Lake District walkers warned of Helvellyn avalanche risk

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The Independent Online

A rare avalanche warning was issued last night for Helvellyn, the Lake District mountain and England's third-highest peak.

Substantial snowfalls and high winds have made conditions near the summit extremely dangerous, according to the Lake District National Park Authority, and walkers were being strongly advised to stay away.

Craig Palmer, one of the national park's two fell-top assessors, said yesterday that he had not seen Helvellyn in such a dangerous state for many years, with a wind chill factor approaching -16C, solid ice, and up to half a metre of snow.

"High winds are moving the snow around and it's not bonding," said Mr Palmer, a former Royal Marine Commando who is also a member of the mountain rescue team. He said: "It's lethal underfoot as edges are literally breaking away. An added danger comes from a cornice of snow, which could break off and avalanche at any time.

"I've rarely seen anything as bad as this in the Lake District, and I would strongly urge people, even those experienced in winter mountaineering, not to venture out on to hills until the situation improves".

Mr Walker and his fellow fell-top assessor Jon Bennett work alternate weeks from December to April, in order to provide information for the national park's Weatherline, which is used by nearly half a million people a year. Every day the man on duty carries out a daily trek up to Helvellyn's summit which at 3,117ft (950m) is only exceeded by Scafell Pike and Sca Fell in England to bring accurate weather reports back.

Helvellyn is considered one of the most beautiful and challenging walks in the Lake District, and was much loved by the great poet of the Lakes, William Wordsworth. It is probably the most climbed mountain in England. The classic approach to the flat summit is across Striding Edge, a narrow ridge with a sheer drop on either side, which has claimed lives in the past, including that of a tourist, Charles Gough, whose faithful dog is said to have sat by his master's body for three months until it was found. The approach across another ridge, Swirral Edge, is less dangerous and is often used for descents.

The next few days in the Lakes are like to be cold and showery, with rain falling as snow at higher levels.

Check the forecast by calling 08700 55 0575 or visit www.lakedistrict.gov.uk/weatherline

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