Route planning in winter ?
Maps, Gps and changes over the years.
I used to love getting out the maps and planning my hill days now it’s so easy with so many great Guide books and advice on the net via blogs and websites.
When I was doing my Munros in the 70,s I planned most of my weekends hills. It was easy with the RAF Mountain Rescue Teams as we had maps of every area in Scotland. This was for aircraft crashes and mountain incidents! We had 10 maps of every area all-carried in the big wagons. That was some amount of maps. Only the Party leader had a map in these days (crazy) borrowed bought your own and circled the hills and Base camps off.
Every weekend was a different area new maps and a trip into the unknown. There was a huge interest in area knowledge and you would be asked what hills you did at the Monday briefing. If it was a big day it was not easy remembering but so good to learn the areas and hills. The SMC had district Guides that are still full of information for each area. How many remember the magnetic variation on the compass bearings ?
When we planned the walks across Scotland we used to put them out on our briefing room floor at Kinloss . It was magic marking out the routes and it was all new as we were coming of the hills from different aspects.
The Munros tables were just a guide of tops with a grid reference no routes or limited information and no Gps then ! Tops and hills were jealously ticked off at the end of every weekend or time in the hills! it was the first thing many did.
Looking at the maps so often you were gaining so much information. Yet in these early days they were a scale of inch to the mile and at times extremely basic. Remote hills like Knoydart and the Great Glens Affric, Fannichs and Strathfarrar were interesting to put in mildly as were the Fisherfield hills! The maps were nothing like they are nowadays!
I loved the adventure of planning a route looking at the tricky areas cliffs, plateaus and rivers. They would be in the mind for the day ahead and helped so much. These were such interesting times and you picked up so much knowledge of the mountains. We would talk about the planned route once the parties were made up for the hills and you had an idea what hills you were up for.
Nowadays there are even routes with Gps points yet folk still get caught out! The new metric maps 1:50000 they have improved the journey so much the detail and accuracy is excellent as are the other maps available.I wonder how many plan their journey by looking in detail at their map!
Maps are now on my phone is a great addition for me but I still carry a paper one and a compass. Sadly it’s so easy to loose these skills especially as you get older. They call it skull fade!
In winter I feel planning is essential the many guides /blogs will tell you the approximate times for a summer adventure . In winter there are so many variants, many plans have to be hugely flexible. I was asked why winter timings are rarely available ? This is why route planning and the actual effect of the party you are with can change timings rapidly!
In winter Weather can make such a difference and a strong wind will slow you down so much. Always use the weather forecast and avalanche advice it’s there and free. Watch the weather on the days before you go out ! Build up that picture of what is happening especially the snow building up in various areas. Fitness in winter is essential always have something in the tank in case of a problem !
Daylight hours / watch the media just now for folk caught out from now on “ no torches” run out of time ? Why ?
Look at your day remember in November/ December that your plans for a 12 hour day and lots of Munros will be in darkness at times ! How many hours will you have before the light goes? In December it can be as little as 6 hours good daylight. Early starts are the key I would rather walk in in the dark than when tired late in the day!
Navigation has to be good in winter there are so many things to take into the equation!
The 4/5 k walking speed in summer. Sometimes is not possible and hour in deep snow navigating is amazing how little ground you can cover ! If it’s getting hard cut your day for the weather conditions.
The light weight hill bag of the summer will have a bit more gear in it and the winter boots take even in these days a bit of getting used to. Carry enough to survive a bothy bag could save you and your mates life! There cheap and efficient.
I love the winter I enjoy the first snow the faffing with kit even after 50 years on the hills! I try to be well off the high tops a hour before darkness and on a path at least. If the weather is that bad then I change my plans for the weather.
Winter is not hillwalking it’s Mountaineering and you will as I do love it but please respect the winter hills.They can be hard on the unwary!
If travelling alone tell someone where your going and have a system in place if you need help. Always think of those who sit and wait at home.
Winter is special tome a summit in a wild winter day and the view of snow encrusted peaks is perfection!
As I get older the better it gets, I still enjoy the fight for a hill on a wild day and the enjoyment of a Scottish winter climb that cleanses the soul!
I cannot wait to get back from my trip to the USA and get back on these peaks.
If your wary get out there go with someone experienced and get the feeling of the wind and snow in these wonderful mountains you will never be disappointed whatever you do!