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Seasonal mountain walkers are not necessarily the same as seasoned mountain walkers. Irish mountains are not high by international standards but they are challenging. People suffer serious injury and death in the hills of Ireland

The Christmas holiday period is a time for leisure and recreation, including hill walking. It is a period where people often succumb to an “excess of zeal” and don’t plan properly. Failing to prepare adequately for your “adventures” is preparing to fail. Tragedy has occurred in the mountains of Ireland over the Christmas New Year period.

Before following your star into the hills over the coming weeks please reflect on these three wise things; all fundamental to a safe day in the hills – you, the weather and the terrain. When planning, remember that these factors are related and interconnected.

First consider the skills that you and your companions possess, it really all starts there. You should not venture into the mountains alone no matter how experienced you are. Food, drink, spare clothing, first aid kit, map and compass are all essential equipment. Navigating effectively in cloud requires knowledge and experience, built up over years. The inexperienced may have the “gadgets” but not the knowledge to use them effectively. Equipment will not make you physically fit; fitness is also built up incrementally over time. The stamina of the weakest member of the party should dictate the day’s plan or itinerary. Taking children into the high mountains in winter is not advisable.

The second and possibly most critical is the weather; it can quickly become your enemy. Listen to the forecast before making your plan, Irish weather is variable and unpredictable. Rain, wind, temperature and visibility are key considerations. As you go further up you get more rain and wind but less temperature and visibility. Low level routes are sufficiently challenging for most walkers in poor conditions. Don’t go too high or too far when poor weather is forecast; poor weather can kill you. Short days give insufficient contingency; minor mishaps escalate on a dark stormy evening. Don’t allow your enthusiasm outstrip your experience.

Thirdly and finally the terrain is a very important factor. Even in good conditions steep terrain can be too challenging to those not accustomed to it. Apart from rocky terrain, steep grassy slopes are treacherously slippery when wet.  The hills are very wet now and likely to remain so for months. The best boots won’t stop you from slipping and falling on steep wet ground. When the weather gets cold, that water becomes ice at altitude, increasing the dangers. Ben Bulben will still be there in the long, hopefully dryer, calmer days of summer. The marked trails and lower hills are a good initial preparation for the longer trips of spring.

Don’t make Christmas a sad anniversary for your loved ones.  Stay prepared, stay safe, stay happy.

Sligo Leitrim Mountain Rescue Team thank all those people who support them financially or otherwise, Have a happy and healthy Christmas and New Year holiday. If you do need assistance, rescue volunteers in your area, will be willingly there for you.  Do not stack the odds against yourself by being excessively zealous over short winter days.

Remember it’s about you, it’s about the weather and it’s about the terrain.

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