A Travellerspoint blog

October 2010

Helvellyn and Grisedale Tarn

A circular route from Wythburn

sunny 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)

Posted by PeteB 08:06 Archived in England Tagged mountains lake_district walking hiking foot Comments (0)

Grasmoor from Rannerdale

A circuit of the fells above Crummock Water

overcast

Rannerdale is an area of level cultivated ground effectively forming a break in the steep - often precipitous - mountainsides that fall to the eastern shores of Crummock Water. The valley is overshadowed by Grasmoor, Whiteless Pike and the lower but craggy Rannerdale Knotts and the circuit of these 3 fells which are all Wainwrights makes for a varied and interesting walk - after a challenging start. For the peak bagger there is opportunity to reach 2 more summits with little extra effort and more if you're feeling energetic!

Leaving what is the first of 2 car parks (free) when heading towards Buttermere along Crummock Water, I followed the path ascending the steep hillside towards a line of reddish scree that reached towards the ridgeline of Grasmoor almost 2500 feet overhead. The path soon became sketchy suggesting people had realised that an easier route to the summit of Grasmoor exists from the other car park but I continued to persevere with the few who chose this route which is called Red Gill and follows the small stream of that name.

After a few hundred feet of unrelenting steepness through grass and bracken then heather, the path eased in angle as I approached the foot of the scree run which is about 1000 feet from top to bottom. The retrospect to the rough flanks of Mellbreak across the lake and the Buttermere Fells beyond the craggy end of Rannerdale Knotts opened up as I ascended the scree and my upwards progress could be guaged against the fells opposite. The easiest way I found was by a small path partly hidden under the heather on the right of the stones. The scree itself is practicable but loose and unpleasant.

A lone buzzard wheeled over the rough hillsides above eyeing up a potential meal which struggled up through the rough heather and steepening ground. I kept going though and was soon far above the ridge of Mellbreak opposite with views of the approaching weather to the West. The unbroken amorphous grey of a weather front filled the sky beyond the lonely fells of Great Borne and starling Dodd while the high fells at the head of Buttermere began to disappear one by one. Great Gable - when one can see it - appears to rise from the Buttermere Valley from here but it in fact overlooks the next valley of Ennerdale.

My troubles were not over at the top of the line of scree - the ground became even steeper - a tangle of heather, patchy scree and rocky outcrops inclined at a 45 degree angle rose ahead, over 2000 feet above the flat green carpet of Rannerdale and the cold depths of Crummock Water below. The path too soon gave up the ghost suggesting this was where it was customary to give up - or become a meal for hungry birds. Three buzzards were now circling hopefully overhead and it was a case of picking one's way upwards and not slipping back too much. The ridgeline looked close but it was still further than it looked.

The last part of the ascent was up loose sliding scree and then thankfully, a series of easy shelves across rocky outcrops to emerge on the wide ridge buffeted by an icy wind. Several sheep stared at me with apparent amazement that anyone was mad enough to come up this way.

The diversion to Grasmoor End is worthwhile here - a short descent to the left for birds' eye views of Lanthwaite - but the windswept summit of Grasmoor lies a short way up a wide easy slope to the right. The top has a large wall shelter and a second smaller one overlooking the escarpment I had just ascended. The grey ceiling was not far overhead though and lower fells to the south were now hidden in mist. The wind now blew cold enough for me to don gloves and coat but at least the rain was holding off.

This is the highest point of the route and the rest is easy. I followed the path leading down a gentle gradient followed by a steeper descent to a curious green hollow in the fells where a crossroads in the pathways gives a choice of options. Ahead a wide path makes an easy ascent of Eel Crag (marked as Crag Hill on the OS map) and Wandope, (another Wainwright) is even easier to its right while to the left Hopegill Head is within reasonable distance. My route though lay along the equally easy path to the right which led gradually down to follow a ridge with views of Newlands Hause to surmount a small rise to the fine summit of Whiteless Pike where I rested and finished off lunch - it was now warmer than it had been on Grasmoor.

From Whiteless Pike an easy to follow and interesting track heads down towards Buttermere village in the valley below via some easy rocky sections just below the summit. This is the path to Buttermere if that is your destination but as I had left the car at Rannerdale, I turned right at the bottom of the main descent but still several hundred feet above the valley and followed a delightful path along the ridge to the right which rose gradually in a series of rocky outcrops and wide grassy swathes to the gnarly peak of Rannerdale Knotts. The smaller fells are often some of the best walks and this is no exception. Even though the rain was now coming down, this was the most enjoyable part of the walk with views of Crummock Water straight down to the left and the misted Buttermere Fells circling the head of the valley behind.

From the top of Rannerdale Knotts, the path continues on before bearing left and descending steeply over stone steps for some of the way down to the road alongside Crummock Water. Following this away from Buttermere brought me past the second car park and to where I was parked at the base of Grasmoor. As I removed my boots, a couple with one of those small yappy type dogs on a lead set off up the steep path I'd climbed earlier - they went for nearly a whole minute before coming back down - sensible!

There are easier ways onto Grasmoor and the surrounding fells but this is a good route if you are after a challenge on rough terrain and like the feeling that the hardest part of a walk is over with early on.

Pete Buckley October 2010

Summits Grasmoor 852m/2795ft Whiteless Pike 660m/2165ft Rannerdale Knotts 355m/1165ft (as described)

Essentials >>> Up 850m >>> Down 850m >>> How Far? 10.6km >>> Start and finish at Rannerdale by Crummock Water

For more walks in the Lake District please see the table of contents below

Posted by PeteB 08:04 Archived in England Tagged mountains lake_district walking hiking foot Comments (0)

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