This is the most hard core walk of the selection – not because of excessive length, but because of the terrain. If you have no head for heights, don’t even consider it. If you don’t like to see a long drop on either side of you, look away now. This walk ascends Helvellyn from the Glenridding side, going via Striding Edge and visiting Catstye Cam via Swirral Edge. It’s popular in good weather, and for that reason Striding Edge is best tackled early in the day before the majority are up and about if you want to avoid queueing.
The walk, as described is just over 5 ½ miles and has about 850m of ascent – largely because I have it starting from the youth hostel. It will be nearer 7 miles and 1,000m of ascent if you start from the village itself. Striding and Swirral Edges are rocky and uneven and exposed in places, and you will need to use your hands in several places. I recommend that the harder arête, Striding Edge, is done in ascent and the easier, Swirral Edge, in descent, although it’s perfectly feasible to go the other way.
What this walk means to me
Helvellyn was my first mountain, but it took me 19 years to return and do it the good way. With a great weather forecast, and a very light day of walking the previous day, I was up and raring to go early. Before I knew it I was at Red Tarn, and then knocked off Birkhouse Moor soon after. I hit Striding Edge and joined the other early risers to pick my way over the crest. I’d wanted to do this walk for a while, but had never got around to it, so I took my time to savour the moment. It was over relatively quickly and I had elevensies at Helvellyn’s summit before tackling Swirral Edge and Catstye Cam, which was a bit easier. When I did the walk, I actually returned to Helvellyn and walked the ridge northwards to Sticks Pass as I wanted to bag some fells up there, eventually ending up on Sheffield Pike and Glenridding Dodd. The account of the day is here and below is the video from that day’s walk.
If you’re starting from Glenridding village, take the track up to the youth hostel (a). Continue a short way past the hostel on the track, ignoring the paths on your right.
Cross over Glenridding Beck (b) and follow the path as it climbs up under Birkhouse Moor (on your left) all the way to Red Tarn (c). Stay a while to take in the stunning setting of the tarn and to look at the two arêtes you’ll be walking along later.
Take the path that slants back left from the tarn (roughly due east) to climb Birkhouse Moor, joining the crest in the ridge at the Hole in the Wall (d). Here you could detour briefly to the summit of Birkhouse Moor (e) by heading along the ridge away from Helvellyn.
Back at the Hole in the Wall, continue along the ridge as it rises first onto Low Spying How and then High Spying How and becomes Striding Edge (f).
Take your time and if the crest is too much exposure for comfort, then drop down and use the track below to skirt the more difficult bits.
At the end of the arête, there’s a final scramble up a loose rocky slope to bring you to Helvellyn’s summit plateau (g). Walk north along the plateau, passing the trig point, and take the path sloping down to the right to the start of Swirral Edge (h).
Scramble along the arête, which again has the option of a track below the rockiest part. After the Edge itself (i), note the path descending to your right towards Red Tarn – this is the return route later on. Continue on rising again onto Catstye Cam (j), which should give a decent view back towards Helvellyn, and of Striding Edge, as well as down into Patterdale and Glenridding.
Return back the way you came to the dip in the ridge where the path heads down for home (i). Descend to the tarn and return back to the start in Glenridding the way you came up earlier.
There are some alternatives though, if you don’t want the walk to end yet, by returning along Swirral Edge to Helvellyn:
- You could follow the ridge south over Nethermost Pike (k), Dollywaggon Pike (l), descend to Grisedale Tarn (m) and walk out to Patterdale along Grisedale (n).
- You could make this a linear walk by heading north from Helvellyn, and descending over Helvellyn Lower Man (o) or White Side (p), or continuing over Raise (q) to Sticks Pass (r) and heading down to Thirlmere.
- Sticks Pass (r) also gives you a return route to Glenridding, bringing you out at Glenridding Beck on one of the paths I told you to ignore earlier.
- Or you could continue the walk north from Sticks Pass onto Stybarrow Dodd and Hart Side and Green Side (s). Descend towards Sheffield Pike (t) and a steep descent to Glenridding Dodd (u) will bring you out lower down the track between the hostel and Glenridding village at Rake Cottages (v). (This is the walk I actually did as shown in the video above).