Helvellyn From Swirls

19th December 2014

It’s only been two weeks since I was last on the fells but it felt much longer, couple that with the office Christmas Party & a few shopping expeditions Christmas is well on truly on the door step. Time seemed to be running away & so too was any mention of a decent forecast for walking on the fells.

The body is a fickle thing, mine especially as I seem to lose fell fitness relatively quickly over a short period of time, most of this can be put down to mind games in between my head & my legs more so after what always seems to be a high calorie count throughout December; my cure for this was to go for a short walk up a big hill.

Winter has arrived in Lakeland yet back when I penned this walk last Monday quite a lot of snow was lying on the ground over 300 meters, the theme continued throughout the course of last week right up until Thursday/Friday when the fells experienced heavy rain together with a slight rise in temperatures which thawed much of the snow away.

My plan to gain Helvellyn under winter conditions had been scuppered a little – yet my ambition to proceed with my plans stayed firm, the forecasters said to expect high winds & a severe wind chill which helped I guess to blow off those December cobwebs.

Here’s how I got on.


Wainwright Guidebook

The Eastern Fells

-The Eastern Fells:

There is some quality about Helvellyn which endears it in the memory of most people who have stood on its breezy top; although it can be a grim place indeed on a wild night, it is, as a rule, a very friendly giant.


Ascent: 3,800 Feet 1,159 Meters
Wainwrights: 2, Helvellyn – Nethermost Pike
Weather: Overcast With Sporadic Sunshine, Snow/Hail Showers Highs Of 5°C Lows Of 2°C Feels Like -12°C Across The Summits. Strong Winds Up to 44mph
Parking: Free Parking Spaces, Swirls, Thirlmere
Area: Eastern
Miles: 7.8
Walking With: On my own
Ordnance Survey: OL4
Time Taken: 5 Hours 15 Minutes
Route: Swirls – Brown Cove Crags – Helvellyn Lower Man – Helvellyn – Nethermost Pike – High Crag – Birk Side – Comb Crags – Wythburn – Forest Path – Swirls

Map and Photo Gallery


Browncove Crags from Swirls 08.48 2°C

It had only began to break light by the time I reached Grasmere where through the morning traffic I picked my parking spot at the layby a little further on than the pay & display car park more commonly known as the ‘Ice Cream Van car park’ I had the choice of the whole layby so I chose to park close to the top by a metal gate.

Kitting up was done behind the car when from nowhere I found myself within the mist of a hail shower which covered the insides of my boot & belongings in little white balls of hail, my camera hadn’t been packed in its respective case so bore the brunt of the hail. I quickly made a dash for the passengers seat semi kitted up & watched the hail hit the windows of the car while at the same time the windows quickly started to mist up.

The hail shower only lasted five minutes or so & I was soon at the back of the car finishing off kitting up, Helvellyn lay beyond Browncove Crags & was out of sight as I grappled with the idea would I really still need to take the crampons as I couldn’t see any snow from here, I grabbed the strap where my Crampons where fastened to the side of my pack & gave it a tug to release them, then gave it a quick yank back thinking it’s better to have them with me than to wish I hadn’t left them back at the car.

I threw my pack over my shoulder as it landed against my back with a heavy thud, that’s the thud of a fully ladened pack but it felt much more like a punch to me. With this the car was locked I walked back towards the main car park not before experiencing that wind the forecasters had spoke about.

Here, looking down on ground covered with views over Thirlmere, High Seat, Bleaberry Fell, High Rigg & finally Skiddaw.

I guess it was around this point did I notice how much the wind had gained in strength, it was time to batten down the hatches which I did by tightening down my hood over my beanie drawing in all the cords as tight as possible, this however didn’t stop the machine gun created by the ever increasing wind going off in my left ear.

During my ascent I was caught up by a young chap who powered his way to my position, his body was narrow & seemed perfectly streamlined I guess his efforts were much more rewarding than my own. We paused for a brief chat close to where I took this photo as we shouted over the wind our routes & plans, he was making a simple summit of Helvellyn then coming back the way he came back along this path, I spoke of my own intentions which were to make it to Dollywagon Pike, however these plans seemed a little disjointed the further I hustled through the wind.

Views over towards Ullscarth & the Wythburn valley once again hampered by haze.


Whiteside, Raise & Stybarrow Dodd seen from the top of Browncove Crags.

After cresting the summit shoulder of Browncove Crags I made effort to reach the stone cairn found just of the path to gain the summit, however with such a gust from the wind I had trouble walking in a straight line let alone pause for summit photos.

Helvellyn Lower Man seen shortly after leaving Browncove Crags summit.

I guess had I come ill prepared & not dressed for the occasion this is the point where I would have had no other choice other than to turn back & call it a day.

The wind chill here was close to –13°C pushed along by some of the strongest gusts I had ever experienced some of which just took my feet away from beneath me, my safety was paramount despite the struggle to walk in a straight line I persevered to Lower Man where I would evaluate my situation again.

Helvellyn from Helvellyn Lower Man.

