Voted the best walk in Britain, Striding Edge is walked by many and feared by most. Is this fear rational and what can you expect before planning this route?
In early July i took a detour to the lake district en-route to Fort William where i was going to set up camp for my challenge of climbing Ben Nevis 7 times in 7 days. The lake district provided a good breakup of the journey to the highlands and also gave me chance to do a warm up climb.
The weather was good so i planned to finally do Striding Edge given i had waited far too long for friends to plan this route. Most people would think it would be crazy to do such a walk so soon to a big challenge, but for me it was something i had to do to get focused.
Any good walker worth their salt knows about Helvellyn and in particular Striding Edge. The name is synonymous with fear and stories of people falling to their deaths and countless mountain rescue operations for crag fast walkers. Make no mistake about it, those stories are unfortunately true and sadly lives have been lost crossing this famous ridge, so it is only right people anticipate this route.
Although i have not put the route on my website, i have crossed Sharp Edge recently and to be fair it gave me some tricky moments and especially on “bad step” was Striding Edge going to give me the same experience of that of Blencathra? I was soon to find out.
Striding Edge is a popular route which involves some scrambling, linking the summit ridge of Birkhouse Moor to Helvellyn’s summit by what becomes a sharp arête.
Striding Edge begins at Hole-in-the-Wall and then stretches for over 1.5 km (0.9 mi) to the Helvellyn summit plateau. This starting point is accessible from both Glenridding and Patterdale.
I parked at Glenridding on the morning of my walk at the Ullswater tourist information centre, and i think it cost me around £6 to park for the duration of my stay. If you are lucky enough you can park for free near the Travellers Rest pub but make sure you respect the residents by not blocking anybody in.
It was Wednesday morning so it was very quiet but one would assume at weekends it gets a little busy to say the least. The sun was shining and the temperature was just right, i could not have planned things much better and luck was on my side. From the car park head towards Greenside Road, there is an NHS building that you will pass and a walkway to the road.
Head up Greenside Road and past the Travellers Rest on your right, this pub is a perfect stop after you have completed your walk given you will be coming back exactly the same route. You will come to a folk in the road which you need to head left towards Gillside Campsite. These are quiet country lanes and will lead you to a stone wall with a slate sign saying Helvellyn via Miresbeck. Follow the path until you come to a gate, go through the gate and head left.
The path will now start to climb alongside Miresbeck and there are steps to navigate as you climb a good 200 meters. When you reach the plateau around the 500 m mark, you have two choices of which way you would like to go. Both lead to the “Hole in the wall” which is the start of crossing Striding Edge. Most people head right along the path against the stone wall to the top of Birkhouse Moor. I wanted to do the alternative route so took a left until i reached the stone wall which has steps to navigate. The path leading to the steps is just visible in summer so you need to be on the ball.
Once over the wall you will follow an overgrown path which will lead you slightly downhill until you reach a gate. Go through the gate and steps will now lead you eventually to the “hole in the wall” I chose this route because i wanted to have the views of Patterdale Common to my left and Grisedale Valley below me, and to have Nethermost Pike and Dollywaggon Pike in view in front of me. I found this route to be far more scenic and there is no difference in altitude climbed to the alternative route.
Like any mountain climb, the steps leading up to the “hole in the wall” are arduous and will get your blood pumping as you climb over 200 meters. Take time to admire to views below you and if you look backwards, on a clear day you will have a great view of Ullswater. At the top go through the gate and you will now have re-joined the alternative path you could have chosen further back down the route.
Head past the “hole in the wall” and follow the path along Bleaberry Crag. you should now be able to see the summit of Helvellyn and Red Tarn in the distance. This path starts to climb and you will eventually have to navigate a little scramble to get you onto Striding Edge.
Once on Striding Edge, your view across to Helvellyn should give you a good idea of whether you dance along the ridges or take the safer low path down below to the right. The view across Striding Edge is unique and i love this type of landscape. Now for the moment of truth, was Striding Edge the killer ridge that is feared by many? I was a little let down to be honest as it is definitely over hyped, and the seasoned hiker would have no trouble crossing this ridge. Ridges like this still have to be respected and more so in winter where the chances of mishaps will be much greater.
I stopped for a quick selfie and off i set across the highest points, dancing along the ridges making sure my next step was thought about before making it. There are a few tricky places where you have to guess where to go next but all in all it’s not very hard to follow. I stopped halfway along to take some images and just admire the views and take in what i was actually doing. I had waited long enough to do this route, so i wanted to saviour it as well.
At any point you do not feel comfortable on the ridge you can easily navigate down to the safer path, but this also has its obstacles and a gully where you could come unstuck. The lower path looked more exposed too, so be careful whichever path you choose. At the end of Striding Edge there is a down climb of around 7 meters which required me to use both and feet to complete this Grade 1 scramble.
Once off the ridge you are faced with a steep climb up to the summit of Helvellyn which is a mixture of scree and boulders and the path can be confusing. There is an alternative scramble to the right but this needs more care and skill and can be dangerous in bad weather. I found the bit between the end of Striding Edge and the summit of Helvellyn to be the most demanding part of the walk in all fairness.
Once on the summit looking back over Striding Edge gives you a better perspective of what you have just crossed. The stunning views are what makes this walk so special to so many people and who can blame them. I do not want to disrespect this ridge and i will tell you, that at the start of crossing Striding Edge there is the Dixon memorial which is attributed to Robert who was killed whilst crossing in 1958. I know of more recent deaths on this ridge so just be careful and take your time.
I never stayed long on the summit of Helvellyn given there was an infestation of what looked like midges but i am not 100% sure what they were. So i headed straight for Swirral Edge which would be part of my return route. Swirral Edge is a difficult down climb that will require the use of both hands and feet in places and is not to be underestimated either. It poses its own dangers and obstacles, but if you take your time you will be ok.