Wild Camping at Hard Tarn, below Nethermost Pike, near Helvellyn, Lake District Walks

Wild Camping at Hard Tarn, Lake District

Some photo highlights from my Hard Tarn Wild Camping trip:

Wild Camping at hard tarn, lake district. Sunrise from Nethermost Pike looking east to Patterdale, Ullswater and the Pennines.
Sunrise from Nethermost Pike looking east to Patterdale and Ullswater where the mist is and the Pennines in the far distance.

Wild camping at Hard Tarn, Lake District, near Helvellyn.
Wild camping at Hard Tarn in the lake District, with High Craggs in the background.

Wild camping in the lakes at Hard Tarn

Wild camping provides a completely different experience on the fells to regular day-walking - and is a great chance to get away from it all and unplug from the world. It's perfect for getting some time to unwind, as other than the scenery there are no distractions. It also makes you appreciate a little more the basic things we take for granted in every day life, such as running water and electricity!

On this occasion I was looking for somewhere where I may well be able to see a brilliant sunrise, and after a bit of digging around on the web I found the perfect place - Hard Tarn! It sounded a good little remote spot - tarns do usually seem appealing for a place to stop - and from previous walking experience in these parts - I knew from the mountain range above (High Craggs / Nethermost Pike / Helvellyn) you can get a good view east - so a good place for a sunrise. So the location was set - I just needed some decent weather, relatively clear skies and a space in my diary - the time come on 10th August 2012.

The map route to Hard Tarn, Wild Camping in the Lake District
The route (highlighted yellow) to Hard Tarn, up through Grisedale Valley then off the beaten track at Ruthwaite Lodge

The walking route to Hard Tarn:

I'd walked these parts a few times before - so knew the route up to Grisedale Valley from Patterdale well - and had stopped at Ruthwaite Lodge a few times for a bite to eat as you get a superb view down the valley from it's elevated position. However once you get to the lodge along the well-marked path - it's a case of going off the beaten track- making your own path and following the river and cascading waterfalls up towards Hard Tarn - and using a map, the surrounding mountains (and an iPhone GPS as fall back plan) as your guide.

The path up Grisedale Valley towards Ruthwaite Lodge. You can make out the peaks of Dollywagon Pike to the left and Nethermost Pike just off centre to the right (where we would see the sunrise from!)
The path up Grisedale Valley towards Ruthwaite Lodge. You can make out the peaks of Dollywagon Pike to the left and Nethermost Pike just off centre to the right (where we would see the sunrise from!)

Ruthwaite lodge - we will be heading up to the heights behind it.

It's a good idea to stay close to the stream to use as your guide as it eventually leads to Hard Tarn if you follow the right one. The stream also makes a good place to have a wash in the morning :-)

The difficult thing about Hard Tarn is going up this way - you can't actually see it until you are level with it. A few times I had doubted that we were heading in the right direction - but just kept walking in good faith that we would stumble across it if we kept heading in the right direction - using the peaks of High Craggs and Nethermost Pike as a guide and also staying close to the stream that also headed in this direction.

location of Hard Tarn using the surrounding mountain range as the guide
The location of Hard Tarn using the surrounding mountain range as a guide. Keep High Cragg to your left - Nethermost Pike to your right - and follow the stream and you will get there, eventually :-)

After a longer, steeper and higher than anticipated walk (it had been a while since I had walked with a big back pack on!) - Hard Tarn appeared. It proved to be a perfect little spot to pitch a tent - with a bit of flat space that wasn't boggy - and also some flat level rock face to sit on for when the grass is a little damp in the morning. It may not be the most accessible tarn in the area - but that can be considered a good thing - as then there is a good chance that you will get the space to yourself!

perfect spot for a wild camp - my tent pitched next to Hard tarn, Lake District
A perfect spot for a wild camp - my tent pitched next to Hard Tarn, Lake District

To the far left of this picture - you can see the path leading up to sumit of the Mountain Range (in between High Crags/Nethermost Pike) - which is the route we took to get as high as poss to witness the sunset and sunrise. It's not an official path - but just about manageable, although a bit steep.

A perfect spot for a wild camp - my tent pitched next to Hard Tarn, Lake District Stunning views of the surrounding Lake District mountain range from Hard Tarn
Stunning views of the surrounding Lake District mountain range from Hard Tarn wild camp. A great place to get away from it all.

The fading light & sunset:

Here a few pics taken around the Hard Tarn area as the sunlight was fading.

Looking down Grisedale Valley as the last drops of sunlight reach the distant peaks.

Nice warm glow on these peaks from the setting sun.

You get a really good view of St.Sunday Crag from Hard Tarn.
You get a really good view of St.Sunday Crag from Hard Tarn.

A sunset from the top of the Nethermost Pike Range - in the distance you can see the Solway Firth and Bassenthwaite lake I think.

Night time  – The Stary Sky & Milky Way

One of the great things about Wild Camping is that at night you are removed from a lot of light pollution - and with a bit of luck - if the skies clear then the views of the night sky from a remote spot in the lakes are some the best that can be seen. On this occasion we were very fortunate - in that not only where the skies clear, but without planning it also turned out to be the night of the Perseid meteor shower - so we were very lucky indeed! I'd been in the Lake District before when there had been clear nights and I'd never seen so many stars - but this was something else. Not a cloud in the sky - no light pollution whatsoever, and a wide expansive view of the sky. You could actually see a faint mist running right through the centre of the sky - which I knew to be the Milky Way Galaxy - it was absolutely spell-binding and an amazing sight.  It was one of those sights that just took your breath away. And there is just something about seeing a night sky like this with thousands of stars in it that really make you think and get all philosophical. To top it off - every now and then a shooting star would fly through the sky due to the perseid meteor shower hitting earth's atmosphere - I later found out we happened to witness the year's most spectacular meteor shower for viewers in the northern hemisphere! With the mild night we ended up just bringing the sleeping bag & matts outside, putting some music on the speakers and just soaking it all up - knowing it's not often you get chance to see such a sight. As you can imagine this is of the great things about wild camping!

