The Helvellyn Fells

Walk date – 15th May 2019

Distance – 8.25 miles

Weather – warm and sunny with a light breeze, very hazy

 

There was much discussion last night about where we should walk today and a good deal of looking back through the walking diaries to establish which fells we haven’t visited for a while. We gradually whittled things down to a shortlist from which J decided he quite fancied the Helvellyn fells, which we haven’t walked since 2015. It was an excellent choice for another good weather day and we had a thoroughly enjoyable walk.


Route

Lay-by A591 – Raise Beck – Dollywaggon Pike – High Crag – Nethermost Pike – Helvellyn – Birk Side – Comb Crags – Wythburn – Lay-by A591

Our walk started here at the stile just to the left of the lay-by on the A591. The lay-by is easily identifiable as its the site of the old black and yellow AA box and a bus stop. As we were getting ready a bus pulled in, two walkers alighted, crossed the path, climbed the stile and headed over towards Raise Beck. Once we were kitted up we did the same.

The two walkers are a little way ahead, but they are difficult to pick out amongst the rocks and boulders. They are following the grassy path over the lower slopes of Seat Sandal towards the right hand edge of the shot. On the skyline is the craggy Reggie Knott, on the slopes of Willie Wife Moor, and a zoom in will also reveal two more walkers on the path below it.

We’re climbing the rough, and occasionally steep, path alongside Raise Beck from where I took this look back towards Steel Fell on the other side of Dunmail Raise on the A591. We definitely aren’t rushing up here, its a warm morning, there’s nothing by way of air movement along here, and the sun is directly on our faces. We keep catching sight of the two walkers ahead of us from time to time as the sun glints on their walking poles.

The wateralls, cascades …..

….. waterslides …..

….. and gin clear pools in Raise Beck are keeping the interest going as we walk and, from time to time, scramble up the beckside path.

We emerge from the beck path and enjoy a spell of easier walking as we head for the path junction, between Seat Sandal and Dollywaggon Pike, just above Grisedale Tarn. We stop to take a look over at Dollywaggon and discuss whether to take the route up to the summit alongside the wall. We defer making the decision until we reach the junction.

When we reached the junction we had a brief stop for yet another discussion. Should we go the direct, but very steep, route up Dollywaggon or carry on around Grisedale Tarn and follow the stone pitched path from there up to the summit? Here I’m looking back at the path and up to Seat Sandal, I’m standing on the direct path to Dollywaggon Pike with the steep climb right behind me, so now you know which route we chose. We could see no sign of the two walkers who had got off the bus and had been some distance ahead of us up to now.

There’s plenty to look at as we climb but there’s a lot of heat haze around so the fells weren’t showing up clearly today. Stopping for a breather we can see the familiar shape of the Langdale Pikes across Far Easedale and on the skyline behind are Pike O’Blisco, Crinkle Crags and Bowfell.

A little higher up from where Grisedale Hause and Grisedale Tarn are in full view.

We’re above the very steepest part of the climb at this point so time for another breather and a look back down. When we had our discussion back at the junction we decided to give it a go because on previous occasions we have only walked down this path so we thought we really should give it a go. Its a tough climb with no engineered path although it has been well trodden over the years and is easy to follow. They aren’t in the shot but we spotted some walkers heading this way although they were far below us. We saw them emerge over the slight rise from the junction and then they came to a halt for quite a while. we assumed they were just having a breather after labouring up Raise Beck. We turned around and carried on up the slightly easier gradient keeping a look out for the one thing that tells you the agony is almost over …..

….. and here it is. The old fence post at the path junction and where you can confidently stand upright again. The path ahead leads over to Helvellyn and a path to the right leads gently up to the summit of Dollywaggon Pike. Before going up we flop down on the banking on the right and get the coffee out. After all that effort a caffeine fix will put bodies to rights again. When we checked the time it had taken us to reach this point we were surprised to see that it had taken us just thirty minutes from the junction, and that included quite a few ‘get your breath back’ stops. We didn’t think that was too shabby a time for two old ‘uns.

