(June 2015)

Helvellyn is the third highest mountain in England. At 950 metres, it hardly ranks amongst the world’s most challenging treks. Despite that, Helvellyn is notorious for the treacherous Striding Edge, a narrow, craggy ridge which claimed the lives of five in 2015 alone.

Striding Edge, on a clear day. Photo: Gary Rogers

Of course, that meant that this motley crew of three Americans, one Canadian, and one Brit declared “challenge accepted”, and set off on a journey to conquer Helvellyn. Heading out from London, starting a six-hour drive on the side of the road we weren’t accustomed to — we were off to an auspicious start.

We first stopped at Arnside, the village where Anna was from. Having become accustomed — and grown weary — of London’s endless concrete jungle, the rolling hills of Cumbria were a much-welcomed break.

View of Morecambe Bay from Arnside Knott
View of Morecambe Bay from Arnside Knott

As we soaked up the sun by Morecambe Bay, we learnt of Sir Cedric Robinson, the Queen’s Guide to the Sands. In my mind, he is a Tolkien-esque Gandalf figure – the post was first established in the 16th century to guide walkers across the bay. Fast-moving tides and quicksand make it an incredibly dangerous walk, and it is inadvisable to make the crossing alone. In recent years, the crossing of Morecambe Bay — led by Sir Cedric — has become a popular charity fundraiser. However, if you’re considering quitting your job to pursue this career option, be warned that it comes with a nominal salary of £15 per year.

Arriving at YHA Helvellyn
Arriving at YHA Helvellyn

After a lovely dinner at Anna’s family home, we carried on through the Village of Glenridding to arrive at YHA Helvellyn — a hostel situated right at the trailhead which appears to have been solely set up for the convenience of hikers.

After a cosy but all-too-brief sleep, we awoke at the crack of dawn to tackle the mountain ahead of us. The trail starts out gently, but soon turns into a steady uphill climb. As we ascended further, it became increasingly foggy and visibility started to decline.

Helvellyn 2

When we finally reached Striding Edge, we could barely see a metre out ahead. We had to ask ourselves whether it was worth scrambling 1.5 km up a steep, narrow path with sheer drops on either side in such poor visibility. After all, we didn’t want to be the subject of a scathing news story about the idiocy of grad students these days.

This was probably around the start of Striding Edge, where we had to decide whether to push forward or take a different path.
This was probably around the start of Striding Edge, where we had to decide whether to push forward or take a different path.

Collective logic won out, and we decided to take Swirral Edge, an alternate route to the summit. While the path is slightly shorter, it is no less exciting – hikers will still want to ensure that they have the strength and ability to climb significant segments of craggy rock towards the top, and enough self control not to look down. (I failed to avert my eyes, and it was scary.)

Several hours later, we made it! The view is supposed to be spectacular on a clear day, but a late English spring day did not provide.

Damp and tired, but we made it!
Damp and tired, but we made it!

Despite the challenges, less experienced hikers/people with a fear of heights need not miss out entirely. There are a number of other routes to ascend Helvellyn, some more straightforward than others. We took a significantly less steep paths with lots of switchbacks back down to the hostel, where hot showers and naps awaited us.

It's amazing how much the fog lifts on the descent.
It’s amazing how much the fog lifts on the descent.

Have you hiked Helvellyn or any of the other trails in the Lake District? I’d love to hear about your experiences!

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