Are you ready for winter on the hills? A few tips!

Heavy’s winter tips.

It was great to be out last weekend with my Mountaineering Club there were so many keen walkers and lovers of the Outdoors.  There were all ages and experience all looking forward to the magic of winter here is a few tips to make it as safe and enjoyable as possible.

Many have enjoyed the summer and despite the weather it is a great time to be out with a lightweight bag and plenty of daylight. Winter is a different game and early winter with its shorter day after the  clocks go back there is less time available on the hill in day light and just watch how many get caught out every week and request help from various Rescue Agencies?  How can you prepare for winter?

Head – Torch and batteries. – A head torch is essential for winter walking as is spare batteries and checking your equipment every time you go out. It is easy to get caught out and without light you can have big problems. There are so many head – torches available just now so ensure you have one that works. A phone has very limited use as a torch and will drain the batteries quickly. I carry two head torches one as a spare they are light and cheap. It is worth checking as It is easy to leave it in the bothy on a weekend meet so always check it’s there and ready to go? Ensure that your phone has been registered with the emergency text Service a free service that could save your life?

To Register – You will only be able to use this service if you have registered with emergency SMS first. Register now: don’t wait for an emergency. To register, text ‘register’ to 999. You will get a reply then follow the instructions you are sent. It makes sense and could save you in the end of a lot of trouble.

It is also worth trying walking in the dark and seeing how different it is, to me it is a skill in its own. Everything is slower, even walking by torch light, navigating with the map and compass is harder to see and it all takes a lot more time, this is worth a practice in a safe place. Well worth thinking about?

Night navigation starts at 1600 from now on !

Night navigation starts at 1600 from now on !

Preparation is so important especially in the winter: A great word is “faffing” when to put gloves on off, jackets, trousers etc and getting your admin sorted out, everyone gets a winter shake up every year!

For winter walking and planning the weather forecast is so important there are so many available I use Mountain Weather Information Service. (MWIS)

MWIS   It is simple to follow and gives a guide of what you may come across in weather.  Be aware how powerful the weather is and plan your day accordingly.

There is also an daily Scottish Avalanche Information Service that runs from 17 December. It has so much information and should cover the area you are walking in. They also have daily Blogs and photos to show you what is actually happening on the hills in winter. A must read before you go out in the winter.

Preparation – Planning your route. It is also so worthwhile looking at your route and remembering that in winter things take more time. I work on 3- 4 Kilometres of distance in an hour and I minute every contour of 10 metres!   Conditions can change these estimates drastically. Look at your route and work out if you will have time to do your 7 Munros in a short December day? I try to be thinking in early winter of getting off the tops by 1400/1500 and at least be on a good path rather than stumbling about in the dark.  Leave your planned route with someone you trust who can act if you have a problem.

A bit of a blow in the winter hills"

A bit of a blow in the winter hills”

Navigation – Is the most important skill and still an essential to carry a compass and a map and the knowledge of there use as the GPS/ Phone can run out of batteries (carry spare batteries). How often do you walk on or take a compass bearing or check on your map where you are? In my opinion It’s too late doing it for real in a white out or bad weather, practice in good conditions.

Compass – Before placing the compass on the map, estimate what the bearing will be (from your location to the feature you want to go to). No need to do this in degrees, the cardinal points will do i.e. North; South; East; West or NW; SE etc. This will alert you to the embarrassing and potentially serious error of lining up the compass in the wrong direction or along the wrong grid lines – getting into this habit will mean that your bearings are always double-checked.  It is advised to watch where you store your compass as it can be demagnetised by keeping it near your phone.

Navigation is everyone’s responsibility of all who go on the hill so I advise all to carry a map and compass and the skill and training on how to use them. We have a duty of care to each other to check and not leave all the responsibility to one person?  The only way to do this is and I repeat  again is practice in good weather. Do you agree?

Equipment – If you are a summer walker you will have most of the gear you will need in winter but need to be able to cope with the weather. Gloves are very important and easy to drop or lose, I always carry a spare pair as with frozen hands you can do little!

"Faffing" get ready for the winter check gear and your own admin?

“Faffing” get ready for the winter check gear and your own admin? Buff is on and in use!

Boots need to be able to take a crampon and seek advice and help from someone with experience and take your boots along when you purchase your crampons?

Ice axe – again a good walking axe is essential for winter buying it is the easy bit and training in its use and your crampons is vital. How few of us do this?

Ski Poles – very handy but will not stop you if you slip on steep snow get the basic winter skills done before heading out on the big hills in winter. No when to put your poles away on steep ground. A few hours of winter skills every season is the best way to ensure a safe winter no matter how experienced you are.

Hat and balaclava is important for winter and Buffs are a great back up for a lost hat.

Make sure you can get your waterproofs on with the additional gear you use and get waterproof trousers with big zips that you can put on over your boots on the hill.

Googles – Many will say that they only are used on a few occasions but vital if caught out in bad winter weather and driving snow (white out)

Small duvet/ belay jacket – worth its weight in gold if caught out, most are at a reasonable price and lightweight invaluable.

Bothy Bag / Bivy Bag – a no brainer and well worth the money and as a back-up. Each party should have one? Well worth the weight!

Bothy bag in action an a call -out a great bit of kit!

Bothy bag in action an a call -out a great bit of kit!

We all have a Duty Of Care to each other no matter how experienced we are. Let’s look after each other this winter and learn or brush up on winter skills. Preparation is the key and a good plan for changing winter conditions is essential. Do not get caught in the “must do trap” no matter what the weather. “The hills /climbs will always be there the secret is to be there with them “

Get out and enjoy Scotland's winter mountains Lancet Edge near Ben Alder - remote and wonderful in full winter.

Get out and enjoy Scotland’s winter mountains Lancet Edge near Ben Alder – remote and wonderful in full winter.

Any comments welcome! – From The Mountaineering Council of Scotland website.

Some great tips for all and there free! Have a look at the “Winter Check List”

This card contains important information for all hill walkers and mountaineers who venture into the UK Mountains in winter conditions.

Due to a number of factors (such as weather, avalanche, navigation difficulty & the technical difficulty of dealing with snow & ice), the risk of being involved in an accident is potentially higher than in summer conditions.

Adopt a progressive approach to adventure and develop your skills incrementally by building on past experience.



About heavywhalley.MBE

After dinner speaker Lecturer and Mountain Rescue Specialist. Environmentalist. Spent 36 years with RAF Mountain Rescue and 4 years with a civilian Team . Still an active Mountaineer and loves the wild places.
This entry was posted in Avalanche info, Books, Equipment, Friends, Gear, Mountain rescue, mountain safety, Scottish winter climbing., Views Mountaineering, Weather. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Are you ready for winter on the hills? A few tips!

  1. ptsd17 says:

    Excellent points Heavy.
    Fog and snow/drizzle add extra challenges when navigating at night by torch.
    Please also use Lithium based batteries in your head torch. These batteries last much longer, handle the cold better and provide a better light by ensuring full power performance at all times, you won’t get the fading light that normal batteries suffer.
    If you don’t currently have a head torch with LED bulbs then this also provides better light, less likely to break than standard bulbs, uses less power, and usually has different power levels to provide more light when required. Spare batteries don’t weigh much, ensure you have them.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. rdorling says:

    Sent from my iPad


    Liked by 1 person

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