Many people are aware that if something goes wrong whilst scaling fells or mountains in the Lake District, a call to 999 will result in a mountain rescue team being dispatched to help.

Members are all volunteers who live close to, or within, a specified catchment area - and they can be called out at any time of day or night to help with rescue or search activities.

What many people may not know however is that there needs to be fully trained experts who know the mountains well enough to not only make people aware of potential pitfalls, but to also report back information about conditions.

This is where the job of a fell top assessor comes in.

The Lake District National Park Authority provides the weatherline service to ensure visitors to the park can tackle the summits safely.

Each winter, from December to March, a team of Fell top assessors walk up Helvellyn, along with other fells, to check conditions, take photos and supply a report to add to the Met Office weather forecast that appears 365 days a year.

Assessors rotate five day shift patterns with nine days off so rarely get to see each other as they trek right from the valley bottom to the summit.

Helvellyn is the team's main focus with it being the third highest mountain in the Lake District and also the the most popular walk in Britain, as voted for in a recent poll.

This is 40 year old Wesley Hunter's second winter hiking up the mountain after he began in December 2019.

As a climbing and mountain instructor and owner of Adventure Hunter, Wes has the qualifications and expertise to safely assess the peaks.

He said: "Helvellyn is particularly tricky as its one on of the most popular walks in the UK, but has two particularly narrow ridges which are striding edge and swirral edge. There are a few accident blackspots which we have to assess and make people aware of.

"In winter the mountain can be particularly more dangerous than others because it's further east meaning the snow doesn't melt as it may do with others. In winter conditions the snow on Helvellyn really holds on.

"Our job as a fell top assessor is essentially three-fold. The first part is like that of a ranger. We go up there and people do ask us for care and advice.

"The second is compiling a conditions report on things such as temperature, wind speed, wind chill and observe the ice and snow.

"Our daily information is put on the weatherline website, which may be well known to those who are perhaps more experienced with the outdoors, but some may not be aware who may be tackling the mountain for the time. So we'd encourage everyone to take a look before they go."

"The third is offering Winter Skills courses for walkers looking to learn the basics of how to use an ice axe and crampons."

"Since the national lockdown was announced just over a week ago, I've hardly seen anyone on Helvellyn. It can be quite a strange and lonely experience sometimes trekking up a mountain on your own!"

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, 2020 has seen an influx of visitors to the Lake District looking to discover the outdoors whilst indoor activities have been limited.

Helvellyn mountain in winter conditions

This has resulted in many setting off up the fells either unprepared for the elements or running into trouble whilst trying to reach the summit.

Cumbria's mountain rescue teams have seen a 70% increase in call-outs during December 2020 alone.

Assessors, along with the mountain rescue teams, have seen many sights on their journeys.

Wes said: "We don't police the hills but we're about raising awareness. I know there's been a lot in the news about a different kind of demographic coming to the Lake District area and there certainly has been an increased pressure put on mountain rescue teams when restrictions have been eased.

"People can get caught out any time of the year however and it's usually a good learning experience if they do. They'll make sure they never do that again. The problem is at the valley bottom it can seem like a nice lovely day however when you get higher up conditions can be quite different.

"Shorts may be appropriate when you first set off but might end up differently once you get to the top! I've seen plenty of people in jeans and unsuitable shoes, however, it's all a learning curve.

"Situations can change very quickly and sometimes can be unexpected. There was one lady last year who had two dogs that jumped below a very narrow ridge and they spent the night out there and had to be rescued.

"I've seen plenty of people bum sliding on the snow which can be quite dangerous. There have been some fatalities which the mountain rescue teams have dealt with however its usually is only a small percentage of visits that do end in a rescue."

Wes has noticed a trend in mountain rescues which is one of people preparing for what they expect rather than would could go wrong.

Two of the Fell Top Assessor Team with walkers on Helvellyn mountain

Conditions may be bearable whilst on the move and though a twisted ankle doesn't seem like like much, if out on the fells whilst immobile for while, the situation can deteriorate rapidly.

Hypothermia, although associated with the cold, can set in quickly once stationary even on summer days depending on wind chill, if your clothes are damp and many other factors.

There is a comprehensive list that the assessors have put together of items to take for anyone thinking of setting off on a journey on the hills.

To view it and to have a link handy before your next adventure, please visit the Lake District Weather line website here.

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