This is the second of two articles that aim to encourage a healthier lifestyle through hillwalking and hiking.   The first, ‘Walking for Wellness – getting started’, can be found on our website blog.

 

1. Love your feet

Getting the right footwear is possibly the most important factor in determining the success of your hillwalking career.

For tracks and low level routes when you might have only a light pack, then lightweight flexible boots would suffice.  More demanding ground, such as rocky, high mountain paths would require a more rigid boot, with a stiffer more aggressive sole for grip and perhaps a higher level of ankle support.  Fabric and leather mix boots are now very popular, they are a good for general hiking use and would be an ideal first boot purchase. These boots combine comfort and lighter weight with a good sole unit for grip; they should also have a waterproof membrane.

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Invest in some waterproof hiking boots, and ensure you get the right fit.

For rocky mountain trails you will need a more durable boot that has a semi-rigid construction, higher ankle cuff, toe protection and a high grip sole for security on steep ground.  These boots were traditionally made of leather, a durable and waterproof material when treated properly; they are now also available with synthetic uppers and a waterproof lining.

All this means little if your boots are not comfortable, and getting the right fit is the primary consideration. Firstly, forget your shoe size, unless you are used to buying hiking boots, it will be of little use to you, get the store to measure your feet to determine the size and width that you need.  Secondly, wear hiking socks when trying on the boots, if you don’t have any the store should give you a choice to try. Once you have the boots on walk around the store, try some stairs if possible, good outlets will have a ramp to walk up and down to check for heel lift and toe squeezing.  Finally, try on several different pairs from different manufacturers, go to other stores if necessary, and get the best fit you can.

Buy some comfortable and cushioning hiking socks while you are there.

You will need to wear your boots in, work up to half day hikes before using them for a full day’s hillwalking.  For more information check out our blog on buying your first hiking boots.

2. Dress for Success (Think like an Onion)

Layering your clothing gives flexibility and allows for better temperature regulation. Cotton shirts should be avoided as they have poor heat retention when damp. Jeans are definite out, they are heavy, cold and slow to dry when wet, choose trekking or hillwalking trousers instead.

A good layering system should comprise:

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Layering up for comfort; baselayer, mid (fleece) layer and water/windproof outer layer.

Base layer – a good base layer should move moisture away from your skin, it should be comfortable and offer a degree of insulation. The choice is usually between synthetic, (polypropylene or polyester), or wool, (predominantly merino).

Opt for a front zip, as this will help with temperature regulation.

Mid/Insulating layer – this will provide most of the warmth by trapping air in the fibres of the material. Often a synthetic fleece, though wool mid layers are available, they provide insulation while transferring moisture to the outer layer to evaporate.

Outer shell – a jacket with a hood will protect you from wind, rain and snow, and should be both waterproof and breathable. Jackets with full length zips are ideal as they are easier to take on and off.

3. Bring the right Gear

Apart from your boots the most important items you buy should be your waterproof jacket and trousers; these are literally a life saver in Irish mountain weather.

Don’t skimp here, get the best you can afford, jackets that use breathable membranes such as Gore-tex or Event work best, other manufacturers have their own brand of breathable materials.  A good article on choosing a waterproof jacket can be found  on the UKHillwalking website: http://www.ukhillwalking.com/articles/page.php?id=4090

You will also need a hat and gloves, map and compass, a spare warm layer, small first aid kit, headtorch and bivi bag in case of emergency, and a small rucksack of around 25 litres to put it all in.  Some folk like to use walking poles when hiking, but they don’t suit everyone, try to borrow some at first to see if they are for you.

This seems like a lot to buy, but you can compromise on some items and some supermarkets now offer a range of decent budget gear.

4. Learn to Navigate

It is important for any hillwalker to be able to navigate across open and mountainous country. Most Mountain Rescue call-outs are as a result of poor navigation.

Learn how to use a map and compass, perhaps get a proficient friend to teach you, or better still, enrol on a course, you can find details of Mountaintrails navigation courses on our website.

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Finding their way across open country on a Mountaintrails navigation course.

GPS technology is a great navigational aid, but should only be used as a backup to map and compass skills. Batteries fail when they run down or get cold and you may lose the signal in deep valleys and in forests. Smartphone mapping apps using the inbuilt GPS are very popular too, but are notorious for running down the phone battery, and may fail if the unit gets wet.

 5. Don’t go it Alone

Heading out alone can seem a daunting prospect, and can be risky. Unless you are experienced and proficient it is best avoided.  Why not join up with a few friends and enjoy those shared experiences, or join a local hillwalking club?  Mountaineering Ireland have a list of all the walking clubs in Ireland, and would be happy to help you find one nearby:  info@mountaineering.ie

Meetup groups are also becoming increasingly popular, and there are bound to be some hillwalking groups in your area.http://www.meetup.com/

6. Stay Fuelled and Hydrated

When we exercise we burn calories, and the same is true of hillwalking, indeed, on a full day hiking in the hills you can burn in excess of 3,000 calories. Part of the reason we go hiking may be to lose weight, but it is important to have enough energy to get through the day too.

