Each winter, usually from December to March, our Fell top assessors walk up Helvellyn to check conditions, take photos and supply a report to add to the Met Office weather forecast that appears 365 days a year. We have a team of three Fell top assessors - Jon Bennett, Graham Uney and Zac Poulton. You can join our fell top assessors for a day on a winter skills course, to learn the basics of how to use an ice axe and crampons for winter walking. Our winter skills courses for 2019/20 will be available in the autum.
Fell top assessors' top 10 tips for winter safety
- Check out the Weatherline forecast. Where available, check a ground conditions' report. Take the advice on board
- Choose a route suitable for the conditions, your equipment and ability. If you are unsure, lower your sights
- Do not over estimate your ability, know when to turn back
- Carry enough kit to look after yourself if something goes wrong, or the weather changes
- Always carry a map and compass – know how to use them. Do not rely on a GPS alone
- Take a spare hat and gloves. They will get wet, and may blow away
- In winter conditions take ice axe and crampons - know how to use them
- Goggles are essential when snow and wind combine
- In winter in the snow, wear four-season stiffened boots which are compatible with your crampons
- If in doubt – turn back
Behind the scenes with Fell top assessors
How did you get into this job?
I was in the hotel trade for years and regularly used Weatherline for advising guests and for personal use. Five years ago I left hotel life and saw the Fell Top Assessor role advertisement. For the 20 years I have lived in the Lakes, the vast majority of my leisure time has been spent in the fells. I knew I had the skills and ability to do the job, but had no specific outdoor qualifications so almost did not apply. Fortunately I did and was delighted to be offered an interview. This was the best one ever since it involved climbing a hill! The morale of the story is ... always apply for jobs that you really want!
What do you get out of this job?
Obviously, there is the delight of being out in the best countryside that England has to offer everyday! Something that I find highly motivating are the number of hillwalkers who shake my hand and thank us for the information Weatherline provides. It is a fairly solitary job (especially when the wind's blowing a hoolie and it's raining/snowing/hailing!) so it is great to know that our work is really appreciated.
I was even thanked by a chap in the middle of Ambleside. His advancing years meant he no longer reaches the summits but he said that he loves our daily pictures. There are picture-perfect photos of the Lake District everywhere, but ours often show the fell in a less than flattering light. This old mountaineer said that it reminded him of similar days on the hill!
What has been your best day ever in the job?
Several days spring to mind! The common component, though, are light winds, blue skies, deep hard snow and that wonderful sound of crampons biting into ice with snow buntings overhead and wonderful wintry views.
Another memorable day happened in January 2012. I was walking in cloud for most of the way up to the summit. Then, suddenly, the cloud cleared on the summit plateau, although there was still mist over Red Tarn. The sun behind me cast my shadow onto this mist and I saw the most wonderful Brocken Spectre. It's an unusual and magical experience having a halo surround your shadow! Here's a link to the Brocken Spectre photo.
What's special about Helvellyn?
For snow and ice conditions, Helvellyn is special as it has a large east facing headwall. This keeps the wintery conditions from the warming effects of the sun. It is, therefore, not unsual for Helvellyn to keep snow for longer than the higher Scafell Pike.
What is the most magical time of day?
Something that I never tire of seeing are the shafts of sunlight that can come between the clouds. This is especially magical when they illuminate a specific mountain or snowy top. This is then highlighted against other fells in shadow.
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