Postcards from the Lake District: On the summit of Helvellyn

Having crossed Striding Edge, I was now presented with a conundrum I hadn’t expected. The way across the ridge had been a little hairy, but ultimately clear. Where the sheer sides drop away, the only clear route along the ridge is defined by being the only route – across the top.

I had assumed that the ridge would continue all the way to the top; that this ‘Edge’ would be visible and clear, running like a spine all the way to the relative sanctuary of the summit. Alas, the scene I was now presented with was nothing more than a wall of shattered rocks, seeming almost vertical, and offering no obvious route to stick to.

At least with the ridge, the route had been obvious. This time I had no choice but to begin scrambling up rocks, hoping to follow my footing to another suitable scramble point, and repeat this process to the top. Where was Wainwright’s “good path throughout” now?

Although I had up to this point been alone, I’d recently become aware of a lone walker quickly gaining on me. His confidence along Striding Edge had reassured me, along with his mere presence, and I paused to allow him to reach my position. At this point, we greeted each other. He seemed dressed for the occasion, and his swift progress led me to ask, somewhat sheepishly, if I could follow him up the next section as I wasn’t at all sure of the route. His calm demeanour reassured me further, but unfortunately he said he had no idea either.

However, in the end we both just started up the rock wall, finding foot and hand holds, and just taking a few metres at a time before looking up and deciding on the next bit to scramble to. In this manner, slowly but surely, we made it up to ground which could be traversed merely on two feet. I remain very grateful to this anonymous companion, as his presence and moral support gave me the extra push I needed to not just sit and stare at nondescript rocks, but to try and tackle them instead.

As the Gough Memorial came into view, we shared a crack about false summits, but I realised then that the rest of the ascent would be easy. The summit plateau lay before me as a gentle slope up to a few more man-made landmarks: a stone X-shaped wind shelter, the Ordnance Survey triangulation pillar at a height of 949m, and the cairn of rocks marking Helvellyn’s highest point at 950m.

My companion and I naturally drifted apart at this point, to allow us both to enjoy the summit alone. And alone we were: it was almost 11am, and we had the top completely to ourselves. What’s more, the clouds were fast moving and we had sunshine and views for miles around. The air was noticeably cooler on the summit and the pretty white patches I’d seen from the distance now appeared as large slabs of packed snow clinging to the sheer slopes. I wondered how long these patches would remain, sparkling as they were in the bright sunshine.

These glorious conditions kept bringing to mind my previous memory of the summit as a bizarre experience of being inside a cloud. This time I was left in no doubt at all of being on top of England’s third highest mountain: the scenery laid out in all directions beneath me was testament to that.

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