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Fuel up with a good breakfast to start the day

Fuel up at the start of the day. Don’t miss breakfast, and eat complex carbohydrates which release energy slowly, porridge with honey is good, as is muesli with dried fruit and nuts. A cooked breakfast will also give you plenty of fuel for the day, bon appetite!

At your lunch stop refuel with more slow energy release food, oatcakes, bananas and peanut butter sandwiches are all good examples. Chocolate bars and jelly babies make great treats too!

It is essential to drink plenty of fluids, especially in warm weather, dehydration is very debilitating, and can be life threatening. It is generally recommended to drink 2 litres a day, but in reality this varies with individuals, the weather, and the severity of the walk. Try to avoid caffeine rich drinks, like tea and coffee, as these are diuretic. For a warming drink in cold weather try hot chocolate, or a fruit tea with a spoonful of honey.

 

7. One Step at a Time 

When you start out, consider your ability level, don’t try to take on too much initially, start small and build it up steadily, gradually increasing the severity of the walks.

Think about the proposed route, and ask yourself these questions, ‘how far is it, how much ascent is involved, how long will it take me, when does it get dark, can I comfortably complete this walk?’ Once you have decided on the hike, leave a plan of your route and the time you expect to return with a friend or family member, so you can be found in an emergency.

8. Be Weather Aware (And other Mountain Hazards)

Mountains have their own weather patterns, you don’t have to be a scientist to know it gets colder as you get higher. In fact it gets colder at an average of 1.5C for every 100 metres of height gain, so if it’s 10C on the coast it could be below freezing on the summit of Lugnaquilla!

Check the weather forecast and look out particularly for temperature, wind speed and precipitation. A combination of low temperature, rain and wind will produce a wind-chill much cooler than the air temperature, and can lead to hypothermia, so be prepared. After heavy rain, mountain streams quickly become torrents and become very difficult to cross, avoid crossing water if at all possible, and especially during or immediately after, wet weather.

On a brighter note, don’t forget your sunscreen and a wide brimmed hat in hot sunny weather, and take extra drink too!

9. Respect the Mountain Environment

The hills and mountains are home to many plants and wild animals, as well as providing a livelihood for many farmers and landowners. We have a responsibility to protect this environment and to treat it with respect. Avoid harming livestock, wildlife, birds, plants and trees, and leave nothing behind when you leave.

When out hiking with a dog, keep it under control and on a lead when near farm animals and other people. Remember to act responsibly and ‘Leave No Trace’ of your visit: http://www.leavenotraceireland.org/seven-principles

 

10. Remember to Smile (It’s fun after all).

Hillwalking can seem really tough at first, wet cloudy days, long and sweaty climbs, aching limbs and heavy packs. However, the more you walk the easier it gets, and the rewards are many.  Stunning mountain views and wonderful days out you will remember for years to come, increased fitness coupled with a tremendous sense of achievement. All enjoyed in the company of friendly and likeminded people.

OK?  Let’s go.

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Great views across the Wicklow mountains from above Glendalough.

Mountaintrails run a ‘Hillwalking for beginners’ course in April each year, this combines two guided training hikes and three informative training evenings in central Dublin, into one package. It is heavily discounted to encourage participation.

#jointheadventure

This blog is part one of a two part article on walking your way back to a healthier lifestyle. Part one aims to get you started with a regular walking routine, whilst part 2 covers the more strenuous activity of hillwalking.

I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.” ― John Muir (Scottish/American conservationist)
HOW UNFIT ARE WE?
It seems we intuitively know that going for a walk is good for us, and that ‘getting a bit of fresh air’ will make us feel better.Despite this, 40% of men and 50% of women are still not taking enough exercise to benefit their health.  This increases the risk of serious illnesses, and increases the risk of being overweight.  In England 60% of adults are classed as overweight or obese.According to the Lancet, being inactive increases the risk of cancer, heart disease, stroke and diabetes by 25–30% and shortens lifespan by between 3 and 5 years. [i]
WHY WALKING?
If you go jogging, or running, you will burn more calories per hour than you would if you walked briskly, but over a set distance the numbers of calories burned are similar, it simply takes longer when walking.However, when you run there is a greater risk of injury to ankle, knee and hip joints due to the high impact nature of the activity. Walking, by contrast, is a low impact activity that is unlikely to cause injury.Walking reduces the risk of heart disease to a greater degree than running, burns more fat in the long term, and is free, requiring no special equipment, training, or gym or club memberships.

When walking, you can wear everyday clothing, reducing embarrassment for unfit or overweight people.

For many people, running is not an option, either they are carrying a pre-existing injury to ankles, knees or hips, or they are already overweight and find running to stressful, embarrassing or painful on their bodies.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) have stated that:

“Walking is the most likely way all adults can achieve the recommended levels of physical activity.”[ii]

 

People-Walking

No specialist gear required, just comfortable clothing

THE BENEFITS

Walking can bring a number of health benefits, many well documented, from improved sleep to reducing the risk of cancer.

