Thursday, 17 May 2012

Sharp Edge -v- Striding Edge

Striding Edge and Sharp Edge are two of the most notorious routes in the Lake District and, having completed both of them, I've been asked what the difference is between them, so here goes.

Let's kick off with Striding Edge.  We've been up Helvellyn via just about every available route in a wide variety of weather conditions, including snow, and Striding Edge never fails to impress – either to climb across or simply to look at.

The Striding Edge ascent kicks off in Glenridding where it's pretty much impossible to find free parking.  If you don't mind adding an extra mile or two to your journey then you can probably find a slot in a layby if you're early enough, but it's a popular spot so don't build your hopes.  Also bear in mind that after you've spent a full day tackling a challenging route like Striding Edge you'll want the car to be as near as possible when you're done.

The first time we tackled Helvellyn we went up via Striding Edge and just for good measure nipped along Swirral Edge to Catstye Cam.  Then a long descent via Dollywaggon Pike and Grisedale Tarn with a very pleasant stroll along Grisedale Beck back to the car.  A grand total of 6 peaks and well over 15 miles of yomping, none of it flat.  We didn’t rush and were out there for over 9 hours, but it was worth it.  The views down over Ullswater were amazing, the rock climbing was fun and all that exercise meant I could scoff fish and chips in the evening with complete impunity.

The ascent begins very gently with vistas down and across Ullswater opening up as you gain height and you don't get to see much of the scary bit before you're on top of it.  I'd strongly recommend a good rest before getting stuck in, it's a tiring route and once you're committed there are no real rest stops before the summit.

As with all the tricky routes we've tackled Striding Edge is fine if you take a well-paced and sensible approach.  Yes it's a bit of a scramble but there's a well-worn route which is easy to follow.  The views are, by turn, both breathtaking and terrifying.  It is a truly exhilarating experience to be high up on the long ridge in the middle of such spectacular scenery and watch the sides of the ridge tumble away steeply either side of you.  There are various memorials along the way to remind you that this is a dangerous route so, if you want to admire the scenery, find a secure place to stop before you take your eyes off where you're putting your feet.

Striding Edge doesn't end there though, once you've reached the far side there is a strenuous scramble up to the summit ridge.  There are plenty of hand and foot holds and it's as fun as it is tiring.  It's a fabulous feeling to complete the climb and do make sure you head around towards Dollywagon Pike to get some great shots to impress the folks back home.

So how is Sharp Edge different?  Part of the beauty of Blencathra is that it's not lost in a sea of other peaks and can be seen away in the distance as you head north along Thirlmere.  We completed a circular route starting at Threlkeld, heading over towards Scales Farm and up onto the summit via Sharp Edge; we then walked the ridge route and dropped back down to Blencathra Centre before staggering back into Threlkeld.  Part of the challenge was that we tackled it on one of the hottest days of last year, so we made the most of the many gills to top up the water bottles, alternating between pouring water down our throats and down our backs.

As we ate lunch at Scales Tarn we watched various people heading up and along Sharp Edge and figured that if they could do it, then so could we.  Replete, we headed upwards.  Sharp Edge is narrower but shorter than Striding Edge in fact it's rather like a condensed version; shorter, scarier and, of course, sharper.  Unlike Striding Edge you can see Sharp Edge very clearly as you make your way up towards it and that certainly adds to the anticipation as well as driving up your adrenaline levels.  It's perfectly achievable so long as you take your time. The biggest challenge are the large flat sheets of rock which offer very little in the way of hand or footholds.  It's also tricky when you meet people coming the other way as there aren't many passing places.

The rock climb at the end is a certainly more of a challenge than the scramble up to Helvellyn; again the large flat sheets of rock are the biggest issue when looking for grip.  That said, with decent boots and a sensible head it shouldn't prove too much of a problem for most folks – just take your time and don't try anything fancy. 

So there you go, both edges done.  I will happily return to tackle them both again in the future, but for anyone other than the experienced climber they are strictly fair weather routes.  We're seasoned hikers and found both of them challenging enough on dry, clear, calm days. When it's snowy we stick with the safer routes and content ourselves with admiring the "edges" from afar, much safer that way.

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