Step into Spring: 8 tips to get ready for hill walking

Posted by Mary-Ann Ochota on 25/03/2017
Mixing in a bit of scrambling with walking on Tryfan. Photo: Alex Messenger

The clocks are going forward, the snowdrops are out, the evenings are lighter, the pigeons are doing courtship sexy dancing – it must be Spring! For those of us who aren’t winter walking warriors, this is our time. BMC ambassador Mary-Ann Ochota shares her checklist to make sure you're all set. Let the walking begin!

Check Your Headtorch

Spring days are short. Even if you’re not planning on coming home in the dark, a headtorch in your rucksack means you can get yourself off the hill, safely. In summer a spare bulb and batteries may be a good idea, but at this time of year, gloves and weather conditions could make such a fiddly task impossible. Carry a spare headtorch instead.

Review Your First Aid Kit

Check the essentials – you need to be able to control bleeding, dress wounds, support injured joints and keep yourself and your casualty safe (ie don’t forget the non-latex gloves, and a CPR mouth shield). Some wound dressings degrade after they pass their expiry date. If, like me, you’d been working on the principle that if it hasn’t been opened, it’s still ok to use, think twice. You don’t want a handful of fluff where you’d been expecting a sterile dressing.

Katherine Wills, author of the book Outdoor First Aid and active member of Llanberis Mountain Rescue Team advises that if you’re buying new supplies, buy quality. “Your first aid kit needs to be tough: It’s thrown into your rucksack, your rucksack’s thrown into the car, possibly sat on for lunch – it needs to be able to take an awful lot of abuse.” That includes the wrappers on sterile dressings, and the bag you’re putting your first aid kit in.

If you can’t remember what Dr ABC stands for, sign up for a first aid refresher course.

WATCH our hill walking skills series on BMC TV

Register Your Phone For An Emergency

There are many popular walking areas where you’ll struggle to get a decent phone signal. If the worst comes to the worst and you need to call for help, what are your options?

You can register your mobile phone to be able to send an emergency text message to 999. You must register your phone in advance. To do that, send an SMS with the word ‘register’ to 999. Once you’ve received a response text message, and confirmed with ‘yes’, you’re on the system.

A voice call to 999 will be dealt with more swiftly, so only send an SMS if you have no other option. In the text, say which service you need, what’s happened, and where you are. Give as much detail as possible. And remember – if you need Mountain Rescue, ask for POLICE first.

Play With Your Compass

Dartmoor-based bloggers Two Blondes Walking have decades of experience helping people master essential navigation skills, and training DofE and Ten Tors challengers. “Plan a walk that’s right for your navigation skill level. If you don’t have basic navigation skills (i.e. know how to set and walk on a bearing using a map and compass) then stick to well-marked paths and trails,” advises ‘Blonde 2’, Fi Darby. Even better, get to grips with map and compass, and enjoy the freedom that brings. Grab a book, look at online tutorials or attend a course. Then get outside and practice. 

Watch the Weather

Do your weather research before you head out. Compare forecasts from the two key mountain weather sites – the Met Office and MWIS, the Mountain Weather Information Service). Always check the freezing level (the height where you can expect snow and/or ice). If you want to avoid icy terrain, plan a route that stays below that height.

Once you’re out, remember it’s a forecast, not a promise. Keep assessing the conditions as the day progresses. If it’s different to what you were expecting, stay flexible and change your plan.

Grab Your Bothy Bag (aka Group Shelter)

Lightweight, windproof and waterproof, these box-shaped bags can protect you from the elements in a matter of seconds. It’s simple - pull it out of its stuff sack, and get the group to sit under it. Bothy bags can transform a freezing lunch stop into a pleasant break, and prevent a miserable situation from turning into an emergency situation – giving you a chance to warm up, put more layers on, plan a route, provide first aid or wait for help to arrive. Bothy bags save lives, and every hillwalker should carry one.

Remember Winter Could Be Lurking Above

At this time of year, the difference in conditions at the top and bottom of a summit can be the most extreme. Even if it feels like ice cream season at the car park, be mindful of temperatures and ground conditions changing quickly as you climb higher.

If you’re in Scotland, check the SAIS Avalanche Information Service reports before you head out. Even if you’re staying low, there may be heavily loaded slopes above your head that you’ll need to stay away from.

Keep an eye for swollen streams and rivers, fed by snow melting higher up, or after heavy rainfall. Water is at its coldest at this time of year, and watercourses can quickly become unpassable. If in doubt, stop. Work out your options, see whether there are alternative crossing points up- or downstream. If there aren’t, change your route.

Eat More

Despite the daffodils, conditions in early spring can be challenging – both mentally and physically. You may be dealing with the cold, wind, or bog-trotting across waterlogged terrain that’s slower and harder to cross.  Mick Jones is a mountaineering instructor with thousands of winter days under his belt. “You’ll burn more calories, so pack more food. I like ‘pocket food’ that I can eat on the go, like flapjack, malt loaf and peanuts. Unwrap and cut big things into bitesize chunks, and stash them in pockets you can reach without having to stop.” As always, eat before you’re hungry, and drink before you’re thirsty. It’ll help you think clearly and act wisely.

Resources

Kath Wills runs practical outdoor first aid courses www.activefirstaid.co.uk.

Fi Darby and Lucy Atkins run navigation training and guided wild camps on Dartmoor www.twoblondeswalking.com/navigation-workshops/.

Mick Jones is a Mountaineering Instructor and guide who runs courses in Snowdonia and the Peak District www.summitmountainskills.com.

If you’re taking your first steps in hillwalking, download the British Mountaineering Council New Hillwalkers booklet for free here.


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