The major physiological benefits include:

  • Improved cardiovascular fitness, (heart, lungs and circulatory system).
  • Improved muscular fitness.
  • Lower risk of certain cancers, particularly colon, breast and lung cancer.
  • Increased bone density, important in reducing risk of osteoporosis.
  • Lower blood pressure and reduced risk of strokes and heart disease.
  • Contributes to weight loss, (figures vary, but a 90kg person walking on a level path for 30 mins would burn approx. 160 calories).

Walking is important for our mental wellbeing too.

According to a study published in the American journal Environmental Science & Technology; outdoor exercise can provide, “greater feelings of revitalization and positive engagement, decreases in tension, confusion, anger and depression, and increased energy.”

A recent study, also in America, has found quantifiable evidence that walking outdoors, and specifically in a natural environment, can lead to a lower risk of depression.

In the study, participants who walked for 90 minutes in a natural environment, as opposed to those who walked in an urban setting, showed less activity in the part of the brain associated with depression.

“These results suggest that accessible natural areas may be vital for mental health in our rapidly urbanizing world,” said co-author Gretchen Daily, Bing Professor in Environmental Science and a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. [iii]

 

WHAT DO YOU NEED TO START?

At the very basic level, all you really need is a comfortable pair of shoes, they should fit you properly, give adequate support to your feet and not cause blisters.

Wear comfortable loose fitting clothing that allows for free movement. Choose several thinner garments rather than heavy, thick clothing. That way you can adjust your body temperature by adding or removing layers.

Once you start taking longer walks you may need to take some water to rehydrate, maybe something to eat, a spare warm layer or waterproof jacket, sunscreen, a hat, and a small rucksack to fit it all in.

If at some stage you decide to walk in hill terrain, off paths and on uneven ground, then you should consider investing in a pair of hiking boots, waterproof clothing, walking poles and perhaps hillwalking trousers and fleece top. (See part 2, ‘Hiking for Health’, for more details).

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Choose well fitting, comfortable shoes

 

STARTING OUT

Remember, it’s a good idea to check with your doctor before you start walking if you haven’t exercised for a long time, are overweight or have a pre-existing medical condition.

There is little to be gained in trying to follow a pre-set training plan when you first start out walking, as we are all individuals and start at different levels and progress at different rates. Aim for a baseline fitness level of 30 minutes walking on level terrain each day, for 5 days a week. This should be at a moderate intensity level, which means breathing deeply and rhythmically, whilst still being able to talk, and not be out of breath.

The idea of starting an exercise routine can seem daunting, so start small and build slowly.  Begin with a 15 minute walk, and see how it feels.

The next day try it again, and if you’re feeling strong add 5 or 10 more minutes. Work up to a 30 minute walk a day by the end of the week.

If walking for 30 minutes at a stretch seems impossible, or you don’t have the time, don’t worry. There is evidence to suggest that three 10 minute walks can give the same health gains as one 30 minute walk, and is a good way to get you started.

Think about walking to work a few days a week, or maybe walk part of the way and catch your bus a few stops along the route. If you commute by car, try to walk a little in your lunch break, it all helps to improve your fitness and gets you outside in the air.

Why not take a friend with you? Walking is a very sociable activity, and a great way to catch up on news and have a chat.

If you like technology you can log your walks with a gps, or use a pedometer.  Try to walk 10,000 steps a day. Most of us walk between 3,000 and 4,000 steps a day anyway, so walking 10,000 isn’t as difficult as it might sound.

Remember to stay hydrated, muscles work better and recover quicker if they are properly hydrated. For your 30 minute walk take a small bottle of water with you and sip this as you walk, and drink again when you get home.

 

BUILDING IT UP

If after a couple of weeks you are feeling stronger, introduce an incline into your routine. Walking uphill works the calf muscles, thighs, gluts, and hip flexors, and will burn more calories than walking on the flat. Extend your hikes to include some uneven ground, this will help your balance, and improve your upper body and ankle strength.

Carry a small rucksack with your drink, warm layer, and waterproof jacket inside, the added weight will strengthen your back, core (torso), and legs, as well as burning more calories and increasing your cardiovascular (heart, lungs and circulatory system), fitness.

Consider using walking poles, they need not be expensive, try the discount stores and supermarkets.

Used like ski sticks, walking poles will take some of the strain off your knees, particularly in descent, and contribute to a ‘whole body workout’ as you are using your arms and shoulders as well as your torso, to propel yourself forward.

At the end of your walk do a little light stretching, your calves’ thighs and back will all benefit from this. Don’t stretchbefore your walk as your muscles will not have warmed up and you could damage them at this stage.

If, as you progress, you want to expand your horizons and venture into hillwalking and mountain hiking, consider joining a local walking group, they will often give a trial membership period, and are a great source of advice.

You can also check out part 2 of this blog ‘Hiking for Health’, coming out next week.

 

[i] Wen CP, Wu XF. Stressing harms of physical inactivity to promote exercise. Lancet 2012,

[ii] 380:192–193. NICE. Walking and Cycling: Local Measures to Promote Walking and Cycling as Forms of Travel or Recreation (NICE public health guidance 41, 2012).