This isn't actually my photo - I found it on the web after searching around for something that represented what you could actually see with the naked eye. You could actually see the Milky Way galaxy across the centre of the sky in a sort of faint white mist - it was absolutely awe-some in the truest sense of the word.  


As people who know me will tell you - I'm not normally one to jump out of bed in the morning - but with the anticipation of seeing a glorious sunrise - it was easy to wake at 5am on this particular morning - and well worth it.

It was a bit of a scramble to get upto Nethrrmost Pike - but it proved to be an excellent vantage point to see the sun rise. There was even a bit of mist in the low valley - so perfect conditions :-)

Sunrise from Nethermost pike
Sunrise from Nethermost pike

Sunrise from Nethermost pike
Sunrise from Nethermost pike
Incase you think I'm making this all up :-)

A warm glow lighting up striding edge and the Helvellyn range, sunrise, wild camp
A warm glow lighting up striding edge and the Helvellyn range

This time looking towards Dollywagon Pike

As it was around 6am by this time - these fellas were the only ones up there with us!

BACK TO CAMP & Grisedale Valley

As we were up at 5am - we were heading back to the tent quite early and were all packed up for about 6.30am!

Morning at Hard Tarn and it's time to move on from our wild camping spot.

As we headed back down to Civilisation and down Grisedale Valley - the mist seemed to be hanging around the patterdale area- and although maybe no more than 50m high - the mist did make you feel like you where higher than you actually where. I guess for those who were actually in Patterdale
 - all you had to do was climb a little out of the place and you would be out of the mist. It's something I will look to do if I'm ever staying in Glenridding/Patterdale - an easy way to be above the clouds!

Well there you go - another blog post wrapped up and an absolutely brilliant experience. I'd definietly recommend a wild camping trip to others, and everyone should do it at least once! Just make sure you plan the location right, pick a time when the weather is favourable to what you want to see, you know where you are going and you take the right equipment, warm clothes for those cold nights  & enough food and water. I've done a list below of stuff to take on a Wild Camp, and if you have any questions - feel free to post any comments and I'll try and help!

Cheers, Stuart 

wild camping equipment list, lake district

Wild Camp Equipment List & Tips

I'm not an expert (and have yet to wild camp for for than a couple of days or in the winter)- but for those new to Wild Camping here is a basic list of what I took on my trip above - and a few tips:

Wild camping Basics:

• Decent back-pack - to carry all your stuff - mine was 80litres
• Tent - the lightweight the better - you've got to carry this! Do your research and get the best you can afford, whether it's to sleep 1 or 2 people.
• Sleeping mat (inflating) - you need something comfortable to sleep on and to separate you from the cold ground. If you don't have a decent matt - you will be a lot colder on the night. Mine was lightweight and folded quite small - useful when space in your bag is limited.
• Sleeping bag - again lightweight - but also a tog rating suitable to the temperature forecast conditions. You get what you pay for with these things.
• Inflating pillow - a pillow is essential for me to get a good nights kip!

Other essentials:

• Good  Torch - more than one - and spare batteries - it gets really dark up there and with no working torch - it can be very dangerous - especially when making your way back to tent after seeing a sunset
• Insect repellent - where there is water - there are flies. This will make your trip more enjoyable by keeping the flies away. I learned about this essential bit of kit by not taking it on one of my first wild camps - I was in a stunning location by a tarn high up in the fells, the sun was going down in the distance - and a swarm of flies were spoiling this amazing setting!
• Camera - well for me anyway! It's essential so I can record my memories and share my trips with others :-)


• Take warm additional clothing - it may be warm and sunny in the day time - but it can get cold at night - better safe than sorry
• Take thermals to sleep in - its better to be able to take clothes off at night if you are too warm - than be freezing your arse off wishing you had took them!
• Take spare walking socks and flip flops -this is one thing I wish I took - as my feet got a bit wet on the climb to Hard Tarn - so socks were soaking and it would have been useful to have some flip flops for around the tent. Wasn't nice having to put back on wet socks and shoes in the morning.

Food & Water:

As we only went for a night - we made sure we had food in our belly before going up, and promised ourselves a full-english breakfast when we got back down. So we just took some basic snacks that didn't need heating or a stove to snack on - usual stuff: flap jacks, cereal bars, nuts, fruit, sandwiches.
• A decent small stove is useful though for making warm food and drinks - a nice cup of tea in the morning just makes the whole camping experience a lot more enjoyable experience :-)
• Water is a key one as ever - take as much as you can carry - 1 litre done me for the 9 hours we were up there - although I could have done with 2 litres as I was a bit thirsty when I got back to the car

Finally - check the forecast 

When planning any camping trip - it's essential to plan according to the weather, especially for wild camps, and especially more so in places like the Lake District fells where multiple seasons can be experienced in 1 day. I've read stories of people going on wild camps in nice weather - and waking up the next day surrounded by snow. So don't let things like that catch you out!

Good luck - and ask any questions in the comment box or share some of your camping experiences below!