Hiking in the summer is fun, but what do you do when the snow falls? We’d suggest winter mountaineering. Here’s how to start.
Did you know that the UK offers some of the best winter mountaineering? If you’re looking to push your skills and your body a little further this winter, it’s the perfect sport to try. Just know, when getting into winter mountaineering you’ll have to know a bit more than you do hiking or mountaineering in the summer.
Mountaineering usually involves rock, snow and off-trail ability in order to reach a summit. You can expect bad weather, roped and unroped climbing and plenty of objective dangers such as rock falls and avalanches. You’ll want to know how to handle a rope, tie knots, navigate, belay, rappel, and rescue yourself and others.
Before you begin, you’ll have to know the difference between safe and dangerous terrain. It’s often a good idea to start climbing with a mentor or guide, who can help assess the situation. Another good way to get your bearings is to take an avalanche education course. You’ll also want to check the avalanche forecasting centers that help you figure out the risk each day. Get the education you need before you head out, and you’ll be able to make good decisions in the mountains.
Physical and Mental Preparation
Mountaineering requires more gear than hiking in the summer. You’ll have more clothing layers and might need ropes, ice tools and safety equipment. That all means that you’ll need to be in better physical shape to tackle the mountain. Running, cycling and swimming can prepare you in terms of cardio while stair climbing, with and without a weighted pack, can get your muscles ready for steep climbs.
Next you’ll want to prepare mentally. You’ll likely encounter discomfort, risk, and a lengthy day or days of climbing. Learning how to breathe, (“pressure breathing”) where you force your exhale, can not only help with the stress of altitude, but help you stay in the moment. Practice with long days in the mountains in other seasons, and you’ll be able to help yourself have more fun with the long days of winter mountaineering.
If you’re just getting into winter climbing, you’ll want to start with an easier climb closer to home. Choose a route that you are comfortable climbing in the summer, without a rope (Crib Gogh is a good example of this). Pick a route where avalanche danger is less threatening due to terrain and go with friends or mentors who are more experienced than you are.
Staying warm and dry is even more important in the winter. While your clothing system will vary based on your body type, weather, and location, here is a good starting list:
Breathable insulated midlayers
Gloves (plus an extra dry pair)
Hard shell jacket
Long sleeve baselayer top
Soft or hard shell pants
Shop mountaineering clothing here.
You’ll also need some gear. While this list is not exhaustive, it’s a good place to begin:
First aid kit
Map and compass and GPS
Trekking poles (with winter basket)
Navigation is tougher in the winter. With your usual hiking paths and topographical features buried under snow, you’ll have a hard time figuring out where you are and where to go. Add in less daylight and the possibility of a lack of visibility (think whiteout), and you’ll have to be sure your navigation skills are on point. If you aren’t confident in your abilities, you’ll want to study with a navigation class or go out with a friend or mentor who is willing to help you practice.
You’ll also want to consider carrying a GPS, which can be very helpful for navigation. Just remember, you can’t rely on technology, so you’ll always want to have a paper map and compass.
We hope to see you out there!