Avalanche Warning - Helvellyn in the Lake District

January 2008

During 2007 we saw severe flooding in many parts of the UK. Now 2008 seems to have started off with equally unusual weather events. All this against a background of a deepening crisis in many Mountain Rescue Teams.

Avalanche warnings have been issued by the Lake District Park Authority in early January 2008 for Helvellyn in the Lake District. The warnings were issued after about 0.5 metres of snow fell in wind conditions that produced a wind chill of approximately minus 16 degrees Centigrade.

Craig Palmer, who assesses fell tops for the Park Authority, said it was many years since he had seen such dangerous conditions on the top of Helvellyn and the surrounding area. He also warned that an additional hazard was coming from a cornice of snow "which could break off and avalanche at any time."

Hill walkers and mountaineers were urged not to go out on to the hills until conditions improved.

Despite this, it's reported that some walkers simply ignored the warning and ventured out onto the slopes.

A member of the Patterdale Mountain Rescue Team, Dave Freeborn, surmised that the rarity of avalanche risks in the UK had led some walkers into thinking that the risks were being exaggerated. He went on to emphasise that this was certainly not the case.

"These warnings are not issued lightly and they should be taken heed of. You can get a build-up of snow on top of ice and it becomes very unstable. Unless you have passed a snow and ice course you shouldn't be on there."

All this against a background of a deepening crisis in many Mountain Rescue Teams who are trying to cope with a fall in the numbers of volunteers and an increase in the number of call outs.

It seems that several of the Lake District teams are the worst affected. The Wasdale team, led by Julian Carradice, dealt with over a 100 calls in 2007 compared to 60 in 2006. Many of these were not from people who were injured but from walkers who were just lost or were stranded after dark or in bad weather. Mr Caradice commented that some walkers "would rather take a mobile phone than a compass".

The situation has prompted the British Mountaineering Council working with Mountain Rescue England and Wales to look at ways of educating inexperienced walkers so that they can avoid these situations.

If you are unsure about what are the essential items you should have with you when venturing out onto the hills and mountains see Hill Skills > What To Take > Essential Items

For more information see here


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