The route up to Helvellyn via Striding Edge is one of the most iconic in the UK, and the British have voted it as their favourite walk.
There are plenty of other ways up the mountain which combined with its central location within the Lake District and easy accessibility make Helvellyn such a popular choice for hill walkers.
There are ascents to suit all abilities. The more challenging routes across the classic ridge lines of Striding Edge and Swirral Edge from Glenridding attract those who do not mind getting their hands on rock, and even more adventurously are the winter ice climbs straight up the East Face from Red Tarn.
For those looking for an easier amble up to the summit of England’s third highest peak, then there is a choice of routes from the Thirlmere side of the mountain that can be completed in a half day.
The start of Striding Edge becomes obvious as the rocky ridge rises to the left. As you edge up onto the ridge proper the views to the south open.
The first time that I went up Helvellyn and Striding Edge was the day after my birthday on a crisp November morning.
It had snowed so heavily the night before that the route up from Thirlmere via Raise, and White Side involved breaking a trail through shin deep snow drifts, and it felt more like an Alpine ascent than a Lake District ramble.
On perfect winter days like this the long ridge line of Striding Edge is as close as we can get to alpine adventure in the English fells.
Since then, I have climbed Helvellyn on countless occasions in all conditions. On clear summer days with views as far as the eye can see, and on murky winters days when the fog has swept in and you cannot see further than your own feet.
Last summer I skipped up the western side in shorts, t-shirt, and light walking trainers, whereas my last winter trip involved an ice axe and crampons on the way up to Swirral Edge from Red Tarn Cove in perfect winter conditions.
Helvellyn’s height and central position within the Lake District is part of its popularity. It is easier to get to than the high peaks to the west and you can be up and down in 3-4 hours from the Western side.
From the summit you can see all the major peaks of the Lake District and on a clear day you can even get a glimpse of Scotland and Dumfries and Galloway.
How difficult is Striding Edge?
Despite the magnificent panoramic tour of the Lakeland peaks on offer from the summit of Helvellyn the best view is the one down to Striding Edge.
There is something aesthetically pleasing about its triangular lines and there is a reason that it makes its way on to postcards and the covers of so many Lake District walking guides.
It is like an elongated pyramid or a slightly curved giant Toblerone that tempts adventurous walkers to test their mettle on the sharp-edged ridge.
So, what is it like to walk across? In good dry conditions most of the ridge is straightforward, and it is achievable for anyone who is careful, sure-footed and does not mind putting their hands on rock occasionally.
Most difficulties can be avoided and as general rule of thumb, if you are unsure then keep to the Red Tarn side of the ridge where a path below the main ridgeline will help you avoid most difficulties.
The direct route across the apex of the ridge is where the most fun is found. The ridge does narrow in places, and there is some exposure especially to the south side where the steep sides drop down towards Grisedale valley.
Although, there is some mild scrambling as you manoeuvre across larger boulders, the route is straightforward and within the ability of most hill walkers with a head for heights.
The one difficult section is the crux at the end of the main ridge where it joins the steep path up to Helvellyn peak. Here there is a tricky down climb of around 4 meters or so, but this can be negotiated by most if you move slowly and with great care, or alternatively you can back up and find your way back down to the path on the Red Tarn side of the ridge.
Striding Edge in winter
Winter conditions provide and all together more difficult challenge and if there is snow or ice then the ridge should not be considered without crampons and an ice axe and the knowledge of how to use them.
However, when the conditions are good here are few better places to be in the Lakes to put your winter walking and climbing skills to the test.
The Fell top Assessors provide a brilliant service of delivering daily updates on the condition of the mountain through the winter months, and I always check their twitter feed before heading up the Lakes.
For those who want to dip their toe, or more specifically their crampon, into winter mountaineering then they also run winter skills courses aimed at giving you some of the skills and insights needed to summit safely in wintry conditions.
