If you’re new to hillwalking you may find that your trusty backpack no longer works for those long days on the hills. You may have found there’s not enough space, or you don’t have time to take off your pack to rummage for what you need. You do want to be able to carry the supplies you’ve now discovered are essential to surviving out on the hills in all the weathers the Irish climate throws at us. But you want to be able to access what you need easily. Oh, and it should be able to survive the rigours of the more adventurous treks led by those leaders on a mission! Not to mention, it needs to weigh like …nothing! Otherwise, how will you make it to the end of the day without falling down and staying down, moaning “I can’t take any more…just leave me here.”
It’s worthwhile browsing a while before you buy. Most day packs have between 20 and 40 litres capacity (that’s space for your kit, to the uninitiated). Your walk leader will probably have a pack that’s closer to 40 litres in size because she or he will be carrying lots of extra stuff that us Glenwalk sheep don’t have to think about. So that’s a guideline.
After size, the next aspect to think about is the frame. It’s worthwhile spending a little extra to get a frame that’s specifically designed for your gender. Then your load will be distributed appropriately for your build. Thus avoiding some of the common back problems associated with bad posture. A woman’s rucksack, for example, will have the shoulder straps closer together for the narrower female frame. In most of the good camping stores the sales staff will get you to put on your chosen pack so they can adjust it to fit your particular body size. A mesh frame will also aid ventilation thus avoiding the discomfort of moisture build up.
Check that straps are padded where they meet shoulders and hips, making them a more comfortable option for long hikes. Check the fastening systems on the pack. The zippers should be beefier with larger teeth as these will last longer. Drawstring closures at the top of the pack are commonly used and replaceable if they break. Avoid buckles that are specialised to the brand and/or stitched directly into the pack fabric. They will be difficult to replace. A sternum strap will help distribute the weight of the pack. Some of these incorporate a whistle which can be very useful for hands free access in a life threatening situation.
External pockets should be scrutinised carefully. They can be really handy for items that you may need to access quickly, but size is important. Large and deep side pockets are very useful. (No point in having a lovely side pocket that only fits a compass or a protein bar.) Some brands have extra pockets in the waist strap. A top loading lid pocket can be used for items you don’t want to get lost in the main pack….like your lunch!
Inside clips in zipped pockets for holding items that are small (like car keys) are becoming more common.
Look for sturdy closure straps. Tightening these can help compress the contents of your pack. Side straps are useful for tying items like walking poles to your pack when they’re not in use.
Some packs feature a rain cover. Personally, I find it a nuisance to have to unpack it, and in high winds it turns the pack into a sail! Much easier to pack your spare clothing, and anything else you want to keep dry, into a plastic bag (or stuff sack) inside your pack.
A rucksack featuring an internal pocket for a plastic water bladder (hydration system – Platypus) is essential for long hikes. The obvious benefit not having to break your stride in order to get a drink of water.
We all want to keep our rucksacks light but we have to remember that hillwalking needs a lot more careful planning with the attendant extra layers of clothes, extra food and hot drinks that involves.
Be safe out there, and
Hypothermia occurs when the core temperature of the body falls below 35°C. This can happen during a day out in the mountains if you’re not properly dressed/equipped.
There are several sub types of hypothermia, in the mountains the main type you might come across is Exposure Hypothermia. This generally occurs over several hours following exposure to moderate cold. The casualty becomes exhausted and then cools rapidly as their energy reserves are depleted and they are no longer able to shiver to re-warm themselves.
Another type to occur in the mountains is Immersion Hypothermia. This occurs where the casualty has had a sudden immersion in cold water or snow, the cold rapidly overwhelms heat production. Although rarer in the mountains, it can happen if someone falls in an icy stream.
Main Causes and factors
Hypothermia can be caused by several factors, hypothermia occurs when the body’s heat loss exceeds heat generation.
Weather – wind and rain decrease the body’s temperature more rapidly due to wind-chill. This means even on a relatively mild day, people can still succumb to hypothermia if it is windy and raining. The colder the air temperature, the higher is the risk.
