I write this after the first real day of winter here in Scotland. I was up in the hills beyond Loch Lomond – just a day walk because it’s good to start small at the beginning of the season, to check ground conditions and fitness levels before more ambitious outings. It was a beautiful Scottish alpine day of frozen bog, ice, occasional neve and deepening drifts – early season, but unmistakably winter. A remarkable, miraculous time of year for outdoor lovers, where the world is made new by a covering of white. But despite the winter wonderland, I was concerned. Of 7 groups numbering 2-5 in each, only 1 person carried an axe, and none had crampons. Some had left the winter hardware in the car, they told me. A fair few didn’t own it at all. I also met a man who was by his own admission, recovering from a moment of sheer panic on an icy scramble.
At least these people were getting out, and that’s to be applauded - many lack the ability, confidence or motivation to try. Advice can easily come across as pious or patronising, but... please, if you are out in the Winter Mountains, be safe. It is worth carrying an axe and crampons just in case. We’ve reviewed a few pairs in this issue, and covered some Emergency kit too. But there’s no point in having ‘all the gear and no idea’. Match the tools to your technique. A skills course is every bit as essential as the shiny new hardware. There are free lectures and subsidised courses organised by the national councils every year to help you improve your confidence and experience and enjoy the finest season of the year, every year, for years to come.
So, here’s to as many early morning starts, bluebird dawns and baby pink sunsets as we can all cram in. Winter is amazing – let’s enjoy it responsibly.