Helvellyn and the Lake District challenge
“Try and find something you enjoy doing” is one of the more frustrating pieces of advice I’ve been given when it comes to exercise. Whilst I would love to say that “running becomes addictive” it is simply not the case for me. Running is a chore and whilst I recognise the benefits of it, I will never be a happy runner.
Team sports have always been fun but it is harder to find and then commit to a regular game of football as the years creep on. I’ve always been a fan of racquet sports and played tennis to a decent competitive standard in my younger years. Unfortunately, my parents couldn’t commit to taking me to training at 6am before school and my interest began to wane.
One thing I always enjoyed when I was younger was a hiking trip to the Lake District whether it be with my old man or on a school trip. Having failed to catch the running bug I decided that I would give hiking another go. Back in the 1990s I was at the mercy of whatever route my Dad and his friends would plan or what the teacher decided but in this day and age I have a world of information at my fingertips.
Last year decided to start walking again. With no recent experience of hiking and a questionable base level of fitness I should have probably opted for a gentle return to the fells. I had toyed with going back to Castle Crag, the only Wainwright under 1,000 feet and an old favourite of mine, but decided instead that I wanted a challenge. With this is mind I set my sights on Helvellyn, the third highest peak in England at 950m. A google search showed countless images of Striding Edge, the sharp arete that leads to the southern edge of the summit. These images piqued my interest and I then searched for hiking routes to the summit. The consensus was a circular route from Glenridding on the shores of Ullswater ascending via Striding Edge and then coming back down Swirral Edge. At just under eight miles I knew I could manage the distance, but was unsure what to expect from the climb. Putting these concerns to one side I checked the weather forecast and was delighted to see a few days of sunshine on the horizon. Deciding there was no time like the present I popped to the supermarket for supplies, made my sandwiches, packed some sun cream and headed west across the A66.
As I left the car park at Glenridding I remembered how friendly fellow walkers were. Regular greetings and small talk put a smile on my face as I ascended. I regularly looked behind in awe as Ullswater below came more in to view. I felt joy at being out in the open air and the steep climb had my heart rate racing. I approached the Hole in the Wall and then started to traverse Striding Edge. I had heard about this scramble many times but can’t put in to words how exhilarating it was to clamber across the rocks, dropping down and climbing back up.
The final ascent from Striding Edge to the summit is a steep scramble, yet my efforts were put to shame by the four-legged members of the Lakeland Labrador Club who made short work of the gradient and bounded toward the summit. When I reached the top, I felt a real sense of achievement. It wasn’t Everest but it was the highest point I had hiked to. After taking a moment to enjoy my packed lunch and chat with fellow walkers I set about heading back down. I’d never heard of Swirral Edge before, with Striding Edge taking all the hype. Swirral however turned out to be just as challenging, a steep decent which involved lots of bum bouncing.
I passed on climbing the outlier Catstycam and also opted not to dip my feet in the Red Tarn that sits between the two edges. I took a slow wander back to Glenridding, my face beaming as I enjoyed the open air and basked in my achievement. A well-deserved pint in the Travellers Rest followed. As I sat there trying to get on to the wifi I thought how liberating it had been to be away from social media, text messages and emails for the day and put my phone back in my pocket, instead opting to chat with fellow hikers about their experiences.
I returned to Helvellyn later on in the year and enjoyed the walk just as much but since then haven’t been able to get over due to the rigours of modern life. With summer here (#schorchio) I have decided to get back on the hiking trail. To tie in with my ramblings here I have decided to give myself a bit of a challenge and plan to climb the ten highest peaks in the Lake District before the end of the year.
The Lake District website tells me they are
1 – Scafell Pike – 978 metres (3210 feet)
2 – Scafell – 964 metres (3162 feet)
3 – Helvellyn – 950 metres (3114 feet)
4 – Skiddaw – 931 metres (3053 feet)
5 – Great End – 910 metres (2986 feet)
6 – Bowfell – 902 metres (2940 feet)
7 – Great Gable – 899 metres (2960 feet)
8 – Pillar – 892 metres (2926 feet)
9 – Nethermost Pike – 892 metres (2923 feet)
10 – Catstycam – 890 metres (2917 feet)
If I manage to get those ten done then I will add two extras for personal reasons.
11 – Blencathra – 868 metres (2848 feet)
12 – Castle Crag – 298 metres (978 feet)
Blencathra joins the list as it was the last mountain my late father climbed. He started climbing in his fifties and enjoyed it but his hiking days were brought to a premature end when he broke his leg 50 yards from the car park after ascending and descending this peak.
Castle Crag, as I alluded to earlier, is the smallest fell in the Wainwright books and has special memories from my childhood. Wainwright described it as “so magnificently independent, so ruggedly individual, so aggressively unashamed of its lack of inches.”
The planning is already underway and I hope to be able to tick of more than one summit in each trip. Helvellyn, Nethermost Pike and Catstycam can be reached in the same day without too much of a detour. The other routes will take more planning (please get in touch with any suggestions).
I’ll update via social media, so make sure you’re following on there.