Clothing/equipment – A lack of suitable waterproof clothing will lead to clothing layers getting wet, which will increase heat loss considerably. Waterproof jacket and trousers as well as at least two decent insulating layers such as a fleece or synthetic belay type jacket are important in trapping heat and cutting out wind-chill. The body can lose substancial amounts of heat through the head, so a hat is a must.
Dehydration and lack of food – The body needs food and drink in order to metabolise effectively and efficiently. The energy released by our metabolism heats our body, if our fuel reserves are depleted then we cannot produce the heat we need to stay warm.
Ill health – People who are ill may be less able to metabolise and generate heat, and so are more likely to chill quickly.
There are several ways of classifying hypothermia. Perhaps the easiest is to think of hypothermia in terms of mild, moderate and severe. However, it must be noted that different people exhibit different signs before others, and not all the signs and symptoms may be present in everyone.
At this stage the body still has resources of its own to try to fight the effects of the cold, shivering will occur which is a voluntary response of the body to re-warm itself. Asking the casualty to stop shivering is a good test, if they can then the hypothermia is mild.
Mild hypothermia can be treated quite easily. Stop, find shelter, put more layers on and get high energy foods and warm drinks into the casualty. The food needs to be high energy e.g. a Mars Bar or glucose gels to help fuel the body’s production of heat. The casualty should then be able to walk off the mountain without any extra help from the emergency services.
If, on asking, the casualty cannot stop shivering, they are in the realms of moderate hypothermia. By now the body’s energy resources are depleted and it has no way of reheating. The brain itself is affected and people act out of character with the ‘Umbles’. Speech may become Mumbles, they Stumble or Tumble as they lose co-ordination, they may become irritable and Grumble, their ability to do small tasks such as do up their rucksack or close zips on their clothing will reduce to Fumbles.
Confusion occurs and sometimes a casualty maybe under the illusion that they are warm and start to strip clothes off. While the casualty is still conscious it may be possible to re-warm by extra layers and warm clothing. However around these temperatures, the heart is in danger of fibrillation and the casualty may collapse and become unresponsive.
32°C and below, the casualty is in a serious way. Their heart is now in serious danger of ventricular fibrillation, this is an abnormal heart rhythm where the heart muscles contract in an uncoordinated manner out of rhythm with each other. This is life threatening and can be caused by the shock of cold blood rushing into the heart if the casualty is moved roughly.
The severely hypothermic casualty now has a cooled brain and so their usual functions will disappear. It may be difficult to detect signs of life as the muscles become more rigid and so pulses may not be found. The body falls into a dormant like state and breathing may be so shallow and slow that this too may be undetectable, the casualty’s eyes may not react to light and may be dilated.
Prevention of hypothermia
Check the weather forecast and make sure that you are adequately equipped for the conditions. Even if the forecast is good, conditions can change rapidly in the mountains and the weather forecast may not be accurate.
Make sure you have adequate clothing; both waterproof trousers and jacket, warm layers and hats and gloves, (several pairs).
Take plenty of high energy food and preferably a hot drink.
Plan an appropriate route for the conditions and make sure that you can navigate using a map and compass so that you do not become lost and stuck in poor weather conditions.
A summary of symptoms, signs and treatment of hypothermia:
The proposed development at Massy’s Wood and the Hellfire Forest has been researched thoroughly by MI. In consultation with all interested parties, MI has given a constructive response to the proposal. Even if you have not previously looked at this proposal, It’s well reading MI’s response, as all aspects of the proposal have been studied and addressed. You can see the details here – http://www.mountaineering.ie/_files/2017926115345_4d4d251c.pdf.
