IT’S happened to every walker at least once. You’re standing in a whiteout, zero visibility and the wind whipping spindrift like tiny daggers straight into your face, but you just have to check your map.
No matter how well it has been folded, more often than not valuable seconds are lost pinpointing your exact position and which contours you should be following.
My solution was simple - mark every route on every one of my maps with highlighters. Main peaks are red (or pink), subsidiary tops orange and other significant peaks green. Routes are lines of cyan, a complete circuit from start to finish.
It’s simple but so effective, easy to pick out immediately. No need to waste valuable time searching different sections of the map in appalling conditions.
Now I’m sure I can’t be the first person to think of this, but so far I haven’t actually met anyone else who does and there now a few other fellow walkers who have adopted this practice since seeing my maps.
But that’s the great thing with this sport - you never stop learning. You just never know when a casual chat on the hill will throw up a tip worth copying. Over the years I reckoned I’ve picked up so much information that has proved useful, and I hope that will always be the case.
For instance, one guy suggested always having a spare plastic bag handy for a quick and easy way to put on waterproof trousers in a hurry. You put the bag over your boot and the trouser legs slide in without catching.
A few months back, another walker gave me a great piece of advice. She said that when she reached the summit of a mountain she always lay down her walking poles so that they were pointing in the direction she had just come. That way, there was less chance of committing one of the most common hill walking mistakes - overconfidently wandering off the mountain the wrong way.
When we first started out mountain walking, we used books and instruction films to get the basics for the likes of map reading and winter skills and then went out and put them into practice on the hill. Trial and error was the way ahead.
But any time we went out with older heads we watched what they were doing and picked their brains so that we could refine our techniques. There really is no substitute for experience.
I often used to quiz other climbers and walkers about hill routes. I still do. There is always something you can pick up, and a wee chat on the hill is always welcome.
Last year when climbing the final slopes of Carn an Righ, a guy coming the other way stopped and advised me that it would be easier walking slightly off my current line. I knew the hill well and knew my options, but I still appreciated him taking the time to pass on his thoughts.
When I’m preparing to go out, I always check all the different options for whichever mountain I’m climbing, no matter how familiar I may be with it.
Routes can change day to day and week to week and a wee bit of swotting the night before can make life so much easier. I also check three different weather forecasts, and at this time of year, the avalanche forecast. Information overload perhaps, but better safe than sorry.
(First published Daily Record, February 27, 2014)