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Top Tips for Hill Walking this Autumn

Posted on November 14, 2016 @ 2:31 PM in Walking


Our mountains offer fantastic opportunities all year round with the often termed ‘off’ season being no different. Changing colour, changing light and the all too familiar changing weather all add to what is already a privileged experience. Whether you’re inspired by the natural beauty or the raw challenge, autumn is, without doubt, the time to get up there.

That said if you’re more akin to our summer conditions, the autumn can pose various considerations, not least the potential increase in risk. Without the correct approach, this can prevent participation or if you dare venture out, an actual increase in risk. The ‘unplanned’ can provide some great tales of survival but also lead to an impromptu introduction to the local Mountain Rescue Team.

So, how do we make the most of the mountains in autumn without the drama or more importantly, the crisis?

Firstly we need to identify the key areas of difference from what you’ve been used to during the summer season with the following top 3 being a good start;

  1. Weather
  2. Terrain
  3.  Daylight

There’s no guarantee of good weather at any time of the year and hence you should never drop your guard, but there’s no doubt that with autumn comes significant change. The most obvious change is the drop in air temperature alongside the potential for increased wind and rain, all of which can be extreme. Bearing in mind that forecasts are predominantly for lower levels, you will need to consider the multiplier effect of the mountains. The higher you travel, the lower the air temperature, the stronger the winds and the heavier the rainfall.

The terrain is never necessarily easy as they are mountains after all and something that should always be considered, but again, autumn does bring added challenges. The seasonal change does affect the typical mountain surfaces with moorland, heathland and rock all becoming treacherously slippery. Consider the addition of the prevailing mountain weather and how the terrain changes accordingly and more than often rapidly. Swollen rivers, frozen surfaces and even strong winds in exposed locations can all have an impact.

Finding your way in the mountains in summer can be fun at the best of times but add the autumnal navigational challenges of reduced visibility and even darkness brings a whole new dimension. The culmination of the weather and terrain combined with reduced daylight hours often collectively catch out even the most experienced walker.

Any one of the above can lead to an ‘unplanned’ event such as a simple delay or discomfort, while exhaustion, hypothermia and even injury are all equally realistic possibilities.

Then we need to prepare accordingly with the following top 3 being a definitive guide;

1. Prior Planning

Maps, learn how to read them and plan your route in advance – include alternatives
Forecasts, understand how to interpret them for the mountains and your route – include change
Daylight, consider sunrise and sunset and the impact on your route – include delays

2. Personal Preparation

Clothing, know how to use the layering system – include base, mid, shell and extremity clothing
Boots, appreciate the importance of good footwear – include 3, preferably 4 season boots
Knowledge and skills such as navigation - keep them current and work within them

3. Pack Priorities

Torch, add a head torch to your essentials – include spare batteries
Food, consider the added energy required, so stock up – include fluids
Map and compass – keep them handy and know how to use them

And remember, it’s a fine line between an Autumnal walk, which you’re now prepared for, and a Winter epic. Even in the Mournes, winter conditions can be extreme so watch carefully for that often subtle seasonal change.

If you would like to develop your knowledge and skills, why not use a professional Mountain Instructor? The Association of Mountaineering Instructors is the representative body for professionally qualified Mountaineering Instructors in the UK and Ireland. By employing an AMI member you will be in the very best of hands as all AMI members adhere to a professional code of practice and undertake continuing professional development training (CPD). Find an instructor at www.association-of-mountaineering-instructors.co.uk

A good coat's essential although the colours optional!

To hear more about the great work that the Mourne Mountain Rescue Team do and any opportunities to help support them, keep up to date via their Facebook page

Martin McMullan
Martin McMullan  Mountain Instructor

Martin is a professional Mountain Instructor and a full member of the professional body the Association of Mountaineering Instructors (AMI). Martin is currently a Director with the Life Adventure Company alongside being a Rescue Co-ordinator and Training Officer with the Mourne Mountain Rescue Team.

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