Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Helvellyn, Dodds and Pikes

There had been some excitement in the Facebook groups and Twitter feeds about this weekend.  For one thing, it was a weekend.  For another, the forecast was for definitely no rain at all.  I took the opportunity of running a route I have been thinking about for some time, climbing up from Wythburn Church to Helvellyn and then running along the ridge to bag some Wainwrights.


The Ws on the map are Wainwright fells.  A red W denotes a previously bagged Wainwright, here you can see Helvellyn and Catstycam already in red.  A black W is a Wainwright yet to get.  I'm making progress on the Wainwrights.  My full progress is here.

Wythburn Church
Parking spot today was the United Utilities Wythburn Church car park which is towards the South end of Thirlmere off the A591 (NY 32590 13566).  

Apparently, there have been lots of problems here with car crime.  The car park is tucked away behind trees but is also close to the A road.  So there is cover and a quick getaway.  

Add to this the fact that anybody parking there would more than likely be doing a walk of a few hours or more and you can see why.  There was an angry note to United Utilities and the police on the ticket machine, obviously left by someone who had been the victim of a crime.

cloudy Thirlmere

Driving through Cockermouth and Keswick, there was thick mist.  I was really hoping to get up high on the hills early enough to see the cloud before the sun burnt it away.  When I got to Thirlmere, there was still some cloud hanging low over the water but I knew it would not be around for long.

I climbed up through the woods on the path that starts at the North end of the car park.  This is a fix the fells path and I had previously spent a very muggy morning digging out pine needles, scraping off stones and tidying up this path.  I remember laughing at the people wearing nets over their faces until the midgie bites started to itch.  We ended up abandoning the work near to the top of the path because the midgies were so bad.

Walking up today, the stone path seems to be holding up quite well but there are a few full drains.  Further up there are some overgrown fir trees that are spreading over the path, making people walk around, creating a new path.

Once out of the woods, the path continues to wind and climb up onto Comb Crags and Birk Side before levelling out to the flattish tops of the long Helvellyn ridge.  

My route today was going to take in most of the major peaks along this ridge.  This is also the same ridge that makes up most of the second section of a Bob Graham Round.

a bit of cloud left over Thirlmere, from the climb up

Harrop Tarn in the centre of the picture, across Thirlmere, Tarn Crags behind to the left

Before the path joins and heads up towards Helvellyn, I cut across towards Nethermost Pike and headed south along the ridge towards Dollywagon Pike.  This part of the run was really nice and flat, just some gentle up and down hills along the ridge.  

along the flat tops to Dollywagon Pike with St Sunday Crag across Grisedale.  I think that is High Crag on the right

High Crag summit

High Crag was quite a spectacular place to be on a clear day like today.  I was again practising my map reading.  This time I was using Harvey maps as they tend to be the ones used in mountain marathon events.  The Harvey maps differ quite a bit to OS.  Harvey maps are generally 1:40k where OS are 1:25k.  Some people say that the Harvey maps are less cluttered.  I found that some of the things I had been using for navigation using OS maps, such as walls, or "boundary features" are omitted from Harvey maps.  I have to agree that they are clearer for working out contours, or the shape of the land.  I also found them to show cairns clearer which is something I used to know I was at the top of a fell.  I did get a bit mixed up along the ridge from Nethermost Pike to Dollywagon Pike.  I think I initially mistook High Crag for Dollywagon Pike.  There is every chance that I have mislabelled some of these pictures.  If you spot a mistake, please let me know and I will correct it.

from High Crag looking North East

One of the most satisfying things is being able to look at and name distant fells.  Each walk or run that I do builds my knowledge of the Lake District, it's great how it is all fitting together in my head.  Alan and David who I did the recent Scafell Range walk with definitely have an encyclopaedic knowledge of the Lake District, naming crags and routes as well as the fells themselves.  I'll get there.

from Dollywagon Pike looking back towards Nethermost Pike and Helvellyn

Standing at Dollywagon Pike, it was clear, cold and crisp all around.  I took what felt like hundreds of pictures, knowing that most of them would be deleted as they were almost exactly the same as the last one.  The route from Nethermost Pike along to Dollywagon Pike is about 1k and is definitely runnable but it took me a long time due to the constant photo stops.  I make a joke of stopping to take pictures as a reason for having a rest but I really was stopping to take pictures today.  

the path I took back over Helvellyn is visible on the left rising up High Crag.
Nethermost Pike is in the middle with the sharp ridge of Striding Edge behind.

Dollywagon Pike

Dollywagon Pike has two distinctive cairns.  The Harvey map shows these clearly so I was certain that this is where I was.  The other thing that helped me find my position was the very steep drop down to the south which would lead to Grisedale Tarn but is not visible from the top.

Dollywagon Pike looking over Ullswater and Place Fell

Standing at the eastern cairn on Dollywagon Pike is a fantastic place to contemplate the beauty of the Lake District.  The eastern fells to the, err.. east, an area I have been exploring quite a bit recently with walks and runs around High Street, Haweswater and the closer Grisdale/Glenridding area.

Striding Edge with Catstycam peeping over as it does
to the East, St Sunday Crag from Dollywagon Pike

After spending some considerable time at Dollywagon Pike, this really is a beauty of a fell, I retraced my steps back towards Nethermost Pike.  I stuck to the edge of the cliff, meaning a slight downhill, then up hill to High Crag and then up a bit more to Nethermost Pike.

back at High Crag, Skiddaw visible behind

St Sunday Crag and Fairfield across the valley

Looking south west, on a clear day like today, you can see almost the whole of the Lake District.  There were some really clear fells that I was able to pick out with their distinctive shape, height or location.

