Preparing for Less Daylight
Autumn is a fantastic time to be in the mountains. Colours erupt and flame across the landscape, light softens and shadows lengthen giving contrast and counterpoint to valleys and hollows brimming with mist. The onset of winter makes fleeting, shorter days like this seem all the more precious and an urgency creeps into route planning – can we get it done before the sun goes down?
Yes, the changing of the clocks has been and gone and hopefully the earlier onset of darkness doesn’t lead to enduring a lost, chilly night on a hillside waiting for dawn, or a hypothermic, cragfast epic in darkness on dangerous steep ground.
Aside from packing a map and compass and knowing how to use them, checking the weather and turning back if things look vile, what other precautions could you take to stay safe with less available daylight?
Here are five simple tips to remember when planning a journey in winter that will help you prepare for being late back and make an unexpected night out much more comfortable. We’ve included a few of our favourite items of kit too, but as ever visit your local specialist retailer for a full debrief as there are lots of other options!
- Carry a Headtorch
Carry one. Even better, carry two. The first should have an ‘area’ beam powerful enough to allow rough ground to be crossed safely in darkness, as well as a longer range ‘spot’ beam for identifying features or potential hazards at distance. A smaller, lighter backup torch can also be carried in case of malfunctions. The Petzl Myo is a classic and reliable main torch and is favoured by Chris, while Alex uses a Petzl Actik. The Black Diamond Spot makes a great value back up and another good spare torch option is the tiny Petzl e+Lite, small enough to live in your first aid kit and usefully has a stored battery life of ten years.
Most modern head torches have LED bulbs, which are far less likely to fail than standard bulbs, but do take spare batteries (date them with a Sharpie or you may be in for a nasty surprise).
- Pack Emergency Extras
Pack extra warm layers. In the UK synthetic insulation can be a better choice than down; although bulkier and heavier it at least still works when wet, which you’ll be happy about.
The classic fleece is a good budget option – hoody, jacket or pullover is up to you – and will go under your waterproof nicely. Or those with more to spend could try a mid-weight softshell like the Arcteryx Proton LT Hoody, which is so versatile and comfortable you’ll never want to take it off.
For more protection from the elements, or if you really feel the cold, try a ‘belay’ style jacket designed to be worn over all your other layers. Mountain Equipment’s Fitzroy is for just such a purpose and you’ll usually find one at the bottom of Chris’s rucksack ready to save the day. Alex will be carrying a Rab Nebula Pro or a Rab Photon Pro. Pack spare gloves too in case a pair get soaked.
Remember a flask and extra snacks because a hot drink and a few biscuits will do wonders for group morale. An energy bar or gel such as Clif Bars and Clif Bloks will give you a good boost of body and brain energy at the end of the day when you need to get off the hill.
Definitely bring an appropriately sized emergency shelter – something like Rab’s Group Shelter represents great value. It can be used for a lunch break or in an emergency to sit in and wait for help.
A good, loud whistle for raising the alarm (6 blasts every minute) weighs nothing and is cheap as chips. It will save your voice and cut through the noise of wind and rain clearly.
- Take a Mobile Phone and More Power
Aside from ringing somebody (remember that?), the multitude of apps and mapping packages easily accessed from a smartphone makes taking one on the hill a no brainer.
If you’d rather escape modern technology then just turn it off and leave it in the rucksack for emergencies. This is actually a good idea because spending the day updating social media with pictures of your day out risks the battery running flat with dusk fast approaching.
Can’t live without Instagram and want the best of both worlds? Invest in a battery phone case, or for more versatility a portable USB charger such as the Goal Zero Flip 30.
- Register with the 999 SMS Text Service
This service allows users to text 999 and summon help – very useful on the hill where phone signal may be insufficient to make a voice call but strong enough to send a message. Your phone must be registered first, which is easily done by texting REGISTER to 999 and following the instructions in the reply.
When texting 999 in an emergency include the same information as when making a voice call to 999 and asking for Police – Mountain Rescue; grid reference, brief description of location, number of casualties, nature of injuries, number in party, contact phone number.
The system does not guarantee your text will have been delivered so do not assume help is on the way until you have received a reply.
- Leave Your Details of your Route
Let someone know where you’re going and what time you’ll be back. Ideally, this will your Emergency Point of Contact (EPOC). A formal route card is good, but an annotated map (paper or electronic) with your route, rough timings and emergency escape plans on is another option.
When you’re down, phone and let them know you’re safe, and agree a plan of action if you haven’t phoned in by a pre-arranged time.
If you’d rather be flexible and make a decision on route choice upon arrival then a simple note left on the dash of a car, in a visitor’s centre or with a local business can work too – just remember to call when safe!