Mountain Running during the Winter Months
Plan well, pack well, leave notes and stay as safe as possible during this winter in the mountains.
Daylight hours are less, its cold, it might be raining hard, hopefully there will be snow on the ground high up. How do you feel about entering the mountains in winter?
Are you prepared?
Winter is a special time, it changes the countryside and mountains in the colder months and airflows to a magical wonderland, transforming the landscape to become a new and exciting world, but it can be dangerous!
Do you possess the skills?
The thing with winter is an accident can be extremely serious, especially due to the shorter daylight hours and the time of day you choose to run. So I thought it was a good idea to share some knowledge and advice.
Equipment, what should you take?
I advise more than you think. It all good and well being the fell runner in next to nothing and don't get me wrong, I go around my local runs in bare minimums on the right days, but given the wrong conditions or the wrong time of day and everything can change so quickly, you really wouldn't believe it. Obviously a shorter run in lower level area's requires less clothing and equipment, so you must take what you deem necessary, or not. But if you're heading to the higher fells, then the list below will help you grab the right essentials. The longer you are out, the more kit you will need.
Below is a list for being out all day, on the summits.
Don't leave your car without:
- 1 x Waterproof Jacket and Pants (depending on the day, you might substitute these for lightweight windproof versions, just to keep the wind chill off)
- 1 x spare base layer
- 1 x Primaloft Top
- 2 x gloves (thin and thick pair, one being waterproof is a great idea)
- 2 x hats (these can be a buff/hat, hat/balaclava, buff/balaclava etc)
- 1 x Goggles (weather dependent)
- 1 x Extra base layer bottoms/tights (if you run in shorts)
- 1 x Survival Bag (not a summer weight Adventure Medical Kits version, but a winter weight 'Blizzard' survival bag)
- 1 x Day food (bars, sandwiches, nuts & fruit, chocolate etc - choose what you know - an emergency gel isn't a bad idea)
- 1 x 500ml drinks bottle, a couple of soft versions or a bladder. (you will dehydrate quicker in the winter months than you imagine)
- 1 x Head torch - minimum light output = 150 lumens
- 1 x Mobile Phone (kept warm so the battery doesn't fade, or better still, buy a pay as you go phone, £9.99, doesn't matter if it breaks, battery lasts for days!)
- 1 x Map & Compass (make sure you know how to use them!) - We run courses don't you know!!
- 1 x GPS (you can use OS Locate App on your smart phone) - Handy for if you become temporarily miss placed.....
- 1 x Kahtoola MicroSpikes (for hard pack snow and ice - you might need something different for deeper snow)
You will need to take a 15 to 20L pack for all this, depending on your kit selection and what you actually possess, how light and packable it all is. Obviously you want to run, so you need to balance that against what you carry, how you pack it and what you pack it in.
Make sure you leave a note in your car with your route choice, you timings and when you should be back. Make it visible, leave it on the dash board, it might save your life.
Consider taking these extra's:
- Lightweight mountaineering/ski-touring axe (you need to know how to use this, no good just carrying it!) This assumes you are doing more than just running a regular route.
- Kahtoola KTS Steels
- Ultra light sleeping bag
- Heavier duty waterproofs
- More primaloft layers - you might consider trousers if the conditions dictate
- A mountain shelter/bothy - great for mixed weather days
- A flask with a hot drink inside
Weather Conditions and Route Choices:
Remember, if we have mixed weather patterns coming in from the West, then expect that the weather can change and might not be as predicted and always remember the weather forecast is just that, its a 'Forecast' or 'Prediction', its not a 100% given pattern. High pressures give much more settled and constant weather, but the UK sits on the eastern edge of the Atlantic and we are governed by a maritime climate, it can change and does change, rapidly sometimes.
Scottish weather is prone to much quicker changes and fluctuations than the Lake District, Peak District or the Snowdonia National Park. I'll come to Scotland in a bit more depth soon.
Always consider heading out in a pair as a minimum, its obviously much safer and if one has an accident, the other can help deal with it. If you can head out in a group, all the better. Remember in a group to take more than a 2 man bothy shelter!
Never be afraid to change your route plan once you arrive at your destination. Just because you have decided to run up and over Skiddaw, Great Calva and then back to Keswick via the Cumbria Way, doesn't mean to say once you see the weather, snow conditions or just feel actually today you're more tired than you realised, that you can't change your plan! Play safe, change your route before you set off, stay lower if it makes you feel happier. Change your start point, head over Walla Crag for example. Better to have a great run, get back in time and not to become a statistic. Plan sensible and stay within your abilities, play safe, have fun.
