Helvellyn to Dollywagon Pike from Swirls

29th March 2013

Today I am on a quest, a quest that I thought had passed & something that I thought I had to wait another twelve months for – for you see, I thought I had missed my chances on my yearly winter Helvellyn climb, I was wrong as for 2013 Winter extended into springtime & I got my climb.

Okay, I know I really shouldn’t be writing or be mentioning the topic of winter so late into March but what choice do we have?

Still on the topic of winter let me tell you that the snow maybe around longer than we think, in places the drifts build up to a metre & beyond, I guess its going to take a whole lot of warm sunshine to melt said snow, & we all know what comes with the melt? saturated ground so as we speak the fells are a month behind – unless we get some prolific warm & dry periods, I guess what I am saying for now is, the snow on the high fells isn’t going anywhere just yet.

I choose Helvellyn (along with Great End) because I cut my winter climbing on their backs as a novice walker, she did then, & still continues to stretch my winter skills as a walker & long may Helvellyn & the rest of the Lakeland fells continue to do so.

Hopefully we have seen the last of any more prolonged snow fall & the fells can bloom in their spring & summer glory, I love the snow & I love walking in it but it does come a time when really all I want is to see the back end of it at times, today I took advantage of it.

Wainwright Guidebook
The EAstern Fells

Surely there is no other place in this whole wonderful world quite like Lakeland… no other so charming, no other that calls so insistently across a gulf of distance. All whole truly love Lakeland are exiles when away from it.



3,300 Feet, 1,006 Metres

Wainwrights: 3, Helvellyn – Nethermost Pike – Dollywagon Pike
Weather: Overcast To Start Turning Sunny, Highs Of 5°C Lows Of 0°C Feels Like -11°C Wind 20mph
Parking: Swirls, Thirlmere (£7 All day parking)
Area: Eastern
Miles: 8.6
Walking With: On my own
Ordnance Survey: OL4
Time Taken: 6 Hours 10 Minutes
Route: Swirls – Brown Cove Crags – Helvellyn Lower Man -Helvellyn – Nethermost Pike – High Crag – Dollywagon Pike – Grisedale Tarn – Raise Beck – Dunmail Raise – Wythburn – Forest Path – Swirls

Map and Photo Gallery



07:38 °1C

In the shadow of Browncove Crags from Helvellyn Gill.

I arrived at Swirls with intent on parking at the free car park (Thilrmere side of the A591) I was first to arrive & parking was easy, I proceeded to kit up as my body’s temperature quickly plummeted from leaving the likes of a nice warm car heater set at 26°C

Kitted up, doors closed keys tucked safely away – I glanced towards the far side of the still empty car park, is that… is that a parking machine? lying slightly horizontal from either a disgruntled driver or worse…The fact that now you have to pay at the free car park…does that make sense? I figure you know what I mean…

It wasn’t there the last time I was here…granted over a year ago.

I walk over to the parking machine with seven pound coins in my pocket & was greeted by an ‘Out Of Order’ sign.

I take a photo & think sod it, if I get a ticket I have proof I couldn’t pay – I start to walk back to my car thinking these crafty buggers would just say there’s a perfectly good machine across the road which indeed there was.

I proceed to cop-out at the fact that I am now going to part with my hard earned coinage, car unlocked, pack on the passenger seat, I cross the road & park at the pay & display car park & part with my seven pound.

What a faff, all that for seven quid? you bet, have you seen the price of fuel this last few weeks? of course you have, so who could blame me.

Fuel, work, almost everything empties my head I gaze upon Browncove Crags & that space in-between me & it.

It’s great to be back in Lakeland.


Easier just to hop over…

There’s no escaping the fact that Lakeland is under a blanket of snow, with roads still closed & MRT all over Cumbria stretched to breaking point I figured that If I managed to get here safely at all I wasn’t going to see many people on the fells today & I was right.

Ahead of me is one guy, he keeps looking back at me with that ‘Is he going to catch up with me’ look, there’s no chance of that I say to myself.

The path here although under two/three foot of snow was relatively easy to follow & I can only thank previous walkers for that.


Looking back on Thirlmere, High Seat, Bleaberry Fell & Raven Crag from my ascent.

It wont be long before I have to reach for the crampons, but, not just yet.


On a more northern aspect, The Skiddaw massif.


Browncove Crags from my ascent.

The guy I have been following has just rounded the shoulder of Browncove Crags & is now out of sight, I take a look behind me & spot no one, so for at least now I have the ascent to myself.

Or so it seemed.


Spindrift, sun & walker.

I guess I had my head into the walk & didn’t notice this walker heading down with an almost jog-on affect, I couldn’t help but reach for the camera & take this picture.

We spoke for a while about the conditions on which we both agreed were fantastic. ‘I couldn’t believe I had the summit to myself he explained, there’s no one up there it was great’ he asked was I climbing or walking as I duly replied, just walking today!

Well have a good day he replies…before he wanders off I notice he is wearing his crampons (an idea I had been toying with for the past ten minutes myself) so a little further on as the soft snow gave way for ice/snow underfoot, I stop at a flat piece of rock & apply my crampons & swapped the walking pole for the ice-axe.


Browncove Crags disappears back into the shade as the climb now gets steeper by the step.


Every once in a while it was nice to turn around & be reminded about the beauty of this difficult & at times, arduous climb.


The last hundred metres or so were the steepest by far, the crampons certainly helped along this last section.


White Side goes mono.

The whole scenery changed as I reached the top of Browncove Crags as that early morning sun was getting more & more obscured by grey cloud above.

I figured as much but was a little disappointed at the same time, it wasn’t to last so I press on with the walk.

Not before a quick visit to…


Browncove Crags summit.


Helvellyn Lower Man from Browncove Crags.

