I was recently asked to produce a list of essential kit that you should pack for a day out in the mountains, (outside of winter), and I have reproduced it here, with some expanded explanations:

  • Rucksack

A pack of 30 – 35 litres capacity is best, and would be sufficient for carrying what you would need for the day.

  • Rucksack liner or cover

My preference is always for a liner, a waterproof bag that sits in the main compartment of your pack and helps to keep the contents dry in wet weather. Rucksack covers have a tendency to come off in high winds and can be awkward to manage.

  • Waterproof drybags

Put those items that you want to ensure stay dry into drybags for extra protection form the weather.

  • Waterproof Jacket & Pants

Invest in a good waterproof jacket and waterproof pants. These are essential items to ward off both rain and cold winds. Inadequate protection from either can make you uncomfortable at best, and at worst can lead to hypothermia, as the chilling effects of wet clothes and high winds are greatly increased.

Choose one with a breathable membrane to reduce moisture building up inside, and ensure it has either waterproof zips or storm flaps to cover the zip, this will prevent water ingress through the front. Make sure it has a good hood too, with plenty of volume, and that this is adjustable.

  • Gloves

Take several pairs. I am often finding lost gloves and hats in the hills, so take spares to use in case you lose one. It’s also great to change into dry gloves half way through a wet day. Fleece type gloves are ideal for most conditions, but be prepared to upgrade to insulated and waterproof gloves in the colder months.

  • Warm hat

Brightly coloured beanies are the order of the day here!

Map and Compass – Essential items that you should know how to use.
  • Map and compass

Essential items for all hillwalkers, do not rely on smartphone apps as they can get wet and cold and then fail. Carrying a map and compass is not enough on its’ own, you need to be confident and competent in their use. If you are not sure how to navigate yourself around the mountains with a map and compass then go on a course to learn how to master these essential skills.

  • Warm spare layer

You may have an enforced stop in the mountains, maybe a colleague has an injury, or perhaps you are stopping for lunch in an exposed spot. In this scenario a spare warm layer is ideal. A synthetic insulated jacket is best, it can be put over your existing clothing, including wet waterproofs, and will warm you up straight away. A fleece jacket could be an alternative, but they are not windproof, so you would need to put it on under your windproof layer.

  • Food and Drink

Always ensure you have plenty of high calorie food available, and bring extra in case you are delayed and have to spend more time outdoors, a 75kg person with a day pack can burn around 450-500 calories an hour when hiking.

There is no rule concerning how much liquid you should take, though 1.5 litres is a good guide. Take more in hot weather, and take a hot drink in a flask when it is going to be cold. My favourite is a hot fruit tea with honey.

  • First Aid Kit

A bare minimum would be an ‘ouch-pouch’, this could consist of sticking plaster, antiseptic wipes and blister plasters, such as Compeed. You may feel you want a more comprehensive kit, but do get training in this case, and do not carry what you are not competent to use. REC (Rescue and Emergency Care) courses are very suitable and widely available. If you are part of a group then a larger, ‘group first aid kit’ should be carried between you.

  • Survival bag

This is rather like a plastic sleeping bag, bright orange, lightweight and cheap, and everyone should carry one in their pack. In emergency situations you can climb into this bag and it will protect you from the worst of the weather. They have often been attributed with saving lives in the mountains.

Group Shelters
  • A group shelter

Also known as an emergency or survival shelter, this is a plastic tent-like cover that a group of people can get into to give protection from the elements. They come in various sizes from 2 to 10 person, and would be used to protect a casualty or as a shelter on an exposed lunch stop. If you are hiking as part of a group then a larger one could be carried between you.

  • Head Torch

Essential in winter, and a good idea all year round, a head torch will provide you with light to get off the mountain should you be caught out in the dark, it can also be used for signalling for help. It’s a good idea to carry extra batteries, or a spare torch in addition.)

 

  • Emergency whistle

Many rucksacks now come with an integral whistle in the chest strap. Six one second blasts on the whistle, repeated after a short break, is the internationally recognised emergency signal. The reply from the rescuers is three blasts. It makes sense to carry one.

  • Duct tape

This amazing versatile tape has a myriad of uses, from repairing torn waterproofs to temporary boot repairs, it can also be used in a first aid context with proper training. Wrap some round your water bottle or walking pole).

 

Russ Mills owns and runs Mountaintrails, a guided hiking and navigation training business based in Dublin, Ireland 

 

 

 

One of the most important navigation skills is being able to relocate yourself when you have become ‘lost’ or more correctly, ‘temporarily misplaced’. Having the relocation techniques to deal with such a situation is a key element in being a competent navigator.

Firstly, do not panic. Stay calm and stay where you are.

Many people, on realising they are misplaced, will press on more quickly, or walk in any direction in the hope of finding something they recognise, thus making the problem worse.

