Boxing Day on Helvellyn

26th December 2022

Climbing Helvellyn on Christmas Eve is becoming a bit of a tradition but we had to shelf this years climb due to a poor forecast. I was still determined to make the climb and had originally planned to set off from the Thirlmere side of Sticks Pass collecting Raise and White Side along the way. I spied what I thought was a weather window on Boxing Day morning where strong winds forced me to ditch the Sticks Pass route opting to start from the lay-by at Swirls, include Nethermost Pike and descend via Birk Side instead.

I'd spent a great day with my family on Chritsmas Day and the thought of climbing Helvellyn the following morning kept me on my toes making sure I didn't spoil it by eating and drinking too much. Due to the forecast I also understood that I was never going to win photographer of the year with todays photos my only regret being that I should have stuck with the mobile phone instead of the DSLR which due to a setting malfunction most of todays images had to be rescued using Photoshop.

There is method behind my madness which I'll try to explain. My mobile phone takes excellent quality photos but during the Winter months unlocking the home screen requires my finger print hence why I bought a pair of finger less mitts which works well but not in -11°C temperatures such as I had experienced today so after much thought I decided to go with my Nikon DSLR which just slots into a waterproof bag which I loop over my shoulder. Due to the strong winds on retrieving the camera I must have accidently turned the options dial never noticing until I got home when I uploaded the photos. At first I was devastated because I'd remembered taking lots of images of spin drift, different aspects of light across the fells but then I remembered, it's not just the photos, it's about the memories that are created on the day.

Wainwright Guide Book One
The Eastern Fells


There is no doubt that Helvellyn is more often than any other mountain in Lakeland, and, more than any other, it is the objective and ambition of the tourist who does not normally climb; moreover, the easy paths leading up the western flanks make it particularly suitable for sunrise expeditions, and, in a snowy winter, its sweeping slopes afford great sport to the ski parties who congregate on these white expanses.


Ascent: 2,872 Feet - 876 Metres
Wainwrights: 2, Helvellyn - Nethermost Pike
Visiting: 2, Browncove Crags - Helvellyn Lower Man
Weather: Hail & Snow, Little Sunshine Strong Winds Across The Summits. Highs of 3°C Lows of 2°C Feels Like -11°C Max Wind Speed 46mph
Parking: Lay-by Opposite Swirls Car Park
Area: Eastern
Miles: 7
Walking With: On My Own
Ordnance Survey: OL5
Time Taken: 4 Hours 20 Minutes
Route: Swirls - Helvellyn Gill - Browncove Crags - Helvellyn Lower Man - Helvellyn - Nethermost Pike - Birk Side - Comb Crags - Wythburn - Forestry Track - High Park Wood - Swirls

Parking Details and Map
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 and Lower Man from the lay-by at Swirls 08:45am 2°C

I'd had an uneventful drive north and I wasn't too surprised to find snow had fallen at all levels overnight after reading the forecast on Weatherline last night. The roads were completely unaffected with the exception of dusting over the top of Dunmail Raise which was already turning to slush thanks to the temperature still hovering above freezing. Oddly there was no movement in the trees at valley level which is a dead give away for what to expect at height. There was only one other car parked up when I arrived its occupant sat in the drivers seat with the engine running who I suspected was waiting for someone else to arrive.

It had rained lightly on and off and it started again as I began my kit up at the rear of my car so I used my tailgate as cover kitting up in full winter gear remembering to pack my snow goggles which would later become a god send. Also in my pack are my Crampons and a pair of Grivel Spikes which I practiced fitting last night seeing as I'm still yet to use them in anger. By the time I was ready to leave it had stopped raining and I locked my car passing the chap who was still sat in the drivers seat listening to the radio so loud I could still hear it thirty yards further up the road.

Ascent on Browncove Crags.

