There are many fine ways to climb Helvellyn but an ascent via Striding Edge has to be considered the most spectacular of all. This narrow ridge has a reputation of being scary and difficult. Although anyone who has done a few Wainwright Fells will have already met similar individual obstacles, such as a short down climb, or a scramble up over a boulder here on Striding Edge these are all put together with the delight, or terror, of standing on a narrow walkway with valleys falling away to either side. You can avoid some, or most difficulties by using bypass paths below the crest however they are on arguably more exposed ground with their own problems. One such bypass ends in a loose and steep gully which is quite nasty. At the end of the ridge there is a short down climb of around
Swirral Edge is often disregarded as just more of the same. However, it isn't, it has qualities of its own. In descent, it starts with a loose stony drop onto a short steep ridge of jumbled boulders which often require a bit of down-scrambling. A loose and nasty gully going off to the left, into Keppel Cove, is best avoided. Slips are very easy in descent.
A first crossing of Striding Edge and Swirral Edge is best undertaken in summer when the rock is dry and the wind gentle. A moderate breeze is good to keep you cool, but windy can easily knock you off, or unbalance you, and that will have consequences. You want to enjoy the day, right?!
To reinforce the seriousness of these ridges, near the start of Striding Edge is the Dixon memorial. A small but conspicuous plaque reads "In memory of Robert Dixon of Rooking, Patterdale who was killed on this spot on the 27th day of November 1858 following the Patterdale Foxhounds". Once safely across, at the far end of the ridge is the memorial stone to painter Charles Gough which is worth pausing to read. Today people still fall sustaining serious or fatal injuries.
Red Tarn, which sits between the edges and will be seen from many aspects, is home to a small population of the Schelly which is a rare freshwater white fish which is only found in a few tarns in the Lake District and the Arctic.
The walk starts in the village of Glenridding where there is a large Lake District National Park Authority pay and display car park.
This walk takes you to the top of the following hills: Striding Edge, Helvellyn, Catstye Cam, and Birkhouse Moor; and includes 1 Furth, 3 Wainwrights, 4 Nuttalls, 3 Birketts, 1 Marilyn, 2 Hewitts, 1 HuMP, and 1 County Top - Historic.
Walk height profile
note that gradients are usually grossly exaggerated
Leave the car park by the entrance and at the road turn right to cross Glenridding Beck bridge, then immediately right again. Follow this road it soon becomes a rough track, bear right at the sign post onto the bridleway to Gillside campsite. Pass below the campsite, and on to the road. Bear left up towards the farm, but just before bear right up a rough farm track. You are now heading up alongside Mires Beck, and aiming for the notch in the skyline roughly ahead.
Reaching the fell gate, turn left, cross the footbridge, keep with the path as it swings right to climb with the beck close by. The views behind to Glenridding Dodd, Heron Pike, and Ullswater are fantastic and well worth a few minutes breather to admire.
As you come up to the wall going over Birkhouse Moor bear right, and soon bear right again to zigzag up the fellside. Don't follow the wall up. At the top of the zigzags bear left to rejoin alongside the wall, and on over the summit of Birkhouse Moor up to the Hole in the Wall.
The famous Hole in the Wall is nowadays a step stile in the wall, just round the wall corner. Ahead though is the anticipation of Striding Edge.
Follow the path onto Bleaberry Crag, and the side of Low Spying How. Thread your way amongst the boulders, onto the start of the ridge. Take to the crest of the ridge. An almost flat top makes for easy, if careful, striding along. You will need to come off the crest occasionally, initially it seems best to drop to the path on the right then getting back on the crest as soon as possible.
You will have to use your own judgement precisely where you drop from the crest and rejoin. But take your time, and where exposed use three points of contact.
Nearing the end of the ridge the crest drops ending abruptly, a chimney on the left is the way down. Pick hand and foot placements carefully. If that is too difficult, and it probably will be for dogs, or children. Just back a little is an easier gully that drops to a bypass path. Great care is obviously still needed.
Ahead is a substantial looking rock tower. Initially tackle it ahead and then pick an easy climbing shelf that goes right to left. Over the top and onto the head wall path which goes right to left. This last bit is of steep, loose gravel but there are no other difficulties. At the top turn right and you'll come to the Gough memorial.
Continue on up to the cross-shelter, trig point, and cairn at the summit of Helvellyn.
Continue on around the headwall to a large cairn which stands at the top of Swirral Edge. Turn right at the cairn and drop down the eroded start of the ridge. Great care is needed here as it's very steep and loose. Stay on the left side of the ridge but don't stray far from the nominal crest. It soon becomes bouldery with patches worn smooth by the passage of boots.
Soon you come to some sloping slabs above a gully on the left. Keep high and right, pass through a narrow rock gap, and then continue descending past the slabs. This short scramble finishes quickly.
After a short stroll a bump on the ridge is best tackled directly, and only at the far end drop right to an easy path slightly below.
Continue along the path, which branches right to Red Tarn. You can continue descending here but we thought it would be a shame not to visit Catstycam. So carry on ahead to climb to Catstycam's rough and airy summit.
From the summit of Catstycam you can descend down the eastern shoulder directly to Red Tarn Beck. But we wanted to sit by Red Tarn for a bit just to take in the ambience. So retrace your steps back to the col and turn left to descend to Red Tarn. It's a fantastically atmospheric place, and of course you get to look at the head wall of Helvellyn and admire the two ridges you have just traversed!
When you're done bear left from the tarn, descending a good gravel path alongside Red Tarn Beck, at the bottom bear right to cross the footbridge over the beck. You are now above Glenridding Beck heading towards the village.
Just before reaching the mine buildings on the other bank, cross the gated footbridge to pass amongst the buildings onto Greenside Road which you then follow back into Glenridding.
If you like this walk then why not try one of our other nearby walks:
|White Side and Raise, from Glenridding||22m (24 yards) away|
|Glenridding Dodd, Heron Pike and Sheffield Pike||41m (45 yards) away|
|Lanty's Tarn, Birkhouse Moor, Red Tarn, Catstycam||85m (94 yards) away|
|Greenside Mine and Glenridding Beck Circular Stroll||107m (118 yards) away|
|Lanty's Tarn, Keldas, and Patterdale Circular||110m (121 yards) away|
|Glenridding Dodd||120m (132 yards) away|
|Place Fell and a stroll alongside Ullswater||1.2km (0.7 miles) away|
|Birks and Arnison Crag||1.4km (0.9 miles) away|
|A visit to Place Fell overlooking Ullswater||1.4km (0.9 miles) away|
|St Sunday Crag and Grisedale Tarn||1.4km (0.9 miles) away|
|Aira Force and Gowbarrow Fell||3.5km (2.2 miles) away|
|A short walk to Hart Side from Park Brow||3.8km (2.3 miles) away|
|The Dovedale Round: Hartsop above How, Hart Crag, High Hartsop Dodd||3.9km (2.4 miles) away|
|Rest Dodd and The Nab||4.6km (2.9 miles) away|
|Around Hayeswater Reservoir||4.6km (2.9 miles) away|
|Brock Crags and Angletarn Pikes circular walk from Hartsop||4.6km (2.9 miles) away|
|Pasture Beck Round, from Hartsop||4.6km (2.9 miles) away|
Unless otherwise stated the text in this walk is the copyright of Hug Solutions Ltd trading as The Hug and the photographs are the copyright of Elizabeth Oldham. Hill data is derived from Database of British and Irish hills which is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License. Maps contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2011 and paths © OpenStreetMap Contributors,CC-BY-SA, 2011