Helvellyn Fell Top Assessors
by Andy McGirl
Between December and April every year, the Lake District National Park’s three specialist fell top assessors will, on a daily basis, climb to the summit of Helvellyn, a 950m high mountain, to assess snow and ground conditions and compile a daily report for outdoor enthusiasts. This is a unique service in the UK and has been running for 31 years, giving those heading to the mountains all the information they need about the conditions that day. Information is shared on a live Twitter feed by the fell top assessors during their mountain hike on @LakesWeather and online www.lakedistrictweatherline.co.uk.
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 one of the busiest, most popular, mountains in the Lakes during the winter months, so it’s important to give detailed ground conditions reports from here throughout the season to keep walkers, climbers and skiers better informed. The FTA 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.
Longest serving Fell Top Assessor, Jon Bennett, who is well into his 13th season, described one of his favourite moments, “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. Sometimes I can’t believe I get paid to do this. It’s amazing.”
In addition to the weather service the Lake District National Park fell top assessors also run specialist one day winter skills courses to share their wealth of knowledge and make sure those attempting some of the higher summits are as prepared as they can be.
The courses are aimed at adults who want to learn more on how to deal with the extreme weather conditions the British winter can throw up. They can accompany the fell top assessor on his duties and learn essential winter mountaineering skills like how to use an ice axe and crampons properly as well as get advice and guidance on what other kit is needed to stay safe. Key navigation skills are also taught to help climbers identify routes and landmarks in the snow.
by Andy McGirl