#summitsafely week 7: How to survive a whiteout

Whiteout image Photo: Adam Long

It's week 7 of the 20 week #summitsafely campaign. As the snow has fallen on the fells our #summitsafely top tip is about being prepared in a whiteout. When snow and wind combine, goggles are an essential kit item to pack.

Our pals at Salomon are giving away fabulous XT One Ski Goggles this week. Have you been out and about in the recent snow fall?  All you have to do is retweet and share your snowy adventure snaps to @lakesweather using the hashtag #summitsafely to be in with a chance of winning. The free prize draw closes Friday 20th January 2017.

Not heard what #summitsafely is all about yet? Well, during our Fell Top Assessors season (December - April) which runs for 20 weeks we are sharing top tips for reaching a summit safely and to help you on your way we are giving goodies away each week. So stay tuned to @lakesweather to find out more each week.

week 7

Blog post courtesy of our pal's at the BMC:

How to prepare and plan for a whiteout

Before going out, check the Lakes Weather forecast and examine potential escape routes off the hill. Organise your equipment: a jacket with a hood with face protection and a stiff brim, warm gloves, a belay jacket and goggles will all feel like refuge from the weather outside.

Prefold or precut your map to show the right area. BMC Mountain maps (1:40,000) or 1:50,000 scale maps show larger-scale features that aren't obscured by snow. Put them in a good-quality map case that your compass (with rubber feet and a large baseplate for gripping with gloves) will stick to when taking bearings. Attach the mapcase and compass to you: this would not be the time to lose either.

Stop and think

As visibility worsens, it's tempting to speed up and try to wing it. But using minimal visual information and 'the force' to navigate will just get you into trouble, so stop when things begin to worsen. Establish exactly where you are before you go running off. Make a plan and establish a safe, practicable route, which will make the best use of any major features (e.g. ridges and valley floors) and can be broken into short legs. Do this in the comfort of a group shelter. If you're already lost then backtrack or rely on map memory to retrace your route and aim for a safe, large catching feature to relocate. Now it's time to go back to the basics of navigation.

Which direction?

In a whiteout you need to be accurate. Estimate a bearing from looking at the map, then calculate it and make sure they match. Finally, check it with others in the party or completely redo it yourself. Following it can be hard. With no features visible, it may involve throwing a snowball ahead (try wiping it on dirty overtrousers for some peaty coloring).

You may have to send someone out to the limit of visibility, giving them simple signals to keep them on the bearing. Then walk to them or leapfrog them. Beware: it's easy to drift, especially in strong winds, so always pass them on the same side. Alternatively, someone could zigzag in the general line of travel ahead of you, allowing you to use one of their footprints as a point to aim for. Periodically turn around 180 degrees and take back-bearings down your trail as a check. Group members should recheck each other's work.

Deciding distance

Measure the distance carefully on the map, and check. For measuring distance travelled, pacing is good over short distances (say up to 500m) but hard to keep up on longer legs. In deep snow and poor visibility, your normal 100m pace count may double or even treble. Practice in a controlled setting. A row of toggles on your rucksack or compass will allow you to count 100s of metres off. Timing is good over longer legs but, again, poor weather and difficult navigation can easily triple your usual timings. Consider taking a prelaminated card, showing how far you walk at a variety of speeds over a variety of times.

Terrain

Think about what you will travel over. Are there major features that you will be able to identify? You won't see changes in slope angle but you'll often feel them or see someone in your group above or below you. Tick off the features as you go. Avoid or plan for hazards such as coire rims, cornices, steep icy slopes, boulder fields, snow covered lochs and avalanche-prone slopes.

Making mistakes

What will happen if you get this leg wrong? It's common to overestimate how far you have travelled in poor conditions. You might need to overshoot at least 10% to identify the feature you're looking for, or a good catching feature like a (safe) change in slope angle. Don't plan legs where overshooting will expose you to hazards.

Digital aids

A watch altimeter is a useful tool, if updated regularly at known points. A GPS can hugely assist navigation, if you know how to use it. Don't rely on it alone in case of failure; track yourself on the map too.

