We hiked up Helvellyn today – the third highest mountain in England! Which sounds impressive until you realize that it’s only 950m high. Caracas lies higher than that. Zuoz lies at almost twice the height. So it might not be the most impressive feat but was chosen over the tallest (983m) on next ridge over for the more exciting tricky ascent.

There are various routes you can take up but of course this being us (Camp Conor anyone?), we chose the hardest one. Incidentally this is also supposed to be the most impressive one in terms of views. I’m saying ‘supposed to be’ because we didn’t actually get to see much of the view. More about that later…

The first part you have to reach is Hole-in-the-Wall, the first peak, from which you can see Helvellyn already. This is one of the toughest parts of the climb because it’s very steep and the ‘path’ narrows. You end up going s-l-o-o-o-o-w like a sloth and it feels like you will never reach the top which seems tantalizingly close all the time.

On eventually reaching it, you realize that it wasn’t even that far. It only took us an hour. The Lake District lies at your feet and while you’re gasping for breath you can enjoy the rugged peaks and tranquil lakes around you. Well, you could if there weren’t any clouds. There were clouds. So I’m just assuming this would be the case.

Once you’ve reached Hole-in-the-Wall, you head along Striding Edge towards Helvellyn. The name is a bit misleading because it is an edge alright – very steep precipices on either side – but there’s not much striding because of said precipices. Rather you end up scrambling on all fours and if necessary your butt, trying to find a crack to put your boot into. It’s fun and slightly terrifying at the same time.

Having successfully navigated Striding Edge, there’s only the last small bit left before the peak is yours and sandwiches may be eaten. It’s that last small bit though that almost did me in because there is no real path to climb up the craggy rocks. They DO tell you to please be careful around the edges because erosion has become a problem over the years. But if you don’t know where the edges are, how are you supposed to be careful? We split up at this point, me taking a route on the left side and Conor continuing on the right. My route brought me higher quicker but I also got stuck after about 50 metres with nowhere else to go. Even going down again looked scary. Just my will not to die alongside two strange Scots – who’d foolishly followed me – finally did the trick. I scrambled and slid back down to the spot where we had split and followed Conor on the longer but gentler slope up.

Reaching the plateau at the top was sadly anti-climactic because by now the clouds and fog had become so thick that you couldn’t see anything beyond 20 metres. No sweeping vistas, not even the lake right below us could be coaxed out of its foggy coat. To top it off, there was also a large group of sprightly senior citizens who had taken over the small wind shelter at the peak (they’d come up along an easier approach on the other side of the mountain). But this was no place for niceties and we pushed our way into the sheltered corner of the benches to hide away from the wind for a while.

Food always tastes so much better at the top of a mountain, doesn’t it? Our stale pieces of toast, stolen at breakfast that morning, topped with semi-off cream cheese and dodgy ham from the 7/11 could not have been more delicious. For desert some more Kendal mint cake, our lembas bread, and we were on our way once more. (Incidentally, ‘mint cake’ is a whopping misnomer. There’s no cake whatsoever involved. Just sugar, glucose and peppermint oil. Tasty!)

The way down was uneventful and wet. We had chosen a longer, easier route this time, to go easy on the knees. A few people passed us on their way up but most of them looked like they weren’t going to go much further. Can’t say I blame them with the rain and fog. Although I’ve heard that some folks do this for fun…

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