Unbeknown to me I'd already turned the options dial on my camera to the incorrect setting and I was clicking away like normal. After passing through Swirls car park where I counted four cars which looked like they hadn't been there long. Up ahead I spotted a lone walker in ascent who had just cleared the initial zigzags after which the path straightens flanked by scree and boulder.

I don't mind the zigzags but the view ahead is limited and I thought 'he or she is in a good place now' I crossed Helvellyn Gill via the footbridge before arriving at the wooden gate which had somehow been destroyed lying on its side next to the stone wall. The gate took me back to the time I climbed Helvellyn walking the same route during Winter when the same gate had been completely submerged in snow drift and instead of unlocking it I had to climb over the snow drift instead. Continuing on I joined the lower section of the zigzags which had a couple of centimeters of soft snow over the top where any ice I encountered was easily avoidable.

Continuing my ascent.
Between 1,600ft and 2,000ft the snow varried from a couple of centimetres to anything up to to six to eight inches, calf and knee deep on and off the path but the snow was still soft and while always paying attention to the next ten feet ahead I could plan which line to take be it on or off the path.

Crampon rock, below the summit of Browncove Crags.

Please note this is not the official name given to this cluster of rock but one I had named a few years ago after stopping to add crampons here during several Winter ascents. The name stuck and both David and Rod refer to it as the rock gives excellent shelter if crampons need to be added. Today there was no need to add crampons as the snow was still soft and the ice below not causing any major issues.

It had been a windy ascent which strengthened with height. By the time I'd reached crampon rock I stopped to lift, then tighten my hood over my beanie drawing the cords as tight as they would go as I knew I was in for a roughening up.

Footnote: As far as I know there are only three people including myself who refer to this area as crampon rock.

Looking back on Browncove Crags summit.

With the summit of Browncove Crags moments away I continued my ascent leaving crampon rock behind in favour of the stretch of path which leads out onto the Browncove plateau. It had been a gusty, squally ascent but the plateau was another level with near constant spindrift from below, and hail from above all the while battling with the 40mph plus winds.

Incredibly it wasn't just the winds on my mind but the hail showers which caused me to dip my head down thus not being able to keep a constant look out where I was putting my feet. Tactics changed and once I made sure I was giving the edges a wide berth I continued on while sadistically enjoying the conditions.

Lower Man ahead.
The strong westerly winds had swept the vast majority of snow from the plateau leaving it to drift into hollows which were up to knee deep and sometimes unavoidable. You might be able to spot the black figure walking towards me who gave summit conditions away by wearing snow goggles.

Helvellyn and Swirral Edge from the top of Brown Cove.
I left the path and made for Lower Man reaching the summit aided by the strong winds behind me. Taking in the views just wasn't an option despite clicking away looking down on White Side feet spread apart taking what photos I could. Sadly what photos I took didn't make it to the website.

Helvellyn and Swirral Edge from the top of Brown Cove.
Taking a wide berth from the edge of Brown Cove I descended Lower Man before attempting to look back on Browncove Crags but the hail caused me to snap my head back not before taking a face full of painful hail. I deemed it too exposed to stop to add my goggles. My next plan of action would be the summit and hopefully dust off at the summit cross shelter.

Continuing towards Helvellyn summit.
In a mix of hail and spin drift I continued towards the summit while being lashed by excess webbing from my pack, at least the wind is behind and side on I thought which meant it would be face on for much of the descent but I tried not to worry too much about that instead concentrating on reaching the summit.

Hevellyn summit.
From my elevation the top of the trig point came into view first. You can see the spindrift being blown off the summit in the back ground. To say it was wild would have been an understatement but exhilarating at the same time.

I make my way towards the offical summit cairn.
Making sure I keep well back from the edge.

Looking back on the summit trig point.
Just me then.

Helvellyn summit cross shelter.

