17th December 2018

Scottish Winter Mountaineering – Essential Prep

Written by Jack Nicholl

With the winter season starting in earnest, we asked Instructor Kath James to share with us her top tips for preparing for Scottish Winter.


We asked Instructor Kath James to share with us some considerations before heading out for Scottish Winter Mountaineering. She gave us great tips on everything from how to keep the motivation up with some pre-trip reading, to how to keep your spirits up when your food goes flying…

Build a picture of conditions.

Check out recent photos and chat with other mountaineers. Some information about where people have been having success and some photos will help build up your excitement and is always useful information to have. There are some excellent live feeds online that can help provide detail when building a picture of conditions. What you plan the night before might not be the best option on the day – so stay flexible.

Keep yourself fit.

Steve House has some good advice on how to train for winter in his ‘Training for New Alpinism’ book. In reality if you’re a fit summer walker you should be alright moving on to winter, but it never hurts to do a bit of extra training to stay on top of your game.


Keep the psych up.

There are some key texts I always book out of the library before setting off on a winter adventure. I recommend:

  • Scotland’s Winter Mountains With One Axe (Northern Edge Books, 2018)
  • Cold Climbs: The Great Snow and Ice Climbs of the British Isles (Diadem Books, 1990)
  • Chasing the Ephemeral: 50 Routes for a Successful Scottish Winter (Mica Publishing, 2016)

Whatever it is that inspires you to go to Scotland look at it and devour it to stay motivated.

Proper food prep is just as essential as kit prep.

It’s way easier to eat little and often than it is to try and eat your favourite baguette on a cold windy Scottish day. Think of food you can get at when you have your gloves on. And make sure you have a good breakfast before you head out.
Don’t forget your sense of humour – you’ll need to see the funny side when your massive fancy baguette gets blown out of your hand before you have chance to eat it…

Stay hydrated.

Take a flask with a hot drink; Hot Vimto or Ribena with some ginger in is my favourite in winter – the ginger helps keep you a little warmer! Some people prefer water; it can help to put hot water in your water bottle at the start of the day on a cold one to help reduce the chance of it freezing.

Have a questioning attitude…

Keep an eye on conditions on the drive to the car park and keep looking out for any changes you are not expecting through the day. For example – has the wind changed direction compared to what was forecast? Is the snow where you expect it to be? On poor visibility days make the most of glimpses of visibility to see what is going on around you.

Get your winter clothing system right.

Poorly layered clothing is the fastest way to get cold out on the hill. Avoid getting hot and sweaty on the up-hill walking part of the day – adjust clothing and walk at a managed pace.
On a blustery day make sure your map and compass are accessible and tied to you. If you are climbing it is a good idea to work out your strategy to get off the route before you climb the last pitch – then when you get to the top you are not battling the elements whilst trying to get your goggles on and read the map.

When you get back from your day out

Don’t leave you kit in your bag to fester at the end of the day, it just means that you’ll be damp the following day – no one’s idea of fun.
Get your kit drying, find a warm fire, eat a big meal and have something nice to drink – then start planning the next day …


Join us on our Scottish Winter 2019 programme

Kath James has been an instructor at Plas y Brenin for over 10 years, and has just come back to work after having baby number two. She will be leading courses on our 2019 Scottish Winter programme.