Winter is Coming
What a great Autumn/summer we have had but now the winter is here and these next few months will change the hills dramatically. The main difference will be the shortage of daylight, the change in temperature and weather. The wind strength at Munro height is at least double the sea level strength. Winds of 45 mph and above are difficult to walk in. The wind-chill factor can make it feel very cold (5º in a 30 mph wind is equivalent to -12º). Winter rain can freeze you and fresh snow can make progress difficult or dangerous, especially the wind. The first snows always come early and catch
many out. It is sadly no more shorts but it is the lack of time you can spend on the hill in the short daylight time available that means a rethink of what you do on the hill. The media will have some stories of people getting caught out by darkness and the short daylight hours. It happens every year and catches so many, some with serious consequences. It is worth getting away earlier in the day; I would rather be away early than walking off the hill in the dark. It is worth doing a bit of walking in the dark to see how difficult even walking can be and how everything slows down dramatically. Go and have wander locally at night and see how difficult it can be?
All you have to do is add to this an unfamiliar hill when you are tired the weather and mist is down it can make it very challenging. Everyone needs to carry a serviceable head torch and spare batteries; this is an essential winter rucksack addition. Please check that it is working before you go out, every time. Many may feel that they are only summer walkers but you must get out in winter and see what and how these mountains change, this is the time that the mountains are at their best. Every summit is hard won and to me there is no such thing as winter walking it is winter mountaineering. To do this you do need decent boots and an ice axe and crampons and some training in how to use them. Get a friend with more experience to to help you make sure you get the correct equipment and take your boots to the shop to ensure they are a correct match for the crampons you chose. It is also important that you look at the soles of your boots and they are in good shape. You may use the soles of your boots in winter on hard snow at times and need all the grip you can get.
When you get your new winter kit, or you may have it already, it is important that you practice using your crampons and ice axe. Every winter it is worth having a refresher no matter how experienced you think you are. The use of crampons for walking and the use of an iceaxe do need practice and it is best to do this in a safe environment. I am sure you will have freinds who are more than happy to spend some time on these skills; it is so worth it could save your life. A day with a guide or instructor will not cost a lot and in the club we will do it for free so please think about this. All you need is to spend some time on basics!
Unfortunately in winter you do need to carry a bit more kit, I would always advise a spare pair of gloves to be carried and I have given away countless pairs as it is so easy to lose one in the wind. Lose a glove and you can have a real problem, so it is easy to carry a spare pair.
Have a spare jacket a small lightweight duvet or belay jacket is ideal and look around and you can pick one up fairly cheaply. As a group it is worth have a shelter or bivy bag in the party the “bothy bag” is a wonderful addition and has saved many lives. A small incident and someone injures a leg and cannot walk off the wait for help could be some time, try hanging about for one hour on the hill and not moving in bad weather and see how coming Navigation is the key to successful winter walking. Everyone should work on their skills and try not to be just a follower. Could you navigate yourself of the hill if you got split up in bad weather? There is no shortcut to navigation it takes time. The GPS is great, but things can still go wrong batteries can go down quickly so always carry spares and have a map and compass with you and no how to use it.
Winter is an incredible time even the easiest summit can be hard won and some days result in no summits at all. The experience of being out in winter and having fun is invigorating and what an adventure you can have. Always be prepared to change your plan to the changing conditions and I have a cut off time when I make a decision to return home. It is well worth looking at what route you plan to do spend some time working it out. In winter at my age on a good day I may walk 4 kilometres an hour and gain one contour every minute. I stop for 5 minutes every hour whenever possible but in deep snow I have done under 1 kilometre and hour and decided to go home. Add in poor visibility and high winds you pick a route for the day, maybe even a low level one out of the wild weather. In Days like these goggles is an essential part of your winter kit. Weather conditions and the daily Avalanche updates are vital parts of route planning and if going out look at what the weather has been doing in the past few days. This will give you an idea where all the snow is being blown into and open the mind to areas to avoid. I cannot stress this enough, I try to get out regularly in the winter and every day is different and every year you learn more and more. The first winter day is a great learning curb for all no matter how experienced you think you are, we are always learning. There are so many great places to get information from and the Mountaineering Council of Scotland’s website is excellent for all types of information
Do not be frightened by winter it is wonderful time to be in the mountains. To enjoy it is to be aware that this is now mountaineering and the skills you will learn in winter will give you the most fantastic experiences no matter what your age or experience. It will open a new world that excites as does the first snows of winter on the Scottish Peaks. I am so looking forward to my days out this winter.
“It is in winter that the Scottish Mountains Excel
No one who has seen the skyward thrust of a snow
peak, girdled by its early morning cloud and flushed
with the low sun, will dispute with me.
Follow a long ridge of encrusted snow to its sunset
tower and tread the summit at moonrise.
This is Scottish winter climbing!
- W. H. Murray
Clothing and Equipment – Winter
Don’t be caught out in winter. You need the following
clothing & equipment.
- Boots (stiff soled)
- Crampons (that fit your boots securely)
- Ice Axe
- Map (and map case or clear poly bag)
- Waterproof jacket (with hood)
- Waterproof over trousers
- Warm hat
- Gloves or Mitts (and spares)
- Thermal top or vest
- Fleece or wool sweater, Spare fleece
- Warm trousers
- Head torch (and spare bulb & battery)
- Food & Drink
- Emergency survival bag; Whistle, Watch and some spare food.
First Aid Kit (small).