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Helvellyn Winter Pilgrimage

Helvellyn Winter Pilgrimage

Postby dav2930 » Sun Jan 17, 2016 9:00 pm

Wainwrights included on this walk: Birkhouse Moor, Catstyecam, Helvellyn

Hewitts included on this walk: Catstyecam, Helvellyn

Date walked: 16/01/2016

Time taken: 6.3

Distance: 17 km

Ascent: 945m

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Sometime back in the mists of time and hazy memory, I made a vague resolution to walk Helvellyn by the Edges at least once every Winter, preferably when the fells are cloaked in a substantial layer of the white stuff. Saturday 16th January seemed a good opportunity to fulfill that self-imposed little obligation for 2016.

It just so happened that fellow walking enthusiast Karl, a relatively recent convert to Winter conditions, was also keen to get out that weekend, given the best forecast for many weeks. So the plan was quickly agreed and off we set for Glenridding early-ish on Saturday morning.

Usually I do the circuit clockwise, starting up Birkhouse Moor and quite often taking in Catstycam. Just for a change I fancied doing it anti-clockwise and going up Catstycam by the north-west ridge which, unaccountably, I'd never been up or down before. Karl was happy to go along with that idea.

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As we drove alongside Ullswater it was clear that the snow cover on the fells was very thick and continuous. The weather was matching the forecast too. So it looked like a very promising day. :D

And as a bonus, the main car park in Glenridding was 'free until further notice'. Not dwelling too much on the unfortunate reasons for this, we set off up the icy road to the mines.

Glenridding from the mines area

Catstycam and Lower Man from above the mines

Catstycam from the path into Keppel Cove

I had considered the possibility of going up the gully in the middle of Catstycam's north face (a straightforward grade I when in condition), but the snow wasn't consolidated enough to give a good climb today. As we approached the disused (and unstable) dam in Keppel Cove, we were wading up to our thighs in the stuff.

Keppel Cove

Despite the signs warning not to, we walked along the top of the dam to cross the beck. Daft, crazy fools! :crazy: :roll:

Whose are those footprints? Sheer madness!

The snow was equally deep and soft on the other side. It was hard work getting to the foot of the ridge and up the lower part of it.

Looking up the north-west ridge of Catstycam

Looking down the lower part of the NW ridge

But as we gained height and the ridge became better defined, the snow became firmer and icier. Time to get the ice-axes out. A bit higher still the ground steepened and the ice was more predominant. Time to put on crampons. :)

The upper part of the ridge was a fine, airy stomp up ice and hard neve. Fantastic! :D

Looking down the NW ridge from the summit of Catstycam.

Suddenly we were on the summit of Catstycam - a superb viewpoint. :D

The view north-east from Catstycam


Red Tarn and Striding Edge from Catstycam

Swirral Edge from Catstycam

A line of walkers were heading up Swirral Edge. From solitude we would soon be joining the crowds.

Approaching the start of Swirral Edge

The route up Swirral was well-trodden and straightforward enough, but still an exhilarating way to reach the summit ridge of Helvellyn. :D

Swirral Edge from Helvellyn Summit

By now we had noticed some very murky clouds to the north and west. But still had good views.

Red Tarn and Catstycam from Helvellyn

A ski tourer on the summit ridge, looking west

We stopped for coffee and food at the cross-walls shelter just below the summit of Helvellyn where, as usual, lots of people had gathered. A couple of guys had come up one of the gullies on the Red Tarn face; another chap was trying to get a drink from his hydration system but couldn't because the water had frozen in the pipe. There were climbers, walkers and skiers; it was a convivial and chatty atmosphere. Eventually we got up and headed off for Gough's Memorial and the steep descent to Striding Edge.

Striding Edge from near Gough's Memorial

On the descent to Striding Edge

Approaching the Chimney at the start/end of Striding Edge

The chimney at the start of Striding edge proved to be a real bottleneck, with a constant stream of people coming down it. Eventually Karl and me went up the left and right walls of the chimney respectively, otherwise we would have been waiting there all day. :?

