Lakes Rescue Teams Issue Winter Safety Advice

This winter season is shaping up to be a busy one for mountain rescue teams on the Lake District fells, with 30 call-outs already in January. Two hill-goers have died in separate incidents since the beginning of the year, and will full winter conditions on the hills the local teams are advising walkers to go suitably prepared.

Chopper over striding edge, 111 kb
Chopper over striding edge
© Mark D, Dec 2009

Mike Margeson, Vice Chairman Mountain Recue England and Wales, says that people heading for the fells need to be properly equipped. 

'A simple slip in winter conditions is one of the most common causes of winter mountain accidents' he said.

'With this in mind we would highlight the importance of having an ice axe and crampons. Other equipment carried should include waterproofs, warm layers, map and compass, hat and gloves and head torch.

'It is also important that you have made an appropriate plan for your day taking into consideration the weather forecast, the conditions under foot, the hours of daylight and your experience.'

  • As an aid to planning, from December to March the Lake District National Park's Weatherline service includes daily reports on ground conditions on the Helvellyn range, one of the most consistently snowy parts of Cumbria. 

'Helvellyn and the surrounding mountains look stunning right now – they are in their glory when they are covered in snow and ice' said Patterdale Mountain Rescue Team leader Mike Blakey.

'Conditions like these draw in large numbers of visitors and locals, whether that’s walking, climbing, or skiing. It is not for mountain rescue teams to say whether people should or shouldn’t go out and enjoy the winter fells but we have a role to play in helping people to be more aware and contribute to their safety. In these winter conditions the mountain changes and presents challenges for us.' 

'Cornices are common on the edges of the summits and ridges and sometimes it’s difficult to know exactly where the ground ends and overhanging snow begins. It is easy for any of us to walk a little too close to the edge, so the best advice is to give cornices a wide berth.'

'Likewise, the snow can change from day to day. Sometimes it’s rock solid and at other times we sink through it because it is fresh powder blown by the wind or snow soaked through by rain.'

'Sometimes it’s really not a simple choice as to whether to stop and put crampons on or to get our ice axe out. But what we do know is that we should have both with us and should know how to use them.'

'The snow presents dangers too. Avalanches do happen regularly in the Lakes and many people are not aware of this. A few years ago four men were avalanched as they summited from Pinnacle Ridge on St Sunday Crag. They were walking over a snow covered slope when the whole thing moved beneath them and three of the party were swept over the crags below. Remarkably they all survived. We hope that people will enjoy the snow which is forecast over the coming days and that when they venture out they have the skills, knowledge and equipment to be safe.'


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