If you are looking for some adventure this winter then why not consider climbing Helvellyn by its edges? This classic summer time scramble can offer a fantastic introduction to winter mountaineering!
Start your journey in the village of Glenridding. There is a car park in the village next to the tourist information centre. Here you can get the latest weather forecast and fell top conditions at the weekend if you have not checked them out using the weatherline web site. In the village you will also find accommodation as well as places to buy equipment and food.
From the TIC cross over the beck and follow the road up the side until it turns into a gravel track. Take the path past Ghyllside and then head up the Mires beck track. Be careful on this path as ice can form on it making it slippery, but ice can be avoided by walking around it. As you climb up this path views down to Glenridding and Ullswater start to open up. Stop to admire these, keeping an eye out for the steamers as they will still be running a winter service.
As you reach the wall your map shows the path – follow this up on to Birkhouse Moor. Major footpath work has been undertaken to re-route the path and to allow the erosion caused by thousands of feet to recover. Follow the new path which takes you to the summit of Birkhouse Moor.
Birkhouse Moor is the peak you will have seen from the car park and is often mistaken by many tourists to be the summit of Helvellyn. Stop to admire the vistas before you – looking across the valley towards Ullswater, the High Street fells and beyond to the Pennines. Look the other way and you will now see the flat summit of Helvellyn and the two sweeping ridges that make up the major challenges of your day.
Follow the wall along until you reach the corner. This area has been made famous by Wainwright as the “hole in the wall” in his pictorial guide. This signals the start of Striding Edge. At this point it is worth checking the weather and conditions to decide if Striding Edge is a good idea or if a more simple ascent of Swirral Edge is a better option.
Striding edge starts off as a broad ridge until High Spying How. Here it narrows and provides a number of options for the winter walker. Depending on your experience and skill you can choose a number of options in terms of the route you take. At the same time consideration should be taken of the snow conditions and the prevailing weather.
You can climb along the summit ridge over rocky steps and down climb the rocky chimney. Or you can find one of the rocky paths that makes its way along the ridge just below the crest. The end of the ridge finishes with either further rocky climbing or a path up to the summit plateau. This final section can contain large amounts of snow and the path can be icy. Be careful to ensure the snow is stable as it can be avalanche prone.
On the plateau head for the summit shelter. Hopefully it will not be full of snow so you can stop for a rest and some sustenance before undertaking the descent down Swirral Edge. If you have chosen a good day, the walk across the summit to the top of Swirral Edge is straightforward. In poor weather this can be a little more complicated as the summit is featureless other than the trig point. Make sure you avoid the edge above Red Tarn as people do fall through the cornice each year. It is also a popular easy winter climb and so often tracks can be found coming up it so make sure you do not follow them by mistake.
From the top of Swirral Edge you will often find a track down. Like the final slopes on Striding Edge caution should be taken if the path is icy or snow conditions are unstable. The ridge becomes rocky with sections to scramble down or avoid on less distinct paths. Once at the bottom of the steeper rocky section the angle eases.
Follow the ridge crest or one of the paths on the southern side of the ridge. The path then descends down to the outflow of Red Tarn. From here you can either walk back across to the hole in the wall and then return via Mires Beck or you can descend down to Greenside Mine and then follow the road from the Youth Hostel back to Glenridding.
The edges in winter provide a fantastic day out. It can be challenging but rewarding the winter walker/mountaineer with stunning views. Ensure you have the skills and equipment to enjoy this route safely. If not, then hire a guide/winter mountain leader who can lead you and provide you with any technical equipment you might need.
You should ensure you carry the following equipment:
- rucksack + liner
- waterproof jacket & trousers
- Spare warm top
- warm hat + gloves + spares
- sun glasses, sun cream, lip balm
- ice axe & crampons (and know how to use them)
- map & compass (and know how to use them)
- first aid kit (and know how to use it)
- emergency shelter or bivi bag
- lunch + hot drink + energy snacks
- head torch and spare batteries