Above the Chimney, Striding Edge

Once above the chimney bottleneck it was a pleasant stroll along the ridge. It had begun to snow and the clag was coming in over the tops, but it wasn't windy and conditions remained pretty good.

Looking back up to Helvellyn

Nice walking along a snowy Striding Edge

Back towards Helvellyn

Descending from Birkhouse Moor

At the hole in the wall we stopped to remove crampons and put away the ice axes, then carried on along the broad ridge of Birkhouse Moor. From the cairn we took a fairly direct line to meet the path down Mires Beck and back to Glenridding, ploughing through thigh-deep snow in places - all good fun. The clag had come in thickly now, but that did nothing to diminish the satisfaction of our day. It had been great. :D

The path lower down Mires Beck was a bit icy in places and a few folk had slipped because the ice was hidden under a fresh layer of snow. :shock: Definitely conditions for Microspikes! We passed the Traveller's Rest pub but it was packed so we ended up having tea, cakes and an ale or two in the Inn on the Lake. Sheer luxury! :D
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Re: Helvellyn Winter Pilgrimage

Postby Guinessman » Sun Jan 17, 2016 9:42 pm

Looks a great day for it. Some quality photos. Looks as though I picked the wrong day. Went up Fairfield from Dovedale today in thigh deep snow in places so it still hasn't settled down. Good effort.
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Re: Helvellyn Winter Pilgrimage

Postby The English Alpinist » Sun Jan 17, 2016 11:12 pm

Very interesting Dav, a classic day. You picked a good route up Catsyecam. I did it in the brief thick snow we had in early December, via Birkhouse Moor first - it was a murderous slog up trough thick stuff. You did both edges too -good for you! I went up Swirral but didn't fancy coming down Striding (wanted to bag Dollywaggon anyway. that's my excuse!). In a way they're safer in these conditions (assuming visibility :? ).
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Re: Helvellyn Winter Pilgrimage

Postby ChrisW » Mon Jan 18, 2016 5:33 am

Cracking report Dav with lovely pictures to accompany it. Bit of a shame that it was so busy in places but I guess people are sick of being rained off and all fancied a bit of the white stuff :lol: Nice to see a little bit of a winter scene, I was beginning to think winter in the UK was going to be a washout :roll:
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Re: Helvellyn Winter Pilgrimage

Postby trailmasher » Mon Jan 18, 2016 12:26 pm

Great report, great pics, great walk Dav :clap: It is said that Helvellyn is the most walked mountain in the LD. Don't know about that but it looks like it was on your day up there :( Well done the both of you :clap:
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Re: Helvellyn Winter Pilgrimage

Postby johnkaysleftleg » Mon Jan 18, 2016 1:55 pm

Brilliant, I was tempted to try the Lakes this weekend but lack of winter skills, ice axe and crampons suggested I was wise to stay local. Ended up having a wee tromp around the North Yorks moors in the snow, still great fun. :D
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Re: Helvellyn Winter Pilgrimage

Postby dav2930 » Mon Jan 18, 2016 7:58 pm

Thanks for all the kind comments guys :D

Guinnessman - Yes there will have been even more snow on Sunday following a hefty dump through Saturday afternoon and evening (getting home from Glenridding was slow going even on the A66). Sounds like an interesting walk you did; well done for getting up Fairfield in such deep, unconsolidated snow! :clap:

TEA - Your epic Wainwright agenda is as good an excuse as any for missing out Striding Edge - it'll still be there for you when you've completed your mission :wink:

ChrisW - I think you're spot on about everyone just wanting to get out in the snow as a change from the rain! Just shows it doesn't always rain in the Lakes - sometimes it snows (as the Cumbrian farmer said to the tourist). :lol:

trailmasher - There certainly were an awful lot of folk up there! I suppose you can't blame them as it was the first day of decent weather for weeks, as well as the first really substantial snow cover of the winter. We really enjoyed the day despite the crowds! :D

JK - The North York Moors are beautiful with a character all of their own. I've never seen them covered in snow but I'll bet they take on a whole new dimension. Glad you had a fun day. :D
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