Helvellyn Via Birkhouse Moor with Stephanie

October 24, 2016  •  7 Comments

Hello folks,
This weekend, my daughter Steph and I were all set to go and do Place Fell near Ullswater, a new one for both of us. However, as the day drew nearer I started thinking it would be a shame to go all the way to the lakes and only do a 4 mile route, thus I started to wonder what else was in that area if we got there and the weather forecast was still good. I was sat there scouring the map when it suddenly hit me... Steph hasn't seen Helvellyn yet!

Helvellyn can be accessed many ways, but of course its most well-known route includes a trip across the infamous ridge which flanks the south-eastern side of the mountain, its known as "Striding Edge" and it is an absolutely exhilarating grade 1 scramble route onto Englands third highest mountain. This ridge is infamous as its quite often the scene of tragedy, with 5 deaths recorded there last year alone. It is a simple enough ridge to negotiate, but it is unforgiving in places and mistakes here often end very badly. Then there is Swirral edge... the ridge you descend from... That one is arguably even more dangerous.

Still, that's what hiking the mountains is often about. Enjoying well-calculated risks. Who thinks they will lie on their death-bed in years to come, remembering the day they stayed in and watched TV? That's right... nobody. Let`s get out there and do Helvellyn the exciting way! If conditions don't look right, we can simply turn back.


Today we visited 2 Wainwright Summits:

  • Birkhouse Moor (2'356 ft)
  • Helvellyn (3'117 ft)


Parking Location:

  • Glenridding Main car Park (CA11 0PD) 

Time & Distance Info

  • Distance walked: = 8.1 miles
  • Time Taken: = 7.5 hrs
  • Total Ascent: = 2'754 ft

Please Note:
All image description text is "above" the image that it is referring to on my blogs.
Some find that odd... But then so is the author.


This route, when viewed in Opentopo map looks like this: (North / South Orientation correct)
(Walking clockwise from the right)


And the view of the route as seen on Google Earth. (Walking clockwise from the bottom)


Here is the elevation profile: (Height on the left axis, and mileage along the bottom)


The day was looking good weather wise, my mountain summit app gave it as very cold and very windy with a 50/50 chance of light snow. The forecast wind strength was a worry on Striding and Swirral edges however. A 47mph gust can push you around no problem.



So, we left home at 7:30am with a view to doing something different for breakfast for a change. There is a new cafe at Ings on the way to Windermere, its called "Cafe Ambio" and it has been built as a part of a large new high-end bike shop called Biketreks and it opens at 8am, 7 days a week. Just what we need for our hiking trips, a decent early doors cafe! We stopped here and enjoyed a very nice breakfast.


From there we went directly to Glenridding. We were parked up and hitting the trail for about 9:45am. For reference, Glenridding has dropped parking charges down to £4 for the whole day in a bid to attract some more visitors after the flooding. Perfect.

As soon as you hit the path you are faced with Birkhouse Moor. It's an imposing looking lump that certainly looks its best from down here. Steph and I are actively ticking off Wainwrights, so we will be visiting that summit en-route.


Bliss... This beats a roadworks sign on the M6 any day!


Once you have passed Gillside caravan park, you are onto the fells. The path is well laid all the way up and the ascent begins immediately.


Around 0.6 miles into the route we cross over Mires Beck. As you can see, there are already a lot of folk on route to the summit of Helvellyn.


As you gain height, the views back to Glenridding Dodd are wonderful.


Just follow the path... you can't get lost on this part of the route.


The view back over Glenridding to Ullswater.


After approx 1 mile you reach the top of little cove and are able to look across towards the fell we were originally going to climb. Place Fell.


We stopped for a brew around here and watched all the people heading upwards. I noted every single person who passed us was following the wall up to cut the corner off.


But we stayed on the path because, for one, it is a shallower ascent and for two, it has some nice views back over Ullswater.


It was actually nice to be alone for a short while. Its been a very busy path so far.


Looking back,  I thought this couple with their dog coming over the crest made a nice image with Place Fell behind them.


Once you complete this path and it levels out onto the top of Birkhouse Moor, Helvellyn finally reveals herself. There she is in all her glory. Striding edge to her left and Swirral edge to her right... leading into Catstyecam which is nearest to us.


First of all though, a short detour to our right sees us reach the first summit of the day. Birkhouse Moor.


The views up here are lovely, but the wind is very strong indeed now we are out in the open.


Birkhouse Moor cairn, Striding Edge and Helvellyn.


From here the route is still simple. Just follow that wall on the left until you come to... 


A hole in it. This is the unimaginatively named "Hole In The Wall" and it's named as such on all OS maps. I remember on my first trip here I was expecting a cave or something interesting like that and was bitterly disappointed. Ha Ha.


I remembered here that I wanted to try out the latest beta of Viewranger, the hiking navigation App I use. They have created a new augmented reality feature that names summits and features live in your camera view. It is not aligned perfectly yet - but it still works a treat!

