Christmas Eve on Helvellyn

24th December 2018

As 2018 draws to a close I can look back and reflect on what another great year on the fells it has been. During the early part of the year I spent time preparing the website for my Birketts project before starting the first official walk on Middle Fell back in March and continued through the year following in the great mans footsteps all the way through to December where myself, David and Rod combined three Birkett walks on the Uldale fells.

As I write this the forecast isn't looking too great between Boxing Day and New Year but I'm sure I will end the year with the guys on an off the cuff walk or even a Birkett walk to see the year out, I'm sure wherever we end up it be special come rain hail or shine.

Initially myself and Rod had planned to walk Birketts route on Sheffield Pike today but during our Longlands walk two days ago I asked Rod after seeing todays forecast would he fancy climbing Helvellyn and by using two cars we'd be able to keep the mileage low which should see us home in time to enjoy some Christmas Eve time with the family.

Wainwright Guide Book Two
The Eastern Fells
-Via Helvellyn Gill It is unremittingly steep for 2,000 feet.

Ascent: 2,700 Feet - 823 Metres
Wainwrights: 2, Helvellyn - Nethermost Pike
Visiting: 2, Helvellyn Lower Man - Birk Side
Weather: A Bright Day With Light Winds & Frozen Underfoot. Freezing Above The Summits. Highs of 5°C Lows of 0°C
Parking: Using x2 Cars, Roadside Parking Wythburn - Layby Opposite Swirls Car Park
Area: Eastern
Miles: 6
Walking With: Rod Hepplewhite
Ordnance Survey: OL4
Time Taken: 3 Hours 45 Minutes
Route: Swirls – Helvellyn Gill - Brown Cove Crags – Helvellyn Lower Man – Helvellyn – Nethermost Pike – Birk Side – Comb Crags – Wythburn

Roadside Parking, Wythburn, Thirlmere
Nearest Post Code: CA12 4TP
Grid Reference: NY 324 812
Notes: Roadside Parking can be found at the southern end of Thirlmere Reservoir at junction of Steel End just of the A591. If travelling from Grasmere turn left sign posted Armboth and on the immediate right you will find roadside parking for up to three cars. Parking is free.

Layby Opposite Swirls Car Park, Thirlmere
Nearest Post Code: CA12 4TW
Grid Reference: NY 316 416
Notes: The car park at Swirls is a very popular car park all year around and is owned by United Utilities. There is a toilet block on the car park with easy access onto Helvellyn via Browncove Crags. On the opposite side of the A591 a smaller car park can be found overlooking Thirlmere Reservoir. Parking charges apply at both car parks, however a short distance north (upper arrow) a lay-by can be found where it is free to park.



Map and Photo Gallery


Browncove Crags from Swirls 09:30am 0°C

We agreed to meet at Wythburn at 09:30am where I would leave my car before travelling along the shores of Thirlmere to Swirls. I arrived early and spotted Rod's car turning around which was good timing as it had just gone 09:00am. I parked my car then swapped my gear into Rod's car making sure I had everything before heading north towards Swirls. Thirlmere was like a mirror glass with the reflections of the woodland glimmering on the waters surface, it was good to see the water level back to its usual height after the levels had dropped during the heatwave this Summer.

One car and a camper van had already parked up on the layby and as we kitted up another car arrived with what appeared to be a gent and his granddaughter who smiled over the roof of the car infront. It's calm but there's a hard frost underfoot and we each kit up accordingly adding thick Winter gloves not forgetting to pack spikes and crampons should we encounter any ice - non of which had been present over the last few days but owing to last nights freezing temperatures it just isn't worth taking the risk, my Ice axe however, was left in the boot of my car back at Wythburn.

Fisher Crag reflections.
With the car locked we headed back towards the National Trust car park at Swirls passing a chap selling log snowmen and reindeers from the back of van, we turned left onto an almost deserted car park and crossed Helvellyn Gill via the little wooden footbridge before bracing ourselves for the steep ascent on Browncove Crags.

Browncove Crags.

After passing through two more wooden gates we left the sound of Helvellyn Gill behind us along with any traffic noise from A591 below. We weren't the first on the fell side with a large group ahead moving slowly below Browncove Crags. Meanwhile three more walkers and their dog are making their way down not forgetting the solo chap who seemed to be keeping a constant distance behind us.

It's making out to be quite a busy morning on the hill.

Raise seen over Brund Gill.

Clear views stretching as far as III Crag, The Scafells, Great Gable, Kirk Fell, Pillar and the North Western Fells.
With Armboth Fell and the top of Fisher Crag in the foreground.

White Side, Raise and Stybarrow Dodd from Browncove Crags summit.

We were making good ground helped by not encountering any ice and soon the large group we had seen below Browncove Crags are caught up and passed near a craggy area of ground I jokingly rename as 'crampon rock' which is where we usually stop to add our crampons when conditions are icy underfoot.

