One of those (should be rare) occasions when a throw away comment was seized upon without any serious consideration.
I wanted to try something non Snowdonia and my mate back from a stint in the Dolomites needed to be back for a new job starting early on Sunday. We’d spoke about the Lake District and I’d bought a few extra guide books to check routes. Then out of nowhere my friend suggested we could always leave after I finished work on Friday and try a familiar route, but in the middle of night. “Yeah, that sounds great!” And so that was that. We agreed to head back up Helvellyn via Striding Edge (we’d been up together in September 2008) by torch light and wild camp on the summit which we knew was flat/grassy in areas.
Serious problems such as a lack of transport and tent were amazingly easy to sort, so after a casual trip to a supermarket on Friday night we were on our way up the M6 to the Lake District.
As before we parked up in Pattersdale in what is a fairly large car park opposite a hotel toward the Northern end of the village. Not sure about parking charges, we slowly got our kit together whilst having a beer and reminding ourselves of the route, waiting for the clock to tick over midnight to allow us to pay for a full day of parking.
So at 12:01 we paid our £3.50 for the day, took a few quick photos, turned on our head torches and began off down the road.
Worth covering off what I took for the night. So along with sustenance (i.e. beer, a disposable BBQ and meat to cook), I packed the following kit into my 70l Arc’teryx Naos rucksack:
Sleeping bag – I took my MacPac Sanctuary 700 down sleeping bag as it’s actually lighter/warmer than my other bag. Knew it’d be too warm, but rather that than being too cold!
Thermarest – Mine is a trail lite which seems to be a decent mix of comfort and weight for whenever I’ve used it.
Smock – Rab Generator smock, which I didn’t need but for it’s weight and extra warmth is great to carry. And it made a pretty good pillow too.
First aid kit
Map and Compass
Oh and I packed everything in stuff it waterproof sacks to help keep it organised and dry in the tent if worse came to worse.
I then wore the following up…
Jacket – The trusty Mountain Equipment Kongur once again blocked out some pretty nasty gusts of wind on Striding Edge.
T-shirts/Base layers – So long sleeve Helly Hansen active base layer with active material t-shirt over.
Trousers – Mountain Equipment schoeller material Liskamm. Just got these for the Alps and I’ve been impressed so far, nice stretchy material that is water resistant and the reinforced knees are great for scrambling. However, they’re not massively warm when it gets really windy/cold.
Boots – More time spent in my Sportiva Nepal Evos to just get feet as used to them as possible. Way way too hot for the most part but that’s good to know.
Head torch – Petzl Tikka, decent light even on lowest setting made walking in the dark pleasant.
Spare stronger torch – LED Lenser bright white torch I had hanging off my pack for when we wanted to check around further than head torches would show. Always handy to have second source of light to hand I think too.
From the car park in Pattersdale you make your way North out of the village, past the local mountain rescue and police station, where you take the first left over a small bridge. From there you avoid the first right turn and then at the next choice follow the road round to the right which is made easier by the big sign reading “Helvellyn >>”. The tarmac road carries on for another 5-10mins, and toward the end opens up to give you (given weather) your first views up toward where you’re going, with a large ridge to your right.
You’re soon off the road, and heading toward the ridge and through a gate onto more rocky/muddy group that will continue for some time. It was here in the dark that we began to really need our head torches, so as not to twist our ankles on uneven ground and with cloud cover becoming thicker and so blocking out light from the moon. Funny thing was that with head torches on all these pairs of white dots appeared all around us, which even though we knew it was sheep was a little disconcerting!
Once you’ve turned onto the ridge, get ready for a pretty long trudge uphill. The gradient is nice but with a few sections of loose rock and a decent sized pack, we definitely felt this part of the walk, in particular as we hit the rock steps that signify the “hole in the wall” is close.
Going through the “hole in the wall”, we stopped briefly to talk about the next section and take in the view back toward a lit up Kendall far away in the distance. It was at this new height we realised the wind had picked up and with it the temperature had plummeted. So extra layers were applied and some food/drink quickly taken on board before we set off to tackle Striding Edge.
Having tackled the ridge before (in thick cloud), we knew what to expect and where it narrowed which helped a lot. However, with heavier packs on (roughly 12/13kg), we felt the wind on the exposed ridge even more so as it tugged at us and sent us off balance. Yet despite this we carried on across the top apart from a few sections where it was sensible to drop off to avoid anything too narrow where we’d be taking a risk should a strong gust to come across the ridge (by my reckoning in the region of 50mph gusts).
Reaching the end of the ridge and down climbing off toward the final section of ascent to the summit of Helvellyn, we noticed a red glow to the North East from behind Catstye Cam. Pictures cannot do it justice, the flickering red glow from behind the sharp point of the mountain with wind causing clouds to race in front of us, was absolutely breathtaking.
Despite the cold we sat about for a good 15minutes taking photos and taking it in… after all we knew we’d be hitting the top of Helvellyn Striding Edge in thick cloud and now light.
This last section didn’t seem to take much time at all, going from the top of the slight ridge line to the right and winding up a path to the summit was a breeze compared to how I remembered it. And whilst we made this final climb, we moved further into the cloud and all around us grew lighter. A walk across the plateau past the shelter, summit marker (we got there at 3:35am) and finally by a cairn at the Northern end of the top we set up camp, where the ground allowed us to pitch the tent.
Whilst watched by the occasional sheep we set up quickly, opened some wine and enjoyed a BBQ before collapsing into our sleeping bags. Despite being tired we didn’t get much sleep with the tent being battered by wind and rain. Somehow the tent survived and at 9:30am the next morning we felt rested enough to creep out and check out the view… of still thick white cloud. However, this soon this cleared and we were joined on the summit by a growing number of other walkers to enjoy the stunning view around.
After packing up, we tried in vain to find the water well noted on the map just South of the summit and then began our descent onto Swirral Edge. Despite weary legs and tiredness, we decided to have a quick “run” up Catstye Cam, from over which we’d seen the sun rise some 7hrs earlier and take the opportunity to look at Helvellyn and the two ridges leading to it’s plateau. From there we skirted round Red Tarn (that’s the lake between the ridges) and made our way back a slightly different route, which after jumping over a wall soon had us back to where we’d started.
It was great to try something different and get up onto Helvellyn at night to wild camp. Striding Edge is always an adventure, but at night in the cloud with strong gusts of winds it was a lot more so. We took it steady and made a couple of good calls to avoid even small sections of exposure, where it would’ve introduced risk that was unnecessary. Anyone contemplating walking at night, it may seem obvious but know the route well in daylight, do it in good weather and have a couple of escape strategies to hand.