Bynack More and my guide to winter hiking
by Mountainlove » Tue Jan 21, 2020 10:00 pm
Route description: Bynack More from Glenmore
Munros included on this walk: Bynack More
Date walked: 18/01/2020
Time taken: 7.2 hours
Distance: 22 km15 people think this report is great. Register or Login free to be able to rate and comment on reports (as well as access 1:25000 mapping).
There is a lot of advice out online and I am no expert, I only have my own experience gathered over the past 10 years. Turning back when you are out of your comfort level is the best thing you can do, but having to turn back because you simply haven't got the right gear with you can be avoided. I learned most of my own lessons the hard way, but I wanted to share few things I have learned. Most will be common knowledge, but if this report will help some newbies to climb their first winter mountain safely without having to turn back (or call the mountain rescue) I will be happy, as hiking in winter can be so exciting and fun. So this report is for the newbies out there.
The Cairngorms in their winter coat
It was snowing when I looked out of the window. A wide grin spread across my face, it was the first snow for me this year and the Cairngorms in winter are spectacular. We were on a weekend break and after a full Scottish breakfast (eat well before you head out in winter) we set off. We parked at the reindeer center and walked along the path with beautiful Caledonian pine trees until we reached the green lochan.Add a few fairies and you would have a fairy tail scene. Its a spectacular spot and as the name suggests its green, due to the algae in the water.
Great start to any walk...a gentle warm up through the forest
Further up the hill
The green lochan
Having checked both the mountain weather forecast and weather forecast before hand (another must before you set out) I knew that anything from 30-40 mph (possibly 50 mph) winds on the tops were expected. The mountain weather forecast had mentioned snow showers and arduous walking conditions and the normal weather forecast had said no showers after late morning (one reason why I like to check both). Note: When you read anything about arduous walking conditions, be prepared! Gale force winds can throw you over, small frozen parts of snow blasted at your face in 50mph winds hurts like hell and balancing around rocks when the winds hits you uncontrollably, is an accident waiting to happen.
The best advise I can give you, are ski googles, walking poles and a balaclava, stay away from cliff edges,walk slowly (this is not the time for a ridge walk) and stay off hills when anything over 50-60 mph and worse is expected
We left the lochan and continued out of the forest and into the open countryside. The strong winds the weather forecast had predicted, could not be felt at all at that point. A mere breeze drifted through the trees and made the first part of the walk really pleasant. Once we left the forest, the path continued until it was time to cross the bridge. Soon after the great path started climbing up the hillside, the wind got stronger and the wind chill factor could be felt. Time to put the spare clothing on.
The wide path continues gently up the hill
Crossing the bridge
The ground started to freeze
Towards Ben Avon
The path started to disappear under a layer of ice and snow
Time to put crampons on
The hill looks so easy from here
Spare clothing is the another important thing to remember. In winter I always carry wind and waterproof trousers, a down jacket, a shell jacket, 3 pairs of gloves and a hat. I hate nothing more than feeling cold and a windproof shell jacket and pair of trousers will keep the wind off and make a huge difference to your comfort levels. My shell jacket is also a size bigger than I usually would go for, but it allows me to wear a thick fleece and down jacket underneath it. You might laugh when you think about 3 pairs of gloves, but I wear one thinner pair when I walk, but close to the top, due to bad circulation in my fingers, I always have to change into an enormous pair of ski gloves (which were the warmest gloves I could find a few years ago) and the third pair, is a spare in case my thinner pair gets wet (cold hands and wet gloves are a nightmare!)
Feeling much warmer in 2 pairs of trousers we continued up. The hillside around us now started to turn white and the path up was frozen solid in a thick layer of ice. For a while it was possible to bypass the frozen parts, but close to the 818m mark on the map it was safer to put the crampons on. A number of crampon marks in the snow around us, showed us that we weren't the only ones with the idea.
Kevin on the way up
Crampons, ice axe or both? For me, crampons make their way into my backpack, long before I carry an ice axe. Crampons will enable you to walk on icy slopes and paths up and down a hill. An ice axe will assist you to stop your fall, if you loose your footing and slide down a snowy slope. But even it is tempting to head out and try your new year on the slopes, its better to read up about your kit and watch some instruction videos. If you search YouTube, you will some great videos which show you how to walk with crampons (its not hard to learn) and on lower slopes, you can have fun practicing a self arrest with your ice axe, for which you can also find lots of videos. Then start on easier Munros, until you build your confidence, or do a winter skills course.
We reached the first obstacle most walkers who turned back had encountered, a snow covered slope. With crampons on its no issue at all and we made the short distance, until the path turned rocky again and for the first time we felt the brutal force of 47 mph winds. Looking up another walker, equipped with ski googles and hardly any other part of skin showing made his way down and greeted us briefly. This was no place to stop for niceties. We walked slowly, careful not to lose our footing, while the wind was beating down on us. As usual it was the surroundings, which stopped the wind for a wee while and gave us an opportunity to put the last layers on. Yes I felt like a walking Michelin man, but I was warm, which was the main thing.
