Mountain climbing carries a certain degree of risk in even the warmest months, but this increases significantly in winter. It’s vital to plan ahead and exercise considerable caution on sites posing no obvious danger.
Heavy snowfall, plunging temperatures, and excessive winds can all make mountain climbing a challenge for the most experienced of us. Whether you’re planning on going out there as a pair or in a group, safety is paramount.
Never let yourself be complacent if there are several of you climbing together – everyone has to invest the same degree of preparation and vigilance.
Here are our tips for staying safe while mountain climbing in winter …
Research Avalanche Conditions Ahead of Time
Without doubt, avalanches are one of the most dangerous natural events in winter. Before you set out on your climb, check your local weather station for the latest updates. You should also visit avalanche.org, sponsored by The American Avalanche Association, which is filled with essential information.
You’ll also be able to find detailed information in forums and online communities, so get to know other like-minded climbers.
You may also want to call ahead to your destination’s ranger station, to ask for their advice on avalanche risks and expected conditions throughout the day.
Take the ‘Onion’ Approach
You need to wear several layers in winter. Rather than wearing a padded coat and a thick sweater, layers mean you can peel off should you start to overheat.
Sounds ridiculous? Consider the amount of physical exertion required to climb a mountain, and you’ll see how you can still overheat in chilly conditions. Being able to take a layer or two off will make you more comfortable, without you having to remove something more substantial.
Don’t forget to wear thermals, which wick moisture away from your skin. Carry spare socks and a change of thermals, in case you need to freshen up.
If you’re climbing snowy terrain in bright weather, sunglasses are essential to prevent glare affecting your sight. Snowblindness is a real danger, as is sunburn – pack sun-block in your backpack, even if you think you may not need it.
Choose the Smartest Route
Generally, climbing ridges is safer in winter than tackling faces. The reason? Ridges tend to be free of deep snow, and as they’re windswept the snow is typically safer to cross than powdery surfaces.
Just be careful, though, as cornices form on the side of ridges. If you tread on these without realizing, they may well break under your weight – sending you over the edge.
At a more basic level, choose routes that pose a simpler experience. Trails you may walk in summer without any problems whatsoever are likely to be totally different in winter, with heavy snowfall, rain, and ice. With information from the local weather station and other climbers, you’ll be able to identify the safest trails for your level of experience.
Again, this comes down to investing time into effective research. Simply heading out on a climb on the spur of the moment is easily done, and may seem exciting, but you can’t afford to ignore the dangers posed by winter mountains.
We stock a range of mountaineering gear to help you get the most out of your winter climbs, and have a range of waterproof backpacks to keep your supplies dry (vital in case you fall into snow often or get caught in the rain).
Prepare, pack all the right supplies, wear the best gear you can find, and don’t push yourself into challenges beyond your abilities.