Following a number of serious incidents and two fatalities on the Lake District fells this month, the BMC and local Mountain Rescue teams are reminding walkers and climbers to be prepared for serious winter conditions.
The Lake District’s popular image as a place of cosy pubs and gingerbread shops sits in contrast to the wildness and challenge of its upland environments. This is particularly pronounced when winter conditions arrive, requiring specific equipment, skills, knowledge and awareness to deal with safely.
With more snow forecast over the coming days, people going into the hills need to be aware that a simple slip on a slope covered in hard snow can have fatal consequences, cornices can conceal steep drops, and heavily-laden slopes can carry a risk of avalanches.
Jon Garside, BMC Training Officer, said: “Snow is falling across Britain and the winter conditions look set to continue for a while. This is great news for walkers and climbers who love the beauty, atmosphere and challenge of snow-covered mountains.
“But the Lake District is not just a pretty place. Before heading out onto the high fells in winter, people should ask themselves if they are appropriately skilled and equipped for what they might encounter. If unsure, then a walk at lower elevations or on less exposed slopes would be a much wiser option.”
Mike Blakey, Patterdale Mountain Rescue Team Leader said: “Helvellyn and the surrounding mountains look stunning right now – they are in their glory when they are covered in snow and ice.
“But in these winter conditions the mountain changes and presents challenges. Cornices are common on the edges of the summits and ridges and sometimes it’s difficult to know exactly where the ground ends and overhanging snow begins.
“Likewise, the snow can change from day to day. Sometimes it’s really not a simple choice as to whether to stop and put crampons on or to get our ice axe out. But what we do know is that we should have both with us and should know how to use them.
“Avalanches do happen regularly in the Lakes and many people are not aware of this. A few years ago four men were avalanched as they summited from Pinnacle Ridge on St Sundays Crag. They were walking over a snow covered slope when the whole thing moved beneath them and three of the party were swept over the crags below. Remarkably they all survived.
“We hope that people will enjoy the snow which is forecast over the coming days and that when they venture out they have the skills, knowledge and equipment to be safe.”
Mike Margeson, Vice Chairman of Mountain Recue England and Wales, said: “Being well prepared and properly equipped is vitally important. A simple slip in winter conditions is one of the most common causes of winter mountain accidents.
“With this in mind we would highlight the importance of having an ice axe and crampons and knowing when and how to use them. Other equipment carried should include waterproofs, warm layers, map and compass, hat and gloves and head torch.
“It is also important is that you have made an appropriate plan for your day taking into consideration the weather forecast, the conditions under foot, the hours of daylight and your experience.”
This is just one of a series of instructional films produced exclusively for BMC TV in association with AMI (the Association of Mountaineering Instructors), Lowe Alpine and DMM. To see the full series, click here.
Life-saving links and information:
It is essential to check specialist mountain weather forecasts before heading out on the hills so you have the necessary knowledge to stay safe.
The Lake District National Park provides both a weather forecast and conditions report via their Weatherline service (www.lakedistrictweatherline.co.uk), produced by assessors who climb Helvellyn or a similar mountain every day from December to March to report on the condition of the snow, temperature, wind speed and other crucial environmental factors.
The BMC promotes good practice in winter through a variety of channels. One of the best ways to get up to speed is to learn from professional instructors by attending a winter skills course, such as our Sport England-subsidised ‘Winter Skills in Wales’ courses (see below for more links and information on winter safety).
We have just produced a new series of BMC TV videos on essential winter skills, covering a huge range of essential information, from choosing crampons to avoiding avalanches. View them here.
WATCH MORE: If They Only Knew: A film about the joys of the winter mountains
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BMC Winter Essentials DVD trailer
How to do an ice axe self arrest
The BMC's Winter Essentials DVD shows the essential skills and techniques for winter mountaineering. Order it in the BMC shop here.