Make sure you bring all the maps you need, so you can change plans once you have arrived. If your staying in a guest house, let the owners know your desired route and what time you think you will be back. Don't make your times un-realistic. Remember moving in snow takes you between 10 to 25% longer, depending on the snow and weather conditions.
Checkout what others have been up to, we update regular YouTube films when the Fells are white for runners, climbers and skiers, follow our page! Join and checkout 'Ground Conditions' Facebook page for updates all over the country. Make sure you check the Lakes WeatherLine for daily Helvellyn Conditions updated by Graham Uney and John Bennett. Read blogs, get clued up.
The Lakes and Wales are a lot tamer than Scotland, Wales being less tame than the Lake District. Drop in to the wrong valley in the Lakes and you can pretty much say there will be a habited farm house or building somewhere in the local vicinity. Do this in Wales and its less likely to be the case, but still likely in many places. Drop into the wrong valley in Scotland and you can be kilometres and kilometres away from the nearest habitation and its a whole lot more serious than you had bargained for. Scottish weather changes very quickly, especially in the Western Highlands. If you are going to Scotland, make sure you have the experience to take you where you want to go, meaning good to excellent navigation skills, good understanding of snow pack and avalanche awareness and a good understanding of weather conditions and how to read forecasts as it really is a different kettle of fish up there. I recently learnt that the Scottish Mountains cover roughly the same area as the Austrian Alps roughly, thats a pretty big area when you think about it! Check the avalanche forecasts from Scottish Avalanche Information Service and get as clued up as possible. Stick to safe routes. Only push your boundaries as far as your experience allows. Plan shorter days, make sure you are back in daylight hours. Get local knowledge.
Think in all area's, meaning Wales, the Lakes and Scotland about employing a guide.
Avalanches: The don't happen in the UK..... don't bet your life on it!
This year has been a great reminder already that avalanches do happen in the UK and not just in Scotland alone. Avalanches happen in the Lakes as well as Wales and other regions. This year we have had a large dump of snow at the start to middle of November, this was followed quickly by a 'Spring' like high-pressure, giving low valley temps, higher summit temps and warm sunshine on all easterly facing slopes. What ensued looked like Spring like avalanches all over the Lakes, but not just on easterly slopes. Avalanches were happening due to loaded slopes from wind deposited snow, warm temps from inversions, direct sunshine and wet ground that the snow fell on. Some were pretty big. Up the Glenridding Valley there were quite a few, but all on slopes which didn't cause issues as they are not walked/run on, Greenside (opposite Raise Ski Tow) had up to 6 medium slides, again on slopes that aren't crossed regularly, but there were footsteps across the area's where slides had happened on following days!! Be aware, just because an avalanche has happened in a certain area, doesn't mean to say another one won't happen. In fact, in the case of Greenside this November, the avalanche debris showed that this slope was MORE likely to avalanche again due to the sun during the day heating up the snow, the wind deposited slabs of snow and the wet ground underneath. If you see avalanche debris, make sure you avoid that area, it is a warning sign. Think abbot the rest of your route and this aspect, adjust your planned route if necessary.
Above Keswick there was a large avalanche in Applethwaite Gill (copyright Rob Grange) with plenty of debris in the gully below, that only hours before had a call out for the Keswick Mountain Rescue Team.
Don't be complacent in thinking that avalanches don't happen in the Lakes and other UK area's, because they do and more frequently than you would imagine!
Get the skills, get the knowledge:
At Mountain Run we take winter running very seriously. I happen to be extremely lucky and live right at the head of the Glenridding Valley, giving perfect access to the best area for snow in the Lakes. We have the most consistent snow falls, it lie’s lower here than in other valleys and we get it staying for the longest throughout the season.
Because of my proximity to the snow, the fact I love winter and snow, I spend many hours running, skiing and climbing around the Helvellyn Edges and area during the winter months.
We are also running regular Winter Skills for Runners courses during January, February and March 2017. These cover the basics of what equipment to take, how to use that equipment, an understanding of snow pack, how to plan your day and more.
Helvellyn sees more accidents than any other mountain in England, especially during the winter months from people who under estimate the conditions from valley to mountain summit. Don’t become a statistic, come and learn with us and play safe.
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