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such great heights

Heading for the hills today? Here are 18 tips to stay safe on Ireland's mountains

It’s a busy time of year for the country’s mountain rescue teams. Here’s how to ensure you won’t need their services today.

SOME PEOPLE HIT the sales, others dress up in semi-pagan garb and march through the local byways banging on instruments.

For many others, though, St Stephen’s Day means a walk in the mountains.

The country’s nature trails are thronged in the days after Christmas – as families bid to escape their homes before the inevitable cabin fever sets in.

For most – it’s a stress-free day in the country. But it’s also a busy time of the year for the Coast Guard and mountain rescue crews, who are called upon to help people in difficulty on the hills.

In many cases, the hikers are inexperienced – and sometimes find themselves lost in the wilderness amid fading light and deteriorating weather conditions.

With that in mind, we asked the Dublin Wicklow Mountain Rescue Team to put together a checklist of everything you need to know before setting out on your post-Christmas trek.

cross The summit of Carrauntoohil, photographed by reader Billy Horan in November. Billy Horan Billy Horan

  • Wrap up well: the higher you go, the colder and windier it gets, but remember that you’ll warm up with exercise. Lots of thin layers are better than one thick layer, as you can add or remove them easily to balance your temperature.
  • Bring a waterproof jacket and trousers even if the forecast is dry, the weather can change quickly in the hills. It’s better to have them and not use them, than get caught out by a sudden shower.
  • Wear boots or strong shoes and two pairs of socks. Ideally, use one thin pair and one thick to help prevent blisters. Runners are not great for hiking, as your feet will get wet and cold much easier. Spare socks are also a good idea. Dry feet are happy feet; happy hikers have happy feet.
  • A hat and gloves are essential. Consider bringing spares, as wet gloves are almost as bad as no gloves.
  • Carry some spare warm layers in case you get unexpectedly delayed. A survival bag – a large, orange plastic bag which can be purchased in most good outdoor shops – is a very useful addition to your kit. It’s a good idea to carry some spare food too – chocolate, nuts, dried fruit, or jellies are good choices.

Lugnaquilla Mountain (The Lug), Leinsters highest Lugnaquilla Mountain in Wicklow - Leinster's highest point at 924 metres.

  •  Don’t get cold: hypothermia is dangerous, but avoidable. Put on an extra layer when you stop for a break, and try to stay out of the wind. If you, or one of your party, is cold the best remedy is to eat something sugary and get moving. Warm drinks are helpful, but to stay warm you must keep moving.
  • Get an accurate weather forecast and try to anticipate how it will affect your plans. Don’t be afraid to change your plans if the weather changes.
  • Respect the environment: bring home your rubbish, never disturb farm or wild animals, respect people’s property, and leave gates as you found them. Leave No Trace Ireland have lots of information to help keep you right.
  • Get a compass and an appropriate map for the area you’re walking in. Ordnance Survey Ireland (OSI) Discovery Series are the national standard, but there are other good providers, for example EastWest Mapping for Dublin and Wicklow.
  • Learn how to use your map and compass; mobile phones with digital mapping and GPS are great, but phones don’t work if they get wet and GPS drains your battery; potentially leaving you without your phone when you need it.

shutterstock_108116960 Shutterstock / alextan8 Shutterstock / alextan8 / alextan8

  • Plan your route, and identify some escape routes should things turn bad. Always tell someone where you are going, including your escape routes, and when to expect you home. Don’t forget to tell them when you’ve safely returned.
  • Bring your mobile phone and make sure it’s charged. Consider using a waterproof case, or even a ziplock bag. Phones don’t like the rain.
  • At this time of year it gets dark early. Bring a flashlight, preferably a head torch, and spare batteries. If you’ll be walking on a road, a hi-viz vest or armband are essential in helping motorists see you.
  • A four-hour hike can burn more than 1,500 calories. Have a substantial breakfast and bring lunch. Don’t forget the water, even in an Irish winter you can become dehydrated.
  • A basic first aid kit is essential. They are available from outdoor shops, and are usually small and light. If you take prescription medication, an asthma inhaler for example, take it with you.
  • No matter what the manufacturer says, your rucksack is not waterproof. Keeping spare warm layers in waterproof – or just plastic – bags will mean they’ll be useful if you need them.
  • If you need assistance, call 999 or 112 and ask for mountain rescue. Emergency calls (999/112) use any network available to your phone, not just the one you’re on, so you should be able to make an emergency call if your phone has no coverage. If you find that you’re still unable to make an emergency call, consider sending a member of your group to higher ground to pick up a better signal. You should be careful not to put anyone at risk by asking them to climb to higher ground.
  • Be careful around river crossings, and preferably cross a river where there is an adequate bridge. If your route crosses a river, it’s a good idea to plan escape routes in case the river has become impassable. This can be a particular problem if you cross a river on your way out and on your return. Rivers can swell in size over a couple of hours, leaving you stranded on the wrong side.

John Kavanagh of Dublin Wicklow Mountain Rescue Team (who put the above list together) is asking people to get involved in their Walk the Line dusk-into-dark fundraising hike. It happens on 12 March and you can find details here.

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