Life saving skills for on winter mountains?

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Blog Post 7

What with other things going on in my life, it is only this year that I have the time to start getting into winter walking up in the fells and mountains of the Lake District and Scotland. This is not because I haven’t want to experience winter mountaineering, in fact I bought all the gear three years ago, just before I signed up to do a Master’s degree, for my job, which left no time!

This along with other things has meant I have had very little time to enjoy the winter fells, however this winter I’ve put this right! I have ventured up above the snowline a few times, since the winter conditions have appeared and thoroughly enjoyed each occasion. This is why I have decided to book onto a Winter Skills Course, with Mountain Magic (http://mountainmagic.org.uk/) up in Glencoe to equip me with the relevant skills to be able to keep myself safe, whilst understanding more about the mountains in which I am venturing.

Firstly, I would like to point out that I am extremely confident in my abilities in the hills, with me having over 10 years’ experience of venturing up into the mountains of the Lake District, Wales and Scotland, both in groups and alone. I am 27 now, and have been enjoying the fells, since I was about 4, running up and down them, along with my folks, actually making my first ascent of a mountain aged 18months old, in a child-carrier on my dad’s back! I am counting my years of experience since the age of about 15, when I first started walking alone into the mountains of Lake District, particularly up the various routes of The Old Man of Coniston.

On many of my walks snow has been covering the mountains, but I have never had the formal training that is probably vital to safely venturing into the highest of the UK’s mountains in the midst of winter. There are many companies that offer this training, along with all other conceivable training courses, some of which I believe offer more value than others. The course I have booked onto, Winter Skills is probably one that by its very nature could mean that the conditions that you are walking in are likely to be much more severe than any other time of the year when walking. The winds are that much colder, the visibility can be that much worse, and most importantly the consequences of poor decisions are that much greater. Whilst I have been out in the mountains dozens of time in these conditions, I feel that the time has come for me to get some formal training, as I am certainly not someone who thinks they know everything (my wife would disagree)!

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The courses on offer vary greatly in terms of duration, ability level and size of group that you will be part of. The course that I booked on to is over 5 days/6nights, and has the following learning agenda:

  • Selecting the right winter clothing and equipment for your comfort and safety.
  • Using avalanche reports, weather forecasts and timing to plan your day well.
  • Preparing for the worst winter weather that the mountains will throw at you.
  • Moving safely on a range of snow and ice slopes with ice axe and crampons.
  • Stopping slips, trips and falls with an ice axe in a wide variety of scenarios.
  • Navigating in the dark, in snow, in poor visibility and full white-out conditions.
  • Understanding how snowpack forms and changes to assess avalanche risk.
  • Following emergency procedures and digging emergency snow shelters.

If the course lives up to all this, and is enjoyed by myself and friend JP, with us learning new vital skills, then I think that £495 is a good price for this length of course. This price also includes accommodation in a cottage, food and a free bottle of whiskey! So, can anyone afford not to learn new skills?

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The skills that are taught may not be used straight away, but hopefully they will be stored away for those times when they are most needed. I think that there may be merit in the majority of outdoor enthusiasts at least looking through courses that are on offer (from time to time), no matter what level of ability, even if it is just to have an awareness of what is out there. These courses are described by many as the gift that keeps on giving for the point I mention above, as it is knowledge that you have for a lifetime, and different situations that you find yourselves in will bring out different pieces of knowledge that you have learned, much of this happening sub-consciously, but potentially having huge benefits for you.

Anyway, I am preaching without yet having experienced the course and the value that it brings, but I am sure my learning will be great and will last a lifetime in the hills. I will be doing a day by day blog of the activities that we get up to up in Glencoe, along with what it is like for a first-timer, which may help those that are inquisitive. For me, I have made the invaluable first step of researching the many courses and training providers on offer, before going one step further by booking myself on to the course that I felt that I can get most value from in my current ability. I have watched dozens of techniques videos on YouTube and alike, but greater value must be gained by learning through experience, as they say!

Please share this blog with others interested in the outdoors industry, as the concept is completely transferable between activities. Take the first step to keeping yourself safe, by widening your skills and knowledge-base in what can be a very dangerous environment no matter what time of year, but especially so in winter.

Stay safe and thanks for reading!

Nick

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