Winter in the Cairngorms, with Ben Macdui sporting a cloud blanket. Photo: Neil Reid

Winter in the Cairngorms, with Ben Macdui sporting a cloud blanket. Photo: Neil Reid

Dig out the ice-axe and crampons; winter’s on its way, experts have warned.

With early snow beginning to cover high ground, Mountaineering Scotland’s Heather Morning said hillgoers now need to ‘winterise’ their rucksacks.

An Arctic blast is enveloping Britain this weekend, as the prospect of the end of British summer time heralds earlier darkness.

Mountaineering Scotland said conditions underfoot could be difficult. A thin covering of snow over bare rock or scree can make footholds extremely slippery, it added, without giving enough purchase for crampon points or ice-axes to bite well.

The organisation’s mountain safety adviser Heather Morning said: “Conditions can be very treacherous at this time of year and just having the right equipment isn’t enough; you have to be able to call on experience to know how to deal with a whole range of conditions, both weather-wise and underfoot.

“And that equipment and experience must also include a map and compass and a high standard of navigational ability, because you’re not going to have the luxury of time and comfort that you do in summer. You’re going to have to be able to navigate accurately in some pretty extreme conditions of poor visibility and while being buffeted by wind and snow.

She added: “Winter is a tremendous season in the mountains and the rewards are great when everything comes together, with great views, a sense of adventure and a very real sense of achievement.

“But the winter mountains do demand a lot in return and you have to be ready for the many challenges.

“Shorter daylight hours, dropping temperatures and the first snow on the hill are all good indicators that it is time to think about extra kit in your rucksack.

“Routes will take longer than expected in winter conditions and many people will end up finishing in the dark. So a headtorch – and spare batteries – is crucial. In fact better still is to carry a spare headtorch, which saves having to faff about in the cold and dark trying to change over batteries.

“If you are heading out on the higher tops, now is the time to add crampons, rigid boots to accommodate them, an ice-axe and spare items such as hats and winter gloves to your essential kit list.”

The organisation, which represents hillwalkers, climbers and mountaineers north of the border, said extra layers are essential, such as a synthetic duvet jacket, and an emergency bivvy bag stored in the bottom of a rucksack is highly recommended.

Before even setting foot on the hill, a vital part of planning is checking the weather forecast at a site such as the Mountain Weather Information Service.

Snowdonia national park bosses emphasised the need for walkers to plan their outings as the clocks go back.

The park authority said the autumn half-term holidays can be very busy as locals and visitors take advantage of the opportunity to enjoy autumn in Snowdonia. “Although we can enjoy glorious weather at this time of year, the days are shortening quickly, especially once we have turned the clocks back at the end of the month,” a spokesperson said.

“As one of the partners of the Adventure Smart Wales campaign, the national park authority’s warden service would remind those who venture out to explore Snowdonia that they need to prepare more thoroughly at this time of year.”

Simon Roberts, senior warden for south Snowdonia said: “As well as the fact that it gets dark earlier, the weather can be very deceptive at this time of year.

“It can be nice and warm in the sun, but very cold in the shade, especially in the uplands, so walkers should make sure that they wear layers of insulating clothing and carry extra layers. They should also make sure that they carry a torch in case they fail to make it back before it gets dark.”

Outdoor enthusiasts can obtain up-to-date information about ground conditions on Snowdon before they set out via the bilingual Twitter account @snowdonweather.

The park authority said: “When there is snow and ice on the ground it is strongly advised that only experienced walkers with the appropriate equipment should venture out into the mountains.”

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