Once more there was no time to reach for the camera while at the summit of Lower Man, this due to fact that I needed my arms to stabilise me, with my back to the wind thoughts rushed through my mind what do I do now, because I can’t stay here much longer.

Ahead of me the young lad had made his summit & was by now retreating his way towards Browncove Crags, his arms trailed in front of him the way an apes would headlong into the same wind that had pushed us both up the mountain.

The thought of a turn around still lingered, my body felt strong & well enough to cope with a summit, but, was I just being stubborn & had I crossed the line without knowing it?

I decided to go for a summit or rather the summit shelter where I could dust myself down once more, re-evaluate, and of course, give my ears a rest from the battering they were under.

Brown Cove (seen in the picture between Lower Man & Helvellyn) was given a wide berth as I made for the summit shelter in a crab like motion when I suddenly heard the sound of that distinctive tap, tap, tap against my jacket.

Buggering hell! another hail shower was now on its way.


Sitting out the hail & snow showers at Helvellyn cross shelter.

The summit cross shelter felt like the Hilton of all shelters, I even managed to eat a Snickers Bar without my gloves while I witnessed the Hail & Snow showers turn everything white before me, it was quite surreal as a warm comforting afterglow sank deep into the bowls of my stomach.

My mobile phone rang to the tune of This Charming Man by the Smiths which made the situation even more surreal as I struggled to get it out my map pocket, then further struggled to take it out of its waterproof casing, by which point I had missed call from Tim.

I had full signal & rang Tim back straight away all the while the wind howled just inches above my head as visibility flickered between Catstye Cam & plain nothingness. Tim didn’t get my call either so I packed my phone back into its case while I still sat the snow & hail shower out just looking at my boots eating at Snickers Bar.

Tim rang once more & this time I managed to answer it, you up the Lake district Tim asked? I answered by placing my mobile over the shelter wall into the prevailing winds, you Bastard! Tim replied!

Nethermost Pike from Helvellyn summit cross shelter.

Towards the end of the shower visibility was restoring quite nicely although you can still make out the hail hurtling along the summit plateau.

Nethermost Pike just a few moments later.

I think it’s safe to come out now.

With my walking poles left in the cross shelter I ventured out with my camera to take a few summit shots, hanging around here was just out of the question as my hands through my gloves quickly felt the chill & started to go numb & developed pins & needles, making star fists every few seconds was the only answer to cure this which worked well.

Helvellyn summit & Trig Point.

As mentioned earlier much of the recent snow has thawed leaving the summit looking & feeling rather frosty, still, a relatively large amount holds on to the east wall of the summit with a one meter cornice in places.

Striding Edge & Red Tarn from the Helvellyn summit.


Not even Red Tarn was escaping a lashing from the wind.


Striding Edge close up with St Sunday Crag beyond.

A little snow picked out the path along Striding Edge but other than that the snow had been mostly melted away, however, snow did remain on the exit ramps of both Striding & Swirral Edges.


Time to head back to the shelter.

Back at the cross shelter.

It was time to collect my walking poles & to contemplate my next move, I didn’t need to think about an excursion to Dollywagon Pike the wind had already made my choice which was to make a summit of Black Crag (seen just beyond Nethermost Pike) & retreat my way back down to Wythburn via Birk Side.

Striding Edge, Red Tarn, Birk House Moor & a distant Ullswater seen shortly after leaving Helvellyn summit.

After leaving the summit behind I headed towards the Gough Memorial but was once again beaten back by the wind, my intention was to dip down the exit ramp that overlooks Striding Edge but found the path to be too dangerous without Crampons which I had, but the view in these conditions didn’t justify getting them out.

Behind me I spot movement back at the cross shelter, it’s a solo male walker in a bright red jacket, I give him a wave & get one in return before leaving the Memorial & making my way back towards the main summit path.

Here, pausing to look back at Helvellyn, Striding Edge & Catstye Cam from Nethermost Pike summit.

Nethermost Pike summit was quickly gained but before I made the summit I spotted a guy walking towards me close to the path from Birk Side that forks off for Nethermost Pike, I arrived there first but thought I’d hang around to see if the guy was ok as he gave me that ‘hang on for me kinda look’ I only had to wait a couple of moments before the guy caught up with me, you ok I ask? Yeah with a smile & a smirk, his distinctive American accent unavoidable to detect, are you heading straight for the summit I shouted over the wind, yeah I’m just going to make this peak first (Nethermost Pike) before continuing to Helvellyn & returning via Browncove, it was here I pointed out Lower Man & warned the chap that it was a tad windy there & that I had struggled there too.

Well, you can join me gaining Nethermost Pike as that’s where I’m heading if you like, I received a smile as we walked the short distance towards the summit.

It turned out that his name was Rob & he was from Virginia, Rob told me he was spending a few days in the Lake District before heading down to London to start his new job, I tapped his shoulder laughing and said, your gonna miss this place already.

We parted with a handshake as I told him my name was Paul, stay safe mate, have a good un.

Black Crag.

My last post.

