Helvellyn via Striding & Swirral Edge
Kicking furious steps and scrambling through a snowbank that was clinging to to the eastern rim of Helvellyn was a reminder that winter hadn’t quite given up on the Lakeland Fells.
53 minutes since leaving Glenridding I found myself crawling up the last few feet of Helvellyn, desperate to reach the plateau before my watch ticked over the 55 minute mark. To most, even me initially that day, the time would not have been that important, this was just another training run. I’d not left the valley with any intent, other than to get around in a ‘reasonable time’. But as I scrambled amongst the last few rocks, glancing at my watch, it had dawned on me that I had never reached the summit of Helvellyn in anything under 59 minutes, so 55 minutes was suddenly as worthy a goal as any other that Friday evening.
It had been a beautiful evening, the clouds had melted away, and in the cold air, the visibility was superb. Yet despite the cold air, it didn’t feel as cold as forecast. I was glad i’d opted for shorts and was cursing my decision not to just wear a long sleeved base layer. And so it was warm work as i headed upwards as the last few walkers made their way downwards.
On Wednesday evening, running in the annual Loughrigg Fell race, I had agonised over the realisation that I needed to up my pace by a minute a mile, to be amongst the very best. Not that I had been desperately disappointed with time, simply aware that I needed and wanted to be 3-4 minutes faster over that 4 mile course. So it was slightly surreal that there i was, just 2 days later, on all fours, grappling over that final bank of snow, on the verge of achieving a split time 4 minutes faster than I had done previously in a straight ground up ascent of Helvellyn.
Wednesday nights short but furious race had taken more out of me than I’d anticipated as I dug deep to maintain a running pace, no matter how slow. Reaching the ridge line I just had to stop, and as I climbed higher towards the high hanging valley that holds Red Tarn, I had to stop again and again. I was tired both physically and mentally. Only the easing gradient as the path headed towards ‘Hole in the Wall’ and onto the relatively benign terrain of Striding Edge would give any respite and a chance for my legs to recharge. And so the thought that I was travelling faster than I’d done before couldn’t have been further from my mind.
And so having pulled onto the plateau with my watch still clinging by just a second or two, onto the 54 minute mark, it was with an air of relaxation that I approached the trig point on the summit of Helvellyn. I was alone, just the noise of an increasing evening breeze as Blencathra was lit up by the setting sun. To the north-west, the southern coast of Scotland could clearly be seen, punctuated by a line of wind turbines, in every other direction, a tiered stack of silhouettes mapping out the fells all around.
I picked my way carefully down Swirral Edge, a compact but soft smattering of snow lay on the path and with Seren pulling at her lead, keen to head down, I aired on the side of caution. Soon enough I had left the outcrops and rocky slabs of Swirral Edge and was back on easier terrain. But still tiredness lingered in my legs, my leg muscles feeling as though they were creaking under a constant bombardment as I hammered down the unforgiving track back to the valley. And so it was with a certain amount of relief and quiet satisfaction that Glenridding came into view, little more than one and half hour hours since I had left.
Distance: 11km. Ascent: 800m approx. Time: 1 hour 31 minutes.