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Skills tips Training blogs Winter

Snow-holing in Scotland Best Practice

Snow-holing in Scotland has a long established history in both our own winter mountains and further afield. Over the last 10 years, snow-holing has grabbed the attention of the media and the viewing public. This exposure has introduced and encouraged people happy enough to pay for the experience. Andy Bateman* of Scot Mountain Holidays asks, should we assume what works in other mountains will work well in our own?

 Likely Ambient Temperature

With the seasonal minimum in some recent Scottish winters approaching -20oC and an official record of –27.3oC, you would be forgiven for assuming you’d might be sleeping in temperatures approaching those of Arctic Norway.

Yet Cairngorm (1245m) has only ever recorded around half of this at –16.5oC (12th Jan 1987). Supporting this, Coire Cais Ski Base Station (630m) has a low of -9.2oC.  The residents of nearby Nethybridge (210m) though, claimed the mercury dropped to -31.3oC on 10th January 1982. Satellite evidence suggests they were right!

The vital bit of information on these -30-ish lows are that they were all recorded during temperature inversions. The cold air flowed off the mountains and pooled in the valley bottoms where it cooled further whilst the mountain summits remained appreciably warmer. These record minima are in no way a reflection of the likely temperature you would find on our mountains. It’s not surprising when we’re never that far from a relatively warm sea in the UK!

So what temperature is likely when snow-holing in Scotland, let’s say, in the Cairngorms at around 1100m? The seasonal minimum for 900 m is usually around -8oC. At 1100 m this could translate to -10oC. Far more frequently winter temperatures at this height are around -5 and above. Our mountains simply don’t experience anything like the temperatures you might get in e.g. Arctic Norway.

 

Avoiding roof collapse or sagging

Considering the warmer temperatures when snow-holing in Scotland, do we really need snow-hole features designed to capture warm air? Are sleeping platforms and cold air drains really necessary or should our aim be to lose the warm air?

Snow is a great insulator. A meter thickness in your roof and front wall is of vital importance in this regard. That is 20 cm of insulating snow both on the exterior and interior surfaces with 60 cm of well insulated structurally sound snow. Light penetrates to a depth of around 75 cm so if you see daylight, they’re getting too thin. It should also be borne in mind that a 1 m thick roof represents a considerable weight. It’s vital the front wall is adequately thick and strong enough to support the roof.

Snow-holing in Scotland

How high is that roof? Look at the apex centre.

Avoiding Avalanches

Snow-hole sites by virtue of their high snow accumulation and steep slopes can be prone to avalanches. To be safe, you may need to pick a slope with a more gentle gradient and spend more time digging out the entrance. The majority of avalanches occur on slopes at or above 30 degrees. To maintain a 1 m thick roof, on a slope less than this, you’ll have to dig in a minimum 2+ horizontal meters from the top of the doorway before you start widening out the living area.

 

An Apex Ceiling

Avoid large areas of unsupported roof by keeping your snow-hole narrow. Aim for a depth of 2 body widths between the internal surfaces of the front and back walls.

This means you can create a relatively steep-angled apex ceiling which helps to avoid any drip points. Warm air can then be channelled towards the ventilation holes at the apex high points. In addition with it running the length of the snow-hole it increases the height with minimal snow removal giving everyone the opportunity to straighten their weary backs!

Importantly it also removes the unsupported dead weight from the ceiling. This is one of the most important aspects of snow-holing in Scotland. Although not mutually exclusive, removing the ceiling dead weight is of more importance to ceiling stability than temperature! Very few, experienced and inexperience alike, pay attention to removing the dead weight. I’ve managed to snow-hole once at +5 Deg C without any roof deformation! The roof of a snow-hole I constructed for the BBC Travel Show lasted through until around the 25th June!! The ceiling at that point was only a foot off the floor, but it hadn’t collapsed!! Every other snow-hole at that point was merely a hollow in the snow. As you create the apex be careful not to make the roof too thin. The strength of the roof is in it’s thickness.

Snow-holing in Scotland

Here you can see quite clearly the shape of the apex centre for our snowhole.

 

The all Important Ventilation

Make sure there is good ventilation. My test is to regularly watch my breath. If it drifts off to one side it’s a good indication that ventilation is adequate. Cooking with pressure stoves in a poorly ventilated snow-hole is extremely dangerous due to the formation of toxic Carbon Monoxide. All pressure stoves work by first oxidising the fuel to Carbon Monoxide (CO) and then to Carbon Dioxide (CO2). The different colours in the flame indicate this. Irrespective of good ventilation a pan of icy water can have a severe quenching effect on the flame preventing combustion of the CO. Research for the British Antarctic Survey (BAS)** showed in heating a pan of icy water CO production could be significantly reduced by raising the pan supports higher above the flame. Snow-holers should acquaint themselves with the symptoms of CO poisoning.