Taken with ViewRanger Skyline - Compass Heading : 250°, Version : 7.0.0(236), Field of View : 59.0, Device : iPhone9,3(10.0.3)


After 2.5 miles, you finally get to see Red Tarn. She is just as beautiful as I remember.


And to our left Steph gets her first view of Striding Edge and the myriad of ants crossing her...


Across the other side of Red Tarn you can see our descent path. Swirral Edge.


It's time to get ourselves up onto Striding Edge.


It looks very busy up there as expected. This is one of the UK's most popular routes.


We discovered that a lot of people were doing the same as us about now... Looking for some shelter from the wind to eat lunch.


Its a bit crowded for us, so I suggest we continue on to the other side of High Spying How where I suspect it will be a lot quieter.


Its just down there Steph, don't worry about that 1000ft drop to the left.


What a view greets you from the other side!


At the foot of High Spying How sits the Dixon memorial. This is where the unfortunate Mr Dixon fell to his death during an Ullswater Hounds race many years ago. This I thought, would be a good corner to eat our lunch and watch people go by as its quite a high vantage point and the large High Spying How was now totally blocking the wind. It was pleasantly warm here to be honest.


Our lunch spot had a pretty sobering view down into Nethermost cove 1000ft below us. With the Dixon memorial next to us, its a stark reminder that this ridge is to be treat with the utmost respect. With hindsight, sat at home writing these words I am now not at all sure that was a great place to sit Steph for lunch on her first crossing... It honestly didn't occur to me at the time that it could be quite off-putting eating lunch next to a 1000ft cliff with a memorial on it! Sorry Steph!


Its some view though as I'm sure you will agree!


Ok.. Enough eating. Its time to brave that wind and see how we fare. Steph, surprisingly, wants to take the lead!


What a view of the task ahead...


A quick iPhone panorama was called for here!


The fella in the image had his young lad with him, Steph and I were both in awe how he took this ridge in his stride, staying high on the ridge with his dad the whole way. We took a few images for them with his phone. I hope they came out ok for him as he deserves the memories. Parenting at its best... not an X-Box in sight!


Random image because I like it.


That chap and his son again. Awesome. I love seeing kids enjoying the fells.


Make no mistake, its very windy up here and doing this is needs a reasonable head for heights and some faith in your balance. You can see the straps on her rucksack are horizontal in the wind.


Love this image. This day is going to stay with me a very long time. :)


As will the memory of my fear in some places... Hiking with your children isn't always a pleasant experience. I spent a lot of time worrying Steph was going to fall. But Steph never so much as stumbled even once.


Steph at around the halfway point.


This looks fun she says. Hmm...


Its worth noting that 90% of the dangerous parts of Striding Edge have a pretty easy path by which you can avoid them, so you can take this route as easy or as hard as you like. Its exposed regardless, but there are very few places where you have no option than to put yourself at any risk. This image shows an example of how lots of little paths often bypass the upper edge itself.


The Chimney. A seven-meter high obstacle that necessitates a very awkward climb down.


Remember... ALWAYS adjust your hat before doing awkward descents.


Looking back now to a traffic jam on the chimney. Personally, I think people should stand back and let people get on with it in their own way at their own pace. The pressure of feeling like your inconveniencing others can lead to mistakes. Steph and I saw huffing and puffing and impatient people climbing round others. Its pathetic really. If you are in a rush, why are you up here anyway?




Onto the last section. Its hands on all the way to the top now.


Nearly there Steph.


Striding Edge in less than ideal wind conditions. DONE.


And that calls for a selfie with her very proud dad.


A couple for the memory banks.



As the wind whips Steph's hair around, we step up onto the surprisingly flat summit of Helvellyn.


There is a memorial here to the artist Charles Gough who died on Striding edge. Legend has it that he lay there undiscovered for three months and was found by a shepherd who went to investigate the sound of a dog barking and found the mans skeleton with its skull split in two from the fall. The newspapers reported that the dog had eaten his remains to stay alive, whilst at the same time staying by his masters side. Nobody will ever know the truth I guess.


Helvellyn summit ahead.


Looking left to Nethermost and Dollywaggon Pikes.


There is a sturdy cross shelter up here that affords you shelter no matter what the wind direction. The shelter shall be the spot for our hot coffee and a bite to eat. We need to be fresh for Swirral edge.


As you can see... its flipping cold!


And whats that we see behind Steph? Pretty thick dark looking cloud! I think its time we left...


Yep... the same view behind us now. I don't think we are welcome up here anymore!

Taken with ViewRanger Skyline - Compass Heading : 155°, Version : 7.0.0(236), Field of View : 59.0, Device : iPhone9,3(10.0.3)


That said... even with this weather closing in on us, I am happy. Now I don't know how Steph feels about mountains, but for me they give me a strange feeling of calmness. More so on my own but even with company I find my mind can drift into a really pleasant place and my mood, however bad always lifts. Its noticeable to others too, as my wife has mentioned on many an occasion that she can see and feel a quite dramatic change in me when I am in the mountains.

I saw a quote from Alfred Wainwright today that kind of sums it up...

