Hevellyn via Swirral Edge

12th November 2017

Tim and I have been trying to arrange a walk for the past month or so but when one of us found we had a free weekend the other one was working, then it went quiet for a while before I thought I'd ask Tim was he free this Sunday, I expected Tim to reply he was working or had family commitments, it was just too short notice but Tim replied he could make it, this was great news given that Tim and I hadn't walked since last May.

The next question was where to walk so I sent Tim a text asking his thoughts on a pre Winter traverse over Striding Edge, not because we are within the cusp of Winter but simply because Striding Edge has been milling around my head these past few days and when such thoughts don't go away it generally means I have to take them up.

It's fair to say that Tim and I have done our fair share of walking the Lakeland Fells but for one reason or another we have never done Striding Edge together, today we aimed to change that but sadly the wind and sudden strong gusts were just too strong to make a safe traverse meaning we set our sights on Swirral Edge instead.

It wasn't just the safest decision, it turned out to be the best one too.

Wainwright Guide Book One
The EasternFells


The gap in the wall -a familiar object on this route. It is a sight during the long climb along the flank of Birkhouse Moor, and it is always reached with thankfulness.


Ascent: 3,461 Feet - 1,055 Metres
Wainwrights: 3, Birkhouse Moor - Helvellyn - White Side
Visiting: Helvellyn Lower Man
Weather: Dry, Bright With Strong Winds/Gust Across The Summits. Some Summit Cloud. Highs of 7°C Lows of 3°C Feels Like -2°C
Parking: Parking Spaces, Stybarrow Crag, Ullswater
Area: Eastern
Miles: 10.4
Walking With: Tim Oxburgh
Ordnance Survey: OL5
Time Taken: 5 Hours 30 Minutes
Route: Stybarrow Crag - Glenridding - Mires Beck - Birkhouse Moor - Hole-in-the-Wall - Red Tarn - Swirral Edge - Helvellyn - Gough Memorial - Helvellyn Lower Man - White Side - Keppel Cove - YHA Helvellyn - Greenside Road - Glenridding - Stybarrow Crag

Parking Details and Map
Nearest Post Code: CA11 0NG
Grid Reference: NY 387 117
Notes: The parking spaces at Stybarrow Crag are perfectly positioned for walks into and Glenridding, the Helvellyn range or even just a short walk up Glenridding Dodd. If travelling from the north the parking spaces will appear on the right as a long layby right opposite Ullswater or from the south they will appear on left after leaving Glenridding. Despite the popularity of the surrounding fells and villages you would only have trouble parking here if left late into the day during Summer. Parking is free.


Map and Photo Gallery


Gowbarrow Fell seen over Ullswater from Stybarrow Crag 08:25am 7°C

We had arranged to meet at the Little Chef carpark on the A66 at 08:00am, Tim arrived from the east coast a little before and we greeted with a handshake through the car windows before driving down to Stybarrow Crag where we arrived around fifteen minutes later. There was a couple of cars already parked up and a camper van which had left its engine running while its owners sit side by side on a metal bench which overlooks this great view of Ullswater. We park one car over away from one another and kit up behind our cars. The morning air has an arctic nip to it not helped by a wind chill which helps it to feel much colder. Hats and gloves are left available just below the lid of my pack while Tim chooses to carry his in one hand safe in the knowledge that he'll be adding them within the next half hour or so.

With our cars locked I cross the road and take in the view over Ullswater towards Gowbarrow Fell whose slopes are illuminated in a rich afterglow of morning sunlight right about the moment the woman from the camper van wonders into view. With a few snaps taken we head for the shore path which will soon enough spit us out at the bottom of Greenside Road, Glenridding.

Sunlight breaches Boredale Hause.

It's still Autumn here in Glenridding.
With a strong sun on our backs we left the shore path then crossed the A592 and joined Greenside Road where we were treated to an array of Autumnal colour, you'd have thought with the recent strong winds all of the leaves would have fallen by now but not here in Glenridding, these leaves are made of tough stuff!

Birkhouse Moor North ridge (right) and North East ridge (centre) from Glenridding.
I think by now Tim had already added his gloves but I was holding out a little while longer. We left Greenside Road and started the gentle descent towards Rattlebeck Bridge before passing Gillside Campsite to our left, to my surprise there was a couple of tents pitched who's hardened owners queued for breakfast at the familiar chuck wagon, to my disappointment, there was no smell of cooked bacon though. Up ahead, around eight walkers ranging from kids to teenagers accompanied by two adults were also heading towards Mires Beck seen here in the left of the photograph still in shadow.

From the start of our ascent grand views open out over Glenridding Dodd.