To put this into perspective, I’m unaware of anyone in the last 25 years dying from CO poisoning whilst snow-holing in Scotland. I do know though, instructors who’ve attributed head aches to possible CO poisoning. It’s worth considering taking a small portable CO detector with you. In a snow-hole with a single entrance and no through air movement, ventilation may well be inadequate. Extinguish candles before you go to sleep as they also produce small amounts of CO.

Although the temperature may remain around 0oC you may well still be “injecting” appreciable heat energy into the snow pack. It takes considerable heat energy to turn snow at 0oC into water at 0oC so it will not be reflected in a temperature rise. It’s far more desirable that this heat energy drifts out of the doorways than being absorbed by the snow pack.

Further ways to improve ventilation

Make it large enough to stand up in. Large communal snow-holes are less prone to an abrupt temperature rise as they have better ventilation characteristics by virtue of having several entrances, etc. An entrance walled up with blocks in combination with an open doorway will often still allow plenty of ventilation.

Putting aside the dangerous scenario of cooking in a poorly ventilated snow-hole, I’ve never got up in the middle of the night to purely unblock a doorway for ventilation reasons. All the medical research I have seen (references below) doesn’t suggest there is any potential of becoming severely hypoxic in your sleep. Studies suggest sleep will become agitated, you will awake and in doing so get up and ventilate a stuffy snow-hole.

 

Make them big

One potential hazard of digging a small snow-hole is you don’t have enough space to put the snow as you attempt to extricate yourself after a night of severe drifting. On one occasion I did have to tunnel out 1 ½ m before I hit the surface!

 

Snow-holing in Scotland: tools of the trade

When it comes Scottish snow conditions, don’t underestimate how hard the snow can get. You will need a snow shovel with a metal scoop and a good snow saw. The sintering effects of strong sunlight and hard frosts of high pressure can make wind-slab snow astonishingly hard to dig. A good snow saw is often the only effective way to deal with this type of snow.

Snow-holing in Scotland

Check out the size of the saw. It’s old fashioned but really does the job.

 

“Pack it in & pack it out”

Many of the snow-hole sites are immediately adjacent to water courses. In addition, the snow pack often lasts well into the summer meaning there’s little opportunity for biological breakdown of human waste. If you do have to go you should do your business well away from the snow-hole site and far more preferably have some system to carry it out. Cairngorm Mountain’s Snow White Project has greatly improved the situation at the Cairngorm sites. All snow-holers coming to the Cairngorms are encouraged to use it.

 

Conclusion

The safety of a snow-holing in Scotland is often a reflected by the time it has taken to dig. I’m cautious about suggesting how long digging should take as it depends on a number of factors, not least the condition of the snow. From a “duty of care” perspective I feel a large communal snow-hole is much better than several separate small ones. I normally anticipate spending 4 to 5 hrs digging a 4 plus person snow-hole. I accept in soft snow conditions that this can possibly be shorter for a fit party of 2 each digging their own entrance.

With the vagaries of the winter weather, if done correctly Snow-holing is often the far safer option compared to a tented high camp in Scotland’s Winter Mountains.

 

* Andy holds the WML and IML awards and has over 20 years Mountain Leading experience. He has guided well over 30 commercial snow-holing trips in this time and although none of the mountaineering qualifications have a remit that covers snow-holing, he is one of the few guides deemed competent by HSE criteria of “relevant experience” to run snow-holing trips.

** British Antartic Survey helped in a BSc thesis. Available on request from andrew@scotmountainholidays.com

  

Medical references:

www.ncbi.nim.ni.gov/pubmed/18665947

www.ncbi.nim.ni.gov/pubmed/9340627

www.ncbi.nim.ni.gov/pubmed/8355417

www.ncbi.nim.ni.gov/pubmed/15265339

 

Learning about Scotland: from the experts

When you go travelling one of the things you’ll find most interesting is to explore the local cuisine.  This is no less exciting in Scotland. It’s not all haggis here! It can even be an adventure even for visitors from across the border! Here are some Scottish food classics for you to explore.

How many of these Scottish classics are familiar to you?

