Snow & Hail

Snow & Hail


Snow & hail and associated hazards


Snow & Hail 

Snow & Hail


Hail is technically ice, but for the purposes of brevity it's included with snow, as once fallen it's much the same for the walker.


Hazards

Walking in snow can be great fun, and seeing the hills covered in snow is an amazing experience. Fresh snowfall can present a number of hazards for the walker, which need to be factored into route planning and preparation.

  • difficult to make good progress in fresh snow
  • difficulty to route find in poor visibility as even well used footpaths can become impossible to see
  • potential for a slip or twisted ankle as small stones and rocks are hidden by the snow
  • blizzard - when combined with wind, making vision difficult without goggles
  • when combined with low cloud and falling snow, a white-out occurs
  • avalanche danger immediately following snowfall, or in certain conditions depending upon the slope angle and 'bonding' of old layers of snow onto which fresh snow has fallen
  • build up of snow forming cornices (snow overhanging a steep drop, on the leeward side of a ridge or escarpment)


Progress

Making progress in fresh snow can be painfully slow and tiring. If you're the first up the route you'll have to find a path, even if not 'the' path. If you're second or subsequent, you'll find that stepping in someone else's footprints breaks your natural stride, especially if deep prints. Where the snow is not too deep, it can still be possible to find the path for a keen eye, as it will often appear as a slight depression against surrounding snow.

Use of snowshoes can make progress much quicker.

Take care when crossing terrain that may be hiding rocks beneath the snow. It's easy to slip of twist an ankle on a submerged rock.


Blizzards

Being on a mountain when it's snowing, combined with strong wind can make for an unpleasant and potentially dangerous situation. Seeing where to put your feet may not be an issue, but medium distance route finding can be come difficult, or impossible if your intended route is into the wind and you don't have goggles. For this reason, during winter months it's always recommended that you pack a pair of ski goggles, just in case you're in a snow or hail stone blizzard. Snow hitting your eyes at speed hurts!


White Outs

Sometimes you hear of people describing that they have been on the mountains in white-out conditions, but many times they actually mean that they've been out in poor visibility, normally low cloud.

 

This is not a white-out, as you can see footprints. Difficult conditions for sure, but not a white-out.

A proper white-out is not a nice experience, and happens when there is already a full covering of snow on the ground, it's snowing and you're in low cloud. In such situations your foot/eye co-ordination will become difficult, as it's virtually impossible to tell exactly where the ground is in front of you as everything is white. Apart from the odd minor stumble when the ground isn't quite where you expected, safe route finding will become virtually impossible. You may be able to see a colleague walking in front of you, but whether he can properly know where he's going is another issue.

If you are in a proper white out and you have steep ground close by, you may be better to stop in your position of relative safety and get into a storm shelter, rather than continue on a course of which you cannot be certain. There are alternative means by which to continue walking, but such methods are beyond the scope of this site at this time.


Snow Blindness

This is a painful condition brought about when eyes are over exposed to ultra violet (UV) light, usually when inadequate eye protection, (sunglasses or goggles) and is more common when in bright sunlight on snowy mountains, as the snow reflects approx 80%. Sunglasses and/or goggles are essential when there's a snow cover. See Eye health in the mountains


Avalanches

Covered in its own section - here.


Cornices

Covered in its own section - here.


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