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Winter - how did you learn?

Winter - how did you learn?


Postby weedavie » Mon Feb 17, 2020 10:16 am

While the Nevis debate runs on on the lines of reprehensible or just part of the process, I'm thinking how do you learn about winter?

What they did was irresponsible or ill-informed, but they nearly got away with it. Leaving the summit, if they'd located the path instead of drifting into the corrie, they'd have probably made it down and we'd never have heard of them. Mind you if they'd drifted off to the other side, they'd have plummetted down a gully and the search would still be on. I'm amazed at what they did achieve, a winter Nevis in gutties.

The Walkhighlands website emphasises you should be equipped for winter. "Please note that hillwalking when there is snow lying requires an ice-axe, crampons and the knowledge, experience and skill to use them correctly." The knowledge is the critical bit and mostly we acquire by doing.

I'll not go into my early screw-ups but I never quite needed MR and I learned from stupidity. Then two of us went on a winter skills course. The next weekend we were on Achallader and Chreachain. What possessed us to go up a side gully from Coire Daingean I don't know but it wasn't safe. Then we decided to test our new ice-axe arrests on the descent from Chreachain and crashed down 100 mtres into a snowdrift. I've never tried an ice-axe arrest since, just used axe and crampons so's I don't need to.

Getting an idea of avalanches takes years. Being sensible on an avalanche slope is one thing, estimating the risk from a slope you're passing under is another. I knew someone nearly got hit just walking up Coire Adair and people were killed in the Chalamain Gap a few years ago. Once going up to the Bealach-eadar-Dha-Bheinn we crossed the debris of an avalanche 500 metres wide which had gone to the bottom of the corrie and about 50 metres up the other side. The snow was now stable but you should have seen us move when we got above the fault line.

I feel a lot of the criticism of the Nevis party was from people who'd not experienced or forgotten what extreme weather on a hill is like. You don't always see goggles on the list of must have equipment but in mad snow or spindrift they can make sense of an otherwise unwatchable world. I first experienced white out on Dun Rig, so no fear of falling off things but totally disorienting. I remember three of us on An Socach in quite extreme conditions, goggles on, all equipment to hand, the toughest things on the hill. A couple of ptarmigan appeared out of the snow, kind of nodded "Nice day." Now that's fully equipped and experienced.
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Re: Winter - how did you learn?

Postby crfishwick » Mon Feb 17, 2020 10:52 am

Nothing to see here
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Re: Winter - how did you learn?

Postby DavidShepherd » Mon Feb 17, 2020 10:57 am

I feel a lot of the criticism of the Nevis party was from people who'd not experienced or forgotten what extreme weather on a hill is like


Or potentially from a lot of people that know that going on to a hill when it's extreme weather without the proper gear is probably not a good idea weather they've experienced it or not.

I've done a winter skills course in the cairngorms and also with the army but at the moment I would just prefer not to go out in extreme conditions.
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Re: Winter - how did you learn?

Postby Caberfeidh » Mon Feb 17, 2020 11:11 am

We used to latch on to some older, more experienced climber as an apprentice and learn from them. Also reading lots of books and the trial and error philosophy as mentioned, all the while trying not to get killed by the errors.A good book I would recommend is Hillwalking and Scrambling by Steve Ashton, available from Amazon for much cheapness.
Practicing ice-axe arrests is fun, all the more so when in earshot and sight of a fee-paying group from Glenmore Lodge or some such place. How they scowl and glare as we slide down making whooping noises and gleefully laughing for free. Just make sure you pick your spot so you don't land on rocks. I agree about the goggles, I use spitfire pilots' goggles. A helmet is also missing from most lists, cheap all-round snowsports helmets are available for about fifteen quid. Cheap and could save your life.

Glen Coe climb#4r.jpg
Practicing climbing in Glen Coe




Helmets#r.jpg
Helmets! Cheap as chips. From Decathlon.co.uk
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Helmet, goggles, long axe and crampons. All you need to get yourself into danger!
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Re: Winter - how did you learn?

Postby Fractral » Mon Feb 17, 2020 12:18 pm

I followed more experienced hikers, climbers, spent days in benign winter conditions in the lakes, practiced summer nav in poor weather and did about 15 days winter training courses with various providers in Scotland and the lakes. Nowadays I hike alone in winter regularly, but then I have all the kit and won't go out if there's avalanche risk.

