A circular route from Wythburn
19.10.2010 17 °C
The path to Helvellyn from Wythburn Church was once one of the most popular ascent routes to that fell yet in recent times other ways to the summit have come more into favour. The route though is easy to follow and maintains interest throughout its course from the forested shores of Thirlmere to the top of England's third highest peak. My return route here was a circular finishing with a pleasant forest walk to the start point from Dunmail Raise - oh and for the peak bagger there are 4 Wainwrights on this one.
From the small church at Wythburn the signed path heads steeply up through the trees - mainly coniferous - to cross a forest road a short way uphill. There is a signpost here informing us that Helvellyn is straight across up the path on the opposite side. To the right is marked Dunmail Raise and left "Swirls" while Wythburn Church is signed back the way we've come - remember this for the last part of the walk!
The path continued steeply uphill leaving the trees for a moment and allowing views of the rugged wooded country on the far side of Thirlmere though the lake itself remained largely concealed below. The path climbed past a line of tall pines before veering right to enter a vast hollow in the hills above the woods.
With the beck down on the left, I followed the path - which is a constructed trail here - steeply up and back around to the right to gain a gap in the crags above on that side. The views along Thirlmere improved as I moved back in that direction though the distant views across the Lake District - which are usually impressive from here - were largely obscured by haze. There were signs of this clearing though as I got higher and Skiddaw stood out more clearly in the North as did the high ridges above me though cloud rolled over the top from the East from time to time.
The terrain above the crags is more open and the gradients easier and I made rapid progress along an easy path that slanted up towards the ridge emerging at the gap between Helvellyn and Nethermost Pike. Now it was an easy walk to the summit through the mist that blew across the ridge in the strong gusting easterly wind.
There were intermittent views from the cairn of Catstycam and Striding Edge and a ghostly prospect of Skiddaw seen through shifting mists but generally the cloud won and the views for which Helvellyn is known, remained elusive.
I now intended to follow the ridge in a southerly direction to Grisedale Tarn and make my way back via Dunmail Raise so I set off back in that direction, following the edge of the escarpment instead of the wide path coming up from Grasmere. There were surprisingly few people for a weekend when it wasn't raining though I did meet a couple who had ascended by Kepplecove Tarn (as it was - there is no tarn now) from Glenridding which is the route I describe in "Helvellyn the Quiet Way" and indeed they had found it quiet. We discussed the merits and hazards of descending by Striding Edge in this wind and they wisely opted for the route by Grisedale which is a nice walk. When I had come up by Keppelcove my intent to descend by Swirral Edge to Catstycam had been thwarted by gales. Neither route would pose a serious danger today - if care were taken - but why take the risk?
Crossing the wide summit of Nethermost Pike then the small grassy peak of Dollywaggon Pike I reached the steep descent to Grisedale Tarn which can be toilsome to climb on a warm day and was the reason I'd done the circuit this way around. If you're a peak bagger then these 2 summits are both Wainwrights and two thousanders though the way over them is far pleasanter than the wide tourist path regardless.
There were quite a few people making the ascent this way though and despite my less than favorable memories of the route on hot summer days it remains a popular way to Helvellyn. In descent it is enjoyable with Grisedale Tarn getting ever closer while the rough slopes of Fairfield rise opposite. The location if the tarn is wonderful, being a wild hollow in the mountains at the head of the long deep valley of Grisedale. It is miles from any road and is only accessible on foot or by mountain bike.
I followed the path around the tarn to the left rather than cut across to its right and found myself on the good path that climbed steadily a short distance to Grisedale Hause (pass). Here I ascended the steep ground facing me on the right of the pass to my last summit Seat Sandal. The path is excessively loose and steep lower down and the grass to the right is easier here. Having negotiated the steep section, it was simply a case of following the wall to my last summit of the day.
Seat Sandal is a fine viewpoint being separate from the rest of the fells and overlooking Grasmere on one side and the valley containing Thirlmere on the other - the best views of Grasmere are to be had from the cairn a little further on down the ridge. I had the summit to myself for a while until I was joined by fellow lone wanderer of the hills - a very pleasant girl who's name I didn't get but who had come up from Grasmere and was heading back via Fairfield and Great Rigg which sounds like another good circuit. She said her route up the ridge had been hard work - it does look pretty direct!
Leaving the wide views to the ravens, I set off roughly northwards aiming to the left of Dollywaggon Pike to descend a steep grassy slope to join a path that led down to the left following the stream. This track led down a wonderful mini gorge with rapids and waterfalls as the river made its way over rocky steps and through deep channels. This is the valley of Raise Beck and leads without difficulty - care in a few places if the rocks are wet - to the top of the road pass Dunmail Raise.
Thankfully there is a path that leads off from the road over the stone wall at a stile signposted to Wythburn so to the sound of 2 motorcyclists apparently attempting to set a new land speed record, I left the tarmac behind and followed the path through fields to end up back in the forest where I'd started. An enjoyable walk along a forest track - gained over a bridge across a river at the edge of the trees - brought me from views of Thirlmere through the trees into the deep greens of the woods and to the signpost I'd passed at the start of the walk. Those who were paying attention will remember that it points left from this trail down the hill to wythburn Church. If you miss the sign then - well I've not been that way but I guess it ends up at the King's Head pub where at least you can get a pint before walking all the way back.
Pete Buckley October 2010
Summits Helvellyn 950m/3117ft Nethermost Pike 891m/2923ft Dollywaggon Pike 858m/2815ft Seat Sandal 736m/2415ft
Essentials >>> Up 1040m >>> Down 1040m >>> How Far? 15.2km >>> Start and finish at Wythburn Church by Thirlmere (bus stop and small car park)