Home » Routes » Europe » England » Lake District National Park » Lake District's Eastern Fells » Scramble up Helvellyn via Swirrall Edge

Scramble up Helvellyn via Swirrall Edge

By Dave Chick   

on July 18, 2018    5/5 (1)

Scramble up Helvellyn via Swirrall Edge

Further Details

Route Summary:

This could be one of the most popular ridge walks in the country – an exciting scramble along Swirral Edge to reach Helvellyn. You’ll probably be going ‘against the flow’ as Swirral is often used as a route of descent by those completing the classic Striding Edge / Swirral Edge circuit.

This walk includes the Wainwright of Helvellyn

This walk includes the Hewitt of Helvellyn

This walk includes the Nuttall of Helvellyn

Route Start Location: Glenridding - Helvellyn

6.36 km 780 m 2.5 hours

Calculate the time using Naismith’s Rule and factor in your own pace.

Activivity Type: Hard Walk, Scrambling, Scrambling Grade 1

Summits and Places on this Route


Glenridding has plenty of pubs, cafes and hotels. The Pay and Display car park has its own toilet block with baby changing facilities.


Swirral Edge is an exposed scramble that should only be attempted if you’re confident in your abilities and have a head for heights.

In the winter, even if the ridges are clear of snow, Helvellyn can hold onto a dangerous cornice on its north eastern face – this should always be avoided and is often the cause of accidents on the fell.

Due to its flatness, the summit plateau of Helvellyn can be confusing in the mist and care should be taken why finding the correct route off.

Remember that we cannot outline every single hazard on a walk – it’s up to you to be safe and competent. Read up on Mountain Safety , Navigation and what equipment you’ll need.

Parking : CA11 0PD

Due to the popularity of Helvellyn there is a large Pay and Display car park in Glenridding. Free parking can also be found along the Greenside Road.

Public Transport:

The 508 bus serves Glenridding from Penrith all year round. During the summer, the 508 can get to Glenridding from Windermere via the Kirkstone Pass.

Traveline for UK Public Transport

Recommended Maps


Scramble up Helvellyn via Swirrall Edge Ordnance Survey Map and GPX File Download

Download file for GPS

Scramble up Helvellyn via Swirrall Edge

Swirral Edge is the famed arete on Helvellyn’s eastern flank, adjacent to the popular Striding Edge. While the ‘typical’ route is to climb Helvellyn along Striding Edge, there are rich rewards ascending Swirral Edge instead – you will probably find it is much quieter than Striding Edge.

Swirral Edge is an exposed Grade 1 scramble and the perfect place if you’re new to the art of scrambling as there is little in the way of technical difficulty – it is likely that the greatest challenge will be the exposure. It is steeper but shorter than Striding Edge. This walk also gives you the opportunity to climb Catstye Cam – which has an excellent view of the Helvellyn and Red Tarn.

It is doable in wet or dry conditions though not recommended on windy days. In the winter, however, you will require crampons, an ice axe and plenty of winter hill-walking experience.

Helvellyn via Striding Edge Route Description

1 – From the pay and display car park in Glenridding, head west along the Greenside Road as it climbs, passing the Traveller’s Rest Inn on the right. Bear right after the Traveller’s Rest, passing a bench as the road climbs.

Greenside Mine

2 – The Greenside Road passes a row of terrace housing below Blaes Crag, likely to be workers houses for the Greenside Mine – more on that later. Here the road surface begins to deteriorate. From here, follow the road for a mile until you reach YHA Helvellyn, one of the more remote Youth Hostels in the Lake District.

The path towards Catstye Cam

3 – Passing YHA Helvellyn will lead you to the site of the Greenside Mine, which ceased production in the 1960s. The mine was very successful during its time and went on to play a role in nuclear testing during the same decade. Don’t worry – the tests were a response to the Partial Nuclear Ban Treaty as UK scientists investigated whether Western powers could be disguising explosions in large underground chambers.

A look back at the path from Greenside

4 – As you pass through the site of the mine, avoid the path signposted to Sticks Pass, instead, keep to the left and cross Glenridding Beck via a footbridge. Once across the bridge, turn right and follow the path on the south side of the river as it makes its way south west towards Catstye Cam – the large pyramidal peak you’ll see before you.

Swirral Edge

5 – The path crosses Red Tarn Beck via another footbridge and turns south, beginning a steady climb up to Red Tarn itself, following the route of the stream. As the path turns right you’ll get your first glimpse of Helvellyn.


6 – Eventually, you will reach Red Tarn – the amazing glacial amphitheatre surrounded by the crags of Helvellyn and the sweeping ridges of Striding Edge at the left and Swirral Edge to the right. From Red Tarn, you will need to climb in a westerly direction, following the path, up to a col which separates Catstye Cam from Swirral Edge. Here’s where the fun begins.

The base of Swirral Edge

7 – Swirral Edge is only 500m long but climbs some 200m to Helvellyn’s summit. It’s much shorter than Striding Edge but steeper also. It’s a hands-on, Grade 1 scramble on well-worn rock. There are plenty of hand and foot holds to help you as you make the climb. As ever, keeping to the crest of the ridge is advisable as venturing off will start to lead to you tricky ground. Like Striding Edge, tackling Swirral Edge in the winter will require crampons, ice axe and plenty of experience.

Looking down Swirral Edge

8 – You’re now on the home straight as you reach the broad summit plateau of Helvellyn – so flat that, in 1938, Bert Hinkler landed a small plane on it. The summit is marked by the cairn whereas the focal point of the plateau is the familiar OS trig pillar.

The top of Swirral Edge

9 – The best way to continue this walk is by descending Striding Edge, another steep, exposed scramble in a similar vein to Swirral Edge longer. However, you probably be going against the flow which can be tricky. Easier but longer routes off the summit include the Glenridding Common path to the north or a southerly route across the peaks of Nethermost Pike and Dollywaggon Pike to the head of Grisedale


Dave is our Lake District local expert, often found in the depths of Cumbria he's the author of his own part on the web, All the Gear but no Idea.
Share this – [Sassy_Social_Share]

Please rate this

More Posts By This Author

Leave a Reply