Tag Archives: winter mountaineering

Highland Hobo #1

The cliffs of Lochnagar. Photo courtesy of Nick Bramhall. Some rights reserved.

The cliffs of Lochnagar. Photo courtesy of Nick Bramhall. Some rights reserved.

Rather than sticking to a typically prosaic and bland title, for example, ‘WML Update’, I feel that ‘Highland Hobo’ better befits my current lifestyle and state of mind.


I write from the quaint, sleepy town of Ballater, having spent the last three days in the Lochnagar area. Southern Cairngorms. The conditions were rather lacking in the winter department, apart from New Year’s Day, which was was cold and viciously windy. Thereafter, the onset of a rather prolonged thaw brought rain and mild weather, depleting the snowpack and rendering most areas a soggy mess.


Nevertheless, I managed three big days, traversing Lochnagar south to north on day one; the plateau east to west on day two; and finally returning from Loch Callater to Loch Muick (pronounced ‘Mick’) yesterday. On all days I took in high Munros and the opportunity to practise WML (Winter Mountain Leader) skills.


The main challenge I found was the mental one – all elements, whether decision-making, risk assessment or potential for failure were reduced to a factor of one. There is no one to talk to, no one with whom to share thoughts or plans, no one to ease one’s anxieties and no one with whom to laugh. Solo winter hillwalking or mountaineering requires a great degree of self reliance and determination – something that is key in the UK outdoor ethic – all the more so when undertaking a multi-day expedition.


Still, the chance to savour the unique Highland scenery, beautiful light and wild weather was wonderful. I especially enjoyed the freedom in abandoning the continual temptation to check the weather and avalanche forecasts, consulting them once at the beginning with a three day outlook in mind, and then making my progress and choices based on current hill conditions. The snowpack was no doubt benign, but the three-day hill journey seemed to contain a greater degree of consistency and integrity as a result of focussing more on directly underfoot and overhead conditions than those gained electronically.


I am glad for a rest day and the chance to wash and shave (a sell-out hobo, clearly!), but keen to get out again tomorrow for the next instalment in the Northern Cairngorms. You can’t keep a hobo down…



Simon is the Morocco Director and an instructor with The Mountain People. He is currently preparing for his Winter Mountain Leader assessment, as chronicled by the ‘Highland Hobo’ series.

Categories: Blog, NGBs, Personal, Simon, Winter
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Counting the Cost of Winter

Winter conditions can be brutal – are you prepared for some suffering?

Phil Werner, of the excellent SectionHiker webite, recently published a post Winter Backpacking on a Budget.


It is aimed more at an American audience (UK conditions infrequently necessitate snowshoes), but there are some good tips and advice that can be taken away for many contexts. However, it was the sheer amount of money (over £1,700.00) that it takes to construct a winter outfit that started me thinking.


The lure of gear and equipment is great, and outdoor companies are very good with their marketing, tapping into the desire in all of us for lots of new, shiny kit. In that way, the call to find alternative ways of putting together a kit list, which do not involve shelling out lots of dosh, was appealing.


I remember buying my first pair of walking boots, which cost, perhaps £5.00 or £10.00. There were, of course, second hand, and pretty beaten up, with those old school bright red laces. However, with some loving attention and copious amounts of dubbin (i.e., NikWax leather waterproofing), they served out the rest of their working life well.


It is no wonder that there is a large demand for winter kit. The hills and mountains in winter are special – we all dream of blue sky days, striding out over crisp, crunchy snowfields or topping out from a climb into sunshine, which twinkles in the summit ice crystals. However, I think too easily we get sucked into the material image of winter backpacking, mountaineering and climbing.


In Scotland, at least, for every blue sky day, there might be days, or even weeks, of claggy, dreich days, during which their are no views, maybe less snow and perhaps a fair bit of misery. If you buy into the image of winter mountaineering, you need to prepared for the hardships that come with it.


You buy into the lifestyle, you buy into the reality.


By kitting yourself out with ice axe, crampons and all the other funky kit, in a way, you tacitly sign up to what that entails: going to some quite remote locations, with some serious terrain in the Grade I territory, and a whole mixed bag of weather, as is normal in the mountains of the UK. If you’re not getting out, then you might want to question the point of all the money expended and the role of the gear.


That is not to say that specialist, technical gear is reserved for the professional, high-end climbers and mountaineers. Rather, have a thinking about what you are going to do with the stuff before you buy it. How often are you going to get out? Is the latest head torch or minimalist sleeping bag really justified for a low-level carside camp when you’ve already got one already?


At the end of the day, experience and fun count for more than the image. Stay safe and enjoy yourself out there.


Postscript 30/11/12:  Rab released a interesting video which reinforces the points above. You don’t necessarily get more for your money with a very technical item, but a product which is specialised for a particular activity. You can still spend less money and end up with a piece of equipment wholly suited to you activity and which may last longer. http://blog.rab.uk.com/2012/11/30/how-to-choose-the-right-down-product-for-you/

Categories: Blog, Winter
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment