Escape a whiteout
QWhat’s the best way to survive and navigate myself out of a whiteout? Steph Storey, via emai●
Pau● says A complete whiteout can cause a massive sensory loss, as you have no visual reference. So if heading out in snow, or a forecast of hill mist/fog, plan ahead for a possible whiteout.
Practice your ice axe arrest and attaching crampons beforehand, and check you have packed your goggles with changeable lenses (orange tint for low vis) and usual winter kit. A sat nav device and extra batteries are extremely useful, but preload maps, routes and nearest safe locations – for example huts – so they’re available offline, and check it has marked your start location before setting off.
Plan your route using large features that won’t be obscured by snow, and use handrails and any unmissable catching features. Forests can offer some protection. In a group, discuss the escape route and what to do in a whiteout before leaving. Stay close together, consider roping up, appoint a tail-end Charlie to check bearings and ensure nobody is left behind. Also it is useful to agree hand signals before leaving, as talking in a blizzard can be impossible.
You will need ‘dead reckoning‘ to navigate. Mark your map with distance, direction (bearing), duration and dangers, and mentally walk through the route so you know what to expect. I mark key altitudes of waypoints and note wind direction and speed too, so I know which way I’ll be blown if my path drifts in strong winds. And lastly, I set my altimeter before leaving.
If conditions deteriorate, try waiting for 15 minutes to see if it passes. If not, either get to lower ground or sit it out by finding a natural indentation in the landscape and use your storm shelter. If you can’t tell which way
■ Paul is co-founder of the UNS – a charity providing navigation courses for hillwalkers, with all profits going back into the hills. Trail readers can currently enjoy 10% off the School’s weekend navigation courses! Simply go to www ultimatenavigationschool.co.uk and enter ‘trail18s’ at the checkout for your discount.