 

1. Haggis

This has to be one of the most famous Scottish food classics available. I’m not sure it’s quite on a par with “Scotch”, whisky or malt, all the same thing though the name varies, depending on who you speak to. Haggis exports have been more limited though and US customs regulations have meant that we’ve been unable to spread the haggis far and wide across the US. It doesn’t always travel well. One businessman who flew from the Highlands to Birmingham was pulled to one side and accused of carrying explosives (which turned out to be his haggis).

Modern squeamishness puts a lot of people off trying haggis, but it is quite environmentally friendly in its way. It uses parts of a sheep that might otherwise be thrown away. A traditional haggis is made with “Sheeps ‘pluck’ (heart, liver, and lungs), minced (ground) with onionoatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, and traditionally encased in the animal’s stomach and boiled” Doesn’t sound appetising – but tastes delicious.

We normally bake our haggis here as we find it makes the haggis more succulent and less greasy or less soggy. Or alternatively we make haggis stacks, as below. Easy but impressive way to serve up haggis. Check out our blog on haggis and bagpipes

burns night haggis

Haggis stacks: a round of haggis, a round of neeps topped with a round of mashed potato with green beans wrapped in prosciutto and drizzled with whisky and mustard sauce

2. Neeps and Tatties

A lot of visitors get very confused by the abundance of Scots words we still like to use liberally in everyday speech.

“Neeps” are Scottish turnips (what are known as the vegetable Swede in England). Try describing a “neep” to a foreign visitor. Most have no idea what you’re talking about and may not even be familiar with them as human food in their own country. Some think of them only as animal food and to be fair you do often see them liberally scattered across the fields in winter to feed the sheep and cattle.

“Tatties” – potatoes

The Scots, just like the Irish, love their potatoes. Mashed, fried, boiled – all forms of potato are good and often appear on the plate if you eat out in Scotland – far more common than rice or noodles, much to the horror of our Asian visitors.

 

3. Porridge

How to Make Yourself a Heart-warming Bowl of Delicious ...Porridge or ‘Parritch’ is a favourite breakfast here in Scotland. It’s very similar to what the Americans call oatmeal, except that porridge can also be made with rolled oats. Traditionally porridge is made only with oatmeal, water, and salt. Ours here at Fraoch Lodge is a wee bit less traditional.

Porridge recipe at Fraoch Lodge:

1 big mug of oats, water, and milk. Heat at a medium-low until thick and creamy. That’ll do about 4 grown adults alongside some honey, fruit compote, chopped fresh fruits and maybe even some home-made granola on top. The consistency is up to you, lessen or add liquid to your preference.

 

4. Whisky

WhiskyIntelligence.com » Blog Archive » LAPHROAIG SINGLE ...To put it simply, Scotland and the Scots take massive pride in their whisky, and why not? There are around 120 whisky distilleries all over Scotland, and all have their unique designs and flavours. Notice the difference in the spelling of the word, some people, like our Irish and American brothers and sisters, include an extra ‘e’ to make whiskey. It doesn’t make too much of a difference to the item that it describes, but just to keep in mind that there’s probably a Scot who won’t hesitate to correct you.

The beverage itself is not just enjoyed straight from the bottle with some whisky rocks on a cold Scottish evening by the fire, it can also be used to flavour both sweet and savoury recipes. Here at Fraoch Lodge, we’ve used our whiskies to flavour our home-made orange marmalade down to the delicate and creamy whisky sauce that is perfectly paired with the Haggis stacks pictured above. It is a more versatile item than you think and well-beloved by the Scots, so to bring one (or two) bottle home with you after your visit certainly wouldn’t hurt. (Whisky sauce is great with pan fried salmon too.)

 

5. Caramel Wafers

Image result for tunnocks wafers

These are not just a Scottish classic, but a lunchbox must-have for kids and adults everywhere. There are many versions of this chocolate-caramel snack around the world but this one certainly has a spot in our hearts that remind us of home. Tunnocks (the family-run business based in Scotland) has been a beloved provider of said snacks since the 1890’s.  Its sticky-sweet caramel alongside the crunchy wafers dipped in milk chocolate is an unbeatable feel-good snack whether you’re walking up a hill or walking the dog. I for one can’t settle for just one piece! Now that you mention it… *opens up a caramel wafer* Also famous in the children’s book series: Tom Gates by Liz Pichon.

