Fell-top asses­sor

Jon Bennett re­veals what it takes

Trail (UK) - - Contents -

Five days in ev­ery fort­night I make the trip up Helvel­lyn

be­tween De­cem­ber and spring to as­sess the snow and ice con­di­tions in the Lake­land fells. Snow level, depth, con­di­tion

(soft, hard, sta­ble, un­sta­ble) are mea­sured, as well as haz­ards on paths (such as ice) on the as­cent and de­scent. On the sum­mit we doc­u­ment wind speed, tem­per­a­ture, wind chill and wind di­rec­tion. I am a crea­ture of habit

and gen­er­ally leave Glen­rid­ding, as­cend Mires Beck to Birk­house Moor, go along Strid­ing Edge to the sum­mit and then de­scend via Swirral Edge and Red Tarn. It’s my favourite route! Un­for­tu­nately, a pretty much on elec­tron­ics to­tal reliance

has be­come the norm in the 10 years I have been fell-top as­sess­ing. GPS units are use­ful, but they can stop work­ing and can be in­ac­cu­rate (I’ve had a route point me from Strid­ing Edge ‘over’ Red Tarn to the sum­mit!). GPS units work well in com­bi­na­tion with a map and com­pass and the abil­ity to use them. I’ve also seen an in­creas­ing reliance by some on mo­bile phones to call for help (from vol­un­teers run­ning Moun­tain Res­cue) rather than tak­ing the cor­rect, ba­sic equip­ment for a walk in the hills – such as warm and spare cloth­ing, wa­ter­proofs and torches. I have sum­mited Helvel­lyn around 500 times and yet there are still com­bi­na­tions of light and con­di­tions that I have never seen be­fore. For this rea­son, it is al­ways (as long as you are ad­e­quately pre­pared, equipped and it is safe to do so) worth go­ing out even on dull days since you never know what you might en­counter. Cloud in­ver­sions be­ing a prime ex­am­ple – murky in the val­leys, while the tops are in sun look­ing down on that sea of cloud. Breath­tak­ing! A man car­ry­ing a ca­noe up Swirral Edge is the most bizarre thing I have seen on Helvel­lyn. He’d been for a pad­dle on Red Tarn and de­cided to sum­mit but was wor­ried about leav­ing his ca­noe! A Brocken spec­tre is my most mem­o­rable mo­ment.

I saw my shadow, with a halo, on the cloud be­low me ev­ery day for a week, and one ‘fol­lowed’ me along Strid­ing Edge! Wind strength and a lack of vis­i­bil­ity

are the two things that stop us get­ting to the top of Helvel­lyn. If you can’t see, then you can’t see! You don’t have to be mad to do this job,

just have the memory of a gold­fish! Re­mem­ber the good days of blue skies, hard, firm snow and glo­ri­ous views... and for­get about the days of driv­ing rain and bit­ing hail. I was an hote­lier be­fore gain­ing this job! My other job is float­ing on Win­der­mere, driv­ing or crew­ing the tourist boats. Quite a con­trast! ■

Quick-fire Q&A

Best hill­side com­pan­ion? A com­fort­able and prop­erly equipped ruck­sack! Best pub? The Golden Rule in Am­ble­side. Good beer and good con­ver­sa­tion! Bivvy or bothy? It re­ally does de­pend on the weather. What scares you? I’m very happy fly­ing a paraglider, climb­ing or stand­ing on a sharp ridge… but have to have a com­fort­ing word with my­self be­fore as­cend­ing a lad­der! Check out the weather­line fore­casts at www.lakedis­trictweath­er­line.co.uk

Lake Dis­trict Na­tional Park fell-top as­ses­sors (from left) Jon Bennett, Gra­ham Uney and Zac Poul­ton were joined by one of the first as­ses­sors, Alis­tair Bos­ton (sec­ond left), to cel­e­brate 30 years of Weather­line at Red Tarn, Helvel­lyn.

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