[iii] Gregory N. Bratmana,1, J. Paul Hamiltonb, Kevin S. Hahnc, Gretchen C. Dailyd,e,1, and James J. Gross

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA June 29 2015

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Russ Mills delivering a backpack of warm outdoor gear to the Basecamp store in Dublin.

   The number of homeless people on the streets of Dublin, and more widely in Ireland is growing rapidly. The homeless charity, Focus Ireland, estimates that there are up to 5,000 people at any one time who are homeless in Ireland.

  As part of tackling this problem and making things a little bit easier for those homeless people over the coming winter, Basecamp Ireland, have started an initiative in association with Dublin City Council and Crosscare Social Support Services, which is a backpack challenge to help the homeless.

  The aim of this challenge is to get as many backpacks as possible filled with warm clothing and other items and sent up to the Bru Aimsir service that is currently housing 100 homeless people every night in Thomas Street in Dublin.

The backpack can be filled with a wide range of things such as:

  • Hats
  • Water Bottles
  • Socks
  • Scarves
  • Long Sleeved T-Shirts
  • Waterproof Clothes
  • Jackets
  • Flasks
  • Toiletries
  • Hoodies
  • Jumpers
  • Lip Balm

At Mountaintrails, we were happy to be able to help the #backpackchallenge by donating spare gear.

Let’s help those less fortunate than ourselves this winter and give the homeless a little comfort.

Backpacks can be dropped into the Basecamp store in Middle Abbey Street or dropped directly into the Crosscare Staff in Thomas Street, Dublin. 

Thank you.

When you’re out and about in the hills and mountains at this time of year, you would be forgiven for thinking the brown, bare and seemingly lifeless hillsides offer little to see in the way of wildlife, but think again, you are surrounded by some of the most fascinating living organisms on Earth, the lichens.

 

Lichens are everywhere in the outdoor environment, they give colour and texture to much of the bare rock in the mountains, to tree bark in the woods, and to fence posts, graveyards and walls in the countryside.

 

They are ubiquitous, but largely ignored. So here are 10 things you probably didn’t know about lichens:

  1. Lichens occupy around 8% of the land surface of the Earth. They are often the first species to occupy bare rock, and act as a source of nitrogen for other species, such as birds. They are an essential component of many food chains.
  1. They are a composite, symbiotic organism, comprising a fungus, (a bit like bread mould), and an algae, (related to seaweed). Sometimes they are combined with a third organism, cyanobacteria. The fungi give protection and support, whilst the algae and cyanobacteria are photosynthesizers and produce food from water, carbon dioxide and sunlight.
  1. Ireland is very rich in lichens, having over 1,160 recorded species. There are around 20,000 lichen species on the Earth.
  1. Lichens fall into 4 basic types. Crustose, which form a crust on surfaces like rock and bare metal. Foliose, which have a distinctive upper and lower surface, and resemble foliage. Fruticose, which take the form of cup lichens (pixy cups), bearded (old man’s beard) and shrubby lichens (reindeer moss). And finally, Squamulose, which take scale or plate like form.

    Crustose lichen, possibly Ophioparma, clinging to bare granite rock.

  1. Lichens grow very, very slowly, less than 1mm a year, and a believed to be some of the longest living organisms on the planet, some have been found to be 4,500 years old.
  1. Lichen like forms of life have been identified in the fossil record as far back as 600 million years ago.
  1. Most lichens are very vulnerable to air pollution, as they absorb heavy metals from their environment. This makes them good indicators of pollution levels, and in this way they act as biomonitors.

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    A foliose lichen, with its leaf like structure.

  1. Lichens with known growth rates have been used to date geological events, such as the retreat of glaciers in the North American arctic.
  1. Lichens are able to shut down their metabolism during periods unfavourable to growth, such as extreme heat, cold and drought.
  1. Having adapted to life in marginal habitats, lichens have produced more than 500 biochemical compounds, some of which have been used as dyes, poisons and medicines by traditional native societies. Today they are used in the perfume industry.

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Cladonia coccifera and Cladonia diversa, Pixy cup and Devil’s matchstick lichens. These are both fruiticose forms.

 

If you want to discover more about lichens, and specifically those found in Ireland, join one of our Wicklow guided hikes this winter at: http://mountaintrails.ie/guided-hikes-and-mountaineering-courses/

If you wish to read more, check out ‘ Lichens of Ireland’ – by Paul Whelan (Collins Press)

Or go to his website: http://www.lichens.ie/

Accurate navigation is all the more imperative in winter.

With the shorter daylight hours comes the increased likelihood of you having to descend in the dark. There is the increased risk of poor visibility, or even white out conditions when windblown snow particles can blur the boundaries between earth and sky, (known as the ‘white room’).  Paths, streams, boundaries and even lakes can disappear under a blanket of snow.  Once, on Aonach Mor in the Scottish Highlands I was searching for the summit cairn only to be told it was under my feet, buried by the snow.

Good navigators know where they are at all times, and can follow their progress on a map. This is so important in winter conditions, when icy snow slopes and corniced edges can increase the hazards you face.