 

6. Lorne Sausage

Image result for lorne sausage

This magical meaty invention will break your sausage expectations. The sausage is thought to be named after Lorne in Argyll, Scotland… and it is square. Yeah, that’s right, it’s a square sausage. This and ‘tattie scones’ are what makes a Scottish breakfast so distinct from all the others around the UK. It’s got the usual mix of minced pork and beef, alongside rusk and spices like a normal sausage, apart from the fact that it’s square. It tastes delicious by the way, don’t knock it ’til you try it! But also, it fits so perfectly well inside two pieces of bread. Some even have a piece of black pudding in the middle, and if you don’t know about black pudding yet, keep scrolling.

 

7. Battered Mars bar

Image result for battered mars barNow, I know what you’re going to say… “What in the world were the Scots thinking?!”  But hear us out, it may just change your life. The battered Mars bar is what it says in the carton, it’s simple and yet so special. Just get your chocolate bar of choice, (yes, it doesn’t always have to be a Mars) dip in the batter and deep-fry in vegetable oil.

A few tips to get the best result possible:

When you discount all the calories and potential risk of going up a clothing size, it is well worth it.

 

8. Ecclefechan Tart

Gat ye me, O gat ye me,
gat ye me wi’ naething?
Rock an reel, and spinning wheel,
mickle quarter basin:
Bye attour my Gutcher has
heich house and a laich ane,
A’ forbye my bonie sel,
The toss o’ Ecclefechan.    The Lass O’ Ecclefechan a poem by Robert Burns 1795

Image result for ecclefechan tart history

First things first, if you’re pronouncing the name of this tart as if you’re gathering phlegm and then deciding to swallow it, you’re probably pronouncing it right. This tart, otherwise known as the ‘Border Tart’ is named after a village in Dumfries and Galloway, south of Scotland. The texture of this one resembles a lovely pecan tart except with walnuts alongside other flavours too, like cinnamon, lemon and raisins. It is considered a substitute for its not too distant English cousin, the mince pie, but instead of just being allowed to consume it during Christmas, the Ecclefechan is available all year round.

I’m not going to lie to you, I was first dubious when I was served it on a plate with a small pot of cream beside it but by God, when I took my first bite, I did not care what it looked like. It’s a taste that I can only describe as Ecclefechan and it blew my mind. I prefer this tart with custard for sure, but you can have it with cream (whipped or not), ice cream or custard.

If you happen to come across a cafe that serves this beauty, don’t hesitate, just get it. If it’s not to your palate, at least you’ve tasted a bit of Scottish history.

 

9. Tablet

Image result for scottish tabletNo this is not medicine, nor is it a piece of technological gadget. It’s a super sweet Scottish treat! A little disclaimer, one must defer from giving to already hyperactive children, it may cause carnage.

This piece of confectionary is 85% sugar, so you don’t need a lot to feel that rush. It’s got a grainy yet melt-in-the-mouth, buttery texture and also has a wide variety of flavours, i.e. whisky! Tablet is not quite as soft as fudge but not as hard as a hard-boiled sweetie. It’s super simple to make and if you click the link in the title, you too can make this simple yet irresistible treat for you or your sweet-toothed friends!

Ye cannae complain!

 

10. Shortbread

Scottish food classics

classic shortbread

Shortbread… where do I begin? It’s neither short nor is it a bread, but is more of a crumbly, buttery biscuit. It is prominent in most Scottish households and Scottish supermarkets, as well as tourists who’ve just come from Scotland, will find themselves with boxes and boxes of Shortbread to give to their friends. Some in tins, some in boxes, but you can be sure that it’s either got a Scottish terrier in front or some sort of tartan design.

This historic beauty of a biscuit dates back to the 12th century and was said to be Mary Queen of Scots’ favourite. It is a staple for afternoon teas and are available in most cafes. It is a versatile piece that can be flavoured to your liking, such as chocolate and cherries. Here at Fraoch Lodge, we make our Lavender shortbread for when we have a lot of Lavender kicking about in the garden. When dipped in dark chocolate and sipped with tea, it is a divine thing to have on the palate. Click on the link in the title to make it yourself!

 

11. Irn Bru

Irn Bru Scottish Soda - 11.1 oz Cans - 4 PackApart from the Whisky, the nation would describe this orange-coloured carbonated soft drink as “Scotland’s other national drink.” I’m not a big fan of this particular drink myself but will drink it if given no other choice. My Scottish friends are adamant that I’m crazy to not like their “other national drink” but I’m sure I’m not the only one. I would still be careful about turning a can down though if you’ve been offered… the identity of this drink is so deeply rooted within the Scottish psyche that you might well cause offence.

