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One Of My Best Ever Days in the Lake District - Cloud Inversion & Brocken Spectres on Helvellyn

Last week me and my Uncle hiked Helvellyn in the Lake District. Helvellyn is the third highest mountain in England and definitely one of the most iconic, famous for the scramble across Striding Edge.

A Brocken Spectre on Swirral Edge as seen from the summit of Helvellyn on a cloudy day
A Brocken Spectre and Swirral Edge as seen from the summit of Helvellyn

I had never climbed Helvellyn before and given it’s such an iconic mountain in England and the Lake District I was keen to do it. It also made sense to do it before winter set in as Striding Edge in particular can be dangerous in bad conditions. On top of that it seemed like a good idea to do it while my Uncle was visiting as he knows the Lake District pretty well and has hiked Helvellyn a few times so is a good guide. When we started the climb, the day was very cloudy. We were worried we might get to the top and not be able to see anything. We were just praying that the clouds would eventually begin to break as we ascended.

Suddenly, just before we got to the start of Striding Edge, my Uncle, who was ahead of me started shouting ‘Quick!’ ‘Look!’ I had no idea what he had seen, I didn’t want to run to him too quickly given the rugged terrain beneath my feet but similarly I didn’t want to miss out on whatever had gotten him so excited. ‘A Brocken Spectre’ he shouted! I continued to run to him but then he pointed out that I should be able to see my own. I stopped to look and there I saw one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. A Brocken Spectre appears when a low sun casts a shadow of a climber looking down onto mist. When the sun’s light refracts in the water droplets in the clouds or mist it also forms halo like coloured rings around the shadow. It really is quite angelic like.

A Brocken Spectre as I climb Helvellyn
A Brocken Spectre as I climb Helvellyn

We then started the scramble across Striding Edge which I actually found really fun. You can take a path beneath the ridge if you fancy, but I enjoy a good scramble and I like a challenge so I wanted to walk right across the ridge.

There are a couple of moments where you have to pause to think about how you are going to get over to the next section but generally the scramble wasn’t too bad at all. What I did struggle with though was a section known as the chimney which involved a little bit of rock climbing to get to the bottom of before you can then scramble back up the final part. I’ve not really done any rock climbing before, certainly not on an actual mountain before, so I kinda struggled with this part. Facing the rock face I found it difficult to look below and beneath me to see where I could safely put my feet. To be honest this was the only time I felt out of my comfort zone but thankfully my Uncle was there to guide me and tell me where to put my hands and feet. Thank God! If he wasn’t there I don’t know how I would ever have made it down this section.

So eventually we did make it to the summit and found ourselves above all the cloud we were concerned about earlier in the day. In fact we could not have picked a better day to climb Helvellyn. Seeing the Brocken Spectre was reward enough in itself as even my Uncle who is a regular hill walker had never seen one of those before, but once I got to the top I also saw my very first cloud inversion.

Looking out onto a cloud inversion from the summit of Helvellyn
Looking out onto a cloud inversion from the summit

It truly was remarkable. It was like looking down onto a sea of marshmallows, softly flowing past the mountain.

I could have stayed up there for hours gazing at the beauty but unfortunately we had to make our way back down again in order to safely get down before sunset. Getting back down is an adventure as well though as it involves another scramble across a similar ridge. This one known as Swirral Edge.

Eventually we made it back to the car and although I was exhausted from all the climbing and scrambling as well as all the concentration that was involved, it was without a doubt one of the best experiences I have had in the Lake District and another great adventure!

To see more of just how incredible the climb was, the Brocken Spectre was, how nerve wrecking the ridge could be and how beautiful the cloud inversion was, watch my video at the top of this page.



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