The views just keep getting better with an almost full length shot of Ullswater from Glenridding to Pooley Bridge in the distance.

It was already mentioned that for the next half hour or so we would be ascending Mires Beck in shadow which only helped to keep body temperature down during the steep ascent. We had passed the large group seen earlier at the start of the ascent before passing another group a little further on.

For anyone who hadn't seen each other over the best part of Summer we caught up by walking and talking, the chill was just to cold to stop. As the path bends right at the top of Little Cove we reached the sunlight and soon the chill didn't feel as unpleasant but judging from the winds and the way the clouds hurried across the sky, we knew we were in for a cold one.

Time to add the hat and gloves me thinks.

Striking views over Striding Edge, Helvellyn and Catstye Cam as we shoulder the summit of Birkhouse Moor.

We hit a dusting of snow at around 2,100 ft which gathered along the edges of the path which progressively broadened across Birkhouse Moor's grassy plateau, it was just a dusting and nothing too substantial but it was still nice to see (and feel) the cusp of Winter on the Lakeland fells. We walked side by side before the drone of the wind started to cancel out conversation.

It was noted the pools of water which often flanked the path are now frozen, just like the right side of my face.

Soildering on towards Hole-in-the-Wall.
I would often leave the path for "the better view" and Tim would continue ahead completely unaware. It was later spoke of that we both had made our separate decisions along this section of path that there wouldn't be a traverse of Striding Edge today, we just hadn't told one another yet.

Helvellyn and Catstye Cam from Birkhouse Moor.

I tailed behind Tim as he approached Hole-in-the-Wall even shouting him a few times but he couldn't hear me over the wind but wittingly Tim stopped and waited for me just prior to reaching the familiar landmark "are you thinking what I'm thinking" Tim said, we agreed to hop over the Sty where we would take some shelter on the opposite side of the wall which turned out the most ironic decision yet.

We both found it difficult to stand on the top run of the ladder which nailed the final hammer in our Striding Edge traverse, "the fact that we had to cross the wall to seek shelter says it all Paul" Tim said. I guess we were both a little disappointed but being able to make such a decision is crucial to a safe day on the fells, if we found it difficult to stand on the top of a sty, crossing Striding Edge in such winds was out of the question.

We crossed the sty once more, I jumped the bottom three steps and strode out towards Red Tarn, to our amazement two walkers are heading towards Low Spying How and Striding Edge.

Striding Edge, The Rock Tower, Helvellyn and Swirral Edge from Red Tarn.

Waiting patiently at Red Tarn.

We agreed to pay Red Tarn a visit and arrived under the gloom of a grey sky, It's only now, even after a subtle coating of powdered snow do you realise how daunting Helvellyn appears in her pre Winter coat. We watched the two walkers lean into the wind first over Low Spying how before taking on Striding Edge, at one point both were upright and didn't appear to be fighting the wind at all but that never gave us any thought to second guess our decision.

We agreed that we would wait until the sun reappeared from behind a mass of cloud, we didn't have to wait too long and was subsequently rewarded.

Ascent on Swirral Edge from Red Tarn.
Up until now the corrie between both Striding and Swirral edges had kept us sheltered from the chill but once we started our ascent on Swirral the winds soon returned, back at Red Tarn I had added my neck gaiter for the first time in as long as I can remember which felt a huge confort as I eased it over my wind burned face.

Approaching Swirral Edge.
On the approach to Swirral Edge we could see around four people making their way across the summit and non appeared to make their way down Swirral just yet which means we should have the whole ascent to ourselves.

Swirral Edge.
We made our way towards the base of the ridge before I packed my walking poles away ready for the scramble, we check that we are happy with conditions then continue our ascent which for me is always preferred via the right hand side of the ridge in both ascent and descent.

Looking down on Red Tarn and Striding Edge from Swirral Edge.

Views back over Swirral Edge towards Catstye Cam.
You may notice in this photo that we veered from the right to the spine of the ridge if only to get some hands on contact during our ascent.

Here's Red Tarn again this time as cloud starts to descend over Striding Edge from Helvellyn summit.

Dramatic views over Brown Cove towards a frosty looking Helvellyn Lower Man.
Wowzers where did all that cloud come from!

More views looking back on Swirral Edge from about half way through our ascent.
The more we climbed the spine of the ridge the more ice we encountered, not much and certainly not enough for spikes but it was enough to make us find our way back to the right side of the ridge and the path. The rock despite the dusting of snow was mostly dry especially on the over worn routes but it was always worth checking footings first.

Tim enjoying the scramble.

Solo walker at the top of Striding Edge.
No he hadn't climbed the ridge just merely wandered over, still makes a great shot along with adding scale too.