Striding Edge in summer
The popular ridge routes start from Glenridding with the classic Helvellyn horseshoe also taking in the short ridge of Swirral Edge on the way up or down from Helvellyn depending which way around you chose to go.
An early morning start from Glenridding is my recommendation. The first advantage is that you get to stroll down to the shores of Ullswater to see the early morning mist and the Steamers moored up before they start ferrying people up and down the lake.
The other benefit of the early start is that you may have the ridge all to yourself which is increasingly a rare pleasure as it can get busy.
I love the Lakes and I love walking here. The walk up to Striding Edge has all the classic Lakeland elements; a start in a lovely little village with shops to procure walking snacks from and post walk sustenance, a beautiful lake, paths that cross over mountain streams before heading uphill and eventually climbing above the tree line to reveal fabulous views back towards Ullswater and Place Fell.
As Ullswater starts to become more distant behind you, the cirque of the Helvellyn horseshoe starts to come into shape in front of you.
To the right, the often overlooked but handsome peak of Catstye Cam rises from Swirral Edge. Most people will miss this out as they head on the more direct route up to Helvellyn via Swirral Edge but there is no finer view of Helvellyn than from this peak.
St Sunday Crag dominates the view to the southeast and this is another recommended walk out of Glenridding. It is also home to the much more technical scrambling route of Pinnacle Ridge which is a tremendous but much trickier route.
To the right is Red Tarn and the steep screes of Helvellyn where the body of John Gough was found in 1805 after falling whilst walking across Striding Edge up Helvellyn.
Gough’s body was found 3 months later with his dog Foxie still alive sitting by his side. Both Sir Walter Scott and Wordsworth authored poems of Gough’s demise, and there is a monument at the top of scramble up from the Striding Edge to Helvellyn commemorating Gough and his faithful, yet remarkably well-fed dog.
Walking routes from Thirlmere
There is a choice of trails from the western side of mountain that are more mountain walks than mountain scrambles and can take you up on to Helvellyn within a couple of hours.
The shortest circular would involve parking at Steel End, Wythburn Church, or one of the roadside parking spots on the A591 and heading south to pick up the path that heads up Raise Beck towards Grisedale Tarn.
Halfway across the tarn the path splits with the northern route zigzags steeply uphill towards the summit of the gloriously named Dollywaggon Pike.
The path skirts the true summit before taking you over the flattish plateau of Nethermost Pike. There are splendid views from here down towards Patterdale but the path down from Nethermost Pike provides you with a fabulous view of Striding Edge before heading up to the summit on the old trade route to the summit of Helvellyn.
Descent is made more directly via Birkside. This path can be a little steep in parts, so some care needs to be taken and walking poles are useful.
There are a couple of longer routes from Stannah that can take you steeply up onto the ridge at Sticks Pass or Whiteside or shorter options from Swirls car park on a gentler ascent to Lower Man.
All these western routes give you splendid views down to Thirlmere which can be particularly spectacular on crisp autumn mornings and if you go up really early you can catch the gorgeous sunrise from the summit.
Glenridding Car Park, CA11 0PD. There is a large pay and display car park at Glenridding that has public toilets, and there are village shops nearby.
The car parks on the Thirlmere side are smaller and can fill up quickly on busy weekends. There are also a few roadside parking spots on the A591.
Steel End Car Park, CA12 4TW. Pay and display car park at the left turn to Wythburn at the south end of Thirlmere.
Wythburn Car Park, CA12 4TW, Pay and display car park next to Wythburn Church.
Swirls Car Park, CA12 4TW. Pay and display car park with public toilets.
There are also bus stops at Swirls Car Park and Stannah for those wanting to climb Helvellyn by bus. The 555 bus route runs in-between Keswick, Ambleside, Windermere, and Kendal.
Here are the GPX files so you can follow my routes up Helvellyn. One from the Striding Edge side from Glenridding and one from the Thirlmere side. Happy walking!