Winter Walking and Gear you’ll need

This is an introduction to mountain walking in Winter and snow. Let’s look at the kit you will need to take with you in freezing conditions.

Can’t wait to get out to play in the snow?

Firstly, let me say how very sad I was this morning seeing a report of the bodies of climbers Andy Nisbet and Steve Perry being found yesterday on Ben Hope. These guys, if you’ve never heard of them, were very accomplished climbers and of course would have been well equipped.

I don’t want to paint a dark picture of something that is amazing, adventurous and fun but just give you some pointers and things to think about if you haven’t been mountain walking in the Winter before.

Where does a tragedy like this leave us then, out hiking in the snow in the mountains of the Lakes, Snowdonia or even the Yorkshire Dales?

I’m not a Winter Mountain Leader so don’t take what I say as being from someone with a shit load of Winter experience. I’m getting there. I’ve had a few scrapes, frozen my tits off camping in blizzards and even been at a point where I was so cold I thought it might be game over, so I’m more than experienced to advise most who read this.

Haycock Summit Wild Camp in Winter
Haycock Summit Wild Camp in Winter

Firstly, you really need to get a lot of experience walking mountains in good weather. Become a good mountain walker before you even venture out in rain or high wind let alone the white stuff. That makes sense right? Also, why would you go hiking at night or into the cloud up Helvellyn if you can’t navigate on a sunny day?

I love walking at night. I have no worries at all about knowing where I am or finding out by using the landscape and looking at a map.

So, what about hiking in the snow?

Vango Banshee 200 best value wild camping tent
Vango Banshee 200 wild camping

The Lake District is full of hills of varying heights. Hallin Fell, Wansfell, Binsey, Fellbarrow, Holme Fell are easy low hills you might take the kids sledging on. Work your way up the hills. As you get above the snow line on the top of a small hill you’ll see that walking on the white stuff gets more difficult, you’ll need a pair of Kahtoola Microspikes. Spikes are good on paths as well where the stone and rock would be slippy AND they will fit on your 3 season Scarpa Rangers. They cost £50 and are really light enough to carry in your bag ‘just in case. DO NOT GET THE CHEAP SHIT!!!

Get some Kahtoola Microspikes here (£50)

Winter hiking on Ben Arthur (The Cobbler) in Scotland
Winter hiking on Ben Arthur (The Cobbler) in Scotland

Heading out onto deep snow you’re better off wearing Grivel crampons. G10s will clip nicely onto a graded Winter boot. Don’t buy crampons for 3 season boots! Winter boots and crampons will set you back a few hundred quid if you get them second hand!

Here’s a search on Amazon for Scarpa Charmoz boots (£210)

And Grivel G10 Crampons (£90)

When I camped in the Priest Hole cave in Dovedale I took out with me my Kahtoola Microspikes, the Grivel G10 crampons and the Grivel axe. I used the Microspikes when the paths started getting icy, it was nighttime in Winter. When John and I left the paths and hit the deep snow I swapped the spikes for my Grivel G10 crampons which will only fit properly onto a Winter graded boot. You really are making an investment at this stage into proper Winter walking.

If you won’t invest in a parachute, don’t jump out of a plane!

Ice axe and a view from the Priest's Hole Cave
Ice axe and a view from the Priest’s Hole Cave

Just before reaching the cave we climbed up what I could only describe as a mini glacier, 10m wide and 30m high, bumpy but flat and solid. We had to cut steps in this to get up, it was too solid to boot steps into it. This is where the axe comes in. For this basic use, a Grivel Helix will do the job.

Grivel Helix Ice Axe (£65)

Winter hiking in Dovedale from the Priests Hole
Winter hiking in Dovedale from the Priests Hole

There’s also the cold to think about! You get out of your car at sea level and it’s 6c. Every 100m (300ft ish) you ascent the temperature drops 1c without taking wind chill into account. Up Scafell Pike it will be -4c!!! AND the wind will be more than double so a fair breeze would end up being 20mph on the summit. You’ll need your ‘big coat’ and that’s another £200.

So that’s over £600 doing it right!

I sold a mortising machine from my workshop and a Hilleberg Akto tent to get my Winter gear together a few years ago. Don’t tell Teresa how much I spent! This is entry-level gear as well I might add, I’m not making a living from it, it is just for fun. If you can’t afford ALL of this gear you can’t afford to venture up into the snow on the mountains, simple. I’ve never been skiing, never been able to afford it.

The weather can be mental as well. Cloud can come out of nowhere. I find it very exciting when this happens but if you can’t nav for toffee you could be screwed.

There is great adventure to be had on the mountains in all sorts of weather and under all sorts of conditions. I will be out this weekend camping on a two day expedition, I’ll have great fun and I’ll be more than prepared. The most important thing for me this weekend though is that I get home to Teresa and the kids!

Be over cautious.

If you would like an adventure in the white stuff why not get in touch with a Winter Mountain Leader for some advice and an organised day out. I know a few, don’t hesitate to ask.

Stay safe and have a great Winter.

#WinterWalking #AndyNisbet #StevePerry #BenHope #BenArthur #Grivel #Kahtoola #Scarpa

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