It was initially named “Iron-Brew” but was not put up for sale until after health allegations were cleared up. Basically, the English thought that the drink itself had iron in it. The title changed to “Irn-Bru” in the year 1946. It’s popularity shot up after the wartime as they correlated their advertising to the comic strip “Adventures of Ba-Bru”. It was considered so outrageous that the style of advertising is still used today. Have a click on the title to see some advertising hilarity!

 

12. Fish Supper

scottish food classics

Fish And Chips Recipe — Dishmaps

The fish supper is not merely a foodstuff in Scotland, it is truly a tradition. It would almost be a sin to come here and not have a fish supper for one of your meals. Fish, usually haddock, was one of the main food sources during wartime Great Britain. Paired with chips (fries to our American readers) it managed to keep the population of Britain somewhat sustained. Fish and Chips is now considered a staple, or comfort food. After a long day out on the hills, or after a tiring day out climbing, the thought of having a fish and chips at the pub is as comforting as the thought of a warm bath.

Thinking of the crispy batter surrounding the flaky fish fillet inside is enough to get your feet moving through the hardest of times. Truly a shame if you don’t like fish.

 

13. Black Pudding

scottish food classics

Stornoway Black Pudding – Black Pudding – John Davidsons …

Okay, I have been asked this many times before, “Why is black pudding called a pudding?” We realise that the word ‘pudding’ makes one imagine a soft and creamy dessert as opposed to blood sausage. Yes, blood sausage. It was a way for our ancestors to use every single part of the kill. Then nothing would go to waste. The blood of the animal after it’s been killed doesn’t keep for very long. This way they could make it into something tasty. Now, this particular piece isn’t just of Scottish origin but has been popular all around the United Kingdom and Ireland. It is one of the many components of any Scottish, English and Irish breakfasts.

The taste is rather distinct and can only be described as black pudding. It can be grilled, fried, baked or boiled in its skin. Before you knock it down, do give it a wee try. I can say from personal experience that this ‘pudding’ is particularly delicious.

Stornoway Black Pudding is said to be the best. On one of our trips to the Western Isles, one of our clients was fixated on picking up some black pudding to take home before we left Lewis. (She succeeded.)

 

14. Cullen Skink

Scottish food classics

Cullen Skink – one of our favourite Scottish soups

The Royal Burgh of Cullen in Moray, Scotland has stamped their name on this particular dish after having created it as early as the 17th century. Its main ingredients are smoked haddock, potatoes and onions. It’s usually served hot as a starter dish for posh meals. Or you can also have it with some lovely fresh bread as a hearty lunch.

It’s closest relative dish is the American clam chowder. Cullen Skink has a more distinct taste though because of the smoked haddock. I, for one, love a good Cullen Skink, it’s hearty, warm and full of flavour. Click on the title link. You can have a hand at making it yourself, but beware, the fish smell is a strong one. We found a recipe for cullen skink pie and cullen skink tart, both of which are out of this world. We’ll share on our recipe blog!

 

15. Macaroni Pie

Scottish food classics

Macaroni pie

Everyone knows the good old mac n’ cheese, with its variations from all over the world, heck, even your own mother has her own take on it. The Scot’s macaroni pie is what it says on the tin. It is macaroni and cheese but within a Scotch pie crust. You really think this dish could still use more carbs on top of the pasta: *not*.

Needless to say, it’s a filling dish if one needs to bulk up. It’s also a great way to serve up mac n’ cheese in a bowl you don’t have to wash.

 

We’re sure that there are plenty more we’ve missed in this list. We’re working our way into tasting everything about this beautiful part of the world. What’s your favourite?

Additional options

Some twisted versions – Can’t wait to try some of these. We might even practise for our own St Andrew’s. What do you fancy?

 

Staying warm in the winter mountains is a vital winter skill. Andy Bateman has been guiding for Scot Mountain Holidays for 21 years, so here are his 21 tips on staying winter warm and surviving the cold…

 

The Strategy 

Cold Hands

1, Don’t just think about putting on gloves. Your body conserves the core temperature by restricting the blood circulation to the extremities (e.g. lower limbs, hands & feet). So even though your torso may not necessarily feel cold, still think about adding an extra layer. If your core is “toasty” your body will be happy to send plenty of warm blood to your hands! If it isn’t it doesn’t matter how well insulated your hands are they aren’t going to warm quickly. A warm torso means your hands will be far more resilient against becoming cold.

