Friday 4 March 2022

Clothing And Equipment Decisions On A Hill Walk

On the walk in the Cairngorms described in my last post I changed clothing and equipment a few times and eventually shortened my route. Here's what I did and why. 

I set off wearing a Paramo jacket over a thin fleece and base layer with mediumweight softshell trousers on my legs and a wool beanie on my head. I didn't wear gloves as there was only a light breeze and my hands didn't feel cold.The temperature was around freezing and there were patches of ice and hard old snow on the path. I hadn't climbed far before I felt too warm and stopped to remove the hat and fleece. 

Not long after that the terrain grew more slippery with frozen vegetation and an ice glaze on some of the rocks. The bare gravel sections of path and dry rocks were now few and far between. Realising I was slowing down and walking more carefully to avoid slipping I stopped to put on my crampons. A cool breeze had sprung up so I also donned a windproof peaked cap and some fairly thick liner gloves.

Continuing up confidently now - crampons make such a difference - I was soon nearing the broad ridge that runs north from Cairn Gorm. The wind was much stronger and colder here so I stopped again to don overtrousers as my legs were beginning to feel chilly. I should have done that before putting the crampons on! However my overtrouser legs unzip almost to the waist and by balancing carefully and using a boulder for support I managed to get them on over the crampons without tearing them. 

I also put my jacket hood up and swapped my windproof cap for the wool beanie and my liner gloves for slightly warmer ones with a windproof outer. Finally, as I now had big snowfields to climb where a slip could take me a long way I changed one of my trekking poles for my ice axe. The path had long disappeared under the snow.

Once I reached the ridge the wind eased and I lowered my hood. It was much colder though and I needed the overtrousers and the warm gloves. I stopped for a quick snack and a swig of hot ginger cordial. If it had been for more than a few minutes I'd have donned my insulated jacket.

My plan had been to wander up Cairn Gorm, now little more than a kilometre away, in the hope of a colourful sunset but the clear sky was rapidly clouding over and I could see the tops of peaks to the east slowly vanishing. Looking over the deep trench of Strath Nethy would be enough. I didn't feel like a navigation exercise in mist so I turned back, descending the same slopes I'd just come up.

I had a few stops on the way down as I started to feel warmer. The overtrousers came off, and then the gloves. As the snow patches shrank the ice axe became unnecessary and went back on the pack. I kept the crampons on though, all the way to where the path became mostly gravel rather than ice and snow.

This was only a relatively short four hour walk but it did take me to over 1000 metres in winter conditions. By adjusting my clothing several times I stayed comfortable without overheating. I never put my fleece back on but if I'd been wearing a standard waterproof jacket I would have needed it. Being two layer the Paramo jacket was warm enough while I was moving. As well as the insulated jacket I also had insulated trousers and a much thicker pair of gloves so I could have stayed warm in much colder and windier conditions.

The crampons were just about essential high up and the ice axe sensible on the steeper slopes. I'd have turned back if I hadn't had them.

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