Hill walkers’ winter warning: ‘Do not get left in the dark’

While navigating off a hill in darkness, headtorches are an essential piece of kit. Photograph: Paul Diffley.

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Hill walkers are being reminded that a headtorch – and a spare – should be essential items in their rucksacks as autumn turns to winter.

Mountain rescue teams have had a busy summer and have already had incidents this year where walkers either haven’t had a torch, or have had a torch but discovered they were not able to get themselves back off the hill once darkness fell.

Heather Morning, mountain safety adviser with Mountaineering Scotland, said: ‘It has been good to see so many new people enjoying Scotland’s mountains this summer, and we hope they will continue to enjoy the great benefits that access to the outdoors brings. It’s important to stay safe though.

‘People will have already noticed the days getting shorter, but this is really emphasised once the clocks change, and the chances are now much greater that you may end your walk in darkness.

‘You should take spare batteries with you, although they can be very awkward to change if you’re working in the dark and the rain, so it’s better always to take a spare headtorch in your pack, with fully charged batteries already installed.’

Beinn Ghuilean.
Rising to 354 metres in height, Beinn Ghuilean is Campbeltown’s highest hill.

The shorter daylight hours also see a drop in temperatures and the first dusting of snow on the hills, meaning it’s a good time for hillwalkers to review what they carry in their packs.

Extra layers should be considered, with the addition of a synthetic duvet jacket and emergency shelter stored in the bottom of a rucksack just in case walkers are stationary on the hill for any length of time.

Hats, gloves – at least two pairs are recommended – and face protection such as a buff will all add to comfort on the hill as winter approaches.

Heather added that now was also a good time for climbers and walkers to consider whether they could benefit from extra skills and training.

She said: ‘There’s a greater chance you will have to navigate in poor visibility, so that’s a basic hill skill which is definitely worth working on.’

While Kintyre is not particularly mountainous, it has some steep hills like this one on Knockscalbert
While Kintyre is not particularly mountainous, it has some steep hills like this one on Knockscalbert

Kevin Mitchell, vice-chairman of Scottish Mountain Rescue, said: ‘We would encourage hill-goers to be proficient in navigation, check weather reports and be aware of when darkness will fall.

‘However, if they become benighted or injured, they should not hesitate to call out Scottish Mountain Rescue volunteer teams by calling 999 and asking for police, then mountain rescue. Scottish Mountain Rescue teams are on call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.’

Ian Sherrington, head of training at sportscotland National Outdoor Training Centre, Glenmore Lodge, added: ‘This is an important time for all of us to shake off our planning and packing skills for the coming winter. Conditions in the hills can turn quickly. So, as well as packing all the kit you need, plan to go early so you can return easily in daylight hours. It makes all the difference to a good day out.’