Freeze forecast: live Lake District winter conditions monitoring

Posted by Rob Dyer on 28/11/2018
Central Gully Left Hand, Great End in perfect conditions. Photo: Steve Ashworth
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Did you know that you can check the winter conditions in the Lake District from anywhere? There are live monitoring systems on Great End - one of the most reliable Lakes winter crags, and another on Helvellyn - an incredibly popular but also botanically sensitive winter venue.

The aim is to provide accurate information to winter climbers about current and historical temperatures to allow better decision-making before heading out for a winter climbing day in the Lakes. 
The project has been made possible by a partnership between the BMC, Natural England and The Lakes District National Park Authority, with significant help in finding a workable site, getting the system up and running and ongoing maintenance from the National Trust for Great End and the John Muir Trust for Helvellyn. A huge thank you is owed to all of these organisations who have donated time, resources and funding to make the project a reality.

Did you know you can also get live updates on winter conditions in North Wales? Check out our Cwm Idwal project: live information from Clogwyn Du as well as the Devil's Kitchen!

CHECK NOW: live winter conditions in Cwm Idwal

Why monitor conditions? 

The cold and wet conditions which make the Lake District’s winter crags sought after venues for winter climbers also provide sanctuary for rare Arctic-alpine plants, with the inaccessible location preventing sheep grazing. The turf these plants live in is easily damaged by ice tools if not fully frozen; even a single ascent in marginal conditions could irreparably damage the plant or habitat. But in well frozen conditions, the turf won’t be damaged by climbers – good news for plants and climbers too, given loss of turf can quickly change a route from steady to a desperate grovel.

WATCH: Conditions apply: winter climbing ethics:

How it works

A set of temperature probes located near the base of both crags on a similar aspect and altitude take readings at hourly intervals and transmit these to base stations in the valleys below to be uploaded to the BMC website. The probes are located at approximately 750m altitude (for Great End) and 830m (for Helvellyn), buried in turf at 5cm, 15cm and 30cm, as well as one probe measuring air temperature. The aim is to inform how conditions might be shaping up on these crags (and potentially others of a similar altitude and aspect,) by showing historical temperature data of the air and within the turf.
 
We stress that this is not a definitive system – it will not give a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer to whether conditions are good for climbing. Small differences from the effect of weather on different areas of the crag may mean the measurement site shows frozen turf when the turf on the crag (or part of the crag) is not, or vice versa. Likewise, weather can affect similar crags even a small distance away differently. There are many variables which contribute to bringing routes into condition and the data below should simply be used as a guide for climbers to make their own, more informed decisions about likely on-crag conditions.

WATCH: Route choice and what's different in winter:

Essential supplement

The information on the graph below should always be used alongside the Lake District White Guide. This contains vital information on which routes to avoid in marginal conditions with easy-to-understand colour topos and other useful information to aid planning for winter climbers. It is also available as a free hard copy from the BMC shop or various climbing walls and retailers.

CHECK: Conditions at Cwm Idwal, North Wales


DOWNLOAD: the shiny new BMC RAD app

Get all the info on crags with the newly updated RAD (Regional Access Database) app from the BMC! Available now for Android and iOS, it's free and comes with a host of new features like navigation and parking, weather and tidal updates, and of course information on restrictions or notes on access advice. Get it here now!

DOWNLOAD: The RAD app for Android

DOWNLOAD: The RAD app for iOS

RAD is community led and your comments help keep it up to date so don’t be afraid to add any relevant information after a crag visit which might be useful for other visitors – anything from conditions on the crag, favourite routes or reports of rockfall/other recent changes to the crag are all useful for other climbers visiting.


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1) Anonymous User
09/02/2017
A great tool, is it possible to get a link on the page to go to the Idwal one as well, or even have them both on the same page so they can be compared?
2) Rob Dyer(author comment)
13/02/2017
Thanks for the feedback - we've added a link to the Idwal page and will look into whether we can get a page up with both graphs on. Fingers crossed for a good late(er) season of winter conditions this year!
3) Anonymous
04/12/2018
This comment broke the house rules and has been removed

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