just after 5pm and was amazed that all the tea shops had already closed, but this didn’t detract from a great feeling of achievement at having completed one of England’s classic hikes.