The circuit of Striding Edge Helvellyn and Swirral Edge – the ridges that cradle Red Tarn – is probably one of the most popular excursions in all of the English Lake District. It attracts thousands of visitors every year. For many, the crossing of Striding Edge and Swirral Edge – with a visit to the summit of Helvellyn en route – is their first and sometimes only encounter with the joys and thrills of rock scrambling on one of Britain’s finest mountains.
Consequently the majority of pictures taken of Striding Edge Helvellyn are either from along the ridge looking towards the main bulk of the mountain, or from Helvellyn summit itself. Fine though these viewpoints are, they do not truly reveal either the stature of Helvellyn nor the character of Striding Edge. When I decided to capture a new picture of Striding Edge, Helvellyn, I wanted to produce somthing different and more dramatic – from a new viewpoint and a new perspective.
A New Viewpoint
Some years ago I concluded an ascent of Eagle Ridge on the neighbouring Nethermost Pike by following the rim of the upper corries of Helvellyn all the way to its summit. En route, I discovered that, at one very precise spot, the ridge of Striding Edge could be seen in perfect profile. Its true character was majestically revealed rising up steeply from the great hollows of Grisedale and Nethermost Cove. From the same location, Red Tarn was also visible across the tiny col between the end of Striding Edge and the buttress leading up to the summit of Helvellyn. I took some excellent material that day using a 645 medium format camera, but I felt that the viewpoint – and the subject – demanded a composition of different and more dramatic proportions.
Having chosen my viewpoint I needed to consider the appropriate conditions and light. I always favour the autumn for work in the Lake District; the fells are more colourful and the light is more directional. There is also a better chance of the weather yielding crystal clear air – necessary to provide the vivid and contrasty light that would reveal Striding Edge to perfection. A final consideration was the direction of the sun – it would need to be low in the sky and shining from a southerly direction.
The Perfect Morning on Striding Edge
I had to wait 2 years before the perfect opportunity finally presented itself to me – on a fine, bright but frosty November morning. At that time of year the sun never rises far above the horizon all day and I had calculated that the perfect conditions would be between 8.00 and 9.00 am. So, fully laden with all my camera gear, I set off from Wythburn by torchlight at 6.15 am. I was in place and ready to shoot before my prescribed time, so I took a few moments out to visit the summit of Helvellyn before returning to my viewpoint.
Over the next 30 minutes, perfect conditions prevailed. It was a beautiful morning. However, there was a cold northerly breeze on the summit ridge which made my eyes water every time I looked into the camera viewfinder. Nevertheless, Striding Edge looked stunning. The exposed character of its jagged ouline was accentuated by the graceful sweep of its southern flanks which were lit to perfection as they rose up out of the dark depths of Grisedale.
Date : 13th November
Location Map Reference : NY 34308 14534 : Near Summit Helvellyn
Time : 0910 GMT