A view of Patterdale.
After falling in love with the Lake District after my trek up Blencathra earlier in the year, we decided to come back and set up camp. Even though it had not been decided yet what peak we would trek up, I already had my mind set on one of the giants, Helvellyn, England’s third highest mountain.
Our little home in Side Farm, Patterdale on the edge of Ullswater. The camp brochure mentioned its gentle slopes. Well, I can’t say they’re that gentle…but still had a good night’s sleep. Staff were friendly and the camp site quiet at night with good facilities.
The view that greeted me when I looked out the tent in the morning. Had an energy rich breakfast of salami, bread, geobars, breakfast bars while admiring the landscape bathed in morning light. I needed the energy seeing that the evening before it was decided that Helvellyn would be our goal. I was thrilled and wary at the same time.
View from the top of Catstycam. The cairn met us after a long steep trek upwards with some scrambling. We then turned and followed the path to Swirral Edge.
View of Red Tarn from the path towards Swirral Edge.
Swirral Edge coming into sight. A friend of mine, knowing my fear of heights, mentioned the obstacle of Swirral Edge and assured me that if I wanted to go an alternative route that would be fine. I was determined to take on some scrambling though and went ahead.
Swirral Edge. Nope, we didn’t take that path to the left. We followed the upper way, on the rocks’ edge towards the top. A very enjoyable time scrambling up and not as scary as I thought it would be.
I may be a slow climber / walker, but I get there at the end. The peak of Helvellyn and the amazing views from it.
On the top there is a plaque to Charles Gough, who fell from Helvellyn, and his faithful companion.
Beneath this spot were found in 1805
The remains of Charles Gough
Killed by a fall from the rocks
His dog was still guarding the skeleton.
After a much needed break at the shelter, munching on chocolate biscuits and crisps, we turned to descend from the peak.
And this is Striding Edge. Our way down. The perfect picture for my fear of heights. This gorgeous view set my feet to stone and brought tears to my eyes…not in a good way. This photo does not do justice to the thrill and fear I felt. Again the plan was not to take the side paths, but stay at the rocks’ edge at the top.
My legs were tired and my mind worked up the very real fear of death. This was a trek to take seriously. Some people (built like mountain goats) may find this an easy scramble. This to me was one of the big obstacles I wanted to overcome.
Not one of the best performance in my life. I wasn’t a pretty sight, trying not to shake as I had a death grip on my handholds while my feet attempted to plant themselves on rocky but stable steps, admonishing myself for my madness in incoherent ramblings…but I didn’t want to turn back. I kept to the top edge as much as I could, using side paths only when I found the top too technically difficult. Those side paths were for some reason even more terrifying.
I may have been frustrated and embarassed that I could not keep up with the rest of the group, but at the same time proud of myself that I dealt with it. I don’t know how long we were up there for, but suddenly the descent was done.
And we were back down on the edge of Red Tarn, viewing Helvellyn from below. From here we walked back to the car and drove to a cafe where I drowned myself in tea and cake.
Helvellyn may be not as high as some of the peaks in Switzerland, not as technical as some of the more dangerous peaks in the world, but the fact that the day before this climb, a boy fell of Swirral Edge and that more experienced fellwalkers than I have lost their lives on this trek…Helvellyn is not to be underestimated and should be shown respect.
Thankfully there is the Patterdale Mountain Rescue team, a voluntary search and rescue team who are on call 24 hrs a day, every day of the year. They are volunteers with equipment, paid for by donations, who set out to save lives. When you’re in trouble in this landscape, where normal emergency services struggle to get to you, you can not value enough the work these people do. I think they’re great and hope to never need their help.
Legend and poetry, a lovely name and a lofty altitude combine to encompass Helvellyn in an aura of romance;…There is some quality about Helvellyn which endears it in the memory of most people who have stood on its breezy top; although it can be a grim place indeed on a wild night, it is, as a rule, a very friendly giant. If it did not inspire affection would its devotees return to it so often?
This is definitely not my last trek on Helvellyn. I won’t get over my fear of heights in a day, it’s not something that will go away so easily. But I will not let fear define my limits. I hope that the next time I take on Striding Edge, I will be even a little bit more confident. That’s a win for me.