The essential tools for winter navigation are the map and compass, an altimeter can be useful too, (more of which later).

Keep your map in a soft plastic map case, folded so the area you are hiking in is shown. This should be kept handy, inside your jacket or in a secure pocket, it’s no use to you in the bottom of your rucksack, get it out and use it.

Your compass should be of a high quality, the mountaineering bodies in Ireland and the UK recommend the Silva 4 Expedition model. Use the lanyard to fix it to your rucksack strap or a toggle on your jacket, so you won’t lose it, and remember to keep it away from electronic devices, as these will deflect the needle and give inaccurate readings.  In the windy conditions often experienced in winter maps and compasses can easily be blown away and lost, so practice good map management, (and carry a spare just in case).

Don’t be tempted to rely on GPS or phone app systems for your navigation, they can be a useful back up, but cold kills batteries and your unit may fail, leaving you stranded.

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Winter conditions experienced in the Wicklow mountains, Ireland.

Preparation is the key. It is important to check the weather forecast several days before you go, if there is a risk of snow check out any available avalanche forecasts too. Do not try to take on too much, progress is slow in winter and daylight hours are few. Plan your ascent and descent routes taking into account potential hazards and plan an escape route in the event of abandonment. Draw up a route card and break down your journey into a number of navigation legs, try to keep the legs short to reduce inaccuracies when navigating in poor visibility.

When beginning any navigation leg, or trying to determine your position, the first thing to do is to orientate the map. This is also called setting, and involves lining the north south grid lines on the map with north on the ground. In good visibility this can be achieved by sighting features in the landscape and lining them up with the corresponding feature on the map. In poor visibility you may need to orientate the north south grid lines with north by using the north (red) end of the compass needle.

Sometimes this may be all you need to do to determine your direction of travel and to identify your objective, but in poor visibility it may be necessary to walk on a bearing.

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Navigating at night is the ultimate in poor visibility navigation and requires skill and accuracy.

When navigating in poor visibility consider the 4 D’s before each leg; Distance, Direction, Duration, Destination.

Distance.

Measure the distance to your next target using either the compass romer or the measuring scale on the edge of the housing. To know how far to walk you should use either pacing or timing, or both.  Pacing is the technique of counting the number of double paces to your objective. Knowing how many paces you take to walk 100 metres in different conditions and terrain, you can then count out the multiples of 100 metres until you reach the distance measured. Pacing works best over shorter distances of several hundred metres, for greater distances timing is often used. Timing relies on knowing how fast you are walking, say 4 km/hr, and doing a calculation to determine how long it will take you to reach the objective.

These techniques may sound complicated, but they are one of the cornerstones of good navigation, and become easier with practice.

Direction.

To determine which direction to walk in you must take a bearing from the map with your compass. Estimate it first, this will help avoid errors, particularly the often made 180 degree error, where south is mistaken for north on the map, or you have the compass pointing from the objective to your current position instead of the other way round.

Once you have your bearing you must adjust it to take account of the magnetic variation between magnetic and grid north, check the map before you set out as the information you need is in the legend. Sight along the compass to an object in line with the bearing and walk to it, repeat this process until you reach the objective.

If visibility is so poor you cannot see anything ahead, send a companion ahead of you and adjust their position until they are in line with the bearing, walk toward them and repeat the process.

Taking and walking on bearings can seem daunting, and requires training and practice, but there are a number of online resources to help, some useful sources are listed at the end of this article.

Destination.

What do you expect to see when you reach the objective? You should have at least 3 features or characteristics of the target to enable you to confirm you have arrived in the right place. When you reach the objective ask yourself the question, ‘Do I see what I expect to see?’

To avoid overshooting, determine what feature will tell you that you have gone too far, this is a catching feature, and could be a stream, a change of slope, or a boundary.

It is a good idea to identify features you might see or cross on route, by noting these features as you pass them you can confirm your position. These are called tick features as you ‘tick’ them off as you go, they also give a good deal of confidence that things are going according to plan!

Duration.

How long will it take to reach the objective? This is linked to the timing mentioned earlier, and again you need to know how fast you walk and the distance to the objective.

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The winter mountains bring challenging but wonderful days out. The south ridge of Snowdon, North Wales.

Altimeters are a very useful tool in winter navigation. It can be important to know how far up or down a slope you are, particularly if you have to make a change of direction when descending a spur. By reading the contour height from the map and relating it to the altimeter reading it is possible to accurately determine your position. Remember to calibrate the altimeter regularly at spot heights and summits, as they often rely on barometer readings, which can change rapidly in winter.

Finally, if it all goes horribly wrong and you can’t recognise anything in the landscape, don’t panic. Take a breather, have a warm drink or a sugary snack. As long as you have been walking on your bearing and know how far and how long you have been walking, you can always turn your compass by 180 degrees and return to your last know position, the beginning of the navigational leg. This is a back bearing and can return you to a place you can identify on the map, from here you can re-calculate the 4 D’s and begin the leg again.

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Winter navigation can be tough, but the rewards are immense. Looking towards Glen Coe in the Scottish Highlands.

