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Striding Edge, Helvellyn

Striding Edge, Lake District

Looking down onto a snow covered Striding Edge from Helvellyn.
Photo ref. MG_7817-19490


Technical Details: -

Canon EOS 5D MkII
Voigtländer 20mm f/3.5 Color Skopar
1/200 sec @ f/13.0, ISO100

In January 2009, I pitched my tent in the snow near Red Tarn on Helvellyn with the intention of camping over night & capturing some winter sunrise shots before all the walkers arrived with their footprints.  I was also keen find out what it was like spending the night in the mountains in the middle of winter.  To cut a long story short, the weather had other ideas & my tent was blown away in a blizzard at 1:30am! Luckily, I was already in my waterproofs & boots at this point, preparing to relocate, so once the tent had disappeared into the night, all that remained was to find my way off the mountain back to the the dark, in knee deep snow, in a blizzard with near zero visibility.  It was an interesting experience, though not one I'd recommend.

Fast forward a year & the snow had returned & rekindled my desire to successfully spend the night under nylon in full winter conditions. Having thoroughly checked several weather reports, it appeared Saturday 6th March 2010 was the day to do it. There had been fresh snowfall over the previous few days & clear skies were predicted that & the following day. Most importantly, low wind speeds were forecast over night.

So, off I went with my (new) camping gear & climbed the 1800ft to Red Tarn. On arrival, I couldn't believe how calm it all was & how clear the sky was. So far, the forecasters had got it right! I quickly found a nice spot & set about pitching the tent. As I did, I could here voices from nearby, out of sight. Someone else had clearly had the same idea, but they were far enough away not to bother me (or me them). It gets dark early at this time of year, so it was a case of getting settled in, cook some tea & bed down for the night.

I awoke at about 5:30am having had a very good nights sleep. It was completely silent outside but still dark, so I sat up in my sleeping bag & made a cup of tea while I waited for the sun to rise. By the time I'd finished my tea I could see light outside, so I put my boots on & ventured out. Wow, talk about clear! Although the sun wasn't due above the horizon for nearly an hour, it's glow could be seen in the sky to the south east, which was enough to up the face of Helvellyn to my west against a very deep blue backdrop of cloudless sky. I grabbed the camera & fired off a few shots before getting back into my sleeping bag to warm up & get some breakfast.


Wild camping near Helvellyn
The view from the front garden.  Helvellyn pre-dawn, illuminated by the glow in the sky to the east.

It was about another hour before I ventured out for a proper walk. The sun was up & once out of the shadows it was relatively warm. I wandered round Red Tarn, shooting from different angles as I went until I was at the other side, at the base of Helvellyn's east face. From here, I could hear people talking again, this time from the summit 700ft above. It was so quiet I could almost hear what they were saying half a kilometre away. It turned out to be the other two campers I'd heard the night before, returning from their early morning walk down Swirral Edge. They'd obviously done Striding Edge while I was still eating breakfast. I decided to walk the same route, but in reverse, climbing Swirral Edge & descending along Striding Edge, not having done it that way round before. After a very steep walk up solid ice on Swirral Edge, I was finally at the summit of Helvellyn in glorious sunshine. I even had to take my jacket off briefly to cool down. I sat down on the trig pillar for a rest & looked around, taking in the scenery. After about 5 minutes, I could see someone walking towards me from the top of Striding Edge. I figured it wouldn't be long before the crowds came, so got down to some photography.

View East from Helvellyn
The view east from the summit of Helvellyn

So, stood at the top of Striding Edge, I set the aperture of my Voigtländer 20mm lens to f/13, giving me a shutter speed of 1/200th second at ISO100.  I'd normally use f/8 & bracket my focusing to ensure sharpness throughout, but with so much light available I could afford to stop down to increase depth of field & reduce the chance of focusing errors.

In hindsight, I should've got out of the tent & started my climb earlier than I did to maybe get better lighting on the ridge.  Also, although it looks quiet, there is one walker visible in the shot of Striding Edge, though he's not prominent enough to affect the composition.  In a large print he actually adds interest.  I think next time I'll do the whole climb from the car before sunrise.  I don't mind early starts, but I'm not too keen on leaving a warm sleeping bag to go out into sub-zero temperatures.

Helvellyn & Striding Edge
Looking back at Striding Edge on the descent to Red Tarn

The walk along Striding Edge on the way down was interesting.  There was a single narrow track through the snow along the top of the ridge, so there was no problem finding the route.  I wouldn't like to try it without crampons, but I met plenty of walkers coming the other way that did.  I'm sure they all made it up alright but I bet few, if any went down Swirral Edge, probably opting for the easier alternatives further north or south of the summit.

Once back at the tent, I didn't want to leave as it was such a nice day.  Unfortunately though, I had a long drive home ahead of me, so I packed up & headed off down the mountain at midday, against the flow of traffic as usual.