Felltop Winter Conditions Report Season Begins

© LDNP Steph Fulke

The Lake District Weatherline's daily conditions reports from Helvellyn commence for the winter season today. For 20 weeks - from 1st December until Easter - the three Fell Top Assessors employed by the National Park work on a shift to report on the state of snow and ice on England's third highest, and typically snowiest, mountain.

Fell Top Assessors Jon Bennett, Graham Uney and Zac Poulton  © LDNP Steph Fulke
Fell Top Assessors Jon Bennett, Graham Uney and Zac Poulton
© LDNP Steph Fulke

From possible avalanche risk or the likely need for crampons and axes, through to hints on the state of the crags, it's a valuable resource for both walkers and winter climbers, and the only service of its kind in the Lake District.

"The rewards of climbing Helvellyn every day throughout the winter season far outweigh any challenges" Fell Top Assessor Graham Uney told us.

"We get to see the mountain at its best. And at its very worst! I think all of the assessors would agree that we get just as much of a buzz from the 'bad' days as we do from those occasional blue sky ones.

"I'm in my fifth year as Fell Top Assessor now, and will be joined by Jon Bennett, who's been in the job for over ten years now, and Zac Poulton, who begins his second season this year. We've shared out the rota more evenly this year too, so that in every two-week period Jon and I do five days each, and Zac does four. This gives us better opportunities to enjoy other mountaineering challenges throughout the winter, and keeps us fresh and excited for each and every day we spend on Helvellyn."

"Although Helvellyn isn't the highest peak in the Lake District its east-facing position means that it's often in better winter condition than our higher fells. It's also the busiest, most popular mountain in the Lakes during the winter months, so it's important that we give detailed ground conditions reports from here throughout the season to keep walkers, climbers and skiers better informed. Our service will make sure that people can get an extremely accurate ground conditions report of what to expect on our highest fells, backed up with the latest Met Office weather forecast."

From Helvellyn plateau  © Bob Bennett
From Helvellyn plateau
© Bob Bennett, Mar 2016

As well as their daily ground conditions report three Assessors, Graham, Jon and Zac, will be offering safety tips and sharing photos with followers.

Over recent weeks there's been much media coverage about walkers and climbers setting out into the fells ill-prepared and then having to be rescued from completely avoidable situations.

Richard Warren is a member of Wasdale Mountain Rescue Team and chairman of the Lake District Search and Mountain Rescue Association. His key message is that it is vital to be prepared.

Traditional navigation using paper map and a compass is an essential skill for all weather conditions, he advises, but especially during winter. This can be backed up with GPS technology but, he says, it's best not to rely solely on mobile phones.

"So, if you're planning a trip to the mountains this winter we urge you to plan your day" he said.

"When there is snow on the tops an ice axe and crampons are essential pieces of kit. And know your limitations. If you're unused to navigating in the dark, it can be extremely disorienting.

"Sometimes, the bravest decision is to turn around and go back. Those peaks will still be there another day. "

In addition to the weather service the Lake District National Park fell top assessors also run one day winter skills courses. Course participants can accompany the fell top assessor on their duties and learn essential winter mountaineering skills like navigation, and how to use an ice axe and crampons.

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