Helvellyn for a 5 year old child?

Q. Hi, I'm in the area and decidedly less interested in the tours and towns that have been suggested to me, but far more interested in Helvellyn as someone by chance mention to me in London. Implicit in this question is that I'm not really prepared, that said I do have waterproofs and suitable footwear...more pertinently I'm with my 5 year old. Could this peak (or even part of) be at all feasible? I'd need to buy a compass and OS map. My experience of climbing an actual mountain is nill though I have hill walked in the highlands up some distance (whilst almost 8 mths pregnant the last time), and we are both adventurous and fit. Thoughts welcome! Thanks, Dani

Dani Porter, London


A. Helvellyn is a 3000ft Mountain in the Lake District and England's third highest mountain behind No. 1 Scafell Pike and No. 2 Sca Fell. It is rough and rocky, has steep cliffs on one side and can be treacherous in poor weather. In my humble opinion it is not a suitable place to take a 5 year old child if the parent has little or no experience of this sort of mountain walking.

However, if you insist on climbing Helvellyn the see Walks up Helvellyn for lots of photos and plenty of walk route suggestions. I would suggest that the route from The Thirlmere side (starting in The Swirls, or Thirlspot) is easier since it avoids the infamous Swirral and Striding Edges which have reduced many a brave soul to a quivering wreck.

For some advice on what food and drink to take with you see Hill Skills > What to Take > Food and Drink.

For some advice on what essential items to take with you see Hill Skills > What to Take > Essential Items.

For some advice on what clothing to wear see Hill Skills > What to Wear > Clothing for walking and hiking .

For some advice on footwear see Hill Skills > What to Wear > Footwear for walking and hiking.

In case of emergencies make sure you have read and understand Hill Skills > Emergencies > Dealing with Emergencies and Hill Skills > Emergencies > Contacting the Emergency Services

For advice on navigating in the mountains see Hill Skills > Navigation Skills for Walking and Hiking - and since you need a compass - see Hill Skills > Navigation Skills for Walking and Hiking > Compasses for Walking and Hiking

Hope this helps and good luck . . .

Mike (Editor)


A. Is it possible? Yes. I know because I have done it. There are three "main" routes up helvellyn. One is from swirls car park and is basically a "follow the path". One is from Wythburn church and involves a little more map reading (but is the easiest route IMHO) and one is via striding or swirral edge (the most "fun" way and quite scary if you don't know what you are doing).

We have been up helvellyn all three routes. I don't have any pictures from the first ascent via swirls car park when she was 5 but here is a picture when my two were 6 and 7 ascended via wythburn church (witnessing a wonderful weather inversion) http://imgur.com/f5jvqv2 We also returned the year after to conquer striding and swirral edge as a 6 & 8 year old http://imgur.com/XpK9udZ

However, mountains need to be treat with respect, my two have been walking since they were 4 (started on cat bells and progressed from there). They have good fitting boots, decent waterproofs and a comfy daysack (that they carry their own food and waterproofs in) and have a good head for heights with an appreciation of danger (this is on the way up to helvellyn striding edge with maybe a 100foot drop off the path http://imgur.com/MNfsjCY no place for jumping and skipping ahead). Helvellyn is a strenuous walk (10km ish?)regardless of route, factor about 4-5 hours on your first walk. If the weather is hot then expect to drink a couple of litres of water each. don't expect a phone signal on the way up (there is on the top for Vodafone at least)

It would be *essential* for you to hike it in good weather. Any hint of rain and I wouldn't attempt it as a novice. But that being said it isn't a "hard" mountain to hike (swirls route is punishing on the knees descending as the path is almost "steps" all the way down). A compass and map is only useful if you can read and use one, on a good weather day around lunch time the route WILL have people on it - better to ask people than read a map badly. I might not be popular for saying this but for each walk I go on I print a map as backup (I purchased anquet maps for the lake district for 15) but use my phone primarily (with the same map/GPS) and you really have to be quite unobservant to get the swirls car park route wrong (there are wooden sign posts pointing you up helvellyn at each footpath split).

Overall I would say don't be put off but plan accordingly. Have good boots that have been broken in (don't attempt this in shop fresh boots!). Good socks that you have used (go for a 10km walk around a lake in your boots and socks first to make sure you get no blisters), make sure that if you are staying in the lakes then you have a few days in which you could make the hike (as weather changes hourly almost). The views are spectacular and it is a great accomplishment.

good luck.

John Gibbons, Carlisle


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