Fell Top Conditions on Friday 24 March

Readings from Helvellyn summit at 13:00

Temperature plus 4.5°C Maximum wind speed 5.1mph Wind chill plus 2.2°C Average wind speed 3.9mph Wind direction S - what there was of it!

There is a thaw at all levels – it was plus 4 degrees on the summit; however given the hard overnight frost, the thaw was not so pronounced at altitude. Conversely, below 600m there was a noticeable thaw. There is now little snow below 450m. Above 450m, the snow depth rises with altitude although the actual depth varies enormously from nothing at all on windswept areas, such as parts of the summit plateau, to drifts deep enough to swallow the shaft of a 55cm ice axe with drifts of 30cm being fairly common above 700m. With milder temperatures, the snowpack is generally very soft. Consequently, walkers contemplating remote walks above the snowline on Saturday should allow extra time for the energy sapping plod through soft deep snow and pack extra Mars Bars (other calorific snacks are available!). Conversely, should the temperature drop, or you are an early riser and the snowpack remains hard after the overnight frost, you might walk on top of the snow without falling through (unless you’ve had too much chocolate!!)

Conditions along Swirral and Striding Edges were mixed. Striding had everything from bare, dry rock, wet rock, ice and patches of compacted hard snow whilst the majority of its length was covered in soft snow which, in places, was unstable. Very unusually, the deepest drifts along the Edge itself were significantly deeper than the snow covering the exit. For anyone contemplating exposed routes above the snowline, such as Striding and Swirral Edges, an ice axe is essential, together with the ability to assess the stability, or otherwise, of the snowpack. Crampons must also be carried in case hard snow or ice is encountered; indeed it is likely that there will be more hard snow along the edges on Saturday owing to the volume of walkers compacting the snow.

There is now a significant contrast between the warm, green valleys and the virtual alpine conditions that exist especially above 700m. Although the snowpack was predominantly soft today, walkers out above the snowline on Saturday must be prepared and equipped to encounter hard snow and ice as it would only take a small drop in temperature for the snow to harden and on popular routes the snow has already been compacted into hard snow and ice. With blue skies, snow on the fells and an extremely light breeze, it was an absolute joy to be out today, so come properly equipped with full winter clothing – including spare layers - footwear and equipment and enjoy the wonderful conditions. For those going above the snowline and attempting, or traversing, steep slopes, an ice axe is essential and crampons must be carried. Given the forecast, sunglasses will also be essential and sun tan lotion recommended as the assessor is now feeling the effects of today's sun!