Bynack More and my guide to winter hiking

Route: Bynack More from Glenmore

Munros: Bynack More

Date walked: 18/01/2020

Time taken: 7.2 hours

Distance: 22km

We were approaching the 810m mark just over 1km away from Bynack More, when we realized that a number of walkers ahead of us turned back. Getting closer to the final push to climb Bynack More, they weren't the only ones we encountered that day. My first thought was 'good on them' turn around when you are out of your comfort level, is probably the best advise you can give someone who hikes in difficult conditions. The latest mountain rescue story, of a guy who called mountain rescue, only to be found safe in a bothy with fatigue (while risking the life of the mountain rescue volunteers) had made me angry. Walk to your comfort level, but don't risk the life of others was always my own advice when I was walking solo. We walked on, but my thought returned to all those walkers who turned back.

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. :D

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

Looking back

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.

Frozen art

Layered up

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

Evening colors

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.

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Location: North Ayrshire
Occupation: HR
Activity: Munro compleatist
Pub: The one which serves beer
Place: Sutherland
Gear: My walking boots
Camera: Panasonic DMC-FZ1000
Ideal day out: Finding new routes up mountains, which involves a good scramble
Ambition: See the world

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