Winter Walk – Helvellyn via Striding Edge

berghaus winter walk map
Berghaus john gale walk 2Berghaus John Gale walk2Berghaus john gale walk
Berghaus, 01 December 2011
The route from Greenside near to Youth hostel.
Return via …
2    Swirral Edge
3    “Motorway” down Red Screes
4    Ridge from Raise past ski area
5    Drop down from Sticks Pass and through the old mine workings.

Route will depend on fitness, daylight hours and conditions.
The following description is for the basic route up Striding and down Swirral.

You could start in Glenridding but if you are staying in the Youth Hostel or one of the cottages at Greenside then a shorter route is possible.

The Route

Helvellyn via Striding edge in the summer is a classic walk, one of the best in the country. However,  it can be busy and there are now obvious “chicken” paths avoiding most of the difficulties.

In winter the ridge can vary from conditions similar to summer through to full on winter conditions.

Often there will be snow and may be some ice on the ridge but not too serious. Ice axe and crampons are essential but rope is not usually needed for the competent winter walker/climber.

From Greenside, walk past the last buildings and over a new footbridge to gain the true right bank of Glenridding Beck.  Follow the path to another footbridge over Red Tarn Beck which is then followed steeply uphill.

At the footbridge take time to note the remains of a chimney which followed the hillside up towards Birkhouse Moor which took away the poisonous lead fumes from the workings below.

Water was essential for some of the processes so you may just see the lower dam in Brown Cove now destroyed due to health and safety!  The release of the water was controlled by the miners.  More water was delivered behind the dam by the leats.  These were ditches built contouring the hillside with a small incline to allow the water to flow to the dam from the hillside right back to Glenridding.

I digress, so as Red Tarn comes into view there may well be snow as well.  Find shelter and eat butties as this is the first lunch stop.

Now strike up the hillside to the left to gain the main Striding Edge ridge. In summer there is a footpath to follow but may not be visible in snow. Expect cloud, poor visibilty and put on crampons if necessary.

The ridge should be followed as close to the top as possible. In summer you can follow the whole ridge with no hands but I’ve not managed this in winter conditions!

The drop off the final tower to a col beneath the final slopes marks the end of the “Alpine level” section.

If the wind is calm then this could be lunch break two, otherwise continue up the headwall towards the summit plateau.

Finally the level plateau is gained and you find the memorial plaque dedicated to a faithful dog who stayed several months with his dead owner because he liked him so much (more than his own dog food).

So now we jog along through the mist to the cross walls near the summit which give shelter and an ideal spot for lunch three.

With so much eating we are running short of time so we will return via Swirral Edge. This is probably the most dangerous part of the walk as there is severe risk of Sunday walkers taking you out.

A quick visit to the true summit and trig point leads us round to the huge cairn marking the top of Swirral Edge. Here we meet a pair in jeans and bendy boots having second thoughts about descending the hard packed neve at the top of Swirral. Once this danger has gone we are able to descend perfect neve in our crampons and rapidly gained a level section where the path veers right to descend down to Red Tarn.

Not sure when the jean clad couple want to descend or what happened to the guy in shorts we met at the trig point. No doubt they will be found in the spring.

Retracing our steps from Red Tarn we soon come out of the mist, the snow dissapears and we are in a totally different world.  That is the magic of winter days in the hills.  Looking back it is difficult to believe the conditions at our third lunch stop.

Oh, back at the footbridge and an ideal spot for lunch stop four.  We can then wobble on down to the car and then a meal at the Traveller’s Rest just down the road (dinner stop one).

Jon Gale,

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