Skip to content

Helvellyn Hike

In the UK for 2 months and had the opportunity to do some walking in the Lake District. The last time I walked and climbed the fells of the Lake District was over 40 years ago. Back then I spent many of my Easter and summer holidays walking the fells that Alfred Wainright listed in his classic guide books. I still have my original set of Wainright's in fairly good condition and did indeed consult them this time as well. Sadly no more rock climbing after a hairy experience above Coire Lagan in the Black Cuillins of the Isle of Skye. The budget ran to hotels each night complete with comfortable bed, hot showers and cooked breakfasts which was quite a contrast to the crowded YHA hostels or camping years ago.

This walk started from The Swan hotel in Grasmere. The hotel faces Helm Crag on the top of which are two rock features named the Lion and the Lamb (which from some angles they resemble). The Grasmere area is known for its beauty and attracts millions of visitors each year. This year was no exception. Helvellyn also draws many walkers (too many) as I was soon to discover. Many of the walkers also brought their dogs something which wouldn't happen in a national park in Australia.

Helm Crag in Grasmere

Coming out of the hotel (marked PH at the bottom edge of the map) you can walk up a small lane in an eastwards direction up on to the bracken covered slopes.

The path on the Ordinance Survey map then divides. The one I intended to take went straight up Greenhead Gill to the top of Heron Pike (612m). That had all but disappeared so I ended up walking south toward Ambleside. The path skirted the south side of Alcock tarn and then up onto the ridge at Lord Crag. From here I headed north along the ridge, coming first to Heron Pike, then Great Rigg and finally Fairfield (873 metres). The track is easy and well formed.

From Heron Pike looking back to Windemere.

Climbing up to Fairfield.

The descent from Fairfield to Grisedale tarn is steep and slippery. Some track maintenance has begun near the bottom but much more is needed.

Grisedale Tarn.

The passing shower of rain stopped and I packed away the rain clothes and headed up to Dollywagon Pike (858m).

Once up on Dollywagon the track is wide and gently climbs past Nethermost Pike and up to the summit of Helvellyn. Another track comes up from the left bringing many walkers onto the trail. By the time I reached the summit shelter (950 metres) it was crowded. There must have been about 100 others milling around.

A tent had been pitched right on the edge overlooking Red Tarn. The occupants were spruiking bacon butties, Snickers bars and hot cups of tea or coffee. The prices were expensive. This was apparently a fund-raising effort to climb K2 in the Karakoram Range, the world's second highest mountain.

The best feature of Helvellyn is Striding Edge, an easy arete and one of the few examples of ridge scrambling in England. The traffic was all one way and progress against it was difficult. Trying to step out of the way of large parties coming the opposite direction on a narrow ledge is not recommended. 40 years ago I did this in mist with some friends and met no-one. Today it was an effort just to get to the other end.

Once off Striding Edge some lunch. Then still having plenty of time I decided to tackle Catstye Cam (890 metres). Crossed the eastern edge of Red Tarn and then followed the easy path to the top.

From the summit of Catstye Cam I could see the descent path down the valley formed by Red Tarn Beck toward Glenridding. You can see Ullswater lake in the middle distance, at the southern part of which the village is located.

Reached the hotel in Glenridding just before 4pm.

Altogether the walk took just over 6 hours with stops for lunch. A very enjoyable day's walking but relatively big crowds of walkers because of the popularity of the Lake District in high summer.