Aborted Helvellyn via Striding Edge and then Walking Scafell Pike
After an aborted attempt of Helvellyn via the knife-edge ridge Striding Edge the day before due to dreadful weather, we drove over two hours around the Lake District to climb England’s tallest peak, Scafell Pike.
Last weekend I went up to the Lake District with a friend of about 15 years, Sparx (aka Mark) and one of his work colleagues, Rob. The plan was to do Helvellyn via Striding Edge on the Saturday, and Scafell Pike (England’s highest peak) on the Sunday.
Due to the atrocious weather on the Saturday, we had to abort the walk up Helvellyn. We’d set out and got a good way into the walk, but there were 50mph+ winds, visibility was low and the rain was relentlessly energy draining. I was having issues seeing – wearing glasses, the rain would cover them front (and back with the wind!), and then body heat would steam them up… I was needing to wipe them constantly at intervals of less than a minute and it was frustrating as hell.
All in all, glasses situation or not, this was not the weather for a knife-edge ridge! We were all soaked to the bone – inside and out, I was literally the wettest I can ever remember being for the longest amount of time I can recall. We were that wet that even the next day Rob was pulling money out of his wallet that felt like it had been freshly printed…
Mark, Rob and I touching the trig on the summit of Scafell Pike…
So we aborted our Helvellyn mission and spent the evening in the Traveller’s Rest pub in Glenridding. It’s fantastic, friendly little pub for walkers and locals alike, and if you’re in the area I definitely recommend it for both the food and the drink.
It was also only a very short stumble back to our campsite, Gillside Farm – again, if you’re looking for a campsite in the area I can fully recommend it. Fair prices, everything you need and right in the foothills of Helvellyn.
The weather broke on the evening though, so we didn’t have to try to get into our tents both tipsy and wet. The wind howled all through the night and really put my new tent, the MSR Hubba Hubba NX through its paces. I’m really impressed with it, and although my previous Vango Banshee 200 has served me well the MSR is definitely a huge step up!
Sunday morning we awoke, had a handsome breakfast at the Traveller’s Rest and Mark had a wetsuit swim in Ullswater. It was then on to Scafell Pike! I have to admit that I was concerned about the weather – not from a safety perspective this time, but more with regards to morale. Reports were mixed, some saying that the weather was going to be dreadful again, and although it wasn’t a knife edge ridge I think we were all hoping for at least dry weather after the demoralising walk the day before, and the disappointment of not summiting.
“We passed numerous walkers descending, and they all spoke of the high winds and challenging weather up top.”
I don’t know if you know the Lake District, but to travel 20 miles across it as we were, you have to go the long way round the roads on the outskirts. This makes the journey 60 miles instead of 20, and many of the roads are single lane roads with passing points, and they wind and twist with steep gradients. This means that it took over two hours to get from our campsite to the National Trust’s Wasdale Head Car Park, where we were starting our walk from.
As we arrived at Wasdale Head at about 2pm, the weather seemed quite stable. The ground was wet and we had experienced showers on our journey, but it had been dry and the winds didn’t seem too bad. The cloud was low though, and did seem to be dropping. The car park was teeming with people that had come off the hills, and we got ourselves into our waterproofs because we couldn’t guarantee how long the weather would hold out.
We headed on up towards Lingmell Gill – a stream/river crossing on the route up to the Pike from Wasdale Head. We passed numerous walkers descending, and they all spoke of the high winds and challenging weather up top.
A short way after the Gill we were in the clouds and visibility dropped. There had been some steep ascent sections earlier on in the walk. Now there started to flow some more gentle climbs with the odd section requiring hands, but not quite scrambling.
As we passed through Hollow Stones we were advised by some coming down to keep looking for the cairns. Cairns are stone pyramids or piles that are useful as markers, and they guided our way to the summit. This helped tremendously, and although we had to scan through the cloud carefully, there was just enough visibility to make out the next cairn all the way up (and down).
50mph+ winds did start to howl at us in the last quarter of the ascent. Ice cold rain showers hit us horizontally at times, and every now and again I was finding it best to turn against the wind, widen my legs and let the worst gusts pass. Visibility was poor, but it was enough that we knew what was around us so that we were safe.
Unlike the previous day, we hadn’t got a knife-edge ridge to tackle and my mood was more determined to rise to the challenge rather than drowned out by wet. It helped to have made a lot of headway of the route before we got any rain. We were now clambering over a rock and boulder field.
Then, all of a sudden, the rain had stopped. The winds had dropped. Visibility had increased only slightly, but perceptibly. It felt eerie. The boulder field was levelling out. Not quite flat, but not rising any higher… We were at the summit!
“The weather again gave us a beating on the way down, with horizontal, icy rain hitting us at obscene speed.”
A memorial to those that lost their lives in World War I stands proud above the trig point. A sombre moment, with the weather being almost still but with low visibility. We took a few photos and then started our descent.
The weather again gave us a beating on the way down, with horizontal, icy rain hitting us at obscene speed. As the clouds had rolled in over the hills and mountains though, we had further to go to get out of the bad weather than when we had come up.
The National Trust is carrying out much needed conservation work to repair the erosion of the paths up to the Pike. They’re putting in rocks to build and improve the path. Unfortunately, in their wisdom, they have used large rock slabs that are smooth when wet, have been laid at least level or with the incline of the hill. Not a problem when dry or ascending… But when descending and wet, even the best grip money can buy slides across it like a roller skate.
The descent then was slow but steady, with a few slips and slides. As we got out of the clouds, the weather returned to dry but windy – and we got back to our car being the last in the car park. Starting the walk in the afternoon rather than the morning meant that there was only one group of walkers behind us.
All in all it was a challenging walk but worth every moment. It felt quite the accomplishment to summit in the weather conditions we’d faced. In wanting to see the views that Scafell Pike never gave up to us last week, I also have a reason to go back to re-conquer England’s highest peak.