Top tips for safe winter walking 

WITH the change to wintry weather conditions and ever-shortening days, a number of people have been benighted in mountainous areas in recent weeks.

Those who prefer being in the outdoors when the elements are kinder are often surprised at others who seem to relish heading out in rain, snow and, sometimes, ice when the risks of getting into trouble in hostile terrain are much greater. But, such challenges can have a disastrous outcome.

Many people have died on Irish mountains after falling in slippery conditions. The weather can be unpredictable in elevated and inhospitable areas: unexpected fog and mist can come down rapidly and people can easily become disorientated. And it’s in trying to get a sense of direction that they can walk themselves into even more trouble.

It’s essential to have a mobile phone when venturing onto the hills as it provides a means of not only raising the alarm quickly but giving an indication of location to the emergency services, though reception in not always available in such terrain.

A Coastguard helicopter is regularly tasked to rescues, but there are places which ‘’choppers’’ cannot reach and they can also be impeded by stormy conditions, or fading light.

The Kerry Mountain Rescue Team frequently answers winter callouts, at all hours. Team spokesman Damien Courtney says one of the key things at this time of year is not to be caught out by reduced daylight.

‘’Before they head out, people should take into account the shortening day,’’ he advises.

‘’It’s also important that people have the necessary skills and equipment, including waterproof clothing and good footwear. They should also check the weather forecast and plan accordingly. The terrain is also very important and can be much trickier in winter for obvious reasons.’’

Rescuers are regularly surprised at the number of people who go hillwalking unprepared.

‘’Never venture into the mountains alone and always plan to be down from the mountains before dark. Navigating effectively in cloud requires knowledge and experience, so ensure someone in the group has these,’’ says Mr Courtney. Finally, he adds, even in good conditions steep terrain can be too challenging for those not accustomed to it. Apart from rocky ground, steep grassy slopes are treacherously slippery when wet. When the weather gets cold, that water becomes ice at altitude, increasing the dangers.

Simple precautions can help prevent a lot of trouble, and that’s not to mention use of the time and resources of emergency services and volunteer rescue personnel, who often put themselves at risk for others.


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