Striding Edge is a classic Grade 1 scramble in the Lake District - and if you’re looking to make your first foray into scrambling territory then it’s the perfect place to start. Here, we take a look at the know-how you’ll need to tackle this epic mountain day.
Keen to have a crack at scrambling but don’t fancy scaring yourself silly on a vertical rock face? Then meet Striding Edge: the rocky Lake District tightrope walk that offers all the airy thrill of a classic scramble with little in the way of technical challenges.
Scrambling grades run from Grade 1 (doable for most competent hill walkers given the right conditions) through to Grade 3 (borderline rock climbs in fantastically exposed situations where knowledge of ropework is often advisable), and Striding Edge comes in at the lower end of the first grade. Some hill folk have even affectionately dubbed it a 0.5 - but that’s not to say it doesn’t pose a challenge for first-timers. This soaring razorback ridge riveted to the eastern side of Helvellyn is narrow and exposed, with world-beating views throughout and a satisfying summit bag waiting at the end.
“It’s partly the situation of the ridge that makes it a fabulous choice for a first scramble,” says Lakes-based mountain leader Mark Eddy of guiding company Mountain Journeys. “It takes in the summit of Helvellyn with a possible extension of the scramble onto Swirral Edge if you’re having a really great time. On the other hand, there’s an option to take an easier route if the exposure is getting to you. It’s the perfect introduction to the sport.”
Get ready to scramble
With spine-tingling exposure on both sides, Striding Edge isn’t the ideal choice if you suffer from vertigo. Other than a good head for heights, though, all you’ll need is basic hill walking know-how.
“You should have the ability to read a map and a compass, because you’ll be finishing on a summit that’s often in cloud,” says Mark. “Having said that, navigating on the scramble itself is straightforward - you just follow the ridge!”
Another pro to choosing Striding Edge as a first scramble is that you won’t need to invest in any special equipment such as ropes or hard-edged footwear. “Normal walking boots are the best choice for this day,” adds Mark. “For much of the ridge you’ll be walking in any case, and the scrambling isn’t demanding enough to require scrambling footwear.”
Most walkers with Striding Edge in sight start from Patterdale or Glenridding and ramble up to the ‘Hole-in-the-Wall’, a rickety stile that marks the beginning of the ascent up to the ridge. From here there’s a thigh-busting puff to the beginning of the arête, where the exposure really begins to kick in.
“For most of the route, the greatest challenge you’ll face is the exposure,” explains Mark. “For this reason, I wouldn’t recommend tackling it in windy weather, although it’s perfectly doable in both dry and wet conditions.”
So how vertiginous is the view down from Striding Edge really?
“Put it this way - I’ve taken a lot of hill walkers and even a few non-hill walkers up there and nobody has ever frozen,” Mark jokes. “Unless you have a real problem with heights, you should be fine.”
Conquer the crux
The most technically difficult section of Striding Edge is the scrambly descent known as ‘The Chimney’, which sneakily ambushes walkers just below Helvellyn’s summit. It’s a seven-metre rock tower that necessitates an awkward down climb - although nothing that most walkers can’t easily tackle. Just make sure you test every hand and foothold thoroughly and watch out for loose rock. If you’re nervous then Mark recommends asking a more experienced scrambler to accompany you and make the descent first.
“It can be useful to have somebody at the bottom just showing you where to put your feet,” he explains. “Down climbing is more difficult than ascending as people tend to feel the exposure more, and this is definitely the trickiest section of the scramble.”
If you get up there and discover that your nerves can’t take the challenge of this descent then there’s a get-out clause. A path circumnavigates the main difficulties on the Red Tarn side of the ridge; and although you won’t be able to avoid the scrambling completely, you will skip the most difficult part of the descent.
Carry on scrambling…
The final scramble goes over a bulging rock face to the summit of Helvellyn. The line up the middle of the face looks intimidating, but is actually easier than trying to detour around it - a common mistake - by heading up the tortuous scree to the left. Suck it up and head for the middle.
Once at the top, you’ll be left with two choices. If Striding Edge made your palms sweat then a straightforward hill walking path that runs north off the mountain will take you back to Glenridding. If, however, you’re primed for more scrambling then a descent via Swirral Edge is an option.
“I’d say the scrambling on Swirral Edge is actually easier,” says Mark. “The ridge is much shorter and more straightforward. The thing is, though, that you’re coming down, and so most people rate the difficulties equally.”
With Striding and Swirral edges in the bag, you can officially shrug off the tag of scrambling virgin and set your sights on a more challenging classic scramble such as Crib Goch. We’ll be covering Snowdonia’s most famous ridge scramble in a future article, so watch this space.
WATCH Britain's Mountain Challenges: Striding Edge, on BMC TV
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