Full winter gear
We reached the frozen summit. The previous fallen snow had melted and turned the rocks and ground into layers of frozen ice, it was bitterly cold -4C, but a wind chill factor of -16C meant that it would not be a prolonged break. We sheltered to have something to drink and I smiled when I realized that my flavored water had turned into a slush puppy. Lovely but not the brain freeze that followed haha (if you can take something warm to drink in winter, a hot tea or coffee is hard to beat) Another great invention is a foam seating pad. It will allow you to sit in the snow without getting too cold and will also stop the snow from melting and you getting wet behind. Packing up the water bottles, we took some photos and decided to return to lower ground for a snack.
The summit cairn
Kevin navigated the slope down the hill
Myself walking down
Looking back up Bynack More
For the return walk, we retraced our steps and once we reached the lower slopes again, I was keep to take my crampons off. Walking in heavier boots and crampons the first time after summer, is hard work and something not to underestimate. The same goes for winter walking times. I did the same walk a few years ago in summer (happily jogging down the main part of the mountain and managed the walk in 4.30 hours .The same walk in winter conditions took us 7:20 hours. If you want be be on the safe site, choose a Munro with a long walk out in winter. A landrover track over flat ground, is much safer than navigating a slope in winter and don't forget a head torch and spare batteries.
I was finally able to shed some layers
Back at the bridge
The walk back
There are probably a lot more tips and tricks out there, so if anyone has some tips to share, please leave them in the comments.
As for all the newbies, I hope this report will help you to venture out this year. Pack the right year, take a friend or two, inform someone where you will be going, plan accordingly to the weather, choose something easy , stay safe and don't forget have fun! Winter walking can be wonderful and a great adventure.
by Raynor » Tue Jan 21, 2020 10:23 pm
by Alteknacker » Wed Jan 22, 2020 12:17 am
I also take 3 pairs of gloves, the last pair in case I lose one (easily done in very strong winds when you're trying to take pics - has happened to me, and to walking partners). Also I take a spare head torch and batteries, having once been caught out assuming that snow everywhere would mean it would be quite light in the moonlight - it wasn't! I didn't need the spare torch/batteries as it happened, but I would have been struggling if my torch had died and I hadn't had them.
The only other thing I'd add is that if I'm going solo, I normally have a silvered bivvy bag and a sleeping bag, just in case the worst happens. I was also forced by my family into carrying a PLB on solo trips, and although I've never had to use it, I now think that it makes a lot of sense. As you say, it can be -4 or -5 degrees without wind, but it's SOOOOO much colder when the wind is howling, and an accident in those conditions would be somewhat threatening to good health....
BUT: having said all that, we go out because we love it - winter is marvellous!!! Just be well prepared, as you say.
by HalfManHalfTitanium » Wed Jan 22, 2020 10:10 am
"after a full Scottish breakfast (eat well before you head out in winter)"
"Having checked both the mountain weather forecast and weather forecast before hand" Yes check as many sources as you can!
Check the wind direction - it is nice to have a route that is sheltered from the full blast of the wind, sheer luxury... but on the other hand sheltered corries are where snow accumulates = avalanches. There is a page on the SAIS site where you can look at avalanche locations across the Highlands - https://www.sais.gov.uk/avalanche_map/ Personally I try to keep to broad safe ridges and less steep slopes where avalanches are less likely.
"ski googles, walking poles and a balaclava, stay away from cliff edges,walk slowly (this is not the time for a ridge walk) and stay off hills when anything over 50-60 mph and worse is expected"
"Spare clothing is the another important thing to remember. In winter I always carry wind and waterproof trousers, a down jacket, a shell jacket, 3 pairs of gloves and a hat." I don't carry a down jacket, but I do take a couple of extra Merino tops. Totally agree that you can never have enough gloves, my wife says I am the Imelda Marcos of gloves. And one really obvious thing: a waterproof rucksack liner to keep all your gear dry.
"third pair, is a spare in case my thinner pair gets wet (cold hands and wet gloves are a nightmare!)" Cold hands inside wet gloves is one of the special horrors of winter walking...
"Crampons, ice axe or both? For me, crampons make their way into my backpack, long before I carry an ice axe." I always carry an axe, in a talismanic belief that carrying it means I won't have to use it.
When walking alone, I tend to avoid slopes where an axe is needed for actual climbing - they are too risky to tackle solo. Lucky enough to have never needed self-arrest except one time in the Alps when it went horribly wrong and I ended up inside a crevasse.
Crampons are magic!
