30th April – 2nd May 2016
I’ve been on Helvellyn once before: four days into 2012 we’d set off from Swirls Car Park, on the mountain’s western side, but it was weather who had the last laugh that day. Faced with 60mph gusts, horizontal hail, and a complete snowy whiteout, we were forced to turn back around three quarters of the way up. Having set the date and planned the route for this latest attempt, it seemed all too similar when we noticed heavy snow and wind forecast for the weekend – we thought we’d have a clear window leaving it so late in the year. With the mindset that we wouldn’t let the mountain be the victor again, we were determined to summit, this time along the more ambitious Striding Edge.
We quickly ascended up from Glenridding to the large Helvellyn horseshoe, where once a large glacier sat before carving its way down into Ullswater. From here we could see striding edge along the southern side of the bowl, the steep climb up to the summit, and our descent back along Swirral Edge, over Catseye Cam and back down to the lower valleys. I’m all for adventure and getting out of your comfort zone; you can only really grow if you are breaking down barriers and pushing yourself to new limits. This hike was definitely risky and there were a few sketchy moments, but it all contributed to making it a trip to remember.
The icy traverse along Striding Edge was challenging, but the most daunting experience was the descent onto Swirral Edge. A narrow chute down through the cornice (the chute can be seen top right in the picture above) required you to kick your own steps into the snow in order to avoiding sliding down and off the cliff below. Three times on my attempt the snow gave way, and I found myself sliding down the snow bank. It’s a strange feeling, not being in control. The route up to the summit was risky, but I always felt capable and knew that it was possible, but in these brief moments of uncontrollably sliding the only thing to do was to try and remain calm and regain some sort of grip on the slope. I was very relieved to reach the rocky ridgeline below, and the safety that lay in hard rock under foot – although the Swirral Edge is still a formidable route off the mountain.
Following our arctic like expedition we unwound around a campfire with a couple of beers and recalled the experiences of the days hike. Our following walk took a less risky path along the Cumbrian coastline at St. Bees, something our weary legs were very thankful for. The Lake District never fails to disappoint with the beauty in its landscape, no matter what the weather, and I’m already dreaming of the next weekend in the Cumbrian mountains