This was my major personal challenge of our Lake District visit and I looked forward to it with equal portions of trepidation and excitement. There had been some concern that the clouds would be covering the summits but the weather forecast at breakfast time was perfect.
We had some aching muscles from the previous day’s hike up Scafell Pike, so I felt obliged to have the full Cumbrian breakfast to fortify myself for the day’s work.
After picking up our packed lunches (no chocolate bar, but kit-kat included), it was a short walk to the car and a drive to Glenridding, where we met up with Carolyn and Colin and set off through the town.
Our route took us past Gillside campsite then along a good path beside Mires Beck heading for a minor ridge heading up to Birkhouse Moor. This was an easy climb, with little to see ahead but a gradually improving view behind us, taking in Glenridding and Ullswater. I had a picture of me on this path about 20 years ago, in very different weather (wet, misty and cold) and managed, by chance, to get a repeat photo in much the same spot.
Once over the summit of Birkhouse Moor, our challenge was in sight, Helvellyn showing us its massive north-eastern cliffs framed by Striding Edge and Swirral Edge. A few metres further on and Red Tarn was added to the picture.
At Striding edge the team split into ridge walkers and path walkers, me with the latter. I found the path pretty daunting at times especially the places where it crumbled away into a the very steep drop and required scrambling over rocks above the path to escape the drop. I wonder in retrospect whether the top of the ridge might have been safer.
My real trouble came as I approached the rock chimney. The path here splits into a variety of less distinct routes. The one I should have taken crosses to the opposite side of the ridge and descends pretty steeply. I decided to stick to the summit of the ridge but met up with my quicker comrades who were heading back to find another way down having looked at the scramble down the chimney. I followed Andy down the southern slope to get back to the path and this was quite a scramble in itself. What’s more, the path itself was narrow, made of slipping stones and in places absent altogether where it had fallen away.
This path took us lower than I would have liked and presented us with a final steep scramble over unpleasantly stoney ground that often shifted underfoot. Then it was all over, we were on Helvellyn. Unfortunately, Striding Edge had taken my appetite away so as the others chomped through their sandwiches I made do with two fingers of kit-kat, waiting for the Elvis legs to settle.
Well, that was Striding Edge done. I can well understand how people can come to grief there. I don’t think I’ll be doing it again soon. How did I feel about it?
I was unable to convince the party to visit Little Man, and had I been doing this walk alone I would not have returned by Swirral Edge, but that was the team’s route so along I went. Perhaps I shouldn’t have looked up the recent deaths before doing the walk. Then I wouldn’t have known that there have been more deaths recently falling from Swirral rather than Striding Edge.
Swirral Edge didn’t seem too bad, a bit of scrambling at first then a wide easy path. I can see though how one could come a cropper if not careful. The path later splits with the larger fork heading down to Red Tarn. We headed up the pyramidal Catstye Cam, which is a pretty lofty hill in its own right, with a brief pause for photos at the summit. From there our path back to Glenridding was laid out before us. I wondered if the path down the other side of Catstye Cam would be too steep, but with the help of a walking pole it was none too bad.
Once back to the path it was a mere stroll back to Glenridding. We followed Red Tarn Beck, then Glenridding Beck where we crossed a wee bridge armed with a super-powered spring loaded gate that almost finished off Carolyn.
Once into the village we took some liquid refreshments at the Travellers Rest (no apostrophe) and since my appetite had returned I was able to polish off the sarnies.
A very good walk in excellent weather and a personal challenge completed without injury. And the icing on the cake: pie, chips, mushy peas and gravy at the Keswickian that evening.
Wainwrights: Birkhouse Moor, Helvellyn, Catsye Cam
Walkers: Mike, Andy, David, Elaine, Carolyn, Colin.