: Full Winter Conditions
13th March 2013
many years now during the winter months a man has been
employed to go up Helvellyn every day regardless of
weather conditions and report on the ground conditions.
He’s titled the "Fell Top Assessor" – a much
sought after job currently held by a chap called Jon
this information was available as a recorded message
on a telephone line, but with the coming of the internet
the information is now on there. You can read about
Jon Bennett, and see his reports, on the Lake
District Weather Line.
Tuesday of this week he was reporting the fells as being
“in full winter conditions…, with snow on paths above
400m and ice at all levels”. So when the proposed walk
was on either Fairfield or Helvellyn and Don e-mailed
me to ask if crampons were needed, it seemed a no-brainer
– "Definitely!” I replied.
Wednesday evening Don advised that he was not able to
join us. But his e-mail added that from Ambleside there
didn’t look to be much snow so we might be better on
winter conditions’ on the climb of Raise
be right I thought, Fell Top man still said
“full winter conditions”. So when John picked
myself and Stan up, on my advice we headed
for Dunmail Raise.
we drove up the pass there was barely any
snow visible and I was beginning to feel
a bit guilty because John had been out the
day before and bought a pair of microspikes
in preparation for the outing! The
walk up Raise Beck failed to ease my conscience,
although there was the occasional patch
of ice that could be easily bypassed.
reaching the Tarn there was at least a covering of snow
on Fairfield but we were still able to climb to the
top of Dollywagon Pike on easy grassy ground. Looking
East from there however, it was clear to see how the
Fell Top Assessor had reached his conclusions. All the
West facing slopes were still plastered in snow.
Tarn & Fairfield from Dollywagon slopes
East to St Sunday Crag and Kentmere tops
slope drops away from the top of Dollywagon and at last
there was snow that needed crampons. So John was able
to try on his investment. The look of disbelief mixed
with relief on people’s faces when they realise that
they actually will hold them in place on ice and not
slide off into oblivion never ceases to entertain me.
John was no different as we trotted off towards Nethermost
back to the summit of Dollywagon Pike
one stretch of the track we came across
a set of raised footprints. I think these
form when the less icy snow around them
melts or is blown away leaving the compressed
snow in place.
weather had been superb all day with the
sun out and only a light, but bitingly cold,
wind. The views were extensive in all directions.
crampons really began to prove their worth
on the half mile or so between Nethermost
and Helvellyn which had become a skating
rink with large stretches of ice and frozen
was beginning to feel the guilt slip away!
on at last!
Footprints in the snow
East from Nethermost Pike
had noticed quite a few climbers around on the plateau
(generally distinguishable by the fact that they are
carrying 2 ice axes on their packs) and a look down
the gullies from the summit immediately spotted a group
climbing a buttress on the Swirral Edge side of the
cove. The snow, to my amateur’s eye, looked to be in
excellent condition and would account for the numbers
of groups around.
could also see people on both Striding and Swirral Edges.
Both looked tricky undertakings in the current conditions
(certainly somewhere I wouldn’t be unless roped up with
an experienced leader!) The Fell Top Assessor notes
the problems on Swirral that caused the two recent accidents
was taken in the wall shelter.
above Red Tarn Cove
ascending a route in Red Tarn Cove (Swirall
Edge in background)
had considered carrying on over Lower Man
and descending to Thirlspot before catching
the 555 bus back to the car. But time and
energy lead to a decision to descend via
Comb Crags as I had done a couple of weeks
said then that… "I definitely
wouldn’t have taken anyone down that way
that hadn’t had a reasonable amount of winter
here I was with John on his first outing in crampons
heading straight for it! To be fair to myself we had
agreed before leaving the summit that we would abandon
the route and traverse the hillside to rejoin our ascent
line if it looked at all doubtful.
it turned out to be OK. The fresh snow since I was last
there had made the line through the crags a little easier
and John made a good job of getting down. It also gave
me the chance to go off route part way down and do a
bit of solo front-pointing down a short, 20 foot, gully
filled with a couple of inches of excellent ice. Great
the North as we descended we had great views into Scotland.
Stan pointed out just how close the Solway Firth seemed
to be that day, and the snow topped hills of Galloway
could be clearly seen.
North to the Solway Firth and Scotland
John on easier ground descending Comb
final part of the descent
we reached the path back to Dunmail at the
end of an excellent day out.
certainly a lesson to be taken from the
walk – no matter how benign and snow free
it looks from the valley it is sensible
to put a pair of basic crampons (microspikes
or similar) in your bag at the start of
winter and leave them there!
15th March 2013
13th March 2013
climbed in feet:
(Memory Map / O.S.)
Nethermost Pike, Helvellyn
John Hn, Stan
routes are put online in gpx format which
should work with most mapping software. You can follow
our route in detail by downloading bb1310
discover which Wainwright top was visited on which BB outing
For the latest totals of the mileages and heights see: BB Log.
have been gleaned from many sources although mostly
from me! Likewise written comment. Unless stated
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