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Walking in Winter

Walking in Winter

All the points covered under the walking skills and walking in parties apply to winter walking in snow conditions, but remember that more clothing is required and even greater care must be used when moving on steep ground. The limitations of certain types of footgear are even more pronounced, particularly those with composition rubber soles.

Ice axes should be carried and used by each person. Learn the proper techniques of using this equipment and the methods of safeguarding each other. Be sure you know the method of braking with an ice axe in case of a slip.

  • Remember there will probably be ice beneath the snow wherever a stream normally flows.
  • In winter, storms are more frequent and days much shorter, so that it is easier to be benighted.
  • Cornices, lips of overhanging snow, may be encountered on the ridges and the tops of gullies or the edge of a scarp. These should be treated with great care and, if traversing a cornice, keep well down the slope to windward away from the lip. The line of fracture on a cornice is much farther down the slope than the inexperienced think. Remember that cornices may eventually avalanche and, if ascending to a cornice, the margin of safety must be increased.
  • Watch out for the balling of snow on the feet. A kick or tap with the ice axe shaft will often remove the ball of snow but in doing this don't jerk yourself off balance on a slope.
  • Keep away from gullies and steep snow slopes during a thaw. In fact, if you have no experience of snow and ice climbing, keep away from gullies altogether and if you should take up snow and ice climbing, as opposed to walking in winter conditions, it is important to learn from someone with experience.

Other points to watch

  • Mountain streams have numerous waterfalls or often fall over crags, so avoid them as a means of descent.
  • In glaciated country the mountain spurs have often been truncated or cut by the moving ice, thus ending in steep cliffs. Take care when moving in conditions of poor visibility.
  • It a ridge you have been following to a summit suddenly stops as a steep cliff, it is probably a 'false' ridge or spur from the ridge.
  • It is dangerous to contour slopes below a ridge in mist for it is easy to lose direction and there is a tendency to lose height. An increase of air pressure on the ear drums can often warn the walker of this.
  • At night time it can be extremely useful to tell direction from the North Star, or other easily identified stars. If using stars on a compass bearing, change the star in use every fifteen minutes. North and South can easily be told from the moon and there are many other useful aids.
  • If lost - or in doubt - stop, keep calm, think back to your last known position and work out a plan before committing yourself to a line of action. Don't be afraid to turn back in face of adverse conditions if it seems wisest to do so.

Remember: Carry the essentials in the pack - suitable spare clothing, first aid kit, map, compass, whistle, torch and emergency rations. Learn the International Distress Signal and also the position of mountain rescue posts, if any. The whistle and torch will be useful to give distress signals in case of accidents or if you are caught in the dark. But remember also that careless whistling, shouting or flashing of a torch might send false alarm.


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Published on: 2005-05-16 (1406 reads)

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