Birkhouse Moor and Striding to Helvellyn

View from the ascent of Birkhouse Moor by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerI was on my way to a walk I had planned for a while but the sky was blue and I heard Helvellyn calling to me and I could not refuse. From my car parking space in Glenridding I walked up the road past the Traveller's Rest pub on the path to Helvellyn. At a wooden gate in the wall you turn left for the Mires Beck path to Helvellyn or right for the Red Tarn path to Helvellyn.

Andy decided he was going to climb Birkhouse Moor rather that just the usual visit to the summit cairn. At the gate there is an obvious looking green path straight up the front of Birkhouse Moor although the wooden barrier might have given the impression that somebody doesn't want you to go that way. The steep ascent up the grass is not too difficult although the frost in the shaded areas is a bit slippery.

View from the ascent of Birkhouse Moor by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerThere are another couple of barriers that are useful to show the way but after the third the path disappears. There is no path for a while, just climb steeply up the grass, the quick gain in height gives a good view backwards over a sunny and clear Glenridding Dodd, a more atmospheric Place Fell and a mist covered Ullswater.

After the initial steepness is a wide ledge and a path appears going across the face of the fell, I followed it for a short distance but its progress was much too sideways for me. At a convenient point I started to climb upwards, steeply up a natural ascent, well it was natural for me because there was no other way up. The way is steep but the sky is blue and the sun is shining and the views are superb.

View of Striding Edge from Nethermost Cove by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerThere is another wide ledge, a short rest before the next steep climb, following sloping grassy ledges between the rock outcrops. There was a large step required over a wet, greasy boulder and I was then on the wide plateau leading to the summit. What this fell lacks in height it makes up for in breadth and it is a long way to the summit. There is no path, you just head towards Catstycam and you will see the large summit cairn on a mound slightly higher than the surrounding ground.

The summit of Birkhouse Moor is a very uninteresting place but the view of Catstycam and Helvellyn is awe inspiring.

View of the East ridge of Nethermost Pike from Nethermost Cove by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerWalking towards Helvellyn you will soon find the highway to Helvellyn, follow it to Hole In The Wall. As I walked towards Striding Edge the mist over Helvellyn disappeared but there were tongues of mist creeping over Fairfield. The sheltered eastern side of Striding Edge was white with frost, the crest was illuminated in the bright sunshine. I have been here before but today is just a fantastic day, my photographs do not capture just how beautiful it is.

On the ascent of the East ridge of Nethermost Pike by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerYou should get on to the ridge as soon as you can, the broad easy path just below the ridge denies you the best views. So I get to Striding Edge, I know it is not too difficult but always I feel apprehensive as I set foot on it. Immediately you are on the rocky ridge and it isn't as frost free as I would have hoped. As you walk along the ridge you start walking over large rocks and boulders. There are a couple of places where you have to take a sideways diversion from the ridge in order to avoid difficult steps.

After one of those awkward steps is the memorial to Robert Dixon who seems to have attempted the direct route and not quite got it right. The memorial has recently been painted and now looks ridiculous with it bright white top.

The way over the arete on the East ridge of Nethermost Pike by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerAs you walk along the edge it becomes narrower, you can not look down as you walk because it is a bit too steep for comfort. In these conditions the edge is exhilarating, you have to concentrate on where you put your feet and you must stop to look at the view.

When you get close the end of the edge there is a final challenge, a twenty foot rock outcrop, best to turn and face the rock and find the easy holds with your feet. It is uphill all the way from there and the way up to the summit of Helvellyn is strenuous after a strenuous ridge walk.

Descending the crest of the ridge of Swirral Edge by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerSo I walked across the wide flat top of Helvellyn to the cairn indicating the start of Swirral Edge. Swirral Edge is not as long a ridge as its near neighbour but it has its moments, it tends to be a bit rockier and steeper than Striding Edge. In the shade the flat rocks are beginning to shine, this mornings frost has melted and is beginning to freeze again.

I got almost all of the way down to the bottom of the ridge before I decided to climb back up again, the verglas being a bit easier to avoid on the way up. Across the top of Helvellyn again to the Gough memorial, the most reliable indication of the path down to Striding Edge. The descent is quite interesting, steep and loose before reaching the solid rock of Striding Edge.

View of Keppel Cove and its breached dam from the descent of Catstycam North West ridge by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerAfter climbing up the twenty foot rock step you are onto the narrowest part of the ridge, it needs concentration at the best of times but the frosty areas on the edge do add a bit more interest. At the narrowest part of the edge I stumbled, fortunately I fell forwards and landed on my knee but instinctively grabbed hold of the rocks. Having hauled myself back onto the crest I had to just get on with it and carry on back down the ridge.

By this time the mist had begun closed in and as I walked down the Mires Beck path it began to drizzle, I'm glad I wasn't walking over the edges at the time. Finally back to Glenridding after an excellent seven hours.

Andy Wallace 23rd November 2003

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