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simon3
2010-01-10 09:18:08
"The Reeks, 40km away from near Dingle." from simon3 Contract pics
Picture: The Reeks, 40km away from near Dingle. (Contract pics)

Lessons from Scotland on Winter Walking.
Walking in snow-bound Ireland. A point of view from a Scottish member.

Here is a bunch of opinions on safety in winter. Simon asked me to do them, so that's who your next of kin should contact. Winter walking is immensely fun and mostly safe. The three Scottish deaths so far this winter have been of experienced people in extreme places, so avoid extreme places. Winter skills are best picked up from people who know. Skilled friends are great and there's lots of good courses available in Scotland. However most of us learn by our mistakes so heres a few pointers.

Avalanches are the worst threat. They're more likely to occur on slopes between 25 and 45 degrees, less doesn't give them momentum, more and the snow doesn't collect. You'll get them after fresh snow on hard pack (in which case watch the lee side of the hill) or after rises in temperature. Travelling under or up to cornices is risky. Have a look at http://www.sais.gov.uk/avalanche-awareness.asp for sensible detail.

Ice-axe. This is your closest friend. Its good for stability, and it's a method of arresting a slide. Walk with the axe in your uphill hand with the prong facing back. If you fall, bring the axe across your chest and drive the prong into the snow. This has to be done immediately or you'll only leave a pretty wake behind you.

Walking poles are ok for stability in deep snow but don't have any use on packed or icy surfaces. Use that axe.

Visibility can be tricky. Not just white-outs though they are totally disorienting but a snow slope in flat light can leave you with no idea of angle of slope. Know where you are and take your time. If there are hazards like crags below you, consider how you can be sure of avoiding them, even changing route if feasible. I always carry goggles which can be brilliant walking into driven snow or spindrift.

Crampons are fantastic on packed snow or ice. They're a waste of time in deep snow, though I've struggled up a snow slope then put them on to deal with the wind-swept ice-rink on top. You should have 12 point crampons properly fixed to a reasonably stiff boot. They're not brakes. If you're sliding and you dig your crampons in below you, you could break an ankle. Don't try and put your waterproof trousers on after you've put on the crampons unless you want that fashionable shredded look.

Cornices. Ive said be careful going up to them but watch it walking along the edge of a corrie. The cornice can extend a fair distance and you may be walking on shaky foundations. Try and stay on the solid stuff. And with regard to visibility (whiteouts etc., above) be utterly sure of your navigation when youre following a corrie edge. If it curves, exaggerate the curve you sometimes can't depend on recognising the edge.

Routes should be chosen with a bit of sense. If there's an avalanche risk choose flatter slopes and stick to the windward side. If youre walking a ridge, try to make sure you're walking with the wind. If I'm walking on my own I'll use routes I know already. In any case I'll always leave route details and if I can I'll text any enforced changes (my predictive texting now has an extensive gaelic vocabulary.)

Speed disappears out the window in poor conditions and this is a time when we've short days. Keep the clock in mind and know when to alter or curtail your trip. Make sure you've a head torch and check the batteries. If theres any moon, night walking in snow can seem like daylight so don't make panicky decisions. Always have a survival bag.

In fact Don't Panic is good advice. There are very few casualties in Scotland compared with the huge number of winter miles we rack up. You hardly ever get a full house of problems. I've had blizzards, deep snow, white-outs and nightfall but not more than one or two at a time. You can think your way out of most problems.

Finally, and contradicting myself already, avalanches aren't the biggest risk the drive to and from your hill is.

Weedavie
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