Recently Mountain Rescuers were called to locate a lost walker in the Highlands of Scotland. His orange survival bag played a role in him being safely located and walkers are being urged to make sure they have something bright in their kit and to avoid dark clothing.
The local Dundonnell Mountain Rescue Team said
“The missing person was well equipped, including a bright orange survival bag and it was this that certainly contributed to him surviving the night and being found. In general, it is challenging to see someone on the hill if they are wearing dark-coloured clothing. I would suggest if you are lost that, if you can, wear some bright colours as they can provide great contrast to a grass or heather background.”
Examples of survival blankets including Blizzard Survival's Reflexcell blanket (right)
By the start of December, Snowdonia can have 8 hours max. of daylight with sunrise close to 8 am and setting by 4 pm. The Highlands even less with a 8:30 sunrise and the sun setting before 4. Generally, the weather will be more severe in the late autumn/winter months. Stronger winds, low cloud and heavy rain and, of course, snow and ice with low temperatures and wind chill.
As a forecasting company, we would, of course, draw attention to studying the weather beforehand as part of the preparations for any outdoor hike, climb or expedition. There are plenty of charts, information and articles available on the Netweather website with warnings in times of severe weather.
The trouble with weather symbol apps is that they only provide a snapshot of a location over intervals of time. You may have noticed the forecast changes and varies. Having a larger view of what is happening overall with the weather will improve your understanding of the forecast. So, if a band of rain arrives more quickly from the Atlantic, or waves further south over the UK, then how that could impact you. If a low pressure develops more, it may change track, slow down or come up against colder night air and fall as snow. A wider picture can really help.
The Netweather Radar shows you were rain, sleet and snow are falling across the UK and with an Animate feature you can see the movement of frontal bands and thundery showers.
All paths and routes have risks and dangers, which increase when there is wet weather and poor visibility and can become dangerous with the addition of snow and ice. Warnings from the UK Met Office will identify areas of concern but do remember local conditions can be severe in addition to these.
Many of the mountain rescuers are volunteers with the service reliant on fundraising. They go out in tricky conditions over difficult terrain. From the Glencoe Mountain Rescue.
“The team is made up of dedicated and highly experienced but unpaid volunteers who operate 24 hours per day, 365 days per year, in what are, at times, extremely harsh and unforgiving conditions.”
They are there to help, not judge but there is plenty of advice before people head off into the hills, especially in winter, to help people avoid being rescued. They also respond to flooding events, lost children and rescuing all sorts of animals.
Plan ahead- choose a walk/climb which suits your group's experience and fitness. Research the route and how you will get to it and home. Be flexible, if the weather looks rubbish then postpone. Tell someone else your plans and when you hope to be back. The CLIVE form gives an idea of what information is good to hand on - Climbers location & identity verification envelope.
Many of the call outs are from people not returning as planned with the MRU gathering themselves, creating a plan and then heading out at first light to find benighted walkers.
Timings - Get going early and then any delays won’t result in you being out in the dark. Review your progress and adapt. Consider turning back if things are not going to plan; the mountains will still be there. Inform your home contact that you are back, so MRU isn’t called by mistake.
Don’t just rely on your mobile phone- Charge your phone fully before you go, it can be invaluable, but the signal can be ropey in the hills, it could get dropped or broken. Know how to use a map and compass, these basic navigational skills are invaluable. Take a watch
What to take - Plenty of food and drink, energy bars and fluids. A head torch, you may plan to be back before dark but … Extra layers, hat and gloves, air temperatures fall 1 degree per 100m up. Add onto that the wind chill, which feels worse if it is damp or raining. The winds can be several times as strong up on the peaks as they are at the base car park. You need to keep dry. A whistle, orange survival bag. Decent footwear, walking boots will give more protection to your ankles. A cosy hat, sun cream, sunglasses.
Emergency – Basic first aid kit, some first aid training could be invaluable. The emergency signal is six blasts on the whistle or six flashes with the torch. If someone does wrench their ankle, you need to keep them warm and what the signs of hypothermia are. To contact Mountain Rescue, you phone 999 and ask for POLICE first then Mountain Rescue. Try work out your exact position.
A path or route which you have enjoyed before can become waterlogged after heavy rains, or disappear in low cloud and fog, or under snow cover. In the dark when you are tired and cold and possibly hungry, mistakes and wrong turns are more likely.
There are still plenty of beautiful walks, hikes and climbs throughout the winter to be enjoyed, just heeding some of the advice could help keep the number of incidents in the mountains down this season.