We had just finished our coffee break and put our packs on again when the little group we had seen far below us popped up beside the post. They were three young men, two of whom were pushing bikes. The one without a bike appeared first, followed a few minutes later by his two companions. “I found it hard enough just to get myself up here,” I said to them, “I don’t know how you manage it with a bike as well.” “You just keep pushing,” the two lads replied, just a little wearily. “Mind you,” said one of them, “I have had a little sulk on the way.” “Did you stamp your foot as well? I asked, continuing the banter. “Yes, in fact I stamped both of ’em,” he replied, which made us all laugh. Perhaps the ‘little sulk’ occurred during the long stop they had before starting the climb. After a bit more chat they climbed back on the bikes and set off for the descent to the tarn down the pitched path with J watching them as they departed. That’ll be a bone-shaking ride down I was thinking, I’d be applying liniment to my aching joints for days afterwards if I’d had to descend by bike down that path.

The group disappears down the path and we carry on up to the top of Dollywaggon with a view of Steel Fell just below us. On the skyline we now have the last of Crinkle Crags, Bowfell, the Scafells and Great End. There isn’t much clarity today but their shapes are easily discernible.

Looking along The Tongue and through Grisedale from the summit cairn on Dollywaggon Pike, with Place Fell and Ullswater at the far end of the valley.

We spend a few minutes on the top just gazing around, enjoying the sunshine and the light breeze which drifts around every now and again. Its very nice to have it too as its keeping the temperature, and us, very comfortable. I take a look across Ruthwaite Cove towards High Crag, Nethermost Pike and Helvellyn, with the top of Catstycam putting in an appearance over on the right.

To our right is the vast bulk of Saint Sunday Crag across Grisedale.

We move on from Dollywaggon and head towards High Crag. On the way over there is this fantastic view down into Ruthwaite Cove with a glimpse of Hard Tarn on the left hand edge of the shot. J remains on the path as I peer down and take the shot.

From the top of the crags below Dollywaggon a look ahead to High Crag and Nethermost Pike. The lower path on High Crag is the one which has continued on from the old fence post where we chatted with the three lads. When we get there we will take the right hand path up to the summit.

A look back at the route we’ve travelled from Dollywaggon. The lower path coming from the old fence post has now joined the one we used coming down from Dollywaggon. At this point we have left the main path and following the right hand path up to High Crag.

The huge mound of stones marking the summit of High Crag. The flatter ground beyond is Nethermost Pike with Helvellyn on the skyline. There are a few walkers dotted around here and there but it isn’t at all busy.

A close up view of Hard Tarn way below us, we really will have to make the effort to get up to it one of these days and see it first hand, up to now all we’ve ever done is peer down at it.

Leaving High Crag now with a view of Birks and Saint Sunday Crag on the other side of the valley but not much else to be seen beyond them.

Next on our to-do list is Nethermost Pike and its a very leisurely stroll across the spacious plateau.

As we arrive at the cairn on Nethermost Pike we have glimpses of Helvellyn, Catstycam and High Spying How beyond the edge.

A little closer to the edge, but not too close, for a view of Striding Edge from The Chimney, towards the left, across to the peak of High Spying How on the right. The Chimney seems to be the sticking point and where the queues eventually begin to form as walkers have to negotiate the rocky descent to the little col below. There were walkers crossing over but in nothing like the numbers which would be present if this was a sunny Saturday or Sunday.

Walking the rim of Nethermost Pike for this dramatic view down into Nethermost Cove …..

….. and a look over to High Spying How keeping watch above Grisedale. The walk through the valley provides an abundance of dramatic and very impressive views of the sheer rock faces of the Helvellyn fells, few of which are visible from up here.  A walk up and down this quiet valley is a very satisfying little outing if the weather isn’t favourable for a walk on the high fells. Our walk to Saint Sunday Crag via the valley in June 2015 takes a look at some of the views on offer.

Its time to leave the edge and return to the path for the final climb of the day up to the top of Helvellyn. The path looks deserted but there were a few walkers making their way over it.

A little further on and I’m living on the edge once more for this shot of Striding Edge and the steep and rocky climb up the headwall to the summit.

Looking back to Nethermost Pike where three paths now converge on the one leading up to the summit of Helvellyn. On our return leg we’ll be using the lower of the three which will take us down the Birk Side route.

Just below the summit shelter and I’m back on the edge looking down at a very blue Red Tarn with Striding Edge to the right of it.

I leave my pack with J at the shelter and have a wander around before getting my lunch box out. The fells below haven’t fully developed their summer green covering yet so they still look a little anaemic in the bright sunlight. In the foreground is the path from Swirral Edge over to Catstycam with White Side and Raise beyond it. I couldn’t see anyone at all on any of those paths.

