With autumn upon us, the fells are going brown as flora and fauna prepare to sleep through the harshness of winter. This is a great time to be out on the fells, there's a quiet solitude awaiting those who do. Especially away from the popular areas you may go all day without seeing anyone else.
Do you stop walking during the winter months?
If not now is a good time to check over your winter gear. Wash and re-proof jackets and trousers, dig out those hats, gloves, balaclava, etc. Check everything is in good condition, including ice axe and crampons. If you use micro-spikes (we use Kahtoola Microspikes) they too need checking they are still sharp enough to grip on icy paths, and the rubber band has not perished. Repair or replace as appropriate.
Get it done now so that when the fells are snow-capped and bathed in inviting sunshine, you aren't faffing about whilst under pressure to get out there.
Talking of time, even if you don't plan to be out after dark it's an absolute must to take your head torch. A Petzl E-lite that lives in the rucksack all year as it weighs so little. It's certainly not something you want to deliberately be out with after dark but it'll get you home when push comes to shove.
The E-Lite is our backup for our main head torch. That should be something reliable which throws a good light that will last a few hours. There are many manufacturers: Fenix, Led-Lenser, Zebralight, Black Diamond, the previously mentioned Petzl, and the affordable Alpkit to name a few. All do lightweight and highly efficient LED torches. There is simply no excuse for being caught out by nightfall. Always take freshly charged batteries and, if possible, a spare set - this is also where a second torch is useful to enable you to change batteries.
Multiple pairs of gloves are also a good plan. Cold hands are not only uncomfortable but everything takes longer and becomes much more difficult. Start with a very thin liner pair so you can slip your hands in and out of your main gloves easily even when a bit damp. Then at least one pair of good waterproof gloves or mitts. Take a spare pair in case one gets lost in the wind, or gets soaked. It wouldn't be outrageous to take more. In extremis spare socks can be worn on your hands.
We like to take a synthetic belay or insulated jacket to throw on when stopping for more than a minute. It keeps the heat in and importantly keeps you functional. It can also be a life saver if you have an accident, or cannot move fast enough to generate sufficient heat. Prefer overlaying, as it's called, to taking off a jacket to put a fleece underneath.
If there is a bunch of you consider taking a group shelter, often called a bothy bag. Useful for lunch stops or for getting out of the weather to sort out problems.
Of course this article only touches on some of the issues encountered with kit, and conditions in the winter fells. Walkers who want to continue into winter conditions would be well advised to consider a Winter Skills course. There are many providers who work in the Lake District or Scotland as well as the national mountain sports centres: Plas y Brenin in Wales and Glenmore Lodge in Scotland.
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