Sun blazing and with the temperatures well into the 20 degrees Janey and I were craving an adventure! I’ve heard of Helvellyn and the infamous striding edge many times, but we had yet to get there and give it a go. So with nothing else planned this weekend, wild camping on Helvellyn was on the cards! Helvellyn is a great day hike, but Janey and I wanted to spend longer in the mountains. So instead of just a day round trip, we checked out the map and found a little patch of water called Hard Tarn. Located just below Nethermost Pike to the south of Helvellyn, this hidden spot was the perfect place for us to get off the trail and camp. As it turned out, Hard Tarn stands for ‘Hard to get to Tarn‘, but I’ll fill you in on that later.
So we set our plan: Day 1 hike up to Hard Tarn and set camp; Day 2 summit Helvellyn and head down Striding Edge and enjoy an ice cream in Glenridding in the mid-day sun. The whole trip and wild camping on Helvellyn was incredible!
Finding the Best Place to Park Overnight.
To get to the route for our wild camping trip we started in Patterdale. From here we could walk up Grisdale Valley floor before ascending to Hard Tarn. Our biggest issue it turned out was where to park the car overnight near Patterdale? We had decided to go wild camping on Helvellyn on Easter Weekend (increasing the amount on extra tourists) which didn’t help. There is plenty of day parking, but we needed to leave the car overnight. Most places either didn’t allow overnight parking or the wardens didn’t recommend it. Checking is always good because you don’t want to leave your car in an unsafe place overnight. The last thing we wanted was to come down and find our car had a clamp on or it had been towed away! Finally we checked the most obvious place, the main car park in Glenridding which surprisingly allows cars to be parked overnight there. Go into the Tourist information block in the car park and they can sell you a ticket for each day. Day tickets are £8 per day. (Don’t use the ticket machine as it cannot give you tickets for the next day).
So now we found a parking space it was time for our wild camping on Helvellyn hike to begin!
Walking along Grisdale Valley to Ruthwaite Lodge.
Out of the Glenridding car park you take a right along the road and then the first right as you come into Patterdale (just next to the Patterdale Hall Outdoor Center). Follow this road all the way to the end and through a gate where it turns into a rocky path. Stay on this path and follow it all the way to the Ruthwaite Lodge.
Grisdale is a stunning valley. Surrounded by mountains, on the northern side you can see Striding Edge and on the southern side is St Sunday Crag. At this time of the year it is a beautiful place to begin a hike. The valley is filled with the sounds of birds, wildlife and the other farm animals. All the sheep and cows have given birth and the lambs and calves are all running around and playing. It was a beautiful place to start walking. Keeping the river on our right we followed the stony path through the valley floor and slowly ascending. Getting further up into the mountains the river turns from a gentle flow to a cascade of waterfalls as it descends from the peaks above. It was just stunning! The best of these waterfalls are just outside of Ruthwaite Lodge.
Our luck hit overload as we arrived at Ruthwaite Lodge. As it turns out, every year on Easter Weekend Macmillan Cancer Research take over Ruthwaite Lodge with hot drinks and cakes to raise money for charity. Needless to say, we were well stocked with cakes by the time we left! If your planning to go wild camping on Helvellyn we would recommend timing it with the bake sale!
The Ascent to Hard Tarn.
Ruthwaite Lodge is where we turned off the main path and started the main ascent. We followed the waterfall up the left hand side. There is no path here and so we were half scrambling up the grassy bank side. It was really cool to be climbing up the side of a waterfall. As we climbed, new aspects of the waterfall and hidden features started to appear. Moving up and through the waterfall was definitely one the the highlights of this trip.
Once at the top of the falls the ground flattened out and we were able to cross the stream. This also the easiest and safest place to gather clean running water for the night. Janey and I filled up our water bottles and continued up the valley. Again, there are no paths up here and so we are simply following the stream. Keep the stream on your left as you follow it up or you’ll head in a different direction all together! Now it’s time to search for our wild camping spot.
Hard (to-get-to) Tarn
Neither of us saw the tarn until we had past it and were looking back down. Its not at the source of the stream, which is naturally where we headed. Hard Tarn is just a few hundred meters to the north of the stream. Once at Hard Tarn, the banks tended to be either boggy or rocky. But we found the perfect spot to set up our tent for the night!