Ok, here goes, I would say that is Great Gable prominant on the left with Pillar middle right and perhaps Grisedale Pike on the far right?  Cat Bells is in the middle ground with most of the Newlands Horseshoe visible.  Just beyond the round ridge of Nethermost Pike in the foreground is the Bleaberry Fell, High Tove area.  How did I do?

The top of Nethermost Pike is like the aftermath of a huge rock explosion.  Boulders are laying around the flat top, angling towards the sky.

approaching Nethermost Pike

Helvellyn and Striding Edge (don't forget Catstycam) from Nethermost Pike summit cairn

ah, that's how the timer works

looking south, along the ridge I have just been on

I then headed up towards Helvellyn.  This is a very popular fell and it is obvious why this is the case.  I could have maybe pushed myself to run up to the shelter but it was very easy to convince myself that I needed to walk so that I could take lots of pictures.

heading up to the cross shelter on Helvellyn

On the way up, I passed a stone marking the site of the first aeroplane to land on a mountain.  I remember thinking that it was not the flattest part of the mountain to land on.  This link gives a full description of the event.

well, I've seen plenty of mountainbikes up here but...

Up on Helvellyn, I've been here before.  In fact, after the walk, I looked back at my blog post of my first ascent of Helvellyn with my old dog Oscar.  That's one of the great things about having a blog, it's a great record of past exploits.  I'm probably the person who looks at it the most, reminiscing.  Of course, there are plenty of people looking for pictures of Terri Hatcher naked who end up here too.

Walking, rather than running, along the top, I passed Striding Edge and Swirral Edge leading to Catstycam.  I like Catstycam, it's a cheeky little fell.  In the midst of the epic grandeur of Helvellyn's ridges, tarn and plateau, it commands attention simply by being mountain-shaped and hard to spell.  I bagged Catstycam a few weeks back.  You don't go there unless you are going there, it's not on the way to anywhere.  I'm sure a lot of people go there and then back the same way, a bit like Barrow-in-Furness.

cheeky little Catstycam

Red Tarn, Striding Edge, High Street at the back

path towards Helvellyn Lower Man visible over the start of Swirral Edge

now this is where I would land an aeroplane - perhaps there were too many people there

looking down Swirral Edge to Catstycam

Just a little bit on from Helvellyn, there is a cairn marking Hevellyn Lower Man and the path splits with one branch heading off towards Browncove Crags.  I took the right hand branch, heading down a steep and rocky track before climbing back up to the summit of White Side.  Looking back Helvellyn and the unmistakable profile of Catstycam looked magnificent.  I don't often see pictures of Helvellyn from this side.

west, over Thirlmere

back towards Helvelyln, Browncove Crags visible now on the right

White Side summit

Raise and Stybarrow Dodd, my direction of travel

summit of Raise

Raise summit cairn on the right looking back towards Helvellyn

Now I have been up Raise before.  It was about 20 years ago and two friends took me snowboarding.  I knew nothing about the Lake District and, coming to think of it, we were incredibly stupid and unsafe.  I didn't have waterproof boots so I wore carrier bags on my feet.  The friends I was with were keen snowboarders and would come to Raise quite often.  The Lake District Ski Club are based on Raise.  They have recently found fame for installing a toilet in the club house.  I wanted to have a look at the ski-tow so I diverted slightly off the route.

I then headed back onto the main path, across Sticks Pass and up to Stybarrow Dodd.  This part of the run was grassy and bumpy rather than rocky.  The top of Stybarrow Dodd in itself is not that wondrous a place but the views out are.

From Stybarrow Dodd up to Watson's Dodd is a bit of a boggy trod.  I managed to jump over most of the big boggy bits but the ground was wet.

Watson's Dodd summit with Great Dodd behind

It was not all that long ago that I was at the other side of Thirlmere doing a quick drain run for fix the fells.  I took the picture below which is zoomed in on the route from Stybarrow Dodd on the right down to Watson's Dodd on the left.  The deep gorge is Stanah Gill and was roughly the way I descended.

looking across to Watson's Dodd and Stybarrow Dodd from Armboth

Heading down from the top of Watson's Dodd, I saw a building that would act as a good reference point for re-joining the track.  It turns out that it was a (well built) sheepfold.  Not a bad place to count your sheep.

Sheepfold with Skiddaw range behind

The path re-joined the Sticks Pass path and I headed down steeply.  I decided to use an aqueduct as a 'handrail' feature.  This is much clearer to see on the Harvey map than on the OS.  The good thing about running along the side of the aqueduct was that it was flat and direct.

steep descent towards Thirlmere

Fisherplace Gill waterfalls

that's reassuring

the aqueduct

The aqueduct brought me out at the Swirls Car Park.  From here it was about two miles on the forest track back to the path down to Wythburn.

great place for a sit down

The overall distance was about 13.5 miles.  I headed into Keswick where I refuelled with chips before heading home for a bath.  Another six Wainwrights claimed today, beautiful conditions, a happy man.


  1. Excellent Paul, as always lots of info and i do like the way you go off the normal paths to search out things of interest, it does make a walk more interesting :)

    1. Thanks Alan, it's all about the exploration.