Last resorts

If you've become navigationally challenged, the weather has become too bad to move, you aren't confident of finding a way down through surrounding hazards or group members are exhausted, then it could be time to dig in. This is a last resort, but a shovel, group shelter, some spare food and survival bags may make a dangerous night out bearable.

Experience

The outcome of your experience in the 'white room' will often come down to prior experience – your first time in a whiteout may not be the best learning environment! Prior practice in controlled circumstances will help you build a toolbox of navigational strategies, improve accuracy and – vitally – give you the confidence to navigate well in even the worst that winter can throw at you.

If you want to get out there this winter but need to learn the basic winter skills our very own Fell Top Assessor, Graham Uney, runs a series of one day winter skills courses. The courses start in January through to April 2017.

Full terms and conditions

  • The promoter and prize is Lake District National Park Authority (LDNPA), whose offices are at Murley Moss, Oxenholme Road, Kendal, Cumbria, LA9 7RL.
  • There is one prize for one person of Salomon XT One Blue goggles, one size only and one colour only subject to availability.
  • This competition is open to residents of the UK, Channel Islands, Isle of Man and Republic of Ireland aged 18 years or over, except for the Lake District National Park/Brockhole, their families or anyone else associated with this competition.
  • The winner must provide postal address
  • There is no entry fee and no purchase necessary to enter this competition.Only one entry is permitted per person.Competition entrants must be aged 18 years or over.
  • Route to entry for the competition and details of how to enter are provided @lakesweather  
  • Closing date for entry will be 16.00 20th January 2017. After this date, no further entries to the competition will be permitted. No responsibility can be accepted for entries not received for whatever reason.
  • The promoter reserves the right to cancel or amend the competition and these terms and conditions without notice if something should happen outside of the promoter's control. 
  • Any changes to the competition will be notified to entrants as soon as possible by the promoter.
  • No cash alternative to the prize will be offered. The prize is not transferable. 
  • The prize is subject to availability and we reserve the right to substitute any prize with another of equivalent value without giving notice.
  • The winner will be chosen at random from all valid competition entries.The winner will be notified by twitter within 28 days of the closing date. 
  • If the winner cannot be contacted or does not claim the prize within 14 days of notification, we reserve the right to withdraw the prize from the winner and pick a replacement winner. 
  • Should the winner be unable to take the prize, the prize will be passed to the second drawn entrant.
  • Once a date has been chosen by the winner these are non-transferable and no alternative dates can be offered. 
  • The prize as described is available on the date of publication.
  • By entering this competition, you will also be subscribing to the Lake District National Park database. You may unsubscribe from newsletters at any time by clicking the 'Unsubscribe' option within the newsletter, however unsubscribing before the competition closing date, will disqualify your entry.
  • Contact details for the winner will be passed on to the prize provider so that they can notify the winner when and where the prize can be collected / redeemed.
  • The promoter's decision in respect of all matters to do with the competition will be final and no correspondence will be entered into.
  • The competition and these terms and conditions will be governed by English law and any disputes will be subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England.The prize winner agrees (as a condition of accepting the prize) to the use of his / her name, county of residence (if such prize winner is resident within the UK) or country of residence (if such prize winner is resident outside the UK) and one or more photograph of themselves in any publicity material and to co-operate with or participate in any other reasonable post-competition publicity.
  • Any personal data relating to the winner or any other entrants will be used solely in accordance with current UK data protection legislation and will not be disclosed to a third party without the entrant's prior consent. 
  • The winners' names will be available on our website www.lakeweatherline.co.uk or 28 days after closing date by sending a stamped addressed envelope to the following address: Lake District National Park Authority, Murley Moss, Oxenholme Road, Kendal, Cumbria, LA9 7RL.
  • This promotion is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with, Facebook, Twitter or any other social network. 
  • You are providing your information to LDNPA and not to any other party.Anyone who is a) an employee of either LDNPA or b) a family members of such an employee will not be permitted to enter the competition.
  • Entry into the competition will be deemed as acceptance of these terms and conditions.