Jon Bennett reveals what it takes
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! ■
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.