As snow and freezing conditions provide a winter playground for thousands of hillwalkers, climbers and mountaineers, Mountaineering Scotland (formerly the MCofS) is reminding everyone to plan for the challenges of winter when preparing a trip to the Scottish hills.
The organisation say an examination of the fatal accident statistics for the last year shows it isn’t just novices getting into difficulties. Sadly, 20 people have lost their lives so far in the mountains this year. Ten of these were either approaching, or on, a technical climb. Three died as a result of avalanche. Three of the others who died had literally spent a lifetime enjoying the hills.
Heather Morning, Mountain Safety Adviser with Mountaineering Scotland advises: “Shorter daylight hours, dropping temperatures and the first snow on the hill are all good indicators that it is time to think about extra kit in your rucksack. Routes will take longer than expected in winter conditions and many people will end up finishing in the dark – so a head torch – and spare batteries – is crucial. In fact better still is to carry a spare head torch – as anyone who has tried to change batteries in the cold and dark will testify!”
Heather continues: “If you are heading out on the higher tops, now is the time to add crampons, rigid boots to accommodate them, an ice axe and spare essentials such as hats and winter gloves to your essential kit list.”
With temperatures at 1000m at least 10°c lower than sea level at this time of year – and feeling even lower through the effect of any wind chill – many underestimate how quickly they can feel the cold, which can turn to hypothermia within less than an hour. Extra layers are essential, such as a synthetic duvet jacket, and an emergency bivvi bag stored in the bottom of a rucksack is highly recommended, just in case you have to be stationary on the hill for any length of time.
Those who head to the hills with friends or as part of a group are advised to invest in a lightweight, nylon group shelter. This can provide a snug spot for lunch if the weather is poor and a vital refuge if someone in a group is injured and they have to wait for help to arrive.
Every winter Mountaineering Scotland reaches out to the wider mountaineering community; teaming up with outdoor shops across the country to offer a series of free winter mountain skills talks. 11 talks are held at venues from Inverness to Edinburgh, designed to give a taster of essential skills for novices and a refresher for seasoned mountaineers.
Heather explained: “We find that an effective way to get the message out to less experienced mountain lovers or those who want to progress from summer hillwalking to winter mountaineering, is to reach them through our free talks.
“Dealing with winter conditions and avalanche avoidance isn’t just a case of buying all the right gear: the right knowledge and experience is crucial.”
Further information on winter mountain safety can be found here. The Scottish Avalanche Information Service will begin its detailed forecasts on 17 December this year.