Published 23rd February 2018, 13:15

    WHISPER it, but the best days of winter may be just around the corner.

    We've had some fine days since the turn of the year but the lack of consistency has been frustrating. The weather windows have been open for relatively short periods. High winds have been the driving force, with sunshine and blue sky days few and far between.

    That could be about to change. An event known as sudden stratospheric warming is taking place over the North Pole. Temperatures have risen 40 degrees in the last few days. It's gone from -75 to -35. The Arctic air mass appears to have split and blocks of polar air are being driven southwards.

    The most likely result is that it will become much colder for the end of February and the beginning of March. And, of course, it offers the chance for the Daily Express to scream 'White Hell' once again.

    This reversal of fortune in the polar cycle usually means easterly air flows which drag in our weather from Siberia and Norway, and the likelihood of big high pressure systems bringing more settled conditions, dry, clear and cold with overnight frosts.

    The chance of having three or four days in a row with favourable weather is a winter mountaineer's dream. The biting cold is a minor irritation when you can see forever, and these days of near perfection are the ones that stick in the memory.

    A cold settling of the weather gives the snow the chance to firm up, making for easier movement with crampons rather than the uneven and unpredictable manner of walking through deep, soft drifts one minute and over rock-solid slopes the next.

    The change to calmer conditions will also be welcome for our mountain rescue teams who have been battling challenging conditions in the continuing search for three missing walkers.

    There have already been more avalanches in our mountains than last year, and this constant danger has hampered the search missions. At times, it is simply too perilous to carry on.

    Walking blind on a high, snow-covered plateau is bad enough, but when you are being constantly battered by gale-force winds the chances of a serious mishap are multiplied.

    The wind drains strength fast. It becomes difficult to stick to any kind of consistent course no matter how accurate you think your readings are. Straying off course, even by only a metre or two, can lead on to dangerous ground.

    There are always going to be accidents. We have to make sure our hill skills are fit for purpose and cut the risks as much as possible. There is no lack of information and advice out there and there is plenty of choice to enrol for winter skills and navigation courses.

    Back in the day, our winter skills were mainly self-taught or picked up from older, wiser heads on the hill.

    On one occasion, I was teaching a friend how to make an ice axe arrest when it went wrong. He felt it wasn't biting fast enough so pulled it out and tried to replant it. Big mistake. He went into a spin with the axe underneath him.

    He got quite a scare so we called a halt for the day. It later turned out he had broken his wrist. He got a D- for that one but at least a vital lesson had been learned and no real damage done.

    Mishaps are not confined to the high places. The ground at low level can often be hazardous with rutted tracks and ice-covered paths, hence the increased use of micro spikes.

    On an outing with our mountain club last weekend, one member had to be taken to hospital after a fall left her with a broken wrist. She had already been to the top of the hill without incident and was on the way down below the snowline when she slipped.

    We are lucky in this country to have so many dedicated individuals willing to devote their skills and time to ensuring our mountain days are as safe as possible.

    Let's continue to support them in any way we can and let's hope their current efforts come to the best possible conclusion.