Only ever hill walked in summer before? Welcome to big school. Here’s your heads-up to some of the most common winter walking mistakes and how to steer clear of them.
When the snow falls, it’s fun out there in winter. Even diminutive Cyprus mountains take on a majestic Alpine appearance and while the challenges of being out there multiply, so do the rewards. But snow and ice increase the likelihood of error considerably and mistakes which would be minor in summer can have serious consequences. Here are some of the most common errors to watch out for in winter conditions.
The short days of winter mean less room for maneuver when it comes to timing. Whether through poor planning, navigational error or an unforeseen mishap, many get caught out and find themselves stuck on the hill when darkness falls.
How to avoid: Get an early start, plan your day properly and always remember to bring head torches, even if you’re planning a short day out – because you never know. The solutions may be simple, but you’d be amazed how often people neglect or forget them.
In summer, a navigational error usually means, at worst, a longer, colder, more tiring walk than you planned. In winter it can be lethal, due to the risk of succumbing to exposure. The extra harshness of winter weather makes tiredness-induced errors more likely, while finding your way in the featureless vacuum of a whiteout is one of the most daunting – and accident-prone – navigational tasks there is.
How to avoid it: The Cyprus mountaineering & climbing Federation run courses specifically in winter navigation.
Check out the CMCOF side winter skills courses
Heartbreaking though it may to those of us who aren’t annoying ‘morning people’, lie-ins in winter are generally a bad idea. Late starts mean a reduced margin of error and a greater chance of having to walk in the dark, which can contribute to accidents.
How to avoid: Rise and shine! Set the alarm and give yourself as much time as possible.
Accidents in winter often stem from poor preparation; things like people biting off more than they can chew or not having decent escape routes frequently lead, domino-like, to many of the other errors listed here. The odds of error are bigger, the consequences more severe.
How to avoid: Remember the British military adage concerning the 7 Ps: Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance. Be mindful that things often take a lot longer in winter. Have a plan B, C, D and E depending on progress and conditions.
Winter presents more challenging and varied underfoot conditions – deep snow, hard névé, slippery verglas – often combined in unpredictable ways, making slips more likely. Forgetting you’re wearing crampons and tripping over your own spikes is another classic error, often towards the end of the day when people are relaxed, chatting and distracted.
How to avoid: It’s easy to let your concentration wander when you’re tired – don’t. Remember the gunslinging, wide-legged ‘John Wayne’ stance when wearing crampons.
Stopping to attach crampons can seem a faff, especially in sub-zero winds or howling blizzards. But don’t be tempted to put it off as long as possible – accidents often result from people leaving it too late.
Avalanche risk is a complex thing. Avalanche forecasters can anticipate where the biggest areas of danger will be, but on the hill these areas can be dynamic and changeable. It’s also possible to fall into ‘heuristic’ traps (such as blindly following a group or leader), or be deceived by benign-looking gradual slopes. All these can and do contribute to accidents.
How to avoid: Knowledge, preparation and constant assessment on the hill are absolutely vital when it comes to assessing avalanche risk.
Avalanches can happen anywhere
The fickleness of the Cyprus weather means the transitions into and out of winter are rarely clear cut, and many get caught out in the shoulder months of autumn and spring by things they weren’t prepared for or didn’t expect.
How to avoid: Watch out for things like unexpected frozen terrain in the autumn, or snow patches in the spring. Even within seasons anomalies are common.
The harshness of winter weather will expose any flaw in your equipment, however small. Forgetting or omitting items can also be very costly – not having goggles in harsh spindrift can effectively render you blind, while losing a pair of gloves can be disastrous.
How to avoid: Do you research to make sure your kit is up to scratch. Pack spares of lose-able items like gloves and hats. Have a comprehensive range of emergency equipment.