Lake District Holiday V (Final): Helvellyn
Legend and poetry, a lovely name and a lofty altitude combine to encompass Helvellyn in an aura of romance; and thousands of pilgrims, aided by its easy accessibility, are attracted to its summit every year. There is no doubt that Helvellyn is climbed more often than any other mountain in Lakeland... (Alfred Wainwright).
Since our first visit to the Lake District in 2000, we have wanted to climb Helvellyn,* at 3115 feet the third-highest mountain in the Lakes. The classic and preferred route to the summit is along Striding Edge, a dramatic knife-edge of rock that Wainwright calls "the finest ridge there is in Lakeland." Striding Edge occasionally requires the walker to claw his way up steep chimneys of rock that rise thrillingly above the sheer precipice on either side. Unfortunately, my bad knee forced us to reroute our ascent of Helvellyn to the west side, which Wainwright dismisses as "unattractive and lacking in interest."
Clara on the ascent of Helvellyn, with Thirlmere in the background.
There are several ways up Helvellyn from the west, including a long route from Grasmere that Wordsworth followed when he was in his seventies. We chose the shortest and easiest, from the car park beside Wythburn church. The church is all that remains of the village of Wythburn, which was wiped out in 1890 when the valley in which it lay was flooded to create the Thirlmere Reservoir and provide a water supply for the growing city of Manchester.
The ascent from Wythburn is not Striding Edge, but I wouldn't dismiss it as unattractive. The early stages, with Thirlmere in the background, are quite lovely. It is only the final ascent to the summit that seems a little dull. But from the summit itself there are glorious views northeast toward Ullswater, with Red Tarn and Striding Edge in the foreground. One of the advantages of the western ascent was that we met relatively few other walkers along the way. When we had our first sight of Striding Edge, we could see walkers lined up all along the ridge, like a queue at a post office.
My knee was in good shape during the ascent, but was aching by the time we reached the car park again at the end of the walk. Striding Edge will have to wait for another year.
*Will persisted in referring to the mountain as "Van Halen."