All around the world many lives have been lost amongst those participating in rock sports, none of it down to incompetence but because of severe weather conditions people have been caught up in.
The weather, as we all know, can be extremely fickle but probably nowhere more so than here in the UK so it’s important to know what to look out for and what you should do in the event of bad weather setting in.
Don’t Take the Weather for Granted
A common mistake is to look at the forecast the day before and then forget about it. You should always make an additional last minute forecast check before you set off for your adventure trip which is as up to date as possible. Even though the forecast may call for a sunny day tomorrow, that can change overnight, especially in mountainous and hilly regions which are more susceptible to changes in the weather than most other terrains.
Quite often in areas where rock sports are commonly practised, there is often a local authority who can give you a weather update or, better still, perhaps even a park ranger station which is probably best placed to obtain up to the minute weather information and they can make an educated prediction about the weather for the duration of your trip. If there are either of those resources in the location you’re heading to, use them. Don’t just rely on a general TV forecast the night before.
Amend Your Plans
Before amending your plans, think hard about how bad the weather is going to be or is likely to get. If you’re in any doubt whatsoever about the safety implications of your intended trip, postpone the trip. It’s not worth compromising on safety and you can always reschedule for another day.
However, if you’ve been reassured by the forecast, it’s still a good idea to amend your plans. If it’s been raining heavily, for example, or it’s still fairly breezy, you may need to set off earlier. Remember, a trudge to get to your climbing point over smooth dry ground may take far longer if it’s muddy, windy and wet. You may also need to take different clothing with you and possibly modify your equipment to cope with any adverse conditions you may encounter.
Be Your Own Weather Forecaster
Once out ‘in the field’, you’ll be able to get some indication as to possible changes in weather conditions by making a few simple observations. Look at any clouds and see what direction they’re travelling in and at what speed. Check the colour of the sky. If you carry a barometer with you, consult it and look for pressure changes.
Two very clever useful tips in predicting weather when out climbing are to identify the highest mountain tops you can see clearly in the distance and, if they are snow-capped, look to see if you can spot any flurries coming down from the summit. If they are, it’s an indication that wind speeds are high, even though all may be currently calm where you are situated. Also, many people have commented that if the hairs on their arms stand up and/or they feel a tingling sensation on their skin, then this can often indicate that lightning is not too far away.
Action You can Take
In windy conditions, debris can fall onto you more easily and you’re more at risk of being knocked off your feet so be extra cautious. If you can find a natural shelter or windbreak, go to it immediately if the weather’s getting too bad. Obviously, if the bad weather is still some way away and you have a chance to get off the mountain first or to pitch a tent securely before it strikes, take those actions but only if you’re sure you can accomplish either of these things first before the bad weather hits. If there’s lightning present, bunker down in a makeshift shelter away from tall trees. If there are a group of much smaller trees not too far from larger ones, head for the small ones if you’re unable to find shelter. That said, there is no real definitive safe place to hide from lightning on a mountain.
If you have communication with the ground, contact somebody to let them know where you are before heading for your tent or shelter as communication links might be broken later. That way, if you need rescuing, people are going to be aware of your location far more quickly. Once you’ve done that, however, you should stay put and ride any storm out. The fatal mistake people make is to try and get off a hill or mountain when there isn’t enough before stormy weather hits them. If you know you don’t have enough time to get to safety, stay put until the storm passes.