When cold weather and snow mean that it’s not easy to run or climb I start to feel frustrated! Last year I attempted Striding Edge in the Lake District and the CMD arête up to Ben Nevis, but failed due to my lack of experience in winter conditions. This year I signed up for a winter skills course run by Mark Eddy of Mountain Journeys.
Day 1 was all about the skills, we learned how to use an ice axe, to cut steps, and move around on snow and ice. My favourite part of the day was learning how to perform an ice axe arrest, we threw ourselves down a steep snow slope feet first, head first, and backwards!
We also learned how to dig a snow pit, to be aware of avalanche risk, and how to wear and walk in crampons. The weather was typically wintery – snow, wind, and a -14 windchill. My thick gloves stayed on all day, so there are no pictures.
On Day 2 we put our new skills into action and the day was bright and clear as we made our way up to Red Tarn, aiming to ascend via Swirral Edge to Helvellyn.
On such a beautiful day we had a clear view of climbers making their way up the steeper gullies, breaking their way through cornices as they reached the top. Our chosen route was much gentler and we stopped in the sun at the bottom of the slope to prepare.
Mark checked that our crampons fit properly and explained a few more techniques, including how to make a belay in the snow. After digging a snow pit to check the likely condition of the slope, which didn’t reveal anything to worry about, we set off.
Initially we followed in the footsteps of a group ahead of us, but it felt like cheating to use someone else’s trail. We diverted up a steeper route where breaking our own trails definitely felt harder. I’m at home on steep hills, so although it was strenuous I absolutely loved front pointing up the ice to Swirral Edge.
From here we made a short ascent up Swirral Edge, which is a Grade 1 winter route (or a Grade 1 scramble in summer). As a rock climber it felt alien to me to carry an axe and I wanted to ignore it and use my hands, but a gentle reminder from Mark made sure I used the right techniques.
The ridge is incredible, and I really can’t wait to do Striding and Swirral in summer conditions. On reaching the summit of Helvellyn (950m) we enjoyed views as far as Scotland and had the chance to watch climbers, skiers, and even bikers out to play.
It’s a rare treat to have a perfect winter day, and this one was as good as it gets. Thanks so much to Mark Eddy and Kate Ayres, I can’t recommend them enough and I’ll be planning new adventures with Mountain Journeys soon.