Helvellyn

Helvellyn is a mountain located in the English Lake District, the apex of the Eastern Fells. At 950 metres (3,117 ft) above sea level, it is the third tallest peak in both the Lake District and England.

The summit of Helvellyn is the highest on the north-south ridge situated between the Thirlmere valley to the west, and Patterdale to the east. This ridge continues northwards over Helvellyn Lower Man, White Side, Raise, Stybarrow Dodd, Great Dodd and Clough Head, and in the south leads to Nethermost Pike and Dollywaggon Pike.

The east side of the fell is geographically the most spectacular. Two sharp arêtes lead off the summit, Striding Edge and Swirral Edge, on each side of Red Tarn. The knife-edged Striding Edge provides one of the most well kown scrambles in Lakeland, while the Swirral Edge ridge leads to the conical summit of Catstye Cam.

Situated between the arms of Helvellyn’s two edges, is Red Tarn. This pool is named after the colour of the surrounding screes rather than its water, and contains brown trout and schelly, a fresh-water herring. The depth of Red Tarn is now around 80 feet (25m), although in the mid 1800s it was dammed with boulders to increase capacity. This was done to provide ore water to the Greenside lead mine in Glenridding, the water race still visible as it crosses the slope of Birkhouse Moor.

A second tarn once existed in Brown Cove between Swirral Edge and Lower Man, but this has now been reduced to a couple of small pools which widen the stream. Brown Cove Tarn was another creation of the Greenside mine, a stone faced dam constructed in about 1860. The dam is still there but water now leaks through the base, the extended tarn-bed a smooth patch of luxuriant turf. A water leat passing under the north face of Catstye Cam to Red Tarn Beck can still be traced although it is now in ruins. Water from Brown Cove and Red Tarn joins beyond Catstye Cam to form Glenridding Beck, flowing on through the village to Ullswater.

The peak of Helvellyn takes the form of a broad plateau about 500 metres (1,640 ft) long. The tallest point is denoted by a cairn and a cross-shaped dry stone shelter; to the north is an Ordnance Survey trig point, a little below the summit at 949 m (3,114 ft).

There is a subsidiary top, Helvellyn Lower Man, about a third of a mile north-westerly. Its summit is small compared to Helvellyn and offers improved views north-westwards, as the ground falls steeply away from it on this side.

Geologically, the summit and Striding Edge are formed by the Deepdale formation of the Borrowdale Volcanic Group. This consists of volcaniclastic sandstone with intercalcated tuff, pebbley sandstone breccia and lapilli-tuff. Beneath this is the Helvellyn formation of dacitic lapilli-tuff.

Striding Edge begins at Hole-in-the-Wall and then goes on for over a mile to the Helvellyn summit plateau. The first part of the ridge is relatively rounded and has a good path running along the right hand side. This changes upon reaching High Spying How which at 863 m (2,831 ft) is the tallest point on the ridge. At this point a narrow path continues closely to the top of the ridge which in turn becomes increasingly narrow. Scramblers however will move to the summit of the ridge and walk at the very top of the arête.

The side path continues until almost at the end of the ridge where it switches to the left hand side. Scramblers are forced to climb down a short gully to the last tower on the ridge. At this point the ridge joins up to the main Helvellyn massif. All that remains is a walk/scramble up loose rocky terrain to reach the summit plateau which is located about two hundred metres from the summit. Typically a cornice will form here in the winter and this represents the most dangerous part of the hike.

Striding Edge is a notorious accident spot for both hikers and scramblers. Conditions on the ridge at the start of 2008 were described as the worst in 30 years by top fell assessor Craig Palmer. Two walkers died after falling from the ridge in two separate incidents in the following weeks. Another walker died after falling from Striding Edge in Spring of 2008.

Because of the spectacular scenery that Helvellyn offers, many people camp on Helvellyn throughout the year. Most campers will set up camp around the Red Tarn as this provides the best views of Striding Edge, Red Tarn and the summit of Helvellyn itself.

Helvellyn is strongly associated with the poet William Wordsworth, who was known to climb the mountain regularly. Benjamin Robert Haydon’s painting Wordsworth on Helvellyn epitomises romanticism in painting. Wordsworth wrote about the mountain on several occassions. In particular he remembered the death of Charles Gough, a tourist in the Lake District. Gough tried to cross Striding Edge to reach the peak of Helvellyn. He died there with his dog, who stood at his side for three months before his corpse was found. A plaque remembering this event can be found close to the peak.

The western slopes bear witness to much historic mining activity. Helvellyn, or Wythburn mine operated from 1839 until 1880, when the land was purchased for the Thirlmere reservoir scheme. Four seperate levels can be found along the course of Mines Gill, from where lead was extracted. Despite the sizeable workings the venture was never deemed a commercial success.

Reference: Wikipedia – under the GNU Free Doc Licence