Navigating in winter will test the skill of the best navigators, and requires all the above techniques and a lot of practice to become completely proficient. However, when you have learned the skills and gained the experience the winter mountains are open to you in all their magical beauty.

If you want to learn to be a competent and self-reliant winter navigator you can join one of our Mountaintrails navigation courses.

Other useful resources:

British Mountaineering Council: https://www.thebmc.co.uk/articles/Walking/Skills

Mountaineering Ireland: http://www.mountaineering.ie/TrainingAndSafety/SkillsVideos/default.aspx

The Wicklow Mountains are a range of granite hills a short drive south of Dublin on the east coast of Ireland. Formed by the glaciers that covered this land more than 12,000 years ago, they are now a series of rounded mountains and ‘U’ shaped valleys that rise to a high point of 940 metres but are more typically 600-800 metres high.

The poor nutrient levels of the thin soils and the dense peat that covers much of the hills, coupled with the high rainfall that leaches out what little goodness remains, results in a sparse heathland cover of heather, sedges, bilberries and mosses. Wild deer and a few sheep graze these hills, cropping the low vegetation and preventing tree regeneration. The lower slopes are forested with commercial conifer plantations, their dark interiors dripping with wet mosses and lichens, whilst a few areas of ancient oak and birch woods remain, and are now protected.

The Glendalough valley is a great place to start a hike, there is good parking, facilities and plenty of food and drink outlets. The waymarked paths can get crowded here on holidays and weekends, so this hike takes us away from the popular routes and onto a scenic ridge walk, with great all round views.

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Looking down to the Glendalough valley from Derrybawn

Glendalough translates from the Irish as the ‘glen of the two lakes’. Originally one lake, over time sediment from a stream flowing into the lough has eventually dammed it and cut it in two.

Our hike starts from the visitor centre, where we follow the ‘Green Road’ as it winds along the side of the valley through ancient woods preserved originally by the monks of the nearby monastery. We soon leave this behind us as we head up a narrow track through more oak and birch woodland to reach open country.

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Derrybawn Ridge

Our route now takes us steeply upward through heathland and pine plantation to the top of Derrybawn, the start of the ridge and a wonderful place to enjoy the views of the hills, valleys and mountains that surround us.

After taking in the views and catching our breath, we follow the ridge southwest, and as it broadens out we turn north west to take in our highpoint for the day, Mullacor, (from the Irish, Mullach Mhór, meaning ‘Big summit’), at 657 metres (2,156 ft) high.

In the saddle beyond the mountain our path is crossed by the Wicklow Way long distance trail, here there is the shelter of some trees, and a good place to break for lunch.

Continuing on our way, we follow a track that traverses around part of Lugduff  before we join a wooden boardwalk path at the top of the steep cliff that marks the southern side of the glaciated valley of Glendalough.

This is the Spinc, and from here there are stunning views east and west along the valley, and down to the lake 400 metres below.

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On the Spinc

Heading east now we follow the boardwalk along the cliff top until it descends into woodland and past the beautiful waterfall of Poulanass, before reaching the valley floor.

From here we can return to the visitor centre, but not before we linger a while at the ancient ruined monastic settlement with its iconic round tower. Founded by St. Kevin, and built in the 9th– 12th century, these ancient early Christian buildings attract many visitors and are a major attraction in Glendalough.

This hike is graded as moderate in our itinerary, and is 14km (8.5 miles), with an ascent of 560 metres (1837 ft).

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The monastic round tower

To join this, or any other of our guided hikes, click here to go to our website.

A land where sea, sky and mountain meet, and the inspiration for CS Lewis’s ‘The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe’, the Mourne mountains in County Down, Northern Ireland, are the provinces only significant mountain range.  They sit on the east coast, 50km south of Belfast and around 100km north of Dublin, the Mournes are one of our most popular day hiking tours, starting from our base in Dublin.

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Descending the southern flank of Slieve Donard, and looking into the Annalong valley.

The Mournes are comprised of granite, and many of the tops are crowned with statuesque granite tors. They have steeply sloping flanks, vegetated with rough grasses, sedges, cottongrass and heather.  In places the slopes give way to imposing crags and cliffs, and here you will find the ravens and possibly see peregrine falcons. Look out also for buzzards and stonechat as well as the more common meadow pippit.

The range can be divided into the eastern High Mournes and the western Low Mournes, and in the far northeast corner can be found the highest peak and the highest point in Ulster, Slieve Donard, at 850 metres (2790ft).  Named after St. Domangard, a 5th C follower of St. Patrick, Donard is the anglicised version of his name, Slieve translating from the Irish as mountain.

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Slieve Donard and the Mourne wall.

Slieve Donard looks rather like an upturned pudding, with its’ eastern flank reaching down to the sea, and is topped by two large ancient burial cairns, and by the more modern tower, (one of three), of the Mourne Wall.

The views from the summit are spectacular, on a clear day the Isle of Man is clearly visible to the north east, and in clear air the mountains of the English Lake District and Snowdonia in Wales can be seen on the horizon.  If you can draw your eyes away from the coastal panorama and look inland, the whole of the Mourne mountains are laid out before you, valleys, crags and tors.

