Climbing Helvellyn by Anita Kelsey – UK cat behaviourist and specialist cat groomer
My husband and I love The Lake District and decided, a few years back, to work our way through the famous Wainwright walks which cover 214 mountains!
One of these mountains is called Helvellyn, the third highest peak in England. The route we had chosen to get to the summit follows a thin path with sheer drops either side. This path is called Striding Edge.
I love walking and hiking and most of the time the routes are not too bad and one doesn’t feel in any danger. Of course the ascents and some descents, are always going to be tough but the breathtaking views always override the exhaustion. I am convinced I’m a country gal at heart. Even though I love living smack bang in the heart of Notting Hill, I look to breaks in my work schedule where I can get back to the countryside. The more remote the better as far as I’m concerned!
My fear of heights gets in the way of many things, flying, visiting iconic sights such as The Eiffel Tower, enjoying fair ground rides, getting on cable cars, the list goes on. I even cancelled a holiday in China where several cable car rides were compulsory to get to remote destinations. So, walking over Striding Edge WAS a big deal for me.
To help with the day we decided to hire a guide called Ian Carter, a gentle giant from Eden Outdoor Adventures. I didn’t speak much to Ian about my fear of heights but he soon found out how scared I was once we had reached the top!
As the months passed I tried to get my stamina up by going on a regular basis to the gym but my efforts were not as good as my husbands who upped his workouts to 2/3 hours at a time!
We found a lovely campsite to stay in at Glenridding, called Gillside, which was the start point for our walk. A beautifully serene setting by a stream that runs down from a nearby mountain. I was really nervous waiting to meet Ian. I could feel the adrenalin and excitement racing through my body and couldn’t wait to get started (to get it over and done with really :-)).
Ian arrived the next day on the dot at 9.30am. He is a very reassuring figure to have on an adventure such as this. With him being 6 foot 8 I felt like a dwarf next to him. His manner was warm and friendly and he immediately put us both at ease. As we started to climb my heart began racing and almost jumped out of my chest in disgust. Where’s the TV we normally watch when you’re working out it cried.
Talking to Ian made me forget what was waiting for us up ahead and we spent most of the morning listening to him telling us the history of places of interest in the area. It was all very pleasant and I began to relax and enjoy the climb and the amazing views.
10 minutes before we made our way to Striding Edge we stopped for a cuppa and a sandwich and enjoyed the view of Red Tarn below ;-).
When a walker reaches Striding Edge there are two choices of route to take. Along the edge itself or a lower less exposed path. As I reached this point I started to look over at the lower path and quickly told Ian I would take the easier route and leave them to it!! Ian was having none of it and got behind me to encourage me to step on the edge.
The fear rose up in me very quickly and I wondered what the hell I was doing there. My heart was racing and it took all my courage to stand up. Most of the time I was clinging on to the rocks not wanting to move. Ian held my hand when the going got tough, which I thought was amazing because he also had to think about where he was placing his feet as well as where I should be placing mine.
I spent the time crying and laughing simultaneously and saying to myself ‘don’t look down’ a million times over. I was also stressing about Ian. He is a giant of a man and I kept having visions of him loosing his footing all because he was helping me. He found this quite funny that I was crying for him too!
Other walkers bounded past us at a speed I was astonished at. Why were they so confident and not afraid? I felt rather silly, especially when a dog also bounded past me. The dog was the one thing that took my concentration away and Gordon knew this would happen so he shouted over at me to leave the dog alone LOL!
After we got to the end of Striding Edge we were faced with what Julia Bradbury describes as a sting in the tail. This section is a climb down which is safer to do backwards. The rocks are spaced quite far apart and tricky to negotiate. It means your footing has to be exact. On this section I froze with fear and Ian had to physically move my feet at times, whilst I clung to the rocks whimpering like a two year old! He was a true star. He tried to turn me around at one stage and I was shouting out ‘leave me alone, I can’t’ HAHAHA.
Then it’s the last push up to the summit which again was frightening. Large rock boulders scattered steeply on the side – they seemed to go on forever. I was scared and just wanted to reach the top when I hoped for the anxiety to stop!!
When we finally reached the summit a wave of elation rippled through me. It was the best feeling in the world. The weather had been perfect for us and the views were the best I have ever seen with fantastic panoramic brochure shots in every direction. We could even see right up to Scotland. All that would have made me happier was to see the dog there too but the owner, with foresight, turned back, as the dog would not have been able to negotiate ‘the sting’.
After we had admired the views and had the rest of our lunch it was time to head back down. I was jumping for joy thinking it was all an easy ride now. WRONG. Little did I know Swirral Edge was just around the corner. 80% of accidents happen on descents because 1) people let their guard down, 2) they are tired and 3) It’s actually harder on the joints going downhill.
Swirral Edge was horrible because it was a mixture of rocks and scree on a steep slope so slippery. Again Ian’s big hand extended towards me to help me along. Inside I was cussing but loving it too. An odd sensation 😉
Once we were on a solid path, which you can see in the distance of the photo to the left, I relaxed totally. It was all plain sailing now. The hard bits were over. It was a great feeling. I soaked in the scenery and breathed in the beautiful sweet country air and the stillness all around. Birds riding the gentle breeze, butterflies dancing through the wild flowers, and the lambs with a spring in their step.
It was a fantastic day and, although I wouldn’t do it again, I am glad I faced a fear of mine on this one. Here’s hoping I can sign up on the China trip I missed out on a few years back.
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Thanks for reading!