If you love the great outdoors then there is no better place to spend your time than the mountains. Hiking in the mountains gives you such a sense of freedom and joy that it is little wonder that so many people book lakes and mountains holidays every year. The mountains are not without their dangers however, as even the summer months can feature extreme weather conditions that can really leave you in trouble.
I have been hiking in Europe and North America for over 40 years and have learnt the hard way that I need to be prepared for all eventualities. Nice sunny days can soon turn into Armageddon and weather forecasts are not always entirely accurate. That said you should always check the forecast before setting off because sometimes it will prove to be entirely correct!
The Saxeten Disaster
If I needed a salutatory lesson in mountain safety then I certainly got one in 1999 when I was enjoying a holiday in Grindelwald, Switzerland. I had spent a pleasant morning exploring the valley and took a paddle in the Saxeten River looking for interesting rocks and crystals. The sky started to look a bit ominous and it became clear that heavy rain was on the way. I decided to beat a hasty retreat to the safety of my chalet.
Soon afterwards a horrendous storm blew through the area. I have never seen anything like it since. There were waterfalls running down the mountains where there had been none, the sky was black and lightening forked down dramatically. I had the television on in the background and was horrified to discover that a group of people canyoning in the very river I was standing in that morning had been swept away to their deaths.
I got caught out myself recently when hiking in the Triglav National Park in Slovenia. It was another day that had started with sunshine and the promise of great hiking weather. By the time I had reached the highest point of the trail I was tackling the skies had darkened considerably, there were threatening black clouds on the horizon and an ominous wind blowing through the valley. I realised that I needed to get down to the valley floor and quickly but the storm that I had so feared duly arrived in a matter of minutes and I was battered by hail stones as lightning bolts crashed down around me. I tried to shelter under an overhanging cliff but the elements were causing chunks of rock to break free and fall. The hail seemed like a better option! I eventually made it back in one piece but it could have been a different story.
Lost in the Snow
I have had a few other incidents including a bad storm in the Dolomites which had the indecency to strike just as I stepped off a cable car to start my walk. On another occasion I was hiking in Yosemite National Park and found that the snow had not melted at the high altitude I had reached. I became lost because everything looked the same when covered with snow and I had to review my own video footage to find my way out.
I have learnt that the beauty of the mountains belies the hazards that lie in wait and that it is a fool who hikes without the right clothing and equipment, even if they know the area well. Good technical clothing can be costly which might be why some people set out unsuitably dressed. There are actually some good ranges with decent options that will do the job without breaking the bank. Regatta, Trespass and Jack Wolfskin are certainly worth looking at.
You need to dress in layers, have a waterproof outer and a few accessories for safety like a compass, emergency blanket and a first aid kit. Good hiking boots are a must and you should never undertake a lengthy walk without adequate food and drink. You won’t always be able to avoid a bad situation but you can at least improve your chances of getting out of it.
Article By Sally Stacey