What a day for a hillwalk. It was warm and windless in beautiful surroundings. The smiling walkers I met along the way agreed. Starting at Shay Elliot means a variety of landscape is assured and lots to admire along the way. Most hill tops have cairns in this area (towered heaps of rock). Please resist the urge to add to them. Remember our saying: “Take nothing but memories, leave nothing but footprints”. The first gorgeous creature I met was a Peacock Butterfly alongside the track up towards Cullentragh:
As I saw another close by, I realised, as the day progressed, this was going to be a butterfly day. All kinds were to be seen: Small Tortoiseshell, Red Admiral, Speckled Wood and Meadow Brown. Here’s the lovely Small Copper Butterfly:
Mr Raven was making himself heard as I came down Mullacor and I spotted a Sparrow Hawk hunting by the slopes of Derrybawn. The deer were out in force but sheltering from the hot sun under trees and tall bracken.
Homeward bound on the old track below Derrybawn’s slopes, I came across a Fox Moth Caterpillar, sunning himself on a stone. His colours were a lot sharper than this fellow, because his habitat is the cooler region of the uplands:
So….what did you see on your hike?
The Clifden weekend was everything we hoped for, and more than some of us dreamed! The Station House Hotel outdid themselves with the standard of their accommodation, and food. The staff are so kind and helpful. Our stalwart leaders: Jimmy, Hugon, Duncan, Brendan, Conor, Karina, Fiona and Philip outshone themselves in designing walks for every level, making it a weekend to remember. Lots of Maamturks, Glencoaghan Horseshoe, and 12 Bens virgins (“first-timers” to the uninitiated). The weather co-operated, giving us some of the most beautiful views across the mountains and sea, wherever we walked. And the après hikes craic was mega, as you would expect from Glenwalk. There was Jack the Scot who went up the hill……and there were sheep who wandered in for lunch. Oh, and let’s not forget the mermaid seen by some, and pondered by many.
A special word of appreciation to Philip who, as weekend walks co-ordinator, gave up his much of his beauty sleep to haunt and cajole so that all the walks were planned well in advance, so well planned in fact, that we all had the details before we’d even checked in to our accommodations! And then, to facilitate those of us whose brains are swiss cheese, announced the days events each morning, foregoing his chance for a lie-in over the holiday weekend.
The icing on the cake for this organiser was the EUR185 collected on behalf of the Irish Peatland Conservation Council. They had sent us a bunch of tickets to sell at only EUR3 per ticket. When the tickets ran out, the generous Glenwalkers in Clifden continued to contribute. Thank you for your generosity, Clifden Revellers! The IPCC appreciates your contribution to their important work. Delivery of the cash was completed by Madeleine, today, Thursday.
A recent hike up Knocknacloghogue in the good company of Glenwalkers, was enhanced by some great views. The weather obliged with only a few light showers until our return journey, which only encouraged us to find a last spurt of energy to get us back up to Pier Gates. Along the way we saw some interesting flora and fauna.
The hairy mollies I enthusiastically pointed out so they wouldn’t get stomped on were Northern Egger caterpillars. The Northern Egger is a big moth with a spot on each wing, and the female has a lighter colouring.
Another creature we saw, this time displaying amazing flight control, was a Kestrel. This raptor is most easily recognised by its typical hunting behaviour which is to hover at a height above the ground over open country. It then swoops down on its prey, usually small mammals or insects. The kestrel we saw was making optimum use of the air stream coming up from Lough Dan to hover over an area near us, allowing us plenty of time to watch its air display. Later, as we basked in the sun at the shores of Lough Dan, we could hear the kestrel’s loud “kee kee kee” calls, which it does when agitated. I’m guessing other walkers had strayed close to its nest.
All walking club members know, when you see a sign, as you access an upland area, that says “No dogs allowed” and/or “Animals Grazing”, you are now entering privately owned land. The area may be your favourite mountain, forest or heathland. I never met a dog I couldn’t love! But bringing a dog, no matter how well behaved, can frighten animals, and shows disrespect for the landowner. It only takes one instance of sheep worrying to have “permission to access” withdrawn. So please pass this on to any dog-loving friends who think it’s ok to bring their woofers on the hills.