Today there was no need to stop so we continue towards todays first summit of Helvellyn Lower Man.

Helvellyn Lower Man from Browncove Crags.
Once Browncove was shouldered we were climbing in direct sunlight so strong that after a few minutes I de-shouldered my pack and took out my sunglasses while Morecambe Bay towards the south shimmers with a golden afterglow over 40 miles away.

Looking back on Browncove Crags as we make the short detour to summit Helvellyn Lower Man.

Sheffield Pike, Catstye Cam and Ullswater from Helvellyn Lower Man summit.
Complete with mist above Ullswater.

Helvellyn seen over Brown Cove.
With a strong sun to the south we crested Lower Man in time to witness a small bank of cloud passing over Helvellyn summit.

Helvellyn seen with Swirral Edge.
...the cloud soon passed

Helvellyn, Nethermost Pike and Dollywagon Pike from Lower Man.
but was magical while it lasted.

Helvellyn and Swirral Edge over Brown Cove.
Rod had already left Lower Man and was taking photos on the col below so I made the short descent and we linked back up before making our way towards Helvellyn summit.

Broken spectre over Brown Cove.
Despite Rod being a familiar figure on the fells he's never experienced a broken spectre, that was until right now when a thin layer of cloud passed over Brown Cove catching the sunlight just at the right angle as it went by, It caught my eye first then Rod saw it and grabbed his camera, the pair of us were lucky enough to capture the event taking several shots each.

Looking back over Brown Cove towards Helvellyn Lower Man.
There's still a little cloud lingering over Brown Cove and by now the two walkers we had seen ascending Lower Man from the direction of White Side earlier have just crested the Lower Man's summit. The windchill is too cold to linger so we continue to walk and quickly arrive at the top of Swirral Edge.

Looking down on Swirral Edge, Catstye Cam, Red Tarn and Birkhouse Moor.
It's amazing to think that this is late December and not any month during Summer, for now I guess the Lakeland fells will have to wait until 'proper' Winter arrives although I must add, it's flippin cow'd on't top.

Christmas Eve on Helvellyn summit.
It was great to see so many people on the summit all taking advantage of this beautiful day all except the chap who appears to taking a selfie but is in actual fact talking to someone while recording it, I hope he knew how perishly close he's coming to not seeing Father Christmas tomorrow.

More atmospheric cloud passes as I take in the view towards Striding Edge.
With Helvellyn summit cairn seen at the top of the east wall over on the right.

Nethermost Pike, Dollywagon Pike, Fairfield, Great Rigg, Windermere and Morecambe Bay from Helvellyn Trig Point.
Time to have a quick wander towards the summit cairn.

Nethermost Pike from Helvellyn.


Red Tarn, Birkhouse Moor and Striding Edge from the top of Striding Edge.
It would seem Striding Edge is just as busy as Swirral Edge with plenty of walkers on christmas eve adventures.

The view over Nethermost Cove towards Striding Edge.
Despite the total lack of snow I would imagine that the walkers on Striding Edge still may encounter verglass (thin ice) with temperatures hovering around zero all it takes is a sudden drop in temperature for the ice to form which can be very misleading from the valleys.

Approaching Nethermost Pike summit with High Crag right and Fairfield over on the left.
We had followed the narrow path from the top of Striding Edge and skirted above Nethermost Cove before joining the main highway towards Nethermost Pike from where it's just a steady, yet short ascent onto Nethermost Pike summit plateau.

Fairfield, Great Rigg and Dollywagon Pike from Nethermost Pike summit.
Personally I feel the best views to be had today where from Nethermost Pike, my heart just melted whilst soaking in the long distance view to a golden Morecambe Bay.


Descending Nethermost Pike towards Birk Side.

Thirlmere from the top of Comb Crags.
Having left Nethermost Pike and all that was wintery we joined the familiar zigzags above Comb Crags and started our descent towards Birk Side seen left while still enjoying stunning views despite the walk being almost over.

High Tove seen over Thirlmere from the foresty track below Birk Side.

We descended Birk Side with a constant view of Thirlmere in the corner of my eye so stark it was like someone had changed my view with a painting. instead. With Comb Crags over our right shoulders we descended into shade and if Im honest it felt good to be out of direct sunlight if only for a short while. By now we were still above the treeline but gradually we started to descend once more towards the foresty track as the tops of the just highest trees poked out one by one.

Arriving at the foresty track we turn left and head for Wythburn, it's a good half mile walk but the views take the mind of the mileage as did Steel Fell which appeared through gaps in the forest. We reach Birkside Gill falls which was heard long before it was seen, tourist park menacingly on the foresty track and leave open a deer gate, I close it behind me and take in the last few minutes deep in the shade of the forest which now runs parallel with the A591 just beyond the stone wall and the spot where I left my car just under fours ealier.


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