Regulate Body Temperature

2, Dress warm on the legs and regulate your body temperature by adding and removing tops. It’s a lot easier to add/remove the latter than it is the former.

Maintain the warmth

3, Try and keep on the move as much as possible since this is the most effective way of re-establishing/maintaining a comfortable temperature in an adequately insulated body.

Breaks

4, Plan regular but short breaks. You will be burning energy and loosing moisture through breathing and sweating. It needs to be replaced. The first organ in your body to be affected by a lack of either of these is your brain. To stay warm in winter mountains you most definitely need your judgement!

5, Keep breaks brief – to a maximum of 10 mins. Any more than this and you can start to get chilled. I find a good balance is 80 to 110 minutes hiking followed by a 10 minute break. From stopping, eating a sandwich, having a drink, to actually being on the move again, 10 minutes is easily taken up. 

Plan ahead.

6, Rather than adding a warm layer at the exposed summit, think about doing a little before. You them have the last 5 mins of ascent to warm you back up. You may have a terrain feature to shelter behind where as that may not be an option on the summit. 

 

Discipline

7, Discipline is crucial! Aim to be pro active rather than reactive. Be on top of your game! The first organ in your body to be affected by the cold is your brain and you need your judgement. Don’t fall into of the trap of not wanting to be bothered. Don’t necessarily wait for the next up hill climb to warm you up. Cold and hypothermia are insidious. If you are uncomfortable, seek shelter if it’s close at hand, stop and deal with it! 5 minutes later you’ll be feeling much better. Sadly, people have died from hypothermia whilst carrying enough to probably survive. Don’t let the cold get the better of you!

8, Overheating? Stop and take a layer off. Later on sweaty cloths can have a real chilling effect on the body.  

The Gear 

Gloves

9, Invest in a good pair of winter gloves. Don’t under estimate the agony of sever hot aches! Spending £70 upwards can seem money well spent. Liner gloves keep them hygienic.

10, A spare pair of adequate winter gloves is crucial. A glove can be easily lost in the wind. An unprotected hand in Scotland’s winter mountains can mean frostbite. Dachstein mitts are old school but they are cheap and they have a long established reputation of working in Scotland.

Belay/Overlay Jacket

11, Consider purchasing an overlay jacket. It’s a very quick and efficient way to add a very warm layer when you take a break in the winter mountains.

Hot Drink

12, Think about packing a vacuum flask of warm drink. If you’re a little chilled, there’s nothing like the uplifting comfort of warm fluid draining down into your core.

Everywhere covered

13, In the coldest conditions place a neck gaiter over the mouth and breathe through the fabric. It will act as a heat exchanger – extracting heat from the expired air and using it to warm the inhaled air. It can be surprisingly effective! 

14, Wear Ski goggles (anti fog). No only do they provide physical protection for the eyes but they also help to keep the face a lot warmer.

Windproofing

15, You will be often wear your waterproofs as much for windproofing as you will for waterproofing. Remember increasing wind has more effective on wind chill than dropping temperature.

16, Use the terrain to give you shelter from the wind if you can e.g. walk down the lee side of a ridge.

Footwear

17, Winter boots – Apart from the vital requirement of being adequately stiff, proper winter mountain boots will generally be better insulated.

18, Wear warm (winter) hiking socks and make sure your boots are large enough to accommodate them without impinging your circulation.

19, Gaiters – You need to make sure snow doesn’t go in over the tops of your boots. It’s one of the best ways to get wet (and possibly cold) feet. Generally, I’m not a great fan but in winter some type of gaiter is a necessity. Internal gaiters in some leg wear, in my experience haven’t been up to the job. When interlaced with an appropriately sized conventional gaiter though, they provided a very secure closure.

Clothing

20, Some insulating (duvet) jackets have such a light drape that when you add another layer over the top the air is squashed out of the insulation thus greatly reducing their warmth. Some of them simply don’t have enough insulation in them to be winter warm. I tend to carry a thick fleece that doesn’t compress and still works well when wet. 

21, Wear the right fabrics. Do your research and avoid hydrophilic fabrics like cotton which looses a lot of its insulation when wet.

 

mountain biking in autumnHow to avoid cold hands and feet on your bike

We did our first big ride of the autumn as a family last weekend – 28 miles on the mountain bikes. Unfortunately this also coincided with the first really cold day of the autumn. As we were riding with our 9 year old, there were occasions when we just couldn’t go as fast as we would have done on our own. I particularly suffered from cold hands and feet and the others weren’t best prepared. We decided it was time to get advice from our friends in the bike business.

