This time of year can be fickle in Scotland. The promise of summer one second, then the depths of mid-winter the next. For those entering Scotland’s wild places, it is a time of year where you can be easily caught off guard. It can be double digit temperatures with warm-feeling sunshine at sea-level and in the glens, but full-on winter conditions up on the hills. Whilst the days are longer than midwinter, spring can still bring with it highland rivers in spate and heavy snowfall, howling winds, and white-out conditions in the mountains. Considering the current wintery forecast for the days ahead (over the Easter Holiday weekend) for the Scottish Highlands, it’s important not to be caught out.
Near whiteout conditions in the Cairngorms on a Glenmore Lodge Training Day
Therefore, it’s crucial to be prepared and still be thinking of winter when we enjoy the outdoors in April and even in May. In winter conditions hillwalking and high-level biking routes can take much longer than advertised in guidebooks. Additional specialist equipment such as ice axes and crampons – and the skills to know how to use them – may also still be required.
Taken in early-May 2018 - winter still had its grip on the hills. Crampons and an ice-axe were necessary to navigate this terrain safetly
Mountaineering Scotland have a couple of excellent webinars, one for beginners and one for more experienced hillwalkers, on their website here: https://www.mountaineering.scot/safety-and-skills/thinkwinter. These cover everything from planning a trip or route, through to equipment choice and then things to consider during the day.
Some other useful resources
For checking the weather forecast to see if it is a lovely Spring day to be in the hills or perhaps one to sit it out, the Mountain Weather Information Service (MWIS) and the Met Office Specialist Mountain Forecasts are your best resources. In terms of ground conditions, one can assess whether there may still be avalanche risks or investigate general daily information about the hills, by using the Scottish Avalanche Information Service; an invaluable resource. They provide area specific avalanche reports plus daily blogs with photos.
This time of year can be brilliant in the hills: long days, no midges and fewer tourists but they can also be brutal on the wrong side of a weather system, so remember to still Think WINTER.