More and more of us are taking up hiking as a way of getting fitter, enjoying the fresh air, (a moot point perhaps when it’s grey and raining), meeting like-minded people and exploring the natural environment.  For some, heading out into the mountains for the first time can seem daunting, and it can be reassuring to join up with others in a club setting, or go with a more experienced friend or a guide.  Once you have ventured out a few times and listened to conversations about different clothing and equipment, the best routes to take, the secret of good navigation and even what’s in the sandwiches, you realise there is a lot more to this hiking business than you first thought.

Perhaps you feel you don’t want to be just one of the followers in a group any longer, maybe you want to plan and choose your own routes, and to have the confidence and the ability to take to the hills independently.

This is where the Mountain Skills scheme comes in.

Mountain Skills is a comprehensive navigation and personal skills course that will equip you with the basic knowledge and skills to enjoy the mountain environment in safety.  It is administered by Mountaineering Ireland, who appoints individual ‘providers’ to deliver the courses.  It is divided into three parts, Mountain Skills 1 and Mountain Skills 2 are the two training modules, and they each take two days to complete. The third part is the assessment, also over two days. There is no obligation to take all three parts, but you should clearly start with Mountain Skills 1 and progress from there.

Mountain Skills course with Mountaintrails

Navigation is an important aspect of mountain travel, and poor navigation is the single most common cause for calling out a Mountain Rescue team. No surprise then, that navigation features as a large part of the Mountain Skills syllabus. It’s not all about being able to use a compass; reading a map, relating it to the ground, estimating distance and recognising topographical features, these are all important parts of the navigators ‘tool box’.  Mountain Skills teaches you when and how to use each one to move safely and proficiently through the mountains.

The Mountain Skills scheme will also teach you how to recognise and deal with mountain hazards; the environment, weather, hypothermia and terrain hazards are some of the topics covered.  Personal equipment, movement skills and what to do in the event of an emergency are also looked at in detail.

Mountain Skills is not a leadership qualification, but it is a prerequisite if you wanted to move on to higher qualifications such as the Mountain Leader award.

To quote Mountaineering Ireland, “Mountain Skills is a foundation for personal mountaineering proficiency”.

Night navigation on a Mountain Skills course

Many hikers are now taking part in the Mountain Skills scheme, and see it as a great way to acquire the basic skills for safe and enjoyable mountain days, or to fill the gaps in their hillwalking knowledge.

More details of the scheme can be found on the Mountain Skills page of our website, or on the Mountaineering Ireland website.

Mountaintrails has been accredited by Mountaineering Ireland to deliver Mountain Skills courses.


What is ‘Wind Chill’?

The core temperature of a human body is around 37C. The air around us is usually cooler than this and so we lose body heat, particularly from exposed skin.
Wind chill is the term that describes this heat loss, and the increased effects of low temperatures and wind.
When wind blows across the surface of exposed skin it will remove heat from that surface, making us feel colder than we would in still conditions. Wet skin and wet clothing will exacerbate the problem, as the rate of heat loss increases from wet surfaces.
The body compensates by sending more warm blood to heat the surface layers, eventually reducing our core temperature and risking hypothermia, (see our previous blog on hypothermia).
Well prepared for the icy conditions in the Wicklow mountains.


How do we deal with it?

We need to reduce the heat loss from our bodies, and the best way to do this is to wear insulating layers of windproof and waterproof clothing.
Waterproof shell jackets are also windproof and the addition of an insulating layer beneath will keep our body warm.
A warm hat is a must, keep it dry by raising the hood on your jacket. Keep your hands warm by wearing gloves, and carry a spare pair to change in to if they get wet.
You can help your body to generate heat by keeping energy levels high, eat regular high calorie snacks and take hot drinks with you on your hike.
It is important to be aware of the potentially dangerous effects of wind chill, and carry appropriate clothing to keep you comfortable, warm and safe when hiking in the winter months.