Choosing a route
Choose a route in accordance with your physical and mental condition. A bigger party should adapt to the skills of its weakest member. Take account of your and other participants' health conditions.
People with heart condition, diabetes, high blood pressure, allergies and asthma as well as overweight and elderly people shout take extra care. Special attention should be paid to children.
Choose a route that at least one member of the party is familiar with.
In the summer, give consideration to heat on south rock faces or shadowless routes, while in the winter there is a danger of avalanches on north-western and northern to north-eastern mountain slopes. During an avalanche alert high in the mountains, opt for lower routes, with no such danger.
Look for information from reliable sources, such as people who know the mountains and conditions there, i.e. mountain guides and rescuers. Don't be carried away by people who speak about an easy hike while they were lucky to barely manage it.
Never walk alone off marked trails that you found in guide books, websites or friends if you have no such experiences. Instead, hire a mountain guide.
Before heading to the mountains, learn about weather conditions before the trip, during the trip and after its planned end - as the last resort in case your trip takes longer than planned.
Your body starts cooling down rapidly already at the temperature of +10°C (unsuitable clothing, rain, wind, injury, stress, illness etc.).
There is danger of avalanches during the winter and in snowy and windy conditions
In the spring, summer and autumn, there is a chance of thunderstorms. Adhere to »the 30 seconds and 30 minutes rule«. It means conditional safety when there is a gap of at least 30 seconds between a lightning and a thunder. In this case, the storm is 10,800 metres away (30 s x 360 m/s – the speed of sound = 10,800 m). A lightning can strike up to 30 minutes after the last thunder.
Heavy rainfall turns dry mountain streams into wild rivers in a very short period of time. Paths become slippery and treacherous.
In bad weather conditions, it will take mountain rescuers longer to reach you and they will probably not come at all if there is a danger of lightning and snow avalanches.
During the night, snowfall, fog and strong winds, helicopters cannot fly in the mountains.
Whenever you take a route alone or in a party, let someone who stays at home or in the valley know where you are going and when you expect to return.
Sign visitors books in huts or on summits, especially if you are alone or in a small party. It can help rescuers enormously should the need for a search and rescue operation arise.
During the trip
Start slowly in order to warm up properly.
Your pace should remain steady, suitable also for weaker hikers.
Take a break in time, take off excessive clothes and drink something.
Always choose a safe place for a break.
Anticipating the risk of falling rocks, put your helmet on immediately.
Safeguarding one another is vital on exposed sections (using climbing harnesses and safety sets for vie ferrate – fixed rope routes). If anyone is afraid or does not feel good, he or she should be roped up (it requires some skills – mountain guides).
Should anything go wrong, make sure you turn back in time – the mountain will wait.
In the winter, you should be familiar with using crampons and ice axe for walking as well as to catch yourself in case of slipping. In the summer, use your ice axe to cut footsteps in ice covered areas (in Slovenia you’ll find them in most time shaded colouirs above altitude of 2000 m). Using crampons and an ice axe is even better.
Mind strong UV rays high up in the mountains (risk of snow blindness, sunburns of exposed and unprotected skin, chance of sunstroke and heatstroke). Protect yourself accordingly (sun glasses with high UV protection, sunscreens with high protection factor, light and airy headgear and choosing shady trails in hot conditions).
Consume enough food and liquids at all times to prevent hypothermia as it is difficult to replace them later. In huts, you should eat soups and drink non-alcoholic drinks.
In case of a storm, hurry to the nearest hut. If this is not possible, descend from exposed ridges.
Never continue your ascent in stormy conditions.
Take extra caution on the descent because your attention flags by then. With crampons on, be careful not to catch your other foot.
If you take the route in a party, stay together until you have returned to the valley.
If anyone from the party is exhausted it is better to spend the night in a mountain hut than continue at all costs.
Using a mobile phone in the mountains
The mobile phone is an electronic device that functions properly in urban settlements. It connects us with friends, parents, children, fellow workers, services and others. We can almost always rely on it. However, the situation can be different in the mountains, which calls for care. When choosing a route, you should not take help from the mobile phone for granted or count for the phone to stand up for you. The mobile phone cannot protect you from rocks, falling on your head, slips or losing your way in the middle of nowhere. However, you can call for help for you or somebody else. Due to remoteness from base stations that receive and transmit the GSM signal, the latter can be very weak and your mobile phone will try to find the best signal. In order to do it, the phone needs a lot of energy, which can deplete its battery much sooner than down in the valley. Cold is also not the small batteries' friend. Therefore, the following is recommended:
Charge you mobile phone's battery pack fully before taking a route.
Switch it off during the route. Switch it on only when you need it.Keep it close to the body, in a warm place and protected from moisture, including rain and perspiration.
If the GSM signal is very weak, you can try sending SMS messages.