We asked Backcountry Bikes, Mikes Bikes, Go Where and our own local ladies mountain biking club, PetalPower for their help:

Backcountry.scot

“Mmmm. It’s a tricky thing and many people have a bunch of ideas around it. It’s useful to look at why it happens. 1. your touching/gripping great big lumps of metal, that’s effectively a heat sink 2. as you move through the air the air whips away heat add moisture to that (sweat or rain) it happens 20 times quicker. 3. what the state of the rest of your body temperature? if you core’s chilling your body will react and protect the core by drawing blood away from your extremities.

Things you can do…

1. insulate from the heat sinks, silicone grips on the bars silicone covers on brake levers, bigger shoes (windproof is ideal if not block mesh up with gaffer tape/or loosely wrapping your forefoot in tin foil) with nice wool socks and plenty of space to wiggle in…

2. pogies on the bars ( check out what pogies are on my site or look at hotpog on the internet) manage moisture, by not working to hard that you sweat or having a number of liner gloves to change as they start to get wet.

3. your hands and feet are relatively static while riding, so stop get off the bike and do something to get blood moving, have a pre ride routine to encourage the whole body warm up, think about fueling the body so it has plenty to go around, ‘warm head warm hands'”

Andy from Backcountry.scot – Backcountry.scot specialise in bikepacking and packrafting. They run trips and sell the essential gear you’d need to head off on your own.

mountain biking in Scotland

Enjoy the wild parts of the UK out on your bike

Go Where

“We swear by Sealskinz waterproof socks (along with a thin pair of Point 6 merino socks when it’s v.cold) and their gloves are ace too: https://www.sealskinz.com/m/by-activity/mountain-biking” Go Where Scotland

The Sealskinz socks are also highly recommended by Cycling weekly We’ll definitely be looking to invest in a pair.

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Go Where Scotland – Guided, self-guided and bespoke mountain bike tours – we’re proud to be the ‘Scotland only’ mountain bike travel specialist since 2008. That means we know exactly what makes for a great mountain biking holiday in Scotland.

Bike at sunrise cold hands and feet

Biking across the Boat of Garten river at sunrise.

Petal Power – our local ladies only mountain biking club

If you belong to a cycling club, don’t be shy about asking for advice. Any enthusiast, no matter the activity, is always keen to offer advice. All you need to do is to filter down to the advice which suits you for your problem and your budget. Cold hands and feet are a common problem here in the Highlands when you reach a certain time of year. If you don’t want to pack the bike up for nearly half the year, invest in a wee bit more gear.

” I use a size bigger shoes for winter so there’s room for thick socks. And goretex boot liners if wet. Also neoprene overshoes help.”

For those of you not fussy about branding “Check Aldi, they had neoprene gloves, waterproof socks and merino socks.”

“I have waterproof socks with merino lining – not sure of the make- I’d have got them from Mikes Bikes I think? And I wear Seal Skinz winter gloves and add a cheap silk liner pair from Mountain Warehouse if v cold. I agree with Dot – looser shoes to get more layers under.”

“Always have cold feet even with thick socks and over shoes but once warmed up have cold hands but will wear ski gloves if I have to. Just never care what you look like just get out and ride!!”

mountain biking in the Cairngorms

Petal Power members out riding coast to coast in Scotland to raise funds for Macmillan Cancer

Also … a word or two from the Telegraph who interviewed Gary “Flash” Blesson

Very timely – obviously I’m not the only one thinking about this as an issue. I’m pleased to see that The Telegraph is also getting on the bandwagon with their recent article about the Best Cycling Gear for Winter

If it’s gear you’re after you might want to check out these:

30 Seven Rechargeable heated gloves

Why go walking in winter

1. Why go walking in winter – Keep fit

It’s all in vogue these days. As our normal lives become more and more sedentary, there’s an increasing emphasis on keeping fit. As we get older too, it becomes increasing difficult to maintain our fitness levels. We can’t afford to hibernate over the winter. Instead of heading abroad, we can take on a new experience and continue getting out in the countryside throughout the winter months. If you find the winter weather a challenge or too scary, take a course to give you the confidence to get out walking the hills in winter.