This compact range of mountains comprises 6 mountains over 700 metres, including the majestic looking and tor topped Slieve Binnian and Slieve Bernagh.

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Looking across the Mournes from Slieve Donard summit cairn.

The area is very popular with hikers, and is crossed by many paths, making navigation relatively simple. To assist further with navigation is a wall, the Mourne Wall, one of the ranges most distinctive and iconic features. Sometimes referred to as a miniature Great Wall of China, the wall is over 35 kilometres long, goes over no less than 15 tops, and encloses 36 square kilometres of land.

It was built between 1904 and 1922 as a dry stone wall, without mortar, and averages 1.5 metres high and 0.9 metres thick. Constructed by the Belfast Water Commissioners, it was designed to protect the water supply for city of Belfast from cattle and sheep, and at its’ heart lies the Silent Valley dam and reservoir, completed in 1933. A later reservoir, Ben Crom, was added in the 1950’s.DSC_1949

On the Brandy Pad.

Water from a second river enclosed by the Wall, the Annalong river, is diverted via a tunnel through the mountain of Slieve Binnian, to drain into the Silent Valley reservoir.

A clearly recognisable route through the mountains is the Brandy Pad and the Trassey Track, this was an old smugglers route from the 18th and 19th century, where ponies would bring contraband such as tobacco, wine and spirits from the coast inland.

Today this track sees only enthusiastic hikers, enjoying the mountain air and taking in the wonderful scenery.

 

This is the time of year for crisp clean air, far reaching views and stunning sunsets, it’s a great time to go hiking in the mountains of Ireland and Britain. The days may be shorter, but the quality of the light and the golden russet colours of autumn draw us like magnets into the hills.

As autumn turns to winter the weather in the mountains becomes a lot more unpredictable, a cool autumn day in the valley can turn into an icy and windy blizzard on higher ground.

It gets considerably colder as you gain height, at a rate of approximately 1.5C per 100 metres of ascent. 5C in the valley can become -3C on the higher mountain tops, couple this with a stiff wind and the effect can be bone chilling.

Be well prepared, and in addition to your usual hiking gear be sure to pack the following important and possibly life saving kit:

Hat and Gloves

It’s a no brainer, right?

You’ve got your fleece gloves and warm hat at the ready, but remember to take spares of both as gloves are easily lost, (I am forever finding odd gloves lost in the hills). If your hands get really cold and numb you will lose dexterity and be unable to perform basic tasks, which can lead to potentially life threatening situations.

Consider taking a pair of insulated and waterproof winter gloves as well, they are a great help when the weather turns really cold.

My favourite combo would be a pair of light liner gloves coupled with fleece over gloves, and a pair of winter gloves in the pack just in case. With spares of the first two that makes five pairs of gloves in my kit! (I don’t like cold hands).

It can quickly turn wintry on higher ground, be prepared for snow!

Spare warm layer

Assuming you have adopted a three layer clothing system, you will be wearing a base layer, insulating mid layer such as a fleece, and a windproof outer layer, such as a soft shell jacket or waterproof shell.

It is a good idea to pack an extra warm layer to put on if there is an enforced or prolonged stop. This might occur if there is an injury to one of your party or if you are forced to rest in an exposed position.

This could take the form of a fleece jacket that could be put on under your shell. Most basic fleeces offer great insulation but are not windproof, so the heat you are generating may quickly be blown away by the wind.

Instead I prefer a lightweight insulated jacket with a windproof outer layer. In the wet winter climate of western Europe a down jacket will soon wet out and lose it’s insulating properties, so best to go for a jacket with a synthetic fill, such as primaloft. This works just as well when wet as it does dry, and can be put on over your existing wet jacket if necessary.

 

Some essential kit for safe and comfortable hiking in the colder weather

Waterproof shell clothing

Another no brainer. A waterproof jacket and pants are a must have item all year round, but are particularly important at this time of year. Make sure they are cleaned and reproofed ready for the hammering they will get.

Good quality shell clothing is a must to keep you dry in the autumn/winter as wet clothing is one of the major causes of hypothermia in the mountains.

You won’t get onto one of Mountaintrails guided hikes without your waterproof shell!

Boots and gaiters

The wetter weather of autumn/winter can take a heavy toll on your boots, make sure yours are up to the task.

Ideally you will have full leather boots and have put the fabric boots away until the spring, but either way ensure your boots are cleaned and treated with a waterproofing wax regularly, to keep them supple and watertight.

Wearing gaiters to cover the boot uppers is a good idea as it protects the boot and helps prevent water  and debris getting into your feet over the ankle cuff.

Torch

Remember, in these islands daylight saving time kicks in at this time of year and the clocks go back one hour, as a result it gets dark earlier, at around 17.00 in late October. Every year this catches out unwary hillwalkers who don’t seem to realise that it gets dark so early!

Being caught out in the mountains in the gathering darkness can be frightening for the inexperienced. Don’t be the one surprised by the shorter daylight hours and be sure to carry a headtorch, with spare batteries, when out hiking.

