The Helvellyn 5 take to the hills!
The start of the third week in July 2022. Highest temperature records are being broken all over the UK as PeoplePlus Stockton colleagues Leaura Marismari, Nicola Francis, Kim Holden, Natalie Dawson and Tessa Micallef finalise their plan to scale Helvellyn, England’s third highest mountain at 950m, to raise a target of £500 for local charity A Way Out.
The schedule looks like this:
1500hrs - Two-car convoy to leave Stockton. Take two-hour, 83-mile drive to Glenridding, Cumbria. Park cars. Wild camp.
0700hrs - Breakfast, pack up, leave gear at base camp. Move to foot of Helvellyn.
0900hrs - Follow signs for Miresbeck to pick up Striding Edge route.
1200hrs – Summit. Eat packed lunch, rehydrate, and enjoy the view.
1400hrs - Descend via Swirral Edge. Dip in Red Tarn, (the highest lake in England.)
1800hrs – Set up tent on lower fells, eat and rest.
23.7.22 – Drive back to Stockton.
A real challenge, so why this adventure, and why this charity? In-Work Support Manager, Leaura, picks up the story on the adventurers’ behalf.
“We all joined PeoplePlus at the same time and got to know each other working in Employability, on the Restart Scheme. Kim is a Local Recruitment Consultant, Natalie an Employment Advisor, Tessa is a Skills Trainer and Nicola a Business Manager. We wanted to do something together to make a difference in our local area.”
A Way Out work in and around Stockton helping people escape or avoid abuse, harm or exploitation. Some of these people could be Restart participants. “We wouldn’t necessarily know if they were though. Many people using their safe houses are women who have been abused, or maybe single parents who didn’t have enough money to eat - not issues that people want to speak about.”
Nicola had climbed Helvellyn before, and the friends decided it sounded challenging but doable as they trust each other and know each other well.
“We had to figure everything out in advance as we knew when we got there, we wouldn’t have mobile signal.”
Leaura, Nat and Kim left Stockton at 3pm as planned – Nicola and Tess following straight after work. The advance party arrived at Glenridding at about 5.30 pm with the gear and set up camp. Everything was going according to the plan with one major exception – the weather.
“When we got there it was absolutely chucking it down. It just didn’t stop raining.”
When Nicola and Tess arrived a bit later, they brought PeoplePlus t-shirts the Stockton team had covered in messages of support - and a cake. “They had wrapped the t-shirts up in a package and covered it with duct tape so Tess wouldn’t see them before we were together. It was so tight we could hardly get them open.”
T-shirts freed, cake cut, Tess and Nat managed to build an open fire. After barbequed burgers they got ready for their first night in the fells. No showers, no bathroom – just the rain.
“We had one tent and Nicola brought a hammock. She hooked it up to a couple of trees and got totally soaked. The four of us in the tent were comfy with our blow-up mattresses.”
Friday morning, their kit already wet, they set off on schedule. In the lower fells it was warm and the terrain demanding from the start.
“It is not a walk, it is four solid hours up a steep, rocky slope, and because of the rain the surfaces were slippery. Once you start scrambling you can’t really stop, you have to keep going because if you look around, you’d see you were on the edge of nowhere. I have a fear of heights, so the cloud cover was kind of good and kind of bad – I couldn’t see how high up we were getting, but we also couldn’t see which step next was the safest."
Though Nicola had experience of the climb, the thickening cloud as they got closer to the top meant the group had to be even more careful. Nat and Leaura had trainers on, so Nicola advised against them attempting the Striding Edge, the route they had agreed to take.
“It totally made sense, so me and Nat turned and went back the way we’d come to pick to pick up a safer route to the top."
Nicola, Tess, and Kim carried on the Striding Edge with their sturdy boots on.
They joined each other at the summit. “It was so wet and drizzly, and the wind made it cold, so when we got there, we didn’t know what to do. We just hugged each other and laughed and cried at the same time. We couldn’t see the view at all – it was completely covered by cloud.”
They made their descent, passing the Red Tarn on their way. Did they take a dip? "We were cold and wet already, so no!"
Leaura and Nat completed the roundtrip in about 6 hours, Kim, Nicola and Tess, having managed the tougher route made it in just over 7.
Shattered, soaked through, covered in midge bites and probably a bit shocked by the intensity of the experience, they regrouped in the pub in Glenridding, grateful to be together.
Back in their tent later, “we talked about it all night… and then we started to talk about what to do next – maybe Snowdonia? We would definitely do it again."
Given the chat about their next adventure continued after the euphoria wore off (and the aches and pains set it) it looks likely this was just the first of many times these inspiring PeoplePlus Stockton colleagues will put themselves well out of their comfort zones for a good cause.
The JustGiving page for their campaign is still open as of Monday the 25th of July.