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Snow and ice

An ice axe and crampons are essential items in anything but the lightest of snow conditions. Ice axes have tended to become shorter in length over time; for most people one of 50 - 60cm in length is fine. Such axes are now quite lightweight. They are better stowed in your rucksack or using the sidestraps commonly used for walking poles; the old method using a loop at the bottom of the sack with the axe strapped with point upwards is out of favour, for the simple reason that it is rather to easy to take someone's eye out!

Crampons are graded according to the boots they will fit. To fit a pair of crampons at all you will need a reasonably stiff-soled boot. It is best to get advice from an outdoors shop if you are at all unsure about what to buy. Crampons need to be packed with care as the points are very sharp. A specialist crampon bag is a good option.

'Glencoesnow.jpgSnow blindness' is a very real risk in snowy conditions, so you should protect your eyes with sunglasses or googles. The sun does not need to be shining for the effect on your eyes to be very considerable. A pair of googles (preferably with twin lenses so they do not fog up as easily) also protects against cold, wind and driven snow.

In winter you will find that you can suffer from cold much more easily. Hypothermia is a major risk if you are improperly clothed or are stationary for long periods - hence the need for an emergency bothy. Frostbite can effect your fingers, toes and face. A pair of well insulated gloves is vital kit - mittens are best as they allow your fingers to keep themselves warmer.

Most importantly, winter skills can not be learned just from reading books or watching videos. You may well want to attend a winter skills training course before starting out on winter walks and then again to further hone your skills after a couple of years. Above all it's important to recognise that many more things can go wrong in winter than on the same route at another time of year.
 

Useful publications

Winter Skills: Essential Walking and Climbing Techniques is the official handbook for those training to be a winter mountain leader. It is packed with essential information and is well illustrated, making it a useful resource whether or not you intend to become a mountain leader yourself.

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