Views into Grisedale over looking Hard Tarn.


Dollywagon Pike, Fairfield Great Rigg, Heron Pike from Black Crag summit.

Sadly the summit of Black Crag was to be my last as I just couldn’t justify grappling with the wind any longer, my body started to ache with the battering it had received & was quietly ready for some time out, but the wintery weather hadn’t finished with me just yet.

I managed to take a quick fix on the direction I was about to take to meet back up with the Birk Side path that flanks both Nethermost Pike & indeed, Black Crag when I spotted another hail/snow shower heading right towards me, only this time I was caught out in the wide open. Before I knew it I had my back to the wind & the hail pelted at me from what seemed, every direction. I had loosened the draw cords on my hood & struggled to draw them in this time as I just couldn’t hold onto my hood long enough such the strength of the wind, it was here I stuck both poles firm into the ground & stood it out.

The shower typically lasted a good five minutes but it sapped at my mental energy, the hail hit my exposed lips like flicks from a hot match each one burning more than the last, the end of my nose bore the brunt of it all as I let out loud girlish screeches by the time it was over I felt as though I’d just been mugged, by a hail shower.

I paused before turning towards Thirlmere, the direction from where the blast caught me, has it gone? The hail/snow shower had passed which on many other occasions was manageable, but today they were pushed along by 40-50mph winds.

It’s vital to dust yourself down after such occurrences which is just what I did, I found my bearings again & crossed the pathless fell side before reaching the Birk Side path just at the point where the path forms a zig-zag descent.

Descending Birk Side.

I had gained enough descent to start to feel & hear things normal again & with this came a much milder air, with this I decided to stop & delayer, pull my trousers back up & give myself a good going over at a quiet spot besides the path where I de-shoulder to take out a sandwich from my butty box. Mentally there is nothing better than something as simple as ‘pull your trousers up moment’ I was now ready for my descent into Wythburn.

Thankfully this next hail shower missed me.


Overcome by an eerie quietness as I take in the views south.


Thirlmere as I start my descent via Coomb Crags.

With my ears returning to normal the sound of Comb Gill dominated my descent even from such a lofty height which was evidence of the recent heavy rainfall.

Steel Fell & the Wythburn valley during a brief appearance from a little sunshine.

The sound of heavy motors & even voices could be heard from within the Forestry Track to my right which then suddenly dawned on me that the last time I was here the Forestry Commission were cutting down trees & had closed the footpath back to Swirls, my stomach sank as I was now realising that they had closed the path back to Swirls, worse still, a path that I adored & held a special fondness of.

This was confirmed the lower I descended into the treeline where bright yellow high viz vest could be seen on the workers who were cutting down the trees, a cable network had also been set up to carry the logs down the fell side by means as what only can be described as a grappling hook.

I soon found myself on the Forestry Path where it was confirmed the footpath was closed, ahead vans, tractors & lorries were all going about their business as I could only look on at the path which lay to ruin, desecrated.

I had no other choice than to descend to Wythburn Church where I pulled out my map, I couldn’t see a route back leaving me with two options, take the Thirlmere Lake road or face on coming traffic along the A591 the latter of which was just a no go.

Wythburn Church.

As peaceful as my surroundings maybe I now had to contemplate my way back to Swirls, I soon ruled the Thirlmere route out as this would only add time & daylight that I just didn’t have. At the head of the car park behind the Church stood a wire fence & besides that, Comb Gill in full flow, beyond both I spotted a narrow track that followed the wall above the road, this was to be my route back.

I wadded through Comb Gill & managed to stay dry before picking up the path which at times lead me through thick bush spitting me out at a Layby that I hadn’t noticed before, from this layby a Forestry Track branched away right steeply back up the fell side, my saviour once more.

The Forestry Track was just that & had been used by heavy plant machinery churning up the path into two wide ruts, just wide enough for the machinery I guess, this track however suddenly came to a stop at a turning circle where once again I was faced with the simple job of getting from A to B

I took a quick look at my GPS which told me I was only 80 feet below my intentioned Forestry Path on which I had been stopped a little over half a mile back…surely I had cleared the work area by now?

I made the steep descent through thick branches before finally arriving back on the Forestry Track, I was right, I was well clear of the workmen even though I could still see signs that the path was closed I made the decision to play dumb should I get asked what I was doing there, thankfully it never came to it.

I soon came to the spot where the Memorial Plague had been laid beneath a bench for the two brothers Christian & Niggy Townsend who were tragically killed back in 2012 whilst out cycling. This bench & the view it offers was also one of the reasons why I chose to return this way, a place where I de-shouldered to finish of the rest of my lunch.

The light was starting to fade & everything had a grey murk to it, spots of rain came from nowhere but never really materialised as a rouge Deer is spotted just of the path, too far away for the camera as we stare each other out before it disappears into the dense undergrowth. I am all but minutes away from the end of my walk as I ponder through the highlights of my day.

I had only been away for two weeks but Lakeland gave me the most awesome welcome back, followed by a bloodied nose & a thick lip.


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