I do love my job, but if I had to give up my current job I think this might be one I would swap it with.
The first of December marks the start of meteorological winter but more importantly means the strat one of the most unusual but in my opinion the coolest seasonal jobs in the whole of the UK.
The job runs until April and between then and now one of the Lakes Districts National Parks specialist felltop assessors will make the daily climb to the summit of Helvellyn to asses snow and ground conditions and produce a daily report for outdoor enthusiasts.
Helvellyn is the third highest mountain in England.
The services which are run by the national park authority is there to provide vital safety information for everyone heading to the lake district over the winter months. The three members are Graham Uney, Zac Poulton and Jon Bennett, their reports are published on the Weatherline site and on twitter. The service predates the internet and started over 31 years ago as a telephone service.
Mr Uney said: “This is now my fifth year as a felltop assessor and each season I have to pinch myself as I really do believe I’ve got one of the best jobs in the world.
“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 the busiest, most popular mountain in the Lakes during the winter months, so it’s important that we give detailed ground conditions reports from here throughout the season to keep walkers, climbers and skiers better informed. Our 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.”
It’s not just ground conditions that the three guys will be producing, they will be giving regular hints and tips, guides on keeping safe on the mountains, essential winter backpack items as well as some of the views of the mountains over the coming months.
We have covered a few times on here, but recently hikers have been getting rescued from avoidable situations by not following the advice given by professionals.
A member of Wasdale Mountain Rescue, Richard Warren advises that traditional navigation using map and compass is essential in winter conditions. Richard is also the chairman of the Lake District Search and Mountain Rescue Association so he sees a lot of walkers who go out ill-prepared.
While he doesn’t say to avoid using GPS technology, he says it’s best not to rely solely on mobile phone technology to navigate the Lake District.
He said: “If you’re planning a trip to the mountains this winter we urge you to plan your day. When there is snow on the tops an ice axe and crampons are essential pieces of kit and know your limitations. If you’re unused to navigating in the dark, it can be extremely disorienting.
“Sometimes, the bravest decision is to turn around and go back. Those peaks will still be there another day. “
It is not just the weather service that the felltop association offers. They also offer s one-day specialist winter skills courses to help prepare those attempting some of the higher summits as well as sharing their knowledge of winter hiking.
The courses which are geared towards adults who want to learn more about how to deal with the extreme weather conditions that the British winters can throw up.
The courses teach essential winter mountaineering skills like how to use crampons and ice axes correctly as well as advice and guidance on essential kit for winter trekking. You can accompany one of the felltop assessors on his duties. It’s a real hands-on type of course.
Trekking in the snow is so much different to hiking at any other time of the year, the course teaches you key navigation skills to help climbers identify safe routes as well as identify landmarks in the snow.
On this year’s inaugural event, the three men were joined by two members of the public, who learnt firsthand to hike safely during the winter months once the snow starts to fall.
For this year’s inaugural assessors’ ascent, the three men were joined by two members of the public who learned first-hand how to winterise their approach to walking once there are snow and ice on the fells.
Darryl Ramage and friend Lynne Morrison were the winners of a national park competition, selected from more than 1,000 entries to accompany the felltop assessors on their season launch and take part in a private winter skills course.
Mr Ramage, from Dumbarton in Scotland, said: “We’re frequent walkers in the hills and mountains of Scotland have been all over Europe on expeditions. From Germany to Poland to Slovenia to Italy but we’ve never been lucky enough to climb in the Lake District so we are realising a lifetime ambition today.
“We’ve been following Weatherline for the last couple of weeks and were celebrating the first fall of snow on the fells, it’s a fantastic resource to make sure you get an accurate idea of the weather and conditions on the fell tops.
“Although we are both quite experienced climbers we are by no means experts so we are absolutely delighted to be learning from the best today.
“We’ve picked up a lot of safety information and numerous hints and tips. It’s been great. We can’t wait to get back to the Lake District soon to put our new skills to good use.”
The Lake District Weatherline is partly funded by sponsors Columbia and Petzl and George Fisher.
Mountain Hardwear sponsors the clothing, while Petzl provides the mountain equipment.
So if you are thinking of heading to the Lakes this winter, we would highly recommend you do, if you think its beautiful in the summer – wait till you have seen it in the winter. It’s like a different place, even familiar routes change.
Just make sure you check the weather forecast and pack accordingly.