Extra ways of burning calories while walking in winter include:

All of which you can tick when you go hillwalking in winter.

why walk in winter

As far as anyone can tell, the “one pound on your feet equals five pounds on your back” notion originated with Sir Edmund Hillary’s successful ascent of Mount Everest in 1953. Since then, numerous studies by academic researchers and even the U.S. Army have concluded one thing on the matter: Weight on the feet is disproportionately more exhausting than weight carried on the torso.* To find out more read the links in our further reading section. Therefore walking in winter boots requires more effort and will burn more calories!

2. Why go walking in winter – Spectacular views

Guided winter walking in Scotland

Glorious wintry views in the Cairngorms

The air in winter is so much more crisp and clear than in the spring/summer months. In spring the large estates who own huge swathes of the Scottish hillside, often start to burn the heather to maintain the grouse moors. Obviously this produces a haze from the smoke which can affect visibility. In the summer the air is generally more hazy due to the humidity which then affects how far you are able to see clearly.

In the middle of winter it is possible to see 100km or more from the high hills. For example, Ben Nevis can clearly be seen from the summit of Cairngorm.

3. Why go walking in winter – It’s a challenge

Challenge is the big buzz word these days. Have you run your first marathon? Have you participated in your first triathlon/ironman? Tough Mudder anyone? Compared with challenges like these, winter hill walking is much more accessible and something you could do every day (in season). The biggest challenge for winter hillwalking is building up your stamina when you’re also trying to hold down a full time job. Many of us have deskbound jobs these days and the closer we get to “middle-age” (our 40s and 50s) the more difficult it is to maintain fitness and stamina levels. However, in the course of a week, many people find that their fitness and stamina levels noticeably improve on a guided winter hill walking trip.

why go hiking in winter

Statistics gathered on an autumn walking weekend in the Cairngorms guided by Andy Bateman

On a typical winter walking day out with Andy, the guests record steps in excess of 30,000 per day! You’d be well on your way to your #Walk1000miles at that rate.

4. Why go walking in winter – Camaraderie

Sharing is a major part of walking. People tend to chat as they walk in a group and often end up discussing all manner of topics; setting the world to rights. When you share an interest (i.e. walking) already with the people you’re with, chances are you have topics in common you can discuss without coming to blows. Of course, camaraderie is not something which is confined to winter, but there is something about pitting your skills against the environment which pulls your group together and gives you something to share.

5. Why do walking in winter – Gear

It doesn’t matter what sport you’re enthusiastic about, people love to talk about their gear and share their experiences of using it. When it comes to winter walking, if you’re a novice, you will need to make some investments to upgrade from your summer/autumn walking equipment in order to be safe in the winter hills. If you’re not sure it’s going to be your thing (though if you already enjoy walking, you might get hooked quite easily), you can always hire the technical stuff – winter grade boots, ice axe and crampons, before making the leap yourself into buying the kit.

Using an ice axe on a winter skills course

Ice axe arrest on a winter skills course

6. Why go walking in winter – Legitimate adult play in the snow

Sliding around in the snow with a sharp tool – sliding down a hill on your bum – digging in the snow – kicking into ice with crampons – all become legitimate “skills” when you’re on a winter course learning the “personal safety skills” of safe movement on the winter hills.

 7. Why go walking in winter – Cheap alternative to skiing

To go out walking you don’t need to pay for a lift pass for every day you want to go up the hills.

You don’t need to buy the skis and generally you’re further away from the ski lodges, so you don’t have access to the cafes and restaurants, which means you have far fewer opportunities to spend your hard earned pennies.

8. Why go walking in winter – Builds confidence

Gaining new skills and becoming proficient in using them builds confidence not only in the activity you are doing, but also in other areas of your life. It is always a good idea to keep your brain active and to learn new things, particularly if you are also learning new physical skills which will help your body remain fit as well as your brain.

If you’re a novice or if you’re lacking time to gain the skills yourself, remember that winter is harsh environment and not everyone has the experience to head up into the mountains but there are plenty of local, highly-qualified guides who are very happy to take you out.

9. Why go walking in winter – Something to share

It’s much more fun to share unusual experiences with your friends. Most people like to see images and videos of adventurous activities, spectacular views, mountains, nature – you can tick all these boxes when you record your experiences out and about in the winter hills, then share then on your favourite social media channel. You’re virtually guaranteed some interaction with your friends/followers.

Resources/Extra reading

*A pound on the foot – the science

The Great Outdoor Forum (Stack Exchange) – discussion on the science behind extra weight on your feet.

How To Lose Body Fat Percentage And Burn Calories On Walking [infographic]

All content © Copyright Scot Mountain Holidays 2019

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