Hell bent for Helvellyn

Hell bent for Helvellyn


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That miserly old gimmer the weather man said we’d only get one good day and typically that was to be the day we were set to travel up to Lakeland so there was only one thing for it. We’d have to get up early, spend at least four hours in the car and hit the hill in an effort to squeeze as much into our visit as possible if we were to spend the rest of our trip walking in a cloud.

Yes, we were after views and we got them alright. Indeed from the M6 the vista across Morcambe Bay was quite spectacular and at one point I could clearly see the buttresses and gullies of Dow Crag which got me twitching uncontrollably until at last they were obscured by some intervening swellings. However, we wouldn’t see much if we were to spend our day on the crag so I decided that we should treat ourselves to possibly the finest panorama of them all and after dropping off some surplus baggage at the cottage we headed for Helvellyn.

At one o’clock we entered Grisedale, a beautiful alpine valley in miniature, hemmed in by steep walls and terminated by shapely heights; Arcadia. It was warm, too warm for a March afternoon and despite frequent halts to take in an ever expanding prospect we sweated our way up the endless path to ‘Hole in the wall’ chatting to weary folk on their way down. Would we be lucky enough to get Striding Edge to ourselves I wondered?
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Not before time we crossed the stile and entered Helvellyn’s eastern combe, relieved to get some respite from the relentless uphill slog. Back down in Grisedale spring had sprung though up here winter was reluctant to release the combe from its grip. The mountain air was cool, filling our nostrils with a pleasant, health giving freshness. White tendrils streaked the head wall and the north side of Striding Edge while not exactly plastered displayed a healthy covering of snow, much more in fact than I had seen in the previous three days which I had spent in Eryri.

It was to be Lucie’s first crossing and bereft as we were of winter gear I gave her the obligatory pep talk; it’s on ridges such as ‘Striding’ that she often scares the bejesus out of me by practically running across them, so I told her in no uncertain terms that this classic was called Striding and not Sprinting Edge, secretly hoping that she would rename it ‘Crawling’ or at very least ‘Dawdling’ Edge!

Did I mention its classic status? Well, if you don’t know already then I will tell you that it is not unusual not only to be loved by anyone but also to see literally hundreds of people on it during peak periods, though this day we wouldn’t see a soul and what a great privilege it is to get the most popular Lakeland fell along with its most celebrated route of ascent to oneself.
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And so it was that Bounding Edge went without mishap as did the rough scramble onto Helvellyn’s broad summit where as promised she delivered a panorama every bit as good if not better than I had remembered it to be. We shared that summit with no one but each other and the occasional squawking raven, spending our time waiting for the golden hour in peaceful meditations punctuated only by my brief musings on the meaning of life and a who’s who of the surrounding fells.
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Then, with regret it was time to leave and we went on our way to Swirral Edge, our proposed route back into the combe. We found its upper reaches buried under a layer of snow-ice and I quickly declared that without axe and crampons it was too dangerous to descend. Not wanting to spoil the purity of our walk we had only one real option, Wainwright bagging! By now, Lucie was tired and not terribly overjoyed at the news but safety comes before convenience in the mountains and with that in mind we trogged over Nethermost and Dollywagon Pikes respectively before finding our way down to Grisedale Tarn, at which time darkness had fallen. It was a long march out of Grisedale and the rhythmic crunch of our boot steps acted as a mantra, sending us back into a meditative state, a sure sign of body and mind united.
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Back in Patterdale there was much slumping accompanied by the delicious and almost narcotic glow of endorphins. Tomorrow we could rest with impunity knowing that the rain would fall in buckets. But what of the next day? It was sure to be filthy again but what excuse would we have to stay indoors? Little did we know what delights were in store for us!
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