"I went whenever I could, and always my eyes lifted to the hills. I was to find a spiritual and physical satisfaction in climbing mountains and a tranquil mind upon reaching their summits, as though I had escaped from the disappointments and unkindness of life and emerged above them into a new world, a better world." A.W.

I think this last view from Helvellyn summit looking down over Red Tarn and out to Ullswater might well sum up his feelings.


But sadly... at some point, you always have to leave. Today... that will be via Swirral edge. Its a steep descent and a scene of regular injury. It doesn't look high in this image but if you look closely you will see some people at the foot of the descent to give it some scale. The path is, well, non existent really. Its a scramble mostly and you just pick your way through the rocks.


While Steph familiarised herself with the descent options, i grabbed a quick iPhone panorama. Its hard to resist with a view like this.


Looking backward, Helvellyn is already in cloud!


Hard to believe it was clear and sunny 20 minutes ago.


Now we had planned on doing Catstyecam as well, but since its in cloud and the weather is obviously closing in on us we decided there was no point. It wouldn't be enjoyable, we wouldn't get a view and it could mean the difference between getting to the car dry, and getting there soaking wet.


The path to Catstyecam is to the left of Steph here. Catstyecam is up in the cloud in this image. Staying to the right takes you down to Red Tarn.


Helvellyn has gone.


Lower ground is looking much more pleasant weather wise. It looks like we have been super lucky with the weather today.


I look up to striding edge and zoom in on the unfortunate souls still crossing. Today wont be the day they have the great views we have just enjoyed. navigation up there isn't pleasant in bad visibility.


Surprisingly, some folk just walked past us heading up to Helvellyn via Swirral edge. One of whom is in SHORTS.


Now most people go back the same way we came. Indeed on my last visit here I did the same. However, I have plotted a more circular route that follows Glenridding beck right through the valley. There isn't a great deal to say about it other than, in my opinion, its a much better descent choice and has a grand total of zero steps. With my knees now officially in bad shape, I will always favour a step free descent and this is one of the best I have ever done. Its a nice gradual decline, nothing very steep at all.


And the terrain is great with lots of water around.


And a few nice bridges to cross.


More folk pass us heading towards Helvellyn.


Catstyecam looks great from this angle doesn't it?


When I turned round after taking that last shot, I found Steph taking a breather. So I figured it was time to...


Brew up! I haven't used this all day, and I hate carrying stuff and not using it so we boiled up some nice fresh stream water and had a coffee.


And I took the opportunity to do something I haven't done in such a very long time. Try my hand at some actual photography instead of just taking snaps for hiking blogs! I quite like how this came out. Hand holding a point and shoot perfectly still for 1/4 of a second to get milky water is easier said than done.


The path back is simple, you just need to remember that you must cross the footbridge marked on the OS map by the weir. There is a hydroelectric dam just after the bridge.


And not long after that you come to the Greenside Mine area which has been converted to a youth hostel and some cottages.


Easy walking now along Greenside Road.


As the light fades away, we get to look across to where we started, with the ascent up the side of Birkhouse Moor. A perfect view to end a perfect day.


Thanks for reading folks. I hope you enjoyed taking a little trip with us and that it inspired you to try the route.

Remember, take your time... never rush. The fells are there to be enjoyed, not endured.

While you are out there enjoying the beautiful fells, remember the golden rules...
"Take only pictures, leave only footprints and keep only memories".


Here is some data from my Suunto Ambit 3 peak watch. 
Calories etc are pretty accurate as I use the Suunto Smart heart monitor on all my hikes. GPS data is updated every 1 second so it records every single footstep, thus mileage often looks a little different to most navigation apps as they are usually set to update far less frequently and so miss a few turns here and there. All that wandering around looking at views adds up.    

Here is my Viewranger data.
VR members can sign in and view it on OS maps too. Feel free to scroll around, the map is active.

Finally, here is a 3D representation of the route created by Suunto Movescount.


Camera Details:
All images in this blog that don't state they were taken on my phone, were taken with my little pocket-sized Canon G7X point and shoot. Its not a patch on my Canon 5D MK3 of course but I no longer lug all that around with me hiking as its just too cumbersome. When I find a scene worthy of the 5D3's talents, I usually return one day to make the best of it.



Route Completed on October 23rd 2016 with Stephanie.

New Wainwrights: 0. New total: 148 of 214.
New Birketts: 0. New total 206 of 541.



Stewart Sanderson Photography
Thanks George, glad you enjoyed it. :)
George Kitching(non-registered)
Wonderful blog. Great pictures and an inspiring, personal account. I'm itching to do this route again now. Thank you.
Stewart Sanderson Photography
Thanks for the kind words folks, I really appreciate them. Yes Annette, I have been tempted but specification wise its identical so the viewfinder hasnt quite tempted me.
Val Kay-Dunn(non-registered)
Thank you once again for your blog, Stewart. I could no longer do the "Edges". Vertigo is the pits! Wonderful photos. Keep on doing the same - sharing your obvious pleasure!
Annette Cattermole(non-registered)
Just seen that it was the pocket Canon!
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