"We sheltered to have something to drink and I smiled when I realized that my flavored water had turned into a slush puppy. Lovely but not the brain freeze that followed haha (if you can take something warm to drink in winter, a hot tea or coffee is hard to beat) Another great invention is a foam seating pad." My quest to find a better flask is my version of the Holy Grail.
"If you want be be on the safe site, choose a Munro with a long walk out in winter. A landrover track over flat ground, is much safer than navigating a slope in winter and don't forget a head torch and spare batteries." Totally agree, the main thing is to be off 'the hill' while there is still some light. But best of all is to get as early a start as possible (and, for me, a really non-ambitious route!)
by jmarkb » Wed Jan 22, 2020 11:52 am
Mountainlove wrote:"after a full Scottish breakfast (eat well before you head out in winter)"
This is a very personal thing - I can feel pretty grim if I try walking on a stomach full of grease!
HalfManHalfTitanium wrote:"Crampons, ice axe or both? For me, crampons make their way into my backpack, long before I carry an ice axe." I always carry an axe, in a talismanic belief that carrying it means I won't have to use it.
I will sometimes carry an axe but not crampons, usually early season when there is just unconsolidated snow, or late season, when there are likely to be only patches of spring snow. For easy angled terrain I might carry spikes but no axe, but almost never crampons and no axe!
If you end up walking with poles and crampons, you need to be careful not to suddenly find yourself in a position where a slip would have serious consequences, as it's probably not the point where you want to stop and get the axe out!
Usually better to try and anticipate where axe and crampons might be needed (and it might turn out that they aren't) and gear up in a safe place rather than try to do it in a awkward spot.
Mountainlove wrote:if you can take something warm to drink in winter, a hot tea or coffee is hard to beat
Yuk! Hot blackcurrant cordial or similar for me (was gutted when Bottle Green stopped making their winter spice berry cordial).
Mountainlove wrote:If you want be be on the safe site, choose a Munro with a long walk out in winter. )
Sometimes useful to consider doing circular routes the "wrong" way round for this reason (and for other reasons too, like having the wind behind you on the tops).
by Mountainlove » Thu Jan 23, 2020 5:42 pm
HalfManHalfTitanium: Good point about the wind direction and of course the avalanche forecast! Waterproof rucksack liner is another good one, I also have all my dry clothes in one.
Ending in a crevasse gulp ...sounds scary!
Lol I am ok with flasks, but can take months to find the perfect water bottle haha
Alteknacker...luckily I haven't managed to loose gloves...but to compensate my rucksack liner and camera bag were taken by strong winds , never to be seen again
A bivvy bad and light sleeping bag is also a great idea when going solo!
Raynor...I know about crawling to summits as well haha But I find it also scary when you see very ill equipped people going up
by Essan » Thu Jan 23, 2020 9:28 pm
Interesting your comments about crampons being more useful than ice axe - I have used the latter much more than the former , but you make a very good point
I think this article (and the following comments) should be essential reading for anyone planning a winter walk
by Klaasloopt » Thu Jan 23, 2020 10:26 pm
HalfManHalfTitanium wrote:"if you can take something warm to drink in winter, a hot tea or coffee is hard to beat." My quest to find a better flask is my version of the Holy Grail.
I carry a flask of tea or hot water, and use it to mix with and thus warm up water from cold streams, or water from a normal water bottle. This eliminates the brain freeze... (usually, drinking it directly from the flask is too hot anyway)
by SuperMillie » Fri Jan 24, 2020 9:29 am
You might laugh when you think about 3 pairs of gloves, but I wear one thinner pair when I walk, but close to the top, due to bad circulation in my fingers, I always have to change into an enormous pair of ski gloves (which were the warmest gloves I could find a few years ago) and the third pair, is a spare in case my thinner pair gets wet (cold hands and wet gloves are a nightmare!)
Something you might want to consider if you don't do it already, epsecially in conditions of high winds like you encountered, is to tie some guyline (or similar) to your outer gloves\mitts and attach\loop the other end around your wrist. If you need to remove your golves for any reason at least you won't lose them to the wind.
Yeah it can feel like your mum dressed you for the hills (after spitting on her hankie to wipe your face) but the embarassment is less painful than freezing hands
by Mountainlove » Fri Jan 24, 2020 9:38 am
Klaasloopt.... Also a great idea to carry hot water to dilute cold water!
Essan... Remember one year when I cut steps with an ice axe for a friend who had no crampons... Lol but both is always best
by HalfManHalfTitanium » Fri Jan 24, 2020 1:46 pm
Mountainlove wrote:Supermillie... Haha that made me laugh... The gloves attached on one string which goes through your jacket? impossible to loose even in gale force winds
I have wrist loops on all my extensive glove collection (sewn on, if the gloves don't have them already).
Makes me look like a 7 year old, but without the loops I would have an award winningly enormous collection of single gloves.