It's not easy if you don't have a group of experienced people to latch on to, and the good courses are really expensive. For someone who wants to start hiking in winter I'd suggest joining a local mountaineering club and trying to tag along with them.
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Re: Winter - how did you learn?

Postby iain_atkinson_1986 » Mon Feb 17, 2020 1:36 pm

I spent hours and hours watching YouTube videos (a lot from Glen More Lodge) then practised what I'd learnt whilst heading up or down from a munro. I've only once ever had to hit a life-or-death iceaxe arrest and nailed it so I'm happy enough with that. I've read up a fair amount on avalanche awareness too but probably couldn't dig myself a snow shelter or any of the stuff that seems to be taught on skills courses. Then again I've met plenty of people who have done these courses but have never bothered to actually practice what they've been taught!

In my book it's extremely important to match route plans to conditions and have multiple backup plans in winter.
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Re: Winter - how did you learn?

Postby jmarkb » Mon Feb 17, 2020 2:42 pm

Mostly at school - very good and enthusiastic teachers who took us out in the Lakes (and to Scotland at the end of March each year). I think a lot of what we did would not get past risk assessments these days!

There was much less awareness of avalanche hazards in those days (prior to the publication of "A Chance in a Million?" in 1985). I got away with a few stupid things, such as going up and down the couloir under Church Door Buttress on Bidean straight after a massive dump of snow.

The only formal instruction I had was a winter climbing course with Mick Tighe. I was loaned a knackered old set of crampons that had (I was told) formerly belonged to Pete Boardman. After doing Tower Ridge on the Ben, one of the adjustment bars sheared in two, and I had to hop all the way down No. 4 Gully on one crampon.
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Re: Winter - how did you learn?

Postby mynthdd2 » Mon Feb 17, 2020 5:31 pm

I joined a Mountaineering Club with a lot of wise heads/experience who showed me how to do frozen ridges; use crampons on ice slopes; ice axes and generally deal with snow and wind - can't recommend it enough
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Re: Winter - how did you learn?

Postby Giant Stoneater » Mon Feb 17, 2020 5:33 pm

My first 10 Munros were all in winter with little in the way of decent boots or clothing never mind having a ice axe and crampons.Though I was out on these hills with more experienced folk they never really alerted me to the dangers of winter walking,in the end I thought this was a good grounding as I learned a lot more,and certain things have stuck in the back of my mind which I have used over the years.
When I look back I think that was bloody stupid but then the other side of me kicks in and says well you learned the hard way and all the better for it.
Am not one for courses and hate it when things get technical much rather have the practical.
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Re: Winter - how did you learn?

Postby Essan » Mon Feb 17, 2020 5:39 pm

I read books about other people's experiences, and advice on what equipment I needed and how to use it. Bearing in mind this was the 1980s and I lived in Suffolk; no internet, no-one local offering courses, and local walking groups were more interested in rambling along the Deben and would baulk at something that actually had a slope to it .... I also read maps - lots and lots of maps; evenings spent with the floor covered in them. So I learned the landscape too, even before I went there.

Then I started going into the hills in winter in good weather conditions. And learned a bit more along the way. And played around in the snow with crampons and axe ..... So that eventually, when on the hills in winter in bad conditions I had the experience and knowledge to (hopefully) get me down safely. And also I learned my limitations.

I also had the advantage that I was (usually) on the hill alone and (usually) no-one else knew where I was. So I had to be responsible for my own safety. No mobile phone or GPS back then! And I learned when to turn back.
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Re: Winter - how did you learn?

Postby gaffr » Mon Feb 17, 2020 5:55 pm

First of all get some summer walking in the hills experience. Then converting some of this into winter walking stuff with visits to the Cruachan hills....crampons and a single axe now... traverses of Liathach and Beinn Eighe, Aonach Eagach and the Kintail sisters etc. Several grade one and two gullies then a wake up call when we got involved with Crowberry gully....clawed our way up then in rapidly fading light with primitive torches eventually fumbled our way down to the tent.
Lots of hitching away and the cadging of lifts to reach the hills with great amount of help from the Ferranti folks and the grand old JMCS buses from Waterloo Place once, sometimes twice a month, leaving at midday...most folks worked then on Saturday mornings in the early sixties :) .
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Re: Winter - how did you learn?

