5 Things – How to Avoid Benightment
With the evenings drawing in, here are a few hints and tips that could prevent you spending an unplanned night on the mountain.
1- Know the sunset times. This is essential! If you go out on a mountain in the winter without this vital piece of information, it’s asking for trouble. Most forecasts note this information as do GPS devices or apps.
2 – Timings. Now you know your sunset times, you’ll know how long you’ve got to complete your walk. You’ll need to know how long the planned walk takes, which you can work out from Naismith’s Rule (allow 1 hour for every 5km and add on 10 minutes for every 100m climbed) or let your mapping software calculate it for you. However, this is a very rough and ready rule that should be treated with caution. It works on ‘easy’ mountains like Snowdon, but fails on tougher hills such as over the Glyderau and Rhinogydd depending on conditions underfoot, and that’s not including scrambles. You then need to adjust this to your group, and allow for breaks. If Naismith estimates 8 hours for a winter walk, make sure you’re setting out at 8am at the latest, and that your party is fit. Best of luck!
3 – Know the weather. If it’s particularly foul weather, raining or just cloudy then it will simply get dark sooner. While you may have half an hour’s grace after the sunset times when the weather is fine, you’ll find it getting very dark very soon when the weather’s not so nice.
4 – Phase of the Moon. If it’s clear, and there’s a full moon then getting off the mountain will be much easier even with a puny head-torch. That’s the moon, not the sun, in the image below which was taken well after sunset.
5 – Invest in a decent head torch – Worth every penny. We suggest going for something seriously heavy duty such as the Magicshine bike lights or the Led Lenser H14, which are so powerful that you’ll only need one in a group. The Magicshines are also much cheaper these days than the review linked to, available for under £30. Ensure you get an extension cable and a decent battery pack, or you’ll just end up carrying a brick around. Even your standard head torch by the likes of Alpkit or Petzl will get you off the mountain safely enough, especially with fresh batteries and plenty of spares.
6 – Get some night nav practice in – If you’ve done some Night Navigation and are used to walking off the hill in the dark, it makes getting off the mountain in an unplanned situation that much easier. It takes practice just walking the paths in the dark, and it can also be quite a nerve wracking experience to have to do so the first time under pressure. If you can navigate in the dark confidently, then you’ll be safer than most hill walkers out there and should consider doing an ML course as this is usually the most often failed section. Of course, this is dependent in some degree on having a half decent head torch.