Striding edge, probably the most infamous scramble in the British Isles. It strikes fear into the hearts of even the most weathered fell walker and is not without it’s legends and tragedies. The knife edge arête which leads to the summit of Helvellyn claims lives each year and yet is still at the top of the list for most intrepid British walkers and mountaineers. For us it was a challenge we had set our eyes on years ago, despite the knowledge that given our climbing feats since that challenge might not be what it once was the allure of this ridge still had us hooked!
For years now since we bagged our first mountain back in 2011 Striding Edge has been top of the list in the UK. Even after conquering higher and tougher mountains… The infamous Crib Goch, another ridge in Wales, the Highest mountains in England, Scotland and Wales, then climbing up the eight pitches of sheer rock faces up Mt. Tryfan. But Striding Edge, the grade 1 scramble which leads up England’s third highest mountain Helvellyn is a legend on it’s own.
As I mentioned in my post about canoeing, which was part of our pretty amazing adventure day which included ghyll scrambling part way up the mountain, that sometimes these opportunities just drop into your lap. I have been trying to organise this trip for a long time, weekends here, days off there, plans with several people all fell through. Despite feeling down about that I remained optimistic it would happen but just wasn’t sure when! Then out of nowhere a phone call: it was on!
Striding Edge: The Legend
One of the reasons so many people flock to conquer the sharp, challenging and exposed ridge of striding edge every year is not only the fact that it sits in one of the most beautiful spots in not only the uk but the world, or because it offers an exhilarating scramble most people (unless they are climbers) ever get to feel. But mostly because of the legend of the mountain and it’s infamous ridge.
Every year several walkers fall to their deaths on this stretch of the Lake District, confirming that it is firstly not for the faint hearted nor the inexperienced. However the lure of the mountain often claims the lives of those following the celtic stories blowing through the mountains rather that the dangerous facts.
Standing at 950 m (3,120 ft) high it is only in fact 89 feet lower than England’s highest mountain Scafell Pike. It’s flat plateau summit is flanked by two ridges; Striding edge and Swirral edge in a horseshoe around the beautiful “Red Tarn”, there are also several other smaller ridges branching off the summit.
The mountain itself has it’s history in the caldera of ancient volcanoes and their violent eruptions 450 million years ago before being carved into the impressive formations we see today by glaciers during the last ice age.
However the history with which most visitors romanticise about concerns the poets and artists with which the mountain has become associated. Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth being notable examples whilst the artist Charles Gough is arguably more famous for his fateful mountain trek than his work. Not only that but in 1926 a light aircraft successful landed on the summit and took off again in rather dramatic fashion!
“Transported over that cloud-wooing hill, Seat Sandal, a fond suitor of the clouds, With dream-like smoothness, to Helvellyn’stop, There to alight. upon crisp moss, and range Obtaining ampler boon, at every step, Of visual sovereignty ” hills multitudinous, (Not Apennine can boast of fairer) hills Pride of two nations, wood and lake and plains, And prospect right below of deep coves shaped By skeleton arms, that, from the mountain’s trunk Extended, clasp the winds, with mutual moan Struggling for liberty, while undismayed The shepherd struggles with them.” Wordsworth, 1837
As we mentioned in our Ghyll scrambling post we decided to take a less conventional route up the mountain. Instead of sticking to the trails and paths we took the route of the river and followed it against the flow towards the mountain top. This way we missed out the monotonous steps and instead has a much more exciting and adventurous, if not treacherous, slippy and wet ascent!
Wading, swimming and climbing through the river we quickly gained height as our boots became heavy with river water. The whole area had been blanketed in thick fog and low clouds when we arrived hours ago much to our disappointment. After deciding to spend the morning canoeing to give the mist chance to clear we were finally seeing hints of the blue sky we knew was there somewhere!
Despite the overcast beginnings to the day the atmosphere was humid and warm, the cool waters much less icy than we had imagined and offering us some refreshment from the challenging hike. As we approached the famous amphitheatre of volcanic rock which surrounds Red Tarn the cloud still clung to the top of the ridge.
With at least an hours scramble left before we hit the top of the ridge we decided to take a slightly longer and more scenic route to allow the weather to clear. The earlier report suggested at around 4pm we would be treated to clear skies.
The further we trekked on the more the wind picked up, despite this making the ominous crossing that much more dangerous it was also the thing that would clear the skies for the breathtaking views we had risked life and limb for.
As we began along the rocky arete the wind was really picking up the pace, but on we pressed choosing to take the higher and more dangerous route over the lower path. Taking each step with caution we often had to pause whilst one of those familiar gusts blew through the mountains as we perched perilously on this knife edge.
Not only that but the breathtaking scenery we had been treated to just had to be taken in whilst in this dramatic position. One of the most challenging sections comes when you must precariously down climb off the ridge in order to approach the steep upwards scramble to the summit. As climbers the terrain was fairly easy going but a slip here would have been costly and so caution was needed with every hand and foot.
As we rounded the summit we glanced back down at the stunning ridge we had just traversed, what a view it was from here and what a day it had been. After exploring the oddly flat summit and coming across some rather brave sheep we descended via the formidable ridge of Swirral edge.
Well then, what a day! These are the days life is about, going on adventures with friends and loved ones. Canoeing on Ullswater and discovering a wonderful little island, laughing and joking as the boat rocked and went in circles before we got our rhythm!
Then on the scramble up the picturesque but slippery Glenridding Beck, yet more laughs as we ended up submerged in the river despite our best attempts to traverse the edges of the pools! Then of course to the climb across one of the countries most infamous mountain challenges all with a smile and gusto! A day to remember!
Have you ever been up Striding edge or to the Lake District?