The wind was managing all thought process, it was just a case of getting from A to B safely. From the cairned summit I dropped down towards the cross shelter where I thought I'd be able to have a few minutes and add my snow goggles which were well over due. On all sides most, if not all of the seating was layered in snow and ice yet despite this I took a chance on the east facing side out of the wind and soon learned what a mistake it was. On de-shouldering my pack I sat down, my backside instantly feeling the ice covered stone despite wearing my fleece lined Mountain Equipment Ibex trousers which up until that moment, had been performing excellently.

Nevertheless I un-clipped the hood of my pack and drew back on the cord when I found myself in a whirlwind of hail which deposited on the inside of my pack. The night before I had layered my gear in order in which I thought I would need it, thankfully my snow goggles were wedged between my flask and lunch box at the top of my pack and after removing the cloth case I hooked them over my hood instantly reaping the benefit.

Nethermost Pike from Helvellyn.
It was time to get the hell out of dodge and I left the summit just as another hail shower approached but with my eyes now protected I was back in control, confident and still enjoying the conditions.

Approach to Nethermost Pike.
Facing into the 40mph plus winds I took in the slight descent towards Nethermost Pike sighting a solo walker approaching the summit from the direction of High Crag just as another hail shower pushed in. The hail arrived and I lost visibility but hoped who ever I'd seen I would pass during my own ascent.

Looking back on Helvellyn from the western flank of Nethermost Pike.

It got to the point whether I should summit at all but a null between the wind and hail saw me head up the snow covered path which was up to 3ft deep in snow drift. The wind increased and visibility dropped to within twenty feet. The summit cairn came into sight where I decided not to scramble over boulder to reach it instead I turned my back and began a hurried descent linking back up with the path suffering with brain freeze and a nose leaking like a tap.

The hail still hadn't stopped but visibility was starting to clear and after looking over my shoulder I saw the chap descend Nethermost Pike. Funny I muttered, he could have been ten feet away back on the summit and I wouldn't have seen him.

Whelp Side from the descent of Birk Side.

With the hail clearing I began the descent of Nethermost Pike not before viewing a wonderful view of the Coniston Fells whose summits were layered in dark cloud while beyond a golden Morecambe Bay glistened in the sunshine. Walkers started to appear from their ascent of Birk Side the first three were two girls and a teenage lad wearing nothing but trousers and a T-shirt 'I sighed to myself' It's got to be close to -12°C in the windchill and here's this lad trying to look big in front of the girls. Further down two more groups all kitted up, all friendly. Ice was now becoming a factor which up until a day ago was flowing between the rocks in the path now frozen it required careful management.

As I reached the top of the stone staircase alongside Comb Crags I pass a couple who asked of the conditions up top. It hadn't hailed for the last twenty minutes or so and my goggles were still strapped over my beanie helping to keep it in place in the fierce winds. Conditions looked to be changing as we spoke but it was pretty tough in the wind, hail and drift I explained. They thanked me and I continued my descent catching the site of half a rainbow emerging from Thirlmere below. My descent was quick thanks to the soft snow underfoot and soon as I was descending into the woods below ready for the two mile walk back to Swirls via the Forestry Track.

Arriving at the Forestry Track I passed through the gate passing the point where Comb Gill flows into Whelpside Gill the noise of the falls cancelling the wind in the canopy above. Two familiar felled trees was the spot where I dusted myself down for the second time pouring myself a cup of hot Vimto which I let cool as I packed my snow goggles away. The one small cup was all that was needed to fuel my way along the Forestry Track turning around every time the sun shone through the trees before taking the last few photographs of what could potentially be my last walk of 2022

Update 31/12/22

At the time of writing I was unsure if this walk report was going to be the last of 2022 but due to a poor forecasts it looks to be that way. It was great to read so many nice emails and comments regarding this walk including one from David who drove past my car on his way back from Troutbeck who wished he could of joined me. Its been another great year of fell walking but due work or weather I wasn't able to walk half as many walks that I had planned for the year which will of course role over into 2023 I would like to wish all my followers old and new a Happy New Year for 2023 and send out a heart felt thank you to everyone who visits my site, without you the website would not exist.


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