Fell Top Assessor offers expert advice on how to walk safely in the Lake District fells no matter the season
Zac Poulton may have hung up his Lake District National Park Fell Top Assessor kit for another year and as the snow melts the thoughts of hiking in winter conditions melt away too. But as he knows all too well, even in the summer in the Lake District it’s necessary to prepare for four seasons in one day
Here Zac gives his top tips for staying safe on the fells whatever the season:
Always make sure you are AdventureSmart. Ask yourself three questions before setting off.
– Do I have the right GEAR?
– Do I know what the WEATHER will be like?
– Am I confident I have the KNOWLEDGE & SKILLS for the day?
Do I have the knowledge and skills?
Your phone is a great tool if you have a signal and you haven't dropped it in a puddle. There are a number of mapping apps, (ordnance survey, memory map, view ranger to name a few) which will make your navigation easier.
Ordnance Survey also have an app called OS Locate and it will give your location in the UK in a six-figure grid reference which is the most useful format for the emergency services and mountain rescue.
However if you're using your phone for everything - navigation, photography, logging everything on Strava, listening to music, updating social media you'll very, very quickly chew through your battery and if that's your only means of navigation, you've got a problem.
Be prepared for the worst case scenario.
To contact Mountain Rescue you need to dial 999 or 112.
If your phone doesn't have a signal, it is still worth trying 999 because even if it hasn't got its native signal it will use whatever signal it’s got.
Please register for the free 999 text service. Originally it was designed for the hard of hearing but we realised it worked really well in the hills because you need a lot less signal to get a text message out than a voice call. You do have to register your number here prior to using the service: https://www.emergencysms.net/
The international distress signal is six blasts on a whistle every minute or six flashes on a head torch every minute and keep going until Mountain Rescue attend. If anyone hears six whistles or sees six flashes they're going to raise the alarm so just keep going until Mountain Rescue literally trips over you.
Do I know what the weather is likely to be?
In terms of making life easy for yourself, blue skies make navigation very easy. Navigating in poor visibility is quite mentally draining and stressful at times but has its own attraction.
Even in the summer months heavy rain with the temperature down in single figures and wind create perfect conditions for hypothermia. If your kit isn't quite up to it and you get soaked, the wind is stripping the heat from your body and you're not feeding and hydrating the body, you can very quickly drift into hypothermia, where your core body temperature drops and you start making silly decisions.
Do I have the right gear?
Traditionally, the most important items are a map and compass. Despite all the apps and technology, they are still essential.
The other thing is enough warm and waterproof clothing for you to be comfortable up there. When you're moving you will generate heat but if you've sweated into your kit and you stop it's surprising how quickly your temperature will drop and how very quickly you'll feel too cold to get going again. So even on nice days it's good to carry an extra layer and a hat and gloves.
Think about making yourself more visible, we all like to wear black, blue, grey clothing, that seems to be the fashion but you're almost impossible to see if you’re unfortunate enough to be lying in a heap somewhere so it’s worth wearing some bright colours. They look better in photographs as well!
Then the little things like having a head torch with you, if you're planning a long day, you might be coming down in the daylight but it only takes a wrong turn or a twisted ankle and you're coming down in the dark. Other items to consider are an orange plastic survival bag, whistle, first aid kit, trekking poles, sunhat and sunglasses, and don’t forget plenty of food and fluid.
Date: 09 May 2022