Sometimes it’s good to push yourself out of your comfort zone. It might hurt at the time (or even 2 days later) but that feeling of achievement and of simply being alive makes it all worthwhile!
Hence we decided, despite both being in the worst shape of our lives, to tackle Helvellyn. Not just tackle it, but to embark on the hardest hike we’ve done since Ben Nevis in the summer of 2014.I planned a 10 mile circular route, starting from Glencoyne car park (free to National Trust members-not that that had an bearing on my decision to start there of course), following Sticks Pass, before turning and taking on the not-unsubstantial Raise (883m) and White Side (863m), before heading to the summit of Helvellyn at a mighty 950m. We descended via Swirral Edge and down to Glenridding, before heading back to the car.
We’ve walked the start of this hike before, and it was great to be back and see the view in its autumn colours. It’s a short, sharp start, and I’m not going to lie, it was hard going. I was almost regretting my route already, but the advantage is that after the first 20 minutes or so, we were already at about 600m.
We then had an easy middle section with plenty of flat paths and great views to admire. We were pretty much alone as well, which is always a bonus in The Lakes. It was unseasonably warm, I was just in my base layer (and still sweating) and we were both rather pleased how lucky we were with the weather.
This soon changed as the cloud increased and the mist came down.
As we climbed up Sticks Pass and onto the ridge, we started to meet other walkers, and worryingly they were all wearing coats, hats and gloves. Visibility was rapidly decreasing and I suddenly doubted my navigating abilities.
As it turned out there were plenty of other hikers to follow, and the strategically placed cairns helped no end. We were getting soaked in the mist, so had to layer up with fleeces and waterproofs for the rest of the way. It was such a difference from the start!
The walk along the ridge wasn’t too difficult as we climbed up and down a couple of smaller peaks. However, the final ascent up to the summit of Helvellyn was difficult and I may have cursed a bit. It was hard doing all that work without having the reward of magnificent views. In fact we could only see a couple of metres ahead, with just grey to each side of us.
We finally made it to the top, the summit marked by a pile of stones. A few metres away is a trig point and I’m afraid we had to pose for the obligatory selfie.
Just behind us in the photo above is the famous Striding Edge. Not that you’d know it! Having seen photos of the views from here, it was slightly disheartening to know that we were missing one of the most iconic vistas in the UK, despite standing just feet away.
There was no time to dwell, we still had a tricky descent to nail. We came down via Swirral Edge (which is right by the summit cairn) maybe not as famous as Striding, but still a tricky section. I basically slid down most of it on my arse, the wet rocks making it especially tough. Again, it was unfortunate tackling this tricky bit without being able to see the staggering views that I knew were each side of us. It didn’t help that my legs were like jelly by this point.
We found a suitable sheltered spot to eat our lunch, before setting off on the final leg. We followed the footpath past Red Tarn and down to Glenridding.
It wasn’t a perfect hike, but it felt good! It was life affirming to have accomplished a difficult route. It has definitely given me confidence that we can do proper day hikes again in the future.
Helvellyn is not an easy peak, and should not be underestimated. I certainly made sure that we had all of the essential hiking equipment with us. The beauty of it is that there are several possible routes, we went the long way round but there are shorter routes from the Thirlmere side. It is also possible to tackle it without the need for scrambling over Striding or Swirral Edges if you’re not a fan of heights.
Have you ever taken on a challenge like Helvellyn?