24th March 2008

Helvellyn to Clough Head in the snow


Walk Overview
Date 24th March 2008
Time 09.00 to 15.45
Duration 6 hr 45 min
Distance 10.7 mile
Ascent 4100 ft
Walking with Andrew Leaney
Swirls - Browncove Crags Helvellyn - Helvellyn Lower Man - White Side - Raise Sticks Pass (top of) - Stybarrow Dodd - Watson's Dodd - Great Dodd - Calfhow Pike - Clough Head - Threlkeld Knotts - Wanthwaite (St John's in the Vale)
Fells visited
Directory places visited

Starting Point Information Centre
Car park, Swirls, Thirlmere

Swirls and Helvellyn fit perfectly into the same sentence. The chances are that 9 out of every 10 people who walk from here are heading up Browncove Crags onto Helvellyn summit.

The car park is in effect split into two by the A591. One has splendid views over Thirlmere and pays host to an ice cream van, whilst on the opposite side of the road you have the toilet block and the beginning of the path to Helvellyn.

Unfortunately the water company who own the land have installed a 'pay and display' machine in the car park above Thirlmere, so, the only free option here is to park in the long lay-by a little further down the road. Late comers will find it full !!


Route Map

The Skiddaw Fells and Blencathra seen from the Browncove Crags route up Helvellyn.
We had fantastic conditions today, and to make sure we took full advantage by staying up in the snow for as long as possible, we did a two car linear walk. We set off from Swirls car park, taking in Helvellyn and the eastern ridge to Clough Head, where we then descended to Wanthwaite in St John's in the Vale where we'd left the other car.

A snowy Lakeland.

Browncove Grags, in front of Skiddaw and Blencathra.

Heading across to Helvellyn summit, which is just out of view. The high point on the left is Helvellyn Lower Man.

There wasn't as much snow up here as we'd expected to find. The snow was that powdery kind that doesn't seem to 'stick' too well, add this to the strong wind and you're left with large areas of bare rock.

Looking across to the northern end of the ridge we were offered a different prospect altogether, as far as snow on the ground goes that is.

We heading back the way we'd came for a short distance now, before turning off to Helvellyn Lower Man, seen here.

This picture shows the snow falling on the North Western fells, and while we were on Helvellyn it was obvious that it was only a matter of time before the weather closed in on us as well. It was here that I decided to put on my waterproof trousers and jacket. It's far easier to put them on in advance of actually needing them, using the "comfort" of a shelter instead waiting until you have no choice, which usually means sitting on the ground, fumbling about and battling against the wind. In these conditions, having to mess about like that is not a position you want to find yourself in.

The view back to Helvellyn, taken from Helvellyn Lower Man.

And from the same place, looking a little further round to Catstye Cam.


The walk down from Helvellyn Lower Man was the one place we thought might be rather icy on today's walk, but most of the route was done in soft powdery snow with just a hint of ice here and there.

Looking back to Helvellyn and Helvellyn Lower man.

Helvellyn Lower Man and White Side.

Time for an energy top up I think, and the top of Sticks Pass is as good a place as any.

Notice the thin lines and the two 'dark things' on the left hand side of the picture. The lines are the ski tow and the others are the ski huts. Needless to say they were in full operation today.

Stybarrow Dodd looking towards Watson's Dodd.

And a little closer to Watson's Dodd now, with what turned out to be a prolonged band of snow heading towards us.

Now this is what I really enjoy.

Heading up to Great Dodd with the snow getting heavier & deeper and the visibility getting less and less.
Please be aware that conditions like this are treacherous and if you do get wrong, could quite possibly prove to be fatal. At the very least you need to be properly equipped and able to navigate accurately when visibility is reduced to almost nothing. An added bonus is to have an intimate knowledge of the area, so you don't need to start messing about trying to work out where you are and which way to go. Perhaps I'm a bit soft or something, but despite being able to navigate, if I didn't know the area I wouldn't come up here in these conditions.

It was a bit extreme on Great Dodd at this time, and while we were here we met three other people (all together but not in the same group), who, despite having maps, compass, and even GPS, were quite simply unable to work out which way to go, and were starting to panic. Their words were "how are we going to get off here". They asked us where we were heading for, and after convincing them that we "really did" know the way, they asked if they could follow us. Just before reaching Calfhow Pike we pointed them in the right direction and advised them on how to get down to the Old Coach Road.
When we got to Wanthwaite we met two of them again. Filled with gratitude they said "we don't know what we'd have done without you two".
If people ask for help on the fells then I'm more than willing to give it. After all, if ever I get into trouble I'd like to think that a total stranger would be ready to help me out.

Visibility again and Calfhow Pike comes into view.

Standing on Calfhow Pike and looking towards Great Mell Fell.

Carefully does it on the descent from Clough Head to Threlkeld Knotts.

What a difference from the conditions we had earlier. Talk about one extreme to the other.

We hadn't intended to do this, but as seen as though it was much brighter now, we decided to have a walk across to the three "tops" on Threlkeld Knotts.

This picture shows our descent route from Clough Head.

Blencathra seen from the stile over the intake wall (above Hilltop Quarries).

And one final picture. Looking back up to Clough Head.
Very tiring and done in conditions which may not be everyone's idea of fun, but to us it was a truly fantastic day on the fells.

David Hall -
Lake District Walks