Fell Top Conditions on Sunday 26 March

Readings from Helvellyn summit at 12:25

Temperature plus 6.9°C Maximum wind speed 7.7mph Wind chill plus 4.3°C Average wind speed 5.0mph Wind direction NNE

The thaw that has been occurring at all levels for the past few days continues – it was a ridiculously warn plus 7 degrees on the summit in the sun around midday. Given the past 3 days of sunshine, the thaw is most pronounced on south facing slopes. Aside from small, wet patches in isolated sheltered spots and hollows, there is no snow below 500m. Above 500m, the snow depth rises with altitude although the actual depth varies enormously from nothing at all on some south facing aspects and windswept areas, such as large parts of the summit plateau, to drifts deep enough to swallow the shaft of a 55cm ice axe; although such depth is definitely the exception. Underfoot conditions on paths varies considerably. Below the snowline they are largely dry. Above the snowline, they can also be either dry or wet where the snow has thawed. Conversely, there are also patches of compacted harder snow and ice making conditions more demanding. Walking poles are useful here.

Conditions along Swirral and Striding Edges were mixed. Although a large part of Striding is now dry rock, there are sections of deep snow which the passage of numerous boots over the weekend have now compacted into hard snow and ice. The crest of the ridge is not a place to slip, but should you do so, an ice axe will help prevent a significant fall – hence the reason for carrying one. The remaining snow along the edge was soft and this, in places, was unstable with evidence of some snow having slid down the sides (see Saturday’s picture). Anyone contemplating exposed routes above the snowline, such as Striding and Swirral Edges, should carry an ice axe and possess the ability to assess the stability, or otherwise, of the snowpack.

There is now a significant contrast between the summer-like valleys and the snowy conditions that still exist especially above 700m. Although the majority of the snowpack was soft, wet and thawing today (and probably will be again tomorrow), it would only take a small drop in temperature for the existing snow to harden and slush to re-freeze, so walkers out above the snowline on Monday (especially any early risers) must be prepared and equipped to encounter hard snow and ice; therefore for those going above the snowline and attempting, or traversing, steep slopes, an ice axe remains strongly recommended and crampons should be carried. With a third day of blue skies, snow on the fells and an extremely light breeze, it is a fantastic time to explore our wonderful fells, so come properly equipped with full winter clothing, mountain boots and equipment – which (I’m delighted to state) includes sunglasses and sun tan lotion - and enjoy these wonderful conditions.