 

Benign weather in the valley can turn icy and cold near the summit

Map and compass

You always carry a map and compass with you, right?

The chance of cloud free summits at this time of year is much reduced, and poor visibility at height should be expected, so carrying a map and compass is a must, even if you are familiar with the route.

It’s a good idea to take a spare map with you, in case it gets blown away when opened on that windy ridge. Ensure your maps are laminated, or keep them in a soft plastic map case, as protection against the weather.

I carry a second compass as well, as a precaution against dropping or losing it.

Be sure you know how to use them and practice those navigation skills before you need them in earnest.

If you are not confident in your map and compass skills, attend one of our mountain navigation courses, held regularly through the year.

Don’t rely on technology, GPS and phone apps have a place, but can and do fail when they get wet, too cold, or when the batteries fade.

Mountain shelter

A mountain shelter is like a big orange, pole-less tent. You throw it over your heads and sit on the ‘hem’, this keeps it stable.

Inside you can keep warm and dry, out of the wind and rain, eat your lunch, take a break, or attend to an injury.

They are a great addition to your cold weather kit, and come in various sizes for different sized parties. A ‘must carry’ item for those guiding in the mountains.

 

Head torches and mountain shelter deployed on this early morning ascent of Lugnaquilla mountain.

The extra gear above doesn’t weigh as much as you might think, and will keep you safe and comfortable when hiking in the autumn/winter mountains.

The reassurance gained from knowing you have prepared for the worst will make it all worthwhile!

The mountains of southwest Ireland hold many treats for the hiker looking for a great day out, and none more so than Purple Mountain, (An Sliabh Corca), a superb peak on the boundary of the Killarney National Park, in County Kerry.

The mountain has twin summits, joined by an impressively narrow and rocky ridge, studded with cairns and with precipitous drops either side.

High on its flanks lie steep scree slopes of broken rock, red sandstones shattered by millennia of frosty winters, which give the mountain its name.

 

The misty summit of Purple Mountain, take care when the cloud is low!

 

Purple Mountain has two satellite peaks, Tomies to the north and Shehy to the east, both are only a little lower in height, and attached to the parent mountain by broad cols.

 

Though not a giant, (it stands at 830 metres or 2723 ft), Purple Mountain offers stunning all round views.

To the north is the large and impressive Lough Leane with its scattered small islands, like so many green jewels set in the silver and blue waters.

To the south the mountain descends rapidly to the Black Valley, which lies almost at sea level and is surrounded by a phalanx of it’s own steep sided mountains.

To the west lies the Gap of Dunloe, a narrow glacial valley, with inaccessible ramparts of rock and cascading streams.

 

A narrow road runs into the 5 kilometre long Gap, which is a popular destination for tourists, who often take in the sights in horse drawn carriages known locally as ‘jaunting cars’.

Beyond the Gap rise the narrow ridges and stunning peaks of the Macgillycuddy’s Reeks, here are the highest mountains in Ireland, Carrauntoohil, Cather and Beenkeragh, and the views across to this wonderful multi-peaked range are magnificent.

 

A traverse of this fine mountain is best undertaken from north to south, this gives the easier and more gradual ascent, whilst giving the best views of the valleys and mountains to the south in descent.

 

Looking south from Purple Mountain towards the Black Valley, with the Gap of Dunloe below us.

 
If travelling by car, park at Kate Kearney’s Cottage, here there is a carpark, cafe and facilities.  Head back down the road and take the first right into a narrow lane, at the end of which is a gate into farm land. Follow the obvious track and some waymarking arrows to gain a low ridge that rises to the right.

 

Once on the ridge head uphill on a muddy footpath that becomes a narrow sheep path. Continue ahead onto a rounded hill immediately north of Tomies mountain, from here the path can be followed up onto Tomies, the summit of which has a large cairn and a circular rock built shelter to protect hikers from the elements. Head due south across a broad col and on to Purple Mountain itself.

(Be aware that in low cloud the way ahead is rocky and by no means clear and you will need a map and compass and the ability to use them).

 

Descending towards Lough Glas

 

The lofty summit ridge of Purple is a great place to have lunch on a fine day, take shelter next to one of its three large cairns.

Take time to enjoy the superb views as you descend Purple Mountain, following a narrow path that leads down to the secretive and tranquil setting of Lough Glas. Stop here to reflect on its natural beauty before continuing down the rocky and rugged path to reach the Head of the Gap.

This is the highest point reached on the Gap of Dunloe road and here you should head north down the road and back towards the start point.

 

As you walk, take time to look at the impressive rock walls and the tumbling water, and to enjoy the series of small loughs that occupy the valley. Soon it will widen out to rough pasture and a few scattered dwellings before you find yourself back at the busy cafes and car park.

 

Gap of Dunloe.

 

The hike will take approximately 6 hours; has 890 metres of ascent and covers a distance of approximately 16 kilometres.

As with any hiking, check the weather forecast before you go, and consider an alternative day if the weather is very windy and the clouds are low.

Suggested map: OSI Adventure Series – Macgillycuddy’s Reeks 1:25000