Something we can all do, every walk, to help the hills By Duncan Aitken
At the recent Glenwalk Leaders’ Forum, we were treated to an interesting and informative talk from Helen Lawless, the Hillwalking, Access & Conservation Officer of Mountaineering Ireland (MI). One of Helen’s topics was how to minimise the adverse effect of our own footprints on our hills and mountains. This is also the subject of one of the Leave No Trace principles, “Travel and Camp on Durable Ground”.
It seems to me that this is an area where each one of us can make a contribution every time we go hillwalking. We’ve all seen wide paths on the hillsides, visible for miles around, and large muddy patches. These didn’t appear of their own accord, of course – they were caused, at least in part, by hillwalkers like us. But the good news is that it’s easy for each of us, individually, to minimise the risk of our own walking contributing to eyesores such as these – simply by where we choose to tread.
And this is, indeed, about choices. One memorable thing Helen said was that in a 12km hillwalk, a typical walker will take around 15,000 steps – so, as she pointed out, that’s 15,000 decisions about where to tread. For most of those 15,000 steps, we will have a genuine choice. So how can we choose wisely?
The first thing to be aware of is that “best practice” in this area depends on whether there’s a track or not.
Most of the time on our hillwalks, we tend to be on a track of some sort – anything from a tarmac road (or even a concrete one!) to a narrow line through the vegetation. That narrow line is, of course, usually the result of human (or animal) impact. So do we avoid walking on it, to avoid making the impact worse?
No – on the contrary. A track tends to be less fragile than the land around it, because broad-leaved vegetation (most fragile) wears away to leave grasses and more resilient vegetation, which in turn may wear away to reveal soil (less fragile) and, ultimately, rock (least fragile). So if we stick to an existing track wherever possible, we are minimising the additional impact of our passing.
Are the people in the picture sticking to the track? No, they’re not. “Stick to the track” means “right ON the track itself”, ideally as close to the centre of the track as possible. And, in particular, avoiding walking on the grass right next to it, because this will widen the damaged area – and that’s what causes those eyesores I mentioned earlier.
Of course, this means we will often find ourselves walking on rock or mud – even if it means getting our nice new boots muddy! But rock and mud are usually safe and practical to walk on (although, of course, we must always use our own judgement in those respects).
In addition, there are a few simple things we can do to make it easier for ourselves to stick to the track:
– In her talk, Helen mentioned the use of gaiters to protect against mud.
– Using poles can minimise the impact on our joints when going downhill on rocky ground. And when we’re not walking downhill, is it really any more uncomfortable to walk on a rocky surface? Especially if it’s over only a short distance.
– When there’s water lying across the track, it may be possible simply to step over it, or safe to walk right through it – avoiding lengthy diversions (which also, again, widen the damaged area).
So much for when there’s a track.
But if there isn’t a track, each walker in a group is usually faced with a choice – do I follow directly behind the person in front, or not? Normally it will make little or no difference to us. But from the point of view of the hills themselves, it does make a difference.
In trackless areas, we’ll usually be walking on vegetation such as grass. And vegetation is much more likely to recover from one footprint than from many.
So the guidance from Mountaineering Ireland and Leave No Trace is to adopt a different approach where there’s no track. Instead of following directly behind one other, as we might when following a track, it’s best to spread out sideways in this case, to avoid damaging vegetation irreversibly or creating new tracks. But again, safety is important, so we must make sure we don’t spread out so much that we lose contact with the group, either visually or audibly – especially in adverse conditions such as fog, strong wind or heavy rain.
Of course the hills are infinitely varied, so we will sometimes come across unusual or borderline situations where these simple principles don’t give a nice clear answer and we will need to use our judgement. But most of the time, the basics will be enough to guide us. None of us is going to get it right 100% of the time but, regardless of whether a judgement call is needed or not, an awareness of those basics will mean more of those 15,000 decisions are good ones.
I’d like to thank both Helen Lawless and the Glenwalk Committee for reviewing this blog entry before publication and suggesting improvements. And thanks also to Helen for permission to use the pictures, which were taken from her presentation.