Have something to eat and drink, this will both give you time to calm down and increase your blood sugar to help you think.

Gather All Available information

What can you see around you? Are any features in view, such as a forest edge or a stream, and what is the shape of the terrain around you, which way is the ground sloping?

How far have you walked since your last known position, (the location where you were last certain of your position). How long did it take you? What distinctive features did you pass, such as a path junction, knoll or forest edge?

See if you can locate any of these features on your map, and use the information to narrow down the possibilities.

Aspect of Slope

If the terrain you are on is sloping it is possible to use this important technique to help you find your position. Use your compass to take a bearing directly down the line of the slope, that is the line that a rolling ball might take, adjust for magnetic variation, and then search the map for slopes with that aspect.

Mountain Navigation - Aspect of slope

In the example above, if we know we are somewhere in the vicinity of hill 668, and we take a bearing down the slope of 198°, then we can eliminate all slopes that do not have that aspect.

With our bearing set on the compass, we can line up the orienting lines in the compass housing with the north-south grid lines on the map. By moving the compass around the map we can locate the slope(s) where the long edge of the baseplate is pointing directly down slope, (and is at right angles to the contours).

We can now locate ourselves somewhere on the southwest slope of hill 668.

Back Bearings

If you have been walking on a bearing, and the indications are that it was incorrect, then it is still possible to return to your last known position.

Instead of walking with the red end of the compass needle aligned with the orienting arrow, (keeping red in the shed), turn yourself through 180° and align the white end of the compass needle with the orienting arrow, (put white in the shed).

Following this bearing and remembering the paces, or time it took, you can return you to your previously known position. This will only work if you did not stray wildly off the original bearing, or wander around the hill hoping to see something you recognised.

Resection

Resection can be a time consuming process. It also relies on the fact that you can see far enough to identify two, and preferably three, major features that are also on the map such as hill tops or stream junctions.

It could be argued that if you can identify these features then you are not misplaced! However, under certain circumstances it can be a useful technique. If you are somewhere along a long, featureless ridge for example, and need to pinpoint your position more accurately.

Mountain Navigation - Relocation

 

  1. Take a compass bearing to a feature, and after converting it to a grid bearing, place one of the top corners of the compass baseplate on the feature identified on the map.
  2. Carefully manoeuvre the compass until the orienting lines in the housing line-up with the north-south grid lines on the map, being sure to keep the corner of the baseplate on the feature and the orienting arrow pointing north.
  3. Your position now lies somewhere along the long edge of the compass base plate, you can now plot this line on the map using a pen, (see red lines above).
  4. Repeat this for one or more features to pinpoint your position, depending on the accuracy with which you took the bearings your position will lie at the intersection of these lines.

 

Article by Russ Mills – Mountaintrails

These, and other navigation techniques, can be found in ‘Navigation in the Mountains’, published by Mountain Training and available through our website shop here:

http://mountaintrails.ie/shop/navigation-in-the-mountains-book/

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.

Feet comp

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:

clothes

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.

breakfast pic

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.

DSC_1718 comp

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

 

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.

Sundews, or Drosera, are a large genus of carnivorous plant with at least 194 separate species. Of these, 3 are found in Ireland and the British Isles.

They are similar in form and generally share the same habitat, which are acidic wet or waterlogged bogs and wet flushes in moorland.
Sundews are characterised by a basal rosette of reddish/orange leaves that are covered in hairs, each one topped by a sweet, sticky excretion. These attract and then ensnare small insects, often curling inward to further ensnare the victim. Prey insects are subsequently digested by enzymes secreted from glands in the leaves.
These insects are the predominant source of nutrition for the plant, the roots are weak and provide only moisture and anchorage for the sundew.

Between June and August the plants will produce a single stem from the centre of the rosette, on which bloom several small white flowers, and the black seeds subsequently produced are the plants means of reproduction. The plants are perennial, and will re-emerge each spring for many seasons.

Can you tell the difference between them?

Great Sundew – Drosera anglica , insectivorous plant of waterlogged bogs and moors, common in the west of Ireland and Britain but scarce elsewhere.

Oblong-leaved Sundew, Drosera intermedia, found on wet heaths and moors in the west of Ireland and locally common throughout the British Isles.

Round-leaved Sundew, Drosera rotundifolia, widespread throughout Ireland and Britain on wet heaths and bogs. (Notice the incurving hairs trapping the insect prey in the above photograph).