Helvellyn summit.
Tim reached the stone cairn at top of Swirral Edge first soon followed by myself by which time it was starting to cloud over again leaving the summit feeling and looking very dramatic indeed. From the direction of Lower Man/Browncove Crags one by one more walkers start to arrive dressed head to toe in full winter gear, some, cautiously packing Ice Axes.

Superb views over Nethermost Pike towards a sunlit Morecambe Bay.

Looking down on Striding Edge, Red Tarn and Birkhouse Moor from the Gough Memorial.

We were in two minds whether we should take a wander over to the top of Striding Edge mainly because the cloud was still drifting over the top of the summit but we thought "sod it" lets just go anyway soon passing the summit cross shelter which was deserted before passing the two walkers we had seen on Striding Edge earlier, both of which weren't entirely dressed for the occasion wearing jeans and duffle coats. Everything kinda makes sense now...

I descended slightly to take in the view while Tim read from the Gough Memorial, we didn't stay long it's just sensible to keep moving so we started to double back soon passing a now rather full summit cross shelter.

There's that view again.
Just wonderful.

Looking back towards the summit Trig Point as more walkers arrive.
Time to leave the summit and head for Lower Man now.

A long distant view of Ullswater from Helvellyn summit.

Swirral Edge and Catstye Cam over Brown Cove
While in the distance, White Side, Stybarrow Dodd, Hart Side and Sheffield Pike.

Leaving Helvellyn for Helvellyn Lower Man.
Seen here over Brown Cove.


Helvellyn Lower Man seen with White Side beyond.
It was noted that today only the Helvellyn group had caught the dusting of snow with the exception of Skiddaw's summit which right now is about to be covered in cloud.

Looking over Brown Cove towards Swirral Edge and Catstye Cam.
The snow line appears remarkably low in Brown Cove but it's roughly at the same altitude as we encountered while in ascent on Birkhouse Moor hovering around 2,100 ft.

Views over Brown Cove towards Helvellyn as we approach Lower Man.
The perfect setting for my first snow walk of the year.

Descending Helvellyn Lower Man with views over White Side, Raise, Stybarrow Dodd, Watston's Dodd and Great Dodd.

Having summited Lower Man we began our descent while being blasted by the arctic air once more, however, as Tim mentioned with the more descent the less the windchill we felt.

Blimey I'm going to be taking layers off in a minute.

Spectaular views over Thirlmere and the High Tove ridge towards Skiddaw, Bassenthwaite and the North Western fells.
It's only Skiddaw's summit that is topped by cloud which appears not to be going anywhere soon.

Cloud topped Skiddaw.
You can just imagine a bolt of lightening coming straight out of that! (not that I'd wish that on anyone on top of Skiddaw right now)

Raise is just up ahead.
We ummed and arred whether to make a trip to Raise summit or descend back to the Greenside Mines via Keppel Cove, a route that believe it or not neither of us had taken before, the decision was sealed when lunch was mentioned and down we went.

Sheffield Pike taken shortly before arriving at Glenridding Mines/ YHA Helvellyn

The cloud did gather and it shut out the sun for the best part of our descent leaving Catstye Cam and Helvellyn looking very menacing indeed with just the odd ray of light breaking through but predominantly, both summits were in dark contrast. We descended the famous Kepple Cove zig zags with views of the breached dam while scouring for more recent damage to the river bank caused by the floods of December 2015, we didn't have to look hard.

With not much in the way of views and the will to feed our bellies we made the decision to run down the zig zags which I felt comfortable with at first until I had to stop due to the pressure on my right knee, best not risk it. We soon pass three walkers, two chaps and a girl who ask the conditions on Swirral Edge, I go through what we had seen before they continue up the zig zags.

We came to a stop around 80ft up from the valley path at cluster of boulders where we decided we would stop and eat lunch, the sun came back out and Tim de-layered but for reasons why I don't quite know, I leave my hat and gloves on while eating lunch. Soon we are passed by a solo woman walker with a Jack Russell at her side, Hi's are passed before re-shouldering and continuing our way towards Greenside Mines by which time the sun was out for the remainder of our walk but it was still bitterly cold. The wind tunelled down the valley and I had just taken my gloves off and stuffed them in my right jacket pocket, blimey wished I hadn't now.

Greenside Mines along with YHA Helvellyn are passed while behind more walkers head back towards Glenridding from the Red Tarn path on the opposite side of Glenridding Back and before we knew it we were walking side by side on the concrete path on the flanks of Glenridding Dodd. The cars are soon reached after a short walk along the shore of Ullswater, by now the road is busy and difficult to cross as the cars are unlocked and engines are started to get the heater warm.

Welcome back to Winter on the Lakeland Fells.

Glenridding roof tops.


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