Wet Windy Winters….Pack Fast and Light but Take Everything!

You can never be prepared enough for winter in the mountains and certainly during this winter of unprecedented wet and wind! Yesterday, all three pairs of my gloves were wringing soaked and by pair number two I had made a decision to cut my route shorter than planned as I knew there was no way I would be able to keep sufficiently warm for the time it would take to get round all my planned summits. The terrain was slow going with copious slush and bog and the rain and hail was persistent if not torrential coupled with a strong chilling wind which bit to the core. I was warm enough and had spare gear including emergency kit when I made the decision to change plans but I could foresee where things were heading and the wet was already through two layers of dry bags. If my hands went numb while still up high things would start to go downhill from there, if you pardon the pun! Running or hiking in the winter mountains takes a bit of extra preparation and forethought. As well as being prepared, staying flexible and having secondary or “thirdly” (I know, it’s “tertiary”πŸ˜‰)route plans is essential to avoid your adventure turning into a pile of misery or worse.

A Wet and Windy Calf Crag

Still smiling even though the rain has made it through to my pants at this point!

And things might not always appear obviously weather challenged. On a different, particularly picture postcard morning the sun, in a deep blue sky, illuminated a vibrant autumnal colour scheme as its beams slanted low across the fells, and a powder sugary white dusted the higher ground, sparkling and wondrous as wispy, white clouds scooted across the sky, punctuated by only the highest peaks. A day where I would be grabbing my pack and falling over myself to head out quickly, revelling in the lack of rain and claggy gloom. But another aspect of the weather demanded consideration. Perhaps invisible from indoors except by the tell tale signs of bending trees and the speed with which those clouds were zipping by I was well aware of it as the #tinyvan was shaken and buffeted as it roared around me. The wind! Keen as I was to get up high and soak up the glorious scenery the wind speed would only increase the higher I went and a narrow ridge with a side on wind gusting to 70mph was not a smart place to be. Not to mention the windchill would be below -10Β°C. The forecast predicted the winds were to die away quickly around lunchtime so common sense dictated it would do no harm to wait a couple of hours before setting out. This gave me time to consider the contents of my winter running backpack.

At a glance perfect conditions but extra precautions needed for that gale force wind!

Now I may well over-pack as a hill runner, experienced fell runners, after all, seem to fair perfectly well in just a vest and shorts. However, some back up kit is recommendable and it’s your own choice as to just how prepared you want to be. Personally I like to cover a fair few contingencies particularly as I am usually alone, and have the basic kit to spend a safe, if uncomfortable, night out on the hill should that situation arise. I always, for example, carry a head torch. Even if I am only heading out for a few miles at 8am because you just never know how the day will pan out. I have broken my own rule here on more than one occasion and learnt the hard way when I did leave something behind in the interests of being fast and light and not seeing a need for particular said item until later when I discovered…..well,…a real need for particular said item!

Pack for a 500 mile Bivvy Run Adventure!

With winter comes the additional weight of a few extra contingency items and my pack currently looks like this :-

  • Map in waterproof cover

  • Compass

  • Food (relative to planned time out though again, a bit extra as it’s cold and takes a lot of energy to keep warm plus it’s a lovely comfort to have a bite to eat in a sheltered spot on a rough day. Take your choice – snack bars, hot meal in flask, flapjack, chocolate, banana – bananas are quite needy and don’t travel well but I love them enough to put up with their foibles, I also have to remember to take something to pack out the banana skin too as they go a bit gooey and will make a real mess in your pack!)

  • Flask of hot tea – an absolute luxury for a pit stop on a chilly mountain.

  • Purifying bottle – in case I need extra water when I’ve drank all the tea.

  • Extra warm layer.

  • Spare pair, possibly two pairs of gloves/mitts.

  • Spare pair of warm, dry socks.

    A Bit Wet Underfoot Today!

  • Waterproof (or at least waterproof’ish in my experience).

  • Waterproof trousers (see above – very much ‘just in case’s as I’m not a fan but they are very windproof too)

  • Head torch, extra batteries (they don’t like the cold at all!).

  • Spare laces? ( who knows the array of uses you could put these to in any given situation or you can just use them as spare laces.

  • Grippy ice spikes for shoes – if we get into full winter conditions above a dusting of snow then the crampons, ice axe and gaiters are coming out, but there won’t be much running in those!)

  • Emergency Shelter/Bivvy.

  • Personal Locator Beacon

  • First aid kit

  • Gaffa tape – immensely useful for sticking many things back together – bags, jackets, shelters, legs! I usually tape some around each hiking pole, its handy and out of the way.

  • Spare ’emergency’ Energy Bar

  • Fully charged Phone (or very almost fully charged, if I’m completely honest).

  • Camera.

  • Oh, and a little bag with some toilet paper – just in caseπŸ˜‰…and use the bag to bring the tissue back out.πŸ‘

…and of course all these items are in their own array of sealed plastic bags, inside dry bags, inside waterproof liner, inside water resistant pack! If that sounds like over kill I can assure you that if there is two hours or more of precipitation during my time out the wet will have breached all but the innermost sealed plastic bags….water always finds a way!

Wicklow Wild Camping Week Pack – it was a monster!

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So…now under all that weight I can barely move! Actually it’s not too bad, only around 6 kilos. Hopefully, most the stuff I am carrying I won’t need but if I do need it then I will really need it so to me it’s totally worth it’s weight.

Wind, Rain, Bog of Doom…..bring it on!

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Thanks for reading – happy trails and let me know what essential items sit at the bottom of your pack! For now the wind has calmed down a bit so I’m heading for the hills…..

Good to Go!