Postby Fiona Reid » Mon Feb 17, 2020 7:54 pm

We made it up as we went along initially. We honestly thought that ice axes and crampons were for climbers. After slithering down bits of the Tarmachan Ridge on my backside and scaring myself witless and another day getting weird looks at Glenshee where everyone seemed to have an ice axe we booked into a winter skills course at Glenmore Lodge. We realised we were out of our depth!

That winter skills course is one of the best things we've done as it opened so many new opportunities. We were also lucky enough to be able to practice all our newly learned skills the very next weekend's when we did a traverse of the Lawers hills above a cloud inversion walking on perfect neve for most of the day.

I absolutely love being out in the hills in winter. It's where I'm happiest.

For winter climbing/mountaineering we learned most stuff ourselves (we were already summer climbers so knew all the rope work, how to place rock gear etc) plus a bit from more experienced friends and a couple of days out with a trainee MIC to learn about snow belays, winter gear etc.
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Re: Winter - how did you learn?

Postby Raynor » Mon Feb 17, 2020 8:14 pm

I "learned" the hard way on an late Autumn day up Beinn Chabhair. Didn't have an appreciation for how long the walk would be or how early it would become dark. Came across snow and ice that was completely unexpected and also very misty conditions. Kept coming across false summits and rather than call it a day, kept on convincing each other we were nearly there. Got completely turned around at the summit and marched off in the wrong direction where my friend went into a panic about being lost and plowed on unthinking into a full on slide down a 45 degree slope and was only saved from going right over a cliff by a protruding boulder that stopped his slide at the very last moment. Ended up coming down in total darkness using the light on my phone to navigate. An eye opener for sure.
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Re: Winter - how did you learn?

Postby dav2930 » Mon Feb 17, 2020 8:36 pm

I learned through a combination of reading every mountaineering instruction book I could get my hands on and joining a local climbing club (aged 15 - some time ago now!). As regards the latter I was usually in safe hands, but not always! On a trip to Snowdonia one January when I was 17, I somehow got paired up with a chap (nicknamed "Stan the Man") who, though quite experienced and talented as a climber, had a reputation for taking undue risks. Setting out from Ogwen rather late in the day, we got to the top of Glyder Fawr via the Devil's Kitchen at about 3.30pm. "I think we've got time to take in Glyder Fach", he announced. Swept along by Stan's enthusiasm and not knowing any better, I didn't argue. It was well past 4pm, and starting to get dark, by the time we got to the summit of Glyder Fach. Yes, we did have head-torches (fortunately), but what ensued was one of the most tortuous and stressful descents I've ever had the misfortune to experience, my most vivid memory of which were the sparks that flew into the darkness when our crampons struck exposed rock, frequently. When we eventually got back to Ogwen, the others were waiting for us with thunderous countenance. They'd been on the verge of calling out the MRT. Stan got a thorough and serious roasting, and I felt ashamed both for him and myself.

weedavie wrote:What they did was irresponsible or ill-informed, but they nearly got away with it. Leaving the summit, if they'd located the path instead of drifting into the corrie, they'd have probably made it down and we'd never have heard of them. Mind you if they'd drifted off to the other side, they'd have plummetted down a gully and the search would still be on. I'm amazed at what they did achieve, a winter Nevis in gutties.


Glad you said "nearly" got away with it, because being forced to call out the MR and surviving only due to the MRT's prompt and expert response, is certainly not "getting away with it". In fact it's not even nearly getting away with it, is it? Locating a path buried in snow in blizzard conditions is difficult, don't you think? Without being able to take an accurate bearing I'd say it was more likely than not that they'd miss the path. So, saying that they'd have probably made it down if they'd located the path is a bit like saying I could probably retire if I won the lottery. :lol:
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Re: Winter - how did you learn?

Postby Border Reiver » Wed Feb 19, 2020 9:55 am

I bought an ice axe before learning how to use it properly (bad move) and almost impaled my stomach with it (just a scratch) when I fell in the Cairngorms. So my brother and I enrolled on a few winter skills courses in the Lake District, run by local Mountain Rescue Teams. Very worthwhile and cheap. We also enrolled on a weekend Winter Skills course at Glenmore Lodge, so by that time, navigation, pacing, ice axe arrest and how to walk properly in crampons had all been covered. After that it's practice, practice whenever we got the chance.
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