MCofS’S TOP MOUNTAINEERING SAFETY TIPS & SKILLS
The Mountaineering Council of Scotland (MCofS) are a leading British mountain safety organisation and are the sole recognised representative for walkers, climbers and ski-tourers who enjoy the Scottish mountains.
Here their Mountain Safety Advisor, Heather Morning offers a few tips and advice on how to stay safe in the hills this winter.
1. KIT IS IMPORTANT, BUT KNOWLEDGE IS VITAL
When you are out on the hill it is important to have the correct mountaineering kit as this can help keep you comfortable and safe. It is just as important however, to have a good basis of technical knowledge too. So before heading out, make sure you have both the skills and the kit to avoid getting yourself in trouble. Don’t be the one described as ‘all the gear and no idea!’
The best way to develop your skills and understanding of the mountains in winter is to develop a responsible, progressive approach to your activities. Start small and simple, and then if you do want to go out and attempt something more challenging, go with someone more experienced than yourself. A quick and effective way of developing a good collection of skills is to take part in a winter skills course delivered by a professional, qualified instructor.
Whether you are booking a holiday or planning long journey, you wouldn’t leave home without doing some research. The same should apply to mountaineering and a good level of preparation can be the difference between having an amazing day out and having to call mountain rescue to come and assist you.
Understanding what to pack in your mountaineering rucksack as well as the daily weather forecast including wind speed, snow conditions and of course avalanche risks are vital to know and to discuss with the group before setting off. Fortunately, some fantastic organisations such as Sport Scotland’s Avalanche Information Service (SAIS) and the Mountain Weather Information Service (MWIS) constantly update information on the web to help you plan a safe route.
3. DON’T BE OVER AMBITIOUS
Ambitious plans are great in the mountains and being ambitious is how the big summits get climbed and the most spectacular and remote areas are reached. However, there is a clear difference between being ambitious and over ambitious; which can lead very quickly into recklessness.
You may have travelled a long way to get to the mountains, or may have taken time off work, so it is very tempting to say ‘we are only here for the weekend, let’s go for it anyway!.’ The truth is that it is easy to extend a short day, whereas cutting a long day short may not be so easy. It is vital that you respect the scale and the conditions of the mountains in winter, as failing to do so can place yourself and others in danger.
4. CHANGE YOUR PLANS
Once you have checked your kit, the weather conditions and the avalanche risk, you should be able to set a pretty good route. It is important that you also have some additional plans in case something goes wrong. There is no ‘official’ amount of contingency plans required, but generally speaking you need two or three extra routes, just in case.
These routes should then be discussed with the entire group in case of separation, and importantly left with somebody you trust and who you can contact once back safely. Finally, never be afraid or ashamed to turn back. The mountains will still be there for you to try again under more favourable conditions. Pushing on regardless not only endangers yourself but also risks the safety of the people who may have to come out to help you.
When you are out in the mountains in winter you need to be responsible for your own safety. This following list is not a definitive set of rules; it is simply a guide to help you make your own decisions.
Heather Morning, Mountaineering Council of Scotland
Heather Morning (MIC) has spent a lifetime developing her mountaineering skills and knowledge; gained from the mountains of the UK and expeditions from around the world. In addition, Heather has worked as a professional mountaineer for 30 years including at both the national centres, Plas y Brenin and Glenmore Lodge.
Heather has also been an active member of the Cairngorm Mountain Rescue Team for 13 years which has added to her deep understanding of the unique challenges of the British Mountains.