Mr Harris stumbled and fell from Striding Edge

Mr Harris stumbled and fell from Striding Edge

An experienced mountaineer stumbled on a notorious Lake District peak and plunged 300 feet to his death, an inquest was told.

Retired headteacher Martin Harris had travelled the world climbing some of its most treacherous peaks, but fell and broke his neck while on a hike up Striding Edge ridge on Helvellyn.

He was the fourth of five fellwalkers to die on England’s third highest mountain this year.

His long-time walking companion, retired GP Eric Simpson, told the inquest in Kendal, Cumbria, on Monday that he and Mr Harris had been rock-climbing and walking together for 33 years.

They regularly visited the Lake District from their homes in Laughton, near Sheffield, and the previous day had climbed Blencathra without difficulties.

On the day of the tragedy it was a beautiful spring morning, dry and sunny when they set off.

The views were stunning and it was one of the rare occasions that Striding Edge could be walked along the ridge. They had been on it for about half an hour with Dr Simpson, aged 60, stopping occasionally for Mr Harris, aged 75, to catch up.

“I was about 10 minutes ahead of him and I waited but he didn’t come. I left my rucksack and walked back shouting.

There was a group of people, with one on the phone and two scrambling down the steep mountainside,” Dr Simpson told the inquest.

He then realised that his friend had fallen and carefully climbed down to him, but was already dead.

Jonathan Bayes, one of the other walkers, said he saw a man who he had passed earlier stumble and fall sideways off the ridge.

Patterdale Mountain Rescue Team, an air ambulance and an RAF helicopter were involved in recovering Mr Harris’s body which was taken to Cumberland Infirmary, Carlisle, where a post-mortem examination was carried out by Dr Zouheir Maarouf.

He gave a cause of death as a broken neck. There were no other medical reasons for his death.

Mr Harris was said be on painkillers for arthritis of the shoulders and neck, but was otherwise of robust good health with a cheery outlook on life and a great lover of outdoor pursuits.

His widow, Florence, said Mr Harris had picked up the climbing bug while serving as a science officer with the RAF in the 1960s.

They had lived in Kenya where he climbed Kilimanjaro, and frequently tackled the mountains in the French, Italian and Swiss Alps, including Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn, ‘by the tough routes’. He had later gone sport climbing in Spain and Turkey, and was a regular skier.

Coroner Robert Chapman recorded a conclusion of accidental death.

He said: “This was clearly a case of a fit man, albeit one of 75, having a pleasant trip out on a beautiful day. It is unclear what made him fall, but he stumbled and fell over the edge.”

Mr Harris, of Mellow Fields Road, Laughton, Sheffield, was headteacher of Wingfield Comprehensive School, Rotherham, when he retired.

Mr Harris, who leaves his widow and two children, Duncan and Elizabeth, died on April 20. His death led to calls for warning signs to be put up near the mountain.

David Barrow, 63, of Widnes, Cheshire, fell 300m (1,000ft) after going to the aid of a companion who had fallen a short distance from Swirral Edge in January, and died from his injuries.

The body of Michael Flanagan, 45, of London, was also found at the foot of the headwall after a massive search involving more than 60 mountain rescue team members in January.

Climber John Chadwick, 68, of Gamblesby in the Eden Valley, died after falling from the headwall above Red Tarn in February.

After a fifth death on Helvellyn since the start of the year, there were calls for the publication of an accident hotspots guide to assist fell walkers.

Stewart Armstrong, 59, of County Durham, died after plunging 100 to 150m from the mountain. He had been walking with his son, and both were well equipped.

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