From Helvellyn’s summit cairn is a view along to Catstycam and Birkhouse Moor with Ullswater stretching away in the distance.

Also from the summit cairn, Helvellyn’s infamous headwall between the Swirral and Striding Edges. It looks positively benign today but its a different creature altogether when the snow is down and the cornice builds up across it.

J has downed his pack too and joined me on the summit. There were people using the shelter but everyone was sitting on the sunnier sides of it. A nice place for lunch but not strictly necessary today as the weather was so good. Most of the folk up here had taken to the grassy edges of the headwall to enjoy the views and their sandwiches. When we returned to the shelter who should we see sitting behind us but the couple who had walked ahead of us up Raise Beck. They hadn’t been there when we reached it, nor did we see them anywhere along the tops, so we assumed they must have taken the long way round and walked up Dollywaggon via the pitched path. I should have asked them if they met any cyclists on the way.

After lunch we strolled over to the trig column with a glance down to Catstycam and Raise as we passed by.

A hazy view from the trig column, without the haze you would see the northern pennines stretching across the horizon.

Yours truly enjoying the good weather.

The forecast did mention that there would be some cloud build-up during the afternoon and we’ve been watching it coming in from the west all morning. Its still some distance away though so we aren’t too bothered by it.

The path to White Side beyond the rocks of Swirral Edge with Skiddaw and Blencathra on the skyline.

Time to begin our return leg and as we make our way back down from the summit we pass by this commemorative stone with details of the exploits of two early aviation pioneers almost ninety three years ago. More information about the two airmen can be found via this link: http://www.yorkshire-aircraft.co.uk/aircraft/lakes/ebph.html

A final look back at Helvellyn as we begin our descent down Birk Side …..

….. where the path snakes it way over Comb Crags and eventually leads us down to the permissive forest road at Wythburn.

We’ve only had glimpses of Thirlmere during our perambulation across the summits but the views of it begin to open up as we descend the Birk Side path. There’s also a tiny view of Harrop Tarn nestling in the trees above the far shore.

A lovely view into the comb as we cross over Comb Crags.

Another look down to Thirlmere just before we begin the steep descent.

There’s a good path all the way down, stone pitched over the steeper sections, with the usual loose stone and gravel surfaces over the less steep ones.

From lower down the comb I took a look back up to the crags around the rim. No crag climbing is involved as the path weaves its way up the slope and brings you out above the crags between the two rocky cliffs over on the top right.

The welcome sight of the forest road below us where we are looking forward to taking the brakes off and striding out over some level ground for a while.

Reaching the bliss of the forest road we take a break for drinks and kick our feet back comfortably in our boots. We’ve just arrived down the path on the right, the forest road ahead leads over to the car park at Swirls, and off to the left the path continues down to the car park by the church at Wythburn. Behind me is the direction we take for the walk back to the lay-by.

The forecasted cloud has finally arrived but its nothing more than the candy floss variety so we have a sunny walk back to the car.

A few views along the way as we walk the forest road, here I’m looking across West Head Farm along the Wythburn valley …..

….. a last look along Thirlmere before it disappears behind the trees …..

….. and the steep route up the north ridge of Steel Fell which we walked up in January this year.

We have to leave the forest road where it begins to swing away back down to the A591 and to the left of this shot …..

….. is this notice board indicating the route ahead which leads us to …..

….. the footbridge crossing Birkside Gill and its waterfalls, although they weren’t very spectacular today as we haven’t had a lot of rain lately.

The path back to the lay-by crosses the gentle pastures above the busy A591 which keeps us well away from the traffic although not from its noise.

The view back to where the forest path came to an end. As we walked the forest track and this path we met walkers coming towards us who we had exchanged greetings with up on the summit, each of us walking the same route just in opposite directions. Another round of ‘Hello’s” again.

Seat Sandal from the crossing of Raise Beck. The sides of the beck are piled several feet high with boulders which look to have been placed there during the repairs to the A591 after Storm Desmond. The water rushing down the beck swept away a huge section of the road resulting in long detours for motorists for a few months until things were back to normal. We weren’t expecting a scramble at the end of today’s walk so it added a bit of fun to an otherwise straighforward walk back.

Eventually we’re back at the lay-by, the bus stop, the AA box, the sheep and the car, the black one at the back, so that’s the end of our walk today. Its been a super day, a lovely walk and we’ve both thoroughly enjoyed it, even the steep bits. It will be great to sink into the car’s comfortable seats though and let our legs finally clock off.