As the nights draw in my thoughts turn to preparing for my annual move north to Scotland. Spending time in Scotland in the winter is one of my favourite things. However, the environment is tough, so I start to prepare for Scottish winter walking and climbing in the Autumn.
Here’s what I do to prepare for Scottish winter walking and climbing.
Working in Scotland during the winter is hands down the most physically demanding work I do. Forget working in the Alps (there are ski lifts there) or the Greater Ranges (lots of rest days) – Scotland is tougher. Also, in both the Alps and the Greater Ranges, we don’t plan to be in the mountains in poor weather. Winter days in Scotland often mean 1000m of ascent whilst fighting the elements, which is why it’s a good idea to prepare for Scottish winter walking and climbing trips.
Going into the winter as fit as you can helps to prevent injury and mean that you’ll get the most out of those short winter days. For climbers, being fit means that the approach to the route won’t be tiring, meaning arriving at the bottom of the route fresh and ready to climb. Doing some fitness training for Scottish winter is especially important if you are planning on having consecutive days walking or climbing and is essential if you have a week or more planned.
Getting out into the hills in the Autumn can be fun but the days are short and weather more inclement. Throughout the Autumn, I increase my fitness by mixing hillwalking and scrambling with swimming, road biking and, when it’s wet, mountain biking. If I go running I try to do speed or hill sessions to get fitter quicker. The advantage of this type of training is that is minimises wear on my body, the last thing I want is to get injured before the winter has begun.
Kit repairs and maintenance
Clearly, it is best to fix damaged kit as soon as possible – a stitch in time and all that. In reality, this doesn’t always happen. To prepare for Scottish winter walking and climbing I do my kit repairs over the Autumn months. I take my boots to Feet First to be resoled to increase their longevity. Specific soles can require ordering in, which takes time. Do it now to be sure that they are ready for winter.
Ice axes and crampons
Have a look over ice axes and crampons for any damage. Use a hand file to sharpen ice axe picks and crampons points. Remember to sharpen your walking axe too. Also take a look at the adze on your axe, does it have dints in it? To cut steps easily use a file to get rid of dints. If you need new picks order them now in case they sell out over the winter. Finally, if you’re a climber, sharpen those ice screws. You can do this with a hand file or a Petzl LimIce.
Take a look at your crampons straps. Were they too long last winter? Cut the straps to the right length to be able to put them on quicker. If you so cut straps down do this with caution. They are surprisingly expensive to replace if you cut them too short (15cm spare is ideal).
Rucksack straps and reproofing
Cast your mind back to last winter, do you recall your rucksack straps flapping in the wind or, worse, hitting you in the face? It’s time to cut those straps down so that this doesn’t happen again this winter. Another job is to wash and reproof your waterproof jacket and trousers. Waterproof clothing needs reproofing regularly (more than most people think) in order for it to work properly.
Climbers often visit the same coires regularly so it makes sense to customise maps. Print or cut down from a map sheet to make maps of specific areas. I then waterproof these maps with sticky back plastic. N.B. if you do cut down maps check that the grid references at still readable, if you have cut them off then write them back on before waterproofing. I still use a map case (smaller in size for my cut down maps) in winter. I attach 2mm cord to the case so my map doesn’t blow away in the wind.
Check the forecasts
It’s useful to get in the habit of checking the weather forecast for the areas you’ll be heading to over the winter. When looking at the forecasts note when the first snow occurs and under what conditions it fell. Check whether it thawed, or not. Then regularly check for any other significant snowfalls. It’s useful to note whether it fell in conjunction with high winds and what the temperatures were. Keep an eye out for other weather conditions which could build weak layers in the snow pack and create an avalanche hazard.
Avalanche forecasts start being published in December. By looking at the weather forecasts beforehand you’ll already have a good idea about current conditions. As soon as the avalanche forecasts are being published I visit the SAIS website regularly and then look at them everyday for the couple of weeks before I go to Scotland.
Looking at the forecasts before, and throughout, the winter will help you prepare for Scottish winter walking and climbing days by building a good overview of the weather and avalanche conditions. This will not only will help to keep you safe in the hills, but means that you can get the best out of your winter days. It’ll help you to make informed decisions of where to get the best conditions and select safe routes. It is particularly important to do this if you’re coming up to Scotland for short spells as it’s more difficult to tune into the conditions on the hill.
Refresh first aid and emergency kit
It’s a good idea to check your first aid kit every season. To begin with, check all drugs are in date. Next, replace and replenish items in the kit which have been used or are longer usable. Finally, remove season specific items, like tick removers. In my first aid kit I carry a non-caffeinated energy gel these need replacing regularly.
In addition to my first aid kit I carry some emergency items, one of which is an emergency headtorch in the form of a Petzl eLite. I find carrying a small torch is much better than spare batteries. The tough weather conditions in Scottish winter mean that changing fiddly batteries is difficult and time consuming. A complete spare headtorch also means that it is possible to give someone else a torch if they need it, whilst retaining your own headtorch. I don’t use my spare often, so I need to check it still works and has fresh batteries.
Also, in my emergency kit, is an basic mobile phone with pay as you go SIM. I find that the batteries of my smart phone deplete quickly in winter due to the cold, as well as doubling as cameras etc. Some people carry a small battery charger, but I find carrying a basic mobile phone the lightest and most reliable option. At this time of year, I check the phone still works, update any contact numbers and buy more credit.
The final thing you may consider, especially if you are taking on some form of leadership role, is a basic crampon fixing kit involving zip ties, wire, pliers (such as a leatherman) and a spare crampon strap.
What do you do to prepare for Scottish winter walking and climbing in the Autumn? Add in the comments below.
If you’re a woman who wants to join a unique Scottish winter adventure take a look at the winter week I’ll be running with Love Her Wild.
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