Helvellyn to Red Tarn. English Skiing.

I see my last ski related post was another English Skiing adventure, up on The Riase in the Lake District.

That trip piqued my interest in some of the steeper lines in the Lakes, specifically skiing the Helvellyn head wall down to Red Tarn.  To be honest it seemed an unlikely possibility, not helped by the fact that I live 3 hours drive away. A quick walk up to see if it’s in condition isn’t really on.

Still, ever the optimist I spent a very pleasant late Summer day walking the area, looping up and over the Raise and around to Helvellyn checking out the ground. A few people have done the line over the years so I knew it was possible and looking down from the ridge it looked a tempting pitch.

Fast forward a few months and it was clear that the Lakes were having a good Winter. Come March it started to dawn on me that perhaps Helvellyn was a possibility and an assortment of forums, facebook groups and web sites allowed me to keep an eye on the condition of the face.

Plan A was to head up on Saturday 14th. However the preceding days were a bit wintery and temperatures stayed low enough to cause me to cancel in the expectation that the face would be too icy which apparently was the case.  Plan B was to head up on the Thursday in the expectation of sunshine and clearer weather.

Conditions held and Thursday morning found me heading up the M6 towards the lakes. The plan was to time my arrival so that I’d make the summit at around midday in the hope that the face would have softened up in the sun but not have been too hot as to become unstable.

The walk in is about 3.5 miles with 750m of ascent. I decided to head up via Red Tarn so that I could see the face and line. The final section off Swirral Edge needed crampons and Ice Axe such was the build up of consolidated snow and hard ice.

helvellyn & swirral edge

Helvellyn head wall with Swirral Edge to the right.


The ascent up Swirral Edge revealed some soft snow and evidence of a line from a boarder who’d dropped in a day or 2 ago.  However a portion of the descent was in shadow cast by the buttress, hinting at harder snow for a portion of the line.

Topping out put me in the sunshine among lots of walkers who were interested to know ‘If you are really going to ski down there ?!’. Five minutes, a walk along the ridge and a sandwich later I’d decided where I’d drop in and roughly the line I’d take. Caution was the order of the day given my uncertainty about the snow and that it’s not a place to fall.

Dropping in I found nice soft, Spring snow. However I soon encountered a patch of ‘new’ unconsolidated and humidified snow from the recent wintry weather which was best avoided.

helvellyn head wall skied

My tracks on the Helvellyn headwall.


While the initial snow was mostly spring like, it turned to frozen crud as I hit the deeper  shadow. Tracking back into the sunshine put me on to the final run down to Red Tarn, all the way to the water.

ski helvellyn red tarn

The Line.


Locals reckon the pitch at the top is 50+ degrees. I reckon that counts as Steep skiing – and in England 🙂


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