As expected it got notably colder as a bitter cross wind enveloped across the ridge. It was time for the neck gator, hat & thick winter gloves.

Leaving Browncove Crags for Lower Man was a highlight of the whole walk which I guess summoned for what I had in store over the next few hours.


White Side, Raise & Stybarrow Dodd with a distant glimpse of Watson’s Dodd from Helvellyn Lower Man.


Swirral Edge & Helvellyn from Helvellyn Lower Man.

It was time to turn my attention to Helvellyn & take in the enormity of the conditions ranging from the spindrift, wind slab & the unpredictability of every boot print & not to mention, the vastness of the cornice built up along the eastern face.

It certainly wasn’t a place for the novice of walkers.


Looking over Keppel Cove towards Catstycam with a distant Glenridding Valley below.


Helvellyn over Keppel Cove.

Time to find myself back on that summit path.


Hard core gully climber making his way back to Browncove Crags.

It turns out the guy I was tailing was this guy, a local from Keswick who had all intentions of descending Helvellyn’s steep east face gully’s with a return via Swirral Edge.

His face weathered, his lips spilt from the constant cold, this was one hard core climber, we depart as he & his ice-axe’s go in search of more gully’s via Browncove.

Extreme yes, but a true lover of the mountains.


Helvellyn summit Trig Point.

I soon reached the summit Trig Point which was almost buried under two feet of snow. It seems I have the whole summit to myself which seems strange given that today is the first bank holiday of the year, but not so strange given the conditions.

With careful footings I press on towards the summit shelter, but not before a few more photographs.


Zooming in on two walkers heading up Swirral Edge.


Looking back across the summit with a hint of blue from from above.


Helvellyn summit cross shelter, not doing much in the way of sheltering…I press on towards the Gough Memorial.


The Gough Memorial under arctic blast.

I guess the whole time, even though I knew was safe, I was being a little over cautious on where I was standing with an eye watering snow cornice behind me, this location was no different.

The ‘White’ conditions can play tricks on your mind & not to mention your eye co-ordination, here I had all intentions of taking a picture bearing down on Striding Edge but I found it just to dangerous & difficult to get that perfect shot so after a few minutes trying I gave up & headed back to the path with Nethermost Pike in mind.


Back to mono as I head for Nethermost Pike.

The crossing from Helvellyn to Nethermost & a little beyond was slow & arduous, blazing trail in these conditions was slowly epping away at my reserves, I told myself that when upon Nethermost & It was time to leave the main path – should the snow depth be the same I should give it a miss.

Luckily the snow depth eased & I was able to make my ascent on Nethermost Pike.


Striding Edge in full winter glory (albeit in spring time) as I pass Nethermost Cove.


Fairfield & Great Rigg from Nethermost Pike summit cairn.

More laborious snow crunching as I head across the summit plateau before I re-join with the main path.

But on the up side, it looks as if the sun is trying to come out.


Dollywagon Pike from High Crag.

The weather from here on in took a turn for the better so it seems, gone was the grey & in with the blue, it was also here I started to meet more walkers heading for Helvellyn’s summit.


A sea of snow capped central & southern Lakeland.


Looking back as the sun came out on High Crag.


Saint Sunday Crag under blue skies from Dollywagon Pike summit.

The sun was out leaving the snow sparkling in brilliant white, so much better than dull grey.


The Grisedale Valley with Place Fell (C) & Ullswater far left.

If only I had this light whilst at Helvellyn’s summit…no point crying over spilt milk, I press on under glorious blue & over brilliant white.


Saint Sunday Crag in all her winter glory.


Beautiful snow cornice at the head of Cock Cove, here looking towards Fairfield & a distant Great Rigg.

My route would now take me centre right to pick up the zig-zag path that will lead me down to Grisedale Tarn.


The eastern fells from my descent of Dollywagon Pike.


The dominance of a winter Fairfield with Falcon Crag in the very foreground.


This time, Saint Sunday Crag from the same vantage point.

It was so difficult to holster the camera at this point, but I had to make my descent to Grisedale Tarn if not just to grab some lunch…so here it is, Grisedale Tarn not my lunch.


Grisedale Tarn, Seat Sandal & Grisedale Hause from my descent.

It was here I started to meet more walkers heading up to Dollywagon Pike & Helvellyn, all asking the same question…is it windy? what’s it like up there?

As I rounded the Tarn I settles at a boulder & perched my bum upon it to eat lunch. Here I gazed as more walkers headed from the direction of Grisedale Hause & Raise Beck (my descent route) to make their claim on the fells on what was turning out to be a perfect day for walking, pity my walk was almost over with exception of my odd descent via Raise Beck…

Or what I could make out of it, more a little later, for now its mixed cheese & soft white.


Raise Beck or glacier?

Raise beck is somewhere beneath my feet, I cant hear it nor see it, the only time I knew it was there was when my weight punched through the snow giving my boots a good soaking.


Raise Beck, its down there somewhere!


Steel Fell dominates my Raise Beck descent.


Dunmail Raise cairn situated at the top of the A591

It was now time to de-kit, so off came my thick winter gloves & neck gaiter & not to mention the Crampons a little while earlier as I prepare myself for the 3.2 mile walk back to Swirls.


You still cant see Swirls from here, its past the bend in the lake & beyond craggy outcrop on the far right, best get walking.


After a mile & a half I reached the forestry tracks of Wythburn. At the halfway point & still walking in snow the track here is mostly up hill all the way back to Swirls, so its best to self prepare that the return journey can be as long as the main walk itself.


A beautiful setting non-the-less.

It’s hard to believe that this is a spring setting with snow lying so low on the ground & deep on the fell tops, I do have to thank winter for hanging onto the very end, without it I wouldn’t of had the perfect winter walk on a much loved mountain.


Back to top