Mist over Helvellyn…

Picture courtesy of Mr K. Holden: The lovely path through the woods to the start of the climb.
Picture courtesy of Mr K. Holden: The lovely path through the woods to the start of the climb.
Since summer 2009 I had been promising myself a trip up to England’s third highest summit, the romantically named Helvellyn. Circumstances (family commitments) and a whole barrow load of bad weather had conspired against me but I persevered and on the morning of Saturday the 7th of September I left Southport in order to travel down to Karl’s place in Darwen from where we would head off to Dunmail Raise at Wythburn. The warning signs were apparent right from the very start, it was bucketing down in Southport but the weather did improve by the time I got to Karl’s house.

We made exceptional progress and by roughly 09:30 we had arrived, adorned wet weather walking gear and set off across the verdant  pastures which would lead us to the wood at the very start of the climb. The route through the wood was so pleasant that it put me in mind of the path we had taken a year previously through lovely little Longridge. The walk so far had been hardly a challenge at all with essentially only the rain blowing off the grass with which to contend. This scenario was about to radically change as next we set off up a cobbled path slope that filled me with dread for the return route – the rocks were dubiously polished with a coating of greasy rain. It had to be said that the slope was steep, this part of the walk for some reason set me off thinking of the walk (from 2009) that Christine and I had taken to Skelgill Bank / Catbells…it was raining then as well! This was already proving to be a somewhat reflective walk!

Thirlmere - a reservoir of excellence!
Thirlmere – a reservoir of excellence!
For the next few hours we climbed up and up! We had met with two other walkers at the junction of the wood’s path and the steep slope whom had informed us that it was their intention to go up to the summit then down to Striding Edge…then back up to Swirral Edge – we hadn’t wanted to A: tell them this was a long way of doing things from this locale and B: tell them they were mad in this weather! However, for some good moments the rain abated to nothing and at one time I came close to being warm! The views back to Thirlmere (my new favourite body of water) were exceptional…and once again eternally behind us. It has to be said that Wainwright was no fan of the western approaches to the summit of this mighty mountain, but apart from the rain we were both enjoying the walk, though tough it was, and the sporadically scattered rocky outcrops offered a welcome change in scenery and a comfortable place to rest one’s weary self…nobody ever said that this walk was going to be easy going…and they were right!

At roughly 2’400 feet the mountain changed in character…gone was the all consuming cove that had kept the majority of the bad weather off us, this was now replaced by what can only be described as open moorland, but not relatively flat and unchallenging as at the likes of Spitlers Edge and Spence Moor…this was uphill, along a pitched path that was relentlessly steep and unforgiving. I had to take many stops and at one point chose to lie down and accept my fate – if I was to die of exposure here on the side of this mountain moor…then at least it would be quick and when all things are considered…painless. Fortunately for me Karl wasn’t as selfish as me and came back down the slope to gee me up, raise my spirits and make sure that the brave volunteers at Patterdale Mountain Rescue were not called out to hoist another badly prepared walker off the mountain…I can’t feel guilty about this but I certainly learned a lesson about preparing myself in the run up to a walk. Thank you Karl.

After some hours of walking and seeing less than twenty other walkers we began to bump into other soggy mountain walkers …and runners! Incredible as it may seem there was an abundance of “Bob Graham” runners out in force but with the final two hundred feet of the summit being shrouded in mist, they were heard (or in some cases herd!) before they were seen. This definitely added to the walk. We met once more with the would-be walkers of Striding Edge whom duly informed us that there had been an interjection of common sense…Striding edge wasn’t going anywhere so it would be better to attempt it with a good chance of being alive at the end of it!

Karl bounds off to the summit cairn!
Karl bounds off to the summit cairn!
Finally the summit cruciform shelter came into view, I did a double take! We had finally made it to the top. And just like Ingleborough before it (yet another flashback to 2009) there was not a view to be had! It was perishingly cold at the summit where we tried to eat our lunch and have some water…I was shivering so badly that I practically swallowed my chicken wraps whole! After bumping into less than fifty people for the last few miles we must have seen as many at the summit, groups of walkers and runners dropped out of the mist, touched the cairn and ran or walked back off out of vision. Somewhere in the recesses of my mind I had wanted this – okay it would have been nicer to be just a few degrees warmer but the notion of lots of people at the top of a mountain appearing and disappearing all sharing in a common goal, with common hardships (the weather) is the sort of imagery that’ll keep me walking until I can’t walk anymore!

It had been our intention originally to take in the nearby summits of Nethermost Pike and Dollywaggon Pike but we both agreed that this had been enough of an odyssey for one day, we were wet enough, those two lesser summits could be postponed to another day. Amazingly the route back down the mountain was completed in a third of the time that it had taken to get up it! Given that I do not descend well – this is widely documented, I was astounded by the two factors: I didn’t fall (especially on those slippery looking cobbles) and two the rain backed off…just long enough to throw some hailstones at us! All the way down the mountain Thirlmere popped in and out of view, it had been another companion during the walk up thus so it would remain on the way down, when all the other surrounding summits vanished into the once more descending mist, Thirlmere was still locatable.

We arrived at the car something like six hours after we had left it. This had been a tough walk, on a day with better weather I do believe I too would have fared better but as it was I would remain quite stiff-legged for the majority of the next week. Karl had once more been a fantastic companion, inspirational and positive and I was glad when we called in at the Travellers’ Rest en route to home for a pint of shandy in my case and an hot chocolate and bowl of chips for Karl. What a good day!

I will go back to Helvellyn on two more occasions 1: to fulfil my walking desire to do the Striding Edge, Helvellyn, Swirral Edge, Catstycam route and 2 to walk the entire Helvellyn range from Great Dodd in the north to Dollywaggon Pike in the south…rumour has it this is one great but arduous walk and I will get into shape for this.

I have referred more than once to Helvellyn as a reflective mountain and for me it was and may always be so. The more mountains I climb in England’s beautiful Lake District the more certain ones seem to be identifiable as having personality traits…or bringing out our particular traits and characters. Scafell Pike was the gifted one, the silver spoon recipient, the one with talent whom rested on its’ laurels? Skiddaw was the mountain of rewards for hard labour, the gentle and affable giant who would see you right if you gave it your full attention and respect. Helvellyn brought out in me a will to look backwards (incidentally Pendle also does this) to analyse and decide to reflect on life…I don’t think it was a chance happening that this was the mountain where I got the biggest drenching …and was supposed to do be immersed in water with all of the symbolism that may entail.

But it’s no Pendle! Yes there may be 1,291 feet between them but to me Pendle is the “bigger” hill and it is the next destination to tick off last December’s self-promised “to-do” list as Karl and myself and hopefully another few will take the lovely moorland route from the Nick O’ Pendle to the summit, through Barley and back again in October. In between now and then I shall at one point be within range of another beloved mountain as we jet off to the Costa Brava for a week where I am sure we will have a lovely day visit to the Catalunyan giant: Montserrat. Watch this space for holiday photos…

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