My next walk differs from all my previous ones, in that there is a very real possibility of snow. Although I have hiked in the Winter – down to some pretty cold temperatures – I have never had to deal with snow.
The Lake District has seen quite a bit of snow over the last few weeks, though it does appear to be dwindling as the days progress. That said, some forecasts I have read – depending on where you look – are in fact predicting more snow. Needless to say I will be paying more and more attention to the weather forecasts as the start date approaches.
Snow and ice bring many challenges that can be mitigated to a certain extent with the correct equipment and training.
I have had no formal training as yet, but in the mean time I have bought a book entitled ‘Winter Skills’ ISBN:978-0-9541511-3-3 to at least provide a firm theoretical grounding.
The book has proved extremely useful and provides a lot of information ranging from how to use your safety equipment, to identifying the different types of snow and the relative risks they represent. I realise that it is no substitute for practical training, but for this walk, the intent is to devote time to practicing the self-arrest procedures on safe slopes and at home.
Self-arrest isn’t the art of throwing oneself into custody – it is the art of being able to prevent a slip turning into a fall, and if that fails, it provides many proven means to bring one’s descent back under control. From my reading there are eight basic falls, each of which will need to be practiced. Of course, the ideal situation is not to slip in the first place – and once again, the book comes to the rescue with many techniques and ways to avoid slips.
Although I lack any formal training – at least for the moment – my philosophy is that if there is snow in the hills and I cannot get the hang of self arrest, I will simply re-plan the route to avoid the worst of the snow. A little drastic, but better to be safe than sorry.
One of the biggest issues I have found whilst looking into what equipment I would need was trying to categorise exactly what it is that I do.
I am at my heart a hiker, a backpacker, but as one can tell from the photo mosaic above, I do seem to get myself involved in near vertical scrambles. I enjoy these type of climbs and find them exhilarating, but I’m not sure that I could ever class myself as a climber – not by a long shot. Yet, I do find myself in situations where I am actually physically climbing as opposed to hiking. This has made deciding what equipment to get rather tricky…
First up is the ice-axe! Do not fear, I have no intention of hanging off of vertical ice sheets like one sees in the movies!
The ice axe I have bought is classed as a non-technical axe and is highly suited to hiking/hill climbing. This one – a DMM Cirque – is ‘T’ rated so could be used for some basic technical approaches too, but this is not why I purchased it.
This item of kit will be the most critical in terms of safety. It will be used to provide a steady third point on a climb and to provide a means to self-arrest should one find oneself slipping down the mountain. It also has many other uses too, including cutting out steps, basic digging and even being used as a belaying point.
The big downside of an ice-axe is that merely possessing one isn’t enough.
One must know how to use it.
In the absence of formal training – which will be rectified, I will be conducting regular simulated falls at home. Obviously, I won’t actually be sliding anywhere, but it will give me the opportunity to get my ‘muscle-memory’ tuned up so that the moves become instinctive.
The second phase of my self training will take place on the hills – assuming there is snow around. I will practice all eight basic falls, until I am happy with them. As I stated above, if I can’t get the self arrests to work, I will be re-planning my route to avoid areas where I will potentially need the axe.
Next up are the little less exciting gaiters!
These are required to prevent snow getting into the top of my boots. They will also come in very handy for places like Dartmoor with its deep bogs. If I had a pair of these on my last two walks there I would have ended up with dry feet! In many respects, I should have bought a pair of these a long time ago 🙂
With snow, inevitably comes ice and the potential to slip. For basic icy conditions I have bought a set of Pogu Micro Spikes.
These will be used in marginal conditions where there is no need to break out full-sized crampons. My expectation is that I’m far more likely to use these than the actual crampons themselves.
They are very easy to put on the boots – the rubber material just stretches around them. Once on, the boots become equipped with a set of metal spikes that should act as a good traction aid in icy conditions.
For situations where micro spikes are not enough I have bought a set of C1 10 point Grivel G10 crampons.
These seem to fit my Scarpa Activ-SL boots perfectly – so I guess the B1 – C1 system does actually work! I was however a little sceptical, hence a visit to an actual store to test them out prior to purchase.
In some respects I’m hoping I won’t ever have to use them, but it will be down to the conditions that I encounter on my 6 day walk.
Like the ice axe, I’m going to have to train myself at home until putting these on and taking them off becomes second nature.
One thing I won’t be using them for is self-arrest training! The reason being that when one is in a slide, one must raise one’s boots off of the ground to prevent the spikes of the crampons making contact. If they do, there is a very real danger of a slip turning into a cartwheel. As such, I will train as if I’m wearing them, but for my own safety they will not be on!
The last piece of winter kit that I acquired is a little controversial – a helmet…
I’m not entirely sure whether I actually need one for winter hiking. I know that if I do take it with me, it will only be worn on a very few occasions – most notably anywhere with a lot of elevation exposure or the potential to have falling rocks or debris.
That said, if I do fall, I’m not sure that wearing such a device would make any real difference.
I guess it all boils down to the question as to whether my climbing activities classify themselves as ‘extreme’ enough to warrant a helmet. Part of me says no, but on the other hand, i feel that I’d rather be wearing one when negotiating some of the more vertical climbs.
I intend to do a lot more research to work out what the standard body of thought is with regard to helmets. That said, at least I’m hiking solo, so there will be no one around to point and stare :p
That rounds out my winter kit. I think that I now have everything I need for next week’s walk. Weather forecasts nearer the time will determine exactly what gets taken and what doesn’t.
I guess the one last thing I should do, is work out how it is all going to be stowed on the rucksack! 🙂