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Top Tips for Mountain Navigation in Bad Weather

Mountaineering is an enjoyable and thrilling hobby. In clear weather, navigating the terrain can be effortlessly fun and a simple for even a beginner.

However, mountain weather is known for being unpredictable meaning significant changes can frequently happen with little warning. No matter how much experience you have on the mountains, you can find yourself being caught out by the weather, so it is vital to understand how to stay safe no matter what climate you find yourself facing.

Time constraints, steep climbs and the ability to read a map can all become much harder once a sudden spell of bad weather occurs. In these situations, knowing how to cope with reduced visibility and severe conditions before setting off can potentially be a lifesaver.

Plan the route

One thing you’ll definitely want to do before setting off is to plan a carefully constructed route with landmarks along the way to provide of sense of direction. This will provide you with a mental checklist that you can tick off as you go along the route, giving an idea of where you’ve been and where you’re going.

You’ll also want to have the map and compass to hand during the trek for you to refer to if the weather starts to turn. If your visibility deteriorates, it is incredibly handy to have multiple methods of figuring out if you are on the correct route.

Be aware of hazards

Hazards that were once clear and obvious in good weather can suddenly become a much more significant risk in rain, fog or snow. These hazards include everything from avalanche-prone terrain, cliff edges or watercourses that could arise when the rain starts to fall.

As such, this is where the understanding of landmarks in the area can prove helpful, as they will give a better understanding of the places you need to show a wide berth. 

It will also be wise to be aware of steep or rocky grounds as these are harder to pinpoint and can be just as hazardous in low visibility conditions. Slowing down your pace by only making short steps will reduce your chance of tripping and ensure you have ample time to get a feel of the ground.

Understand the usefulness of pacing

Pacing can also help you to measure distance and can be an incredibly valuable technique in measuring how you’ve travelled in poor conditions.

Determining your pace count by recording how many steps you can do throughout a 100-metre length will help predict how far you’ve travelled and will assist in ensuring you don’t get lost. You’ll need to take into account any steep slopes, physical or mental tiredness and the weight you are carrying, as they will severely hamper the number of steps you can achieve.

Trust your compass

During poor weather conditions, it can be incredibly easy to become disoriented and completely lose track of the direction that you need to be heading. In this situation, a compass can become your biggest ally. Unless you have specific cause to doubt it, such as significant damage or suspected magnetic rocks nearby, you should always trust what it tells you.

It will be worthwhile double-checking your compass with other members of the group to ensure it is correct, and even partake is a professional navigation course to learn house to use it properly before heading out, so you’re confident in your abilities when using it.

Get familiar with a GPS

Navigation of mountains during bad weather is helped more and more by the improvement in GPS technology and smartphones. The ability to pinpoint your exact position can be a godsend in improving your safety margin and making finding your way significantly easier in challenging conditions.

For use in a mountain environment, you should take into consideration the battery life of the device, as well as the robustness as it needs to be waterproof and hardy enough to manage accidental drops in adverse conditions.

However, remember that there are certain limitations to the technology, and proper mountaineering still requires vital skills such as reading and interpreting a map correctly, not just blindly following an arrow.

Know how to respond to the change in weather

When your mountaineering and the weather turns ugly, it is important not to panic and to assess the situation at hand calmly. Round the group together, ensuring not to lose any stragglers, and co-ordinate your notes about the last landmark you passed. If you’re about to get onto high ground, it will also give you a better view of the terrain and get your bearings.

It will also be useful to get out your compass and orient the map before the weather starts to worsen. This will help anticipate where you’re going and keep track of how far you have left to travel.

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