Looking back down the valley was stunning. We were now in the shade of Nethermost Pike but the surrounding mountains were still a shining gold. The tarn itself was crystal clear and flat as a mirror. As the sun set they glowed purple and finally blackened as the sun disappeared.
In truth, Hard Tarn is not that hard to get to. Its just out of the way, there aren’t any paths and you have to climb about 350m in the space of 1km to get to. Hard Tarn is not seen from the mountains above or the valley floor below. Which is great! It gives it a sense of secrecy and not many people venture here. It was the perfect place to go wild camping on Helvellyn!
Summiting Nethermost Pike
We planned to get up for sunrise… but we slept in – WHOOPS! The morning was still just as magical. Getting out of our tent with the sun shining and warming up the day was just what was needed. We took a moment to sit and watch the mountains and valley wake up in the morning light before we headed up the mountain for breakfast.
We quickly packed up and headed up the mountain. Our plan was to scramble our way straight up while avoiding the as many boulders and scree slopes as possible. There were a couple of loose rocks that ended up rolling down below us, but apart from that, the scramble was fortunately uneventful. This scramble was very grassy, quite slippy and near virtual – hard work and a real workout before breakfast!
Once over the lip we found that Nethermost Pike plateaued out. After the vertical ascent and the swooping valleys, it was weird to find ourselves on a flat plateau. The views today turned out to be rather hazy and so we couldn’t make out a lot of the mountains that surrounded us. We easily made our way over the the cairn, added a rock for good luck and found a wind breaking wall to shelter behind and enjoy our breakfast. When wild camping, there is nothing better than breakfast with a view!
From Nethermost Pike, Helvellyn was a simple 20min walk. We took our time heading over, gazing and making out the surrounding mountains and lakes through the haze. Just before Helvellyn’s cairn, we found a small plaque dedicated to the first people in the UK to land an airplane on a mountain! They landed on top of Helvellyn in the late 1920’s. I guess it made sense with the plateau on top. Learn something new everyday!
Helvellyn is a great mountain to climb and for those doing it in a day, a pretty straight forward day hike. Wild camping on Helvellyn’s summit would be tricky as it is very exposed and busy. That’s why we decided to wild camp at Hard Tarn, not quite on Helvellyn but pretty much next door.
Descending Striding Edge.
This was by far the best part of our little weekend adventure. We started our decent at about 10:00am and so missed most of the Easter weekend tourists heading up. There are two routes on Striding edge. One that runs on the norther face, below the arête, and second that runs along the arête. Needless to say, we took the latter.
It started with a small but steep decent of Helvellyn on the the ridge line and then another climb. This climb got us onto the arête. From here it was pure enjoyment. We were jumping from rock to rock with the cliff dropping hundreds of feet to either side. This is a great place if you are looking for somewhere to combat your fear of exposure and heights! There are sections that are wider and some that are narrower so you can get used to the feeling. Its a great place to work on your balance too – just don’t fall off! Apart from that there are plenty of great photo opportunities. We obviously took them all!
Striding Edge was by far our most favourite section of this walk. If you get the chance, definitely give it a go! Janey had been dying to do this legendary walk in the Lake District and it did not disappoint! Wild camping on Helvellyn was amazing, but this part of the hike was definitely her favourite! After all, mountains are a great playground!
Descending down to Glenridding
Once you come off the arête the ground flatters and the path widens. It’s still an hour or so to the village from here. Just follow the path all the way (keeping the wall on your right) and it will take you back down and into Glenridding. There are some stunning views on the way down. You can look down through the valley and over Ullswater. On the lake there are hire boats and kayaks paddling and the steamer ferry coming and going. The surrounding mountains are covered in greens and golds. It’s a really beautiful walk down and very simple. But those jelly legs will happen! Which is no surprise after the scramble and epic hike we did over the last two days while wild camping on Helvellyn.
We got back down to Glenridding for about mid-day. Janey and I love this village, it very pretty and cute. Wandering through the village we found Sharmans Convenience Store which serves the best ice creams in town. We finished them down by the lake before making the drive home. A brilliant way to finish a fantastic weekend adventure!
If you’re thinking about heading up Helvellyn or looking to wild camp on Helvellyn then leave a comment below or send us a message in our contact form. We’ve got bunches of tips and tricks to help you!