On the weekend of 14th-17th March, a Saint Patrick’s Day holiday weekend in Ireland, I ran a trip for the Hillwalkers Club from Dublin, to the ruggedly raw and beautiful mountains of Snowdonia, North Wales.
This remarkable area of mountains lies close to the coast at the northwest corner of Wales, and is within easy reach of Dublin by ferry and car.
Seven of us arrived around 20.00 at our accommodation in Llanberis village, a cosy guest house, and soon headed to the neighbouring pub for dinner and a discussion of the weekends plans.
The forecast was for dry but cloudy weather, without significant wind, but with the possibility of snow still lying on the higher tops, so plans were laid for the next day to hike to the summit of Yr Wyddfa, (Snowdon), at 1085 metres the highest mountain in England and Wales.
En route to the slate workings
The popular routes up this peak take well worn tracks from Pen y Pass, which involves the minimum of ascent, they can be crowded and are possibly the least interesting of the many ways to get up Snowdon.
I decided, therefore, to take the guys up the far more interesting and much quieter South Ridge, a route that starts at Rhyd Ddu on the west of the massif.
We started up an old mine track and headed to austere, tumbled down, and abandoned slate workings higher up the valley. From here we turned north, up the South Ridge, enjoying some mixed ground, rugged paths and rocky steps, before crossing the narrow and precipitous Bwlch Main and making a final pull to the summit.
Snowdon summit
The day ran true to form, with a good deal of cloud spoiling any chance of the wonderful views that can be had on this route. However, we had a great time, with only a little snow above 900 metres, and a relatively quiet summit to take our photographs.
We returned via the Rhyd Ddu path which brought us back to the car, and headed back to Llanberis to complete a satisfying day.
Day two brought more in the way of drizzle, but we were undeterred, and set off for Cwm Idwal at the base of the Glyders, a blocky range with four mountains over 3000 feet, Y Garn, Glyder Fach, Glyder Fawr and Tryfan.
After a relatively easy walk-in, passing Llyn Idwal and some damp looking climbers on the Idwal Slabs, a popular rock climbing venue, we tackled the rocky ascent up through the Devil’s Kitchen, past huge fallen blocks of volcanic ash rock and into an ever narrowing cleft in the dark mountainside.
All the team at Glyder Fawr summit
We emerged at a small lake, or llyn, on the bwlch between Y Garn and the rest of the massif, and reluctantly ignoring Y Garn itself, headed up a long rubbly scree slope to the summit of Glyder Fawr at 999 metres.
Our route now followed the Glyders ridge, a moonscape of frost shattered rocks and bare ground. These rocks had stood above the ice during the last glaciation, and as a result had been split by the freezing and thawing of water into strange shaped slabs and blocks, seemingly thrown on top of one another like giant building blocks in a child’s toy box.
Strange goings on, on the Cantilever Stone
In the misty conditions the whole impression was of an unworldly and alien landscape. It was here we found the much photographed Cantilever Stone, close to the summit of Glyder Fach, and posed for our own pics.
Our route now took us down and north, across the head wall of Cwm Tryfan and over to the bwlch between Glyder Fach and Tryfan itself.
From here we scrambled up the south ridge of Tryfan to the two stone blocks, Adam and Eve, on the summit.
Scrambling down the south side of Tryfan
We returned the same way and then descended into Cwm Bochlwyd to make our way down the rocky path to our start point and our transport back to Llanberis. The hike had taken 7 hours, and the guys were very happy with their day.
Monday, St. Patrick’s Day, gave us fine weather, and we drove to Capel Curig to climb Moel Siabod. At 872 metres it is not one of the bigger mountains in Snowdonia, but it makes up for this with some superb grade 1 scrambling on the Daear Ddu ridge, and a wonderful rocky summit traverse.
The walk in was a delight, along another old miners track to more abandoned workings, this time in clear weather and high cloud, past small lakes and flooded workings that finally led to the start of the scrambling route. The Daear Ddu ridge has an imposing northern face, steep and rocky, but is more benign on the southern side, more gently sloping with grassy rakes and rocky outcrops. There are several ways up, and the most exciting is the route that keeps close to the ridge crest, overlooking the steep north face.
Scrambling on the Daear Ddu ridge
I chose a route that bypassed some of the hardest sections, whilst still sticking to the true ridge as much as possible. The rock was dry and the day fine and far too soon we were at the top of the route, which finishes directly at the summit trig point of Moel Siabod. Here we unfurled the Irish flag and took photographs before heading northeast along the summit ridge, which was quite narrow in places, and topped with huge boulders and slabs of volcanic ash, a grippy rock called tuff that is found all over Snowdonia, and which gives great confidence with foot and hand placements.
Moel Siabod summit
Finally the ridge ended and we reluctantly descended the grassy west flank of the mountain to a path that led down through mixed woodland, old oaks dripping with lichens, mosses and ferns, and along the Afon Llugwy, a river benign and gently one minute, roaring rapids the next.
Back in Capel Curig we headed for a local pub, where we saluted Saint Patrick and our wonderfully successful weekend.
Our three days of Snowdonia hikes had come to an end, the guys and gals were elated, and the mountains I have known and hiked in for 40 years did not disappoint us yet again.
I will be returning soon, of course, will you join me?