Advice for serious climbers
Choosing your destination or climbing route
Always choose destinations and climbing routes in accordance with your current physical and mental condition. Consider your fellow climber. If taking a route together with a less experienced climber, allow yourself more room, opt for easier routes. Be honest with yourself. If you haven't been climbing for a long time, take a steady approach.
Avoid trendy routes, which often means crowds, danger of falling rocks, slow progress as a consequence of several roped party teams on the same route at the same time, which can lead to unplanned bivouacking.
Choose the routes that are suitable in current conditions. Do not take a route when there is a danger of snow avalanches in the mountains.Especially in the winter, choose well-known routes and descents.
Planning a route
In a few sentences, it is not possible to present all the skills that those who take a course and then become junior and senior trainees acquire at mountaineering schools. However, we would like to draw your attention to some vital facts that should not be neglected when preparing a trip to the mountains.
Choosing the climbing route
- Studying the access, description and route sketches
- Possibilities of finding a way out from the rock face via an alternative (easier) route or ledge or abseiling
- Particularly dangerous and demanding spots in the face or above it
- Bivouacking spots
- Descent (in Slovenia usually along a marked trail while elsewhere abseiling can be the only option)
- Time needed for access, ascent and descent
- Your colleagues' assistance for extremely difficult ascents. They can follow your progress from the valley or meet you on the summit
- Possibility of calling for help from the face (GSM signal, using a radio station)
- Choosing the equipment (besides the climbing gear, in includes also first aid essentials, bivy sack or at least alu foil, when planning a bivouac, bivouac equipment, avalanche rescue beacon in the winter, a probe pole, a shovel, a candle, a knife, a head lamp, using special equipment, a tent etc.)
- Planning food supplies for the entire trip, including some reserves
- Waiting for suitable weather and other conditions to begin a trip
- If your fellow climber falls in the rock face, lower him or her to a suitable ledge. Give him or her first aid in as much as your skills, equipment and conditions on the ground allow. Protect him or her from falling rocks, ice, cold and wind.
- In Slovenia, call emergency number 112. In other countries, get informed before you go (Italy 118, Austria 140).
- In case of a helicopter rescue operation, try to mark your position with brightly coloured clothes. If you have phone or radio communication, give the pilot exact information on where you are.
- When a helicopter is flying close to the rock face, there is always risk of falling rocks due to the wind it causes. You must be fastened to pitons or the anchor.
- If help is not to arrive immediately or shortly, start the rescue procedure as instructed at the mountaineering school. This is possible only if your fellow climber has sustained only minor injuries.
- When you are forced to bivouac, take shelter from wind, snow avalanches, waterfalls in case of rain, and falling rocks and ice. Do not forget: if necessary, an ice axe is enough to dig a snow cave.
Whatever destination you choose in accordance with your physical and mental fitness, it is vital to pick suitable equipment, which largely affects the quality and safety of your trip. With a view to its intended purpose, equipment can be broken down into several categories: clothing, footwear, protective and technical equipment, bivouac gear etc. Nowadays, there is a very large selection of equipment of different qualities and from different producers available on the market. It is essential to know what equipment you need and to be able to use effectively each piece of the equipment that you brought along. The ice axe in your hand will not save you if you haven't learnt how to catch yourself in case of slipping. The helmet in the backpack will also not save your head. Because quality climbing equipment is rather expensive, beginners are advised to consult their friends, mountaineers, mountain rescuers, serious climbers or shop assistants. Although different climbing routes require different equipment, some pieces of equipment should always be with you in the mountains and are part of the standard equipment. Other pieces of equipment, listed below, are specific in terms of the type and difficulty level of the ascent. You should always bear in mind that temperatures in the mountains can be very low also in the summer.
Let's repeat again that you should take the standard equipment whenever you go to the mountains, regardless of the type and difficulty level of your ascent:
- Alu foil and/or bivy sack
- Personal first aid kit
- Head lamp and batteries
- Mobile phone with a fully charged battery
- A graphite pencil and a piece of paper
Hiking in the summer
- Leather hiking boots
- Warm wool socks
- Underwear (T-shirt), made of quick drying material
- A shirt or a high collar sweater
- A fleece or a wind jacket
- A cap
- A sun protective headwear (a hat...)
- Sunscreen as a protection against sun
- (Telescopic) hiking poles
- Non-alcoholic drinks (tea, juice, energy drink...)
- A snack (a sandwich, fruits, chocolate....)
- A suitable map, especially if you are not familiar with the area
- A helmet if the trail is exposed or follows a terrain with a danger of falling rocks or minor slips
- The same as above for a one-day hikes
- Extra underwear, socks and T-shirts to change
- Sufficient supplies of liquid and food
- A suitable map, GPS optional
- If planning to sleep in mountain huts, ask in advance about their working schedule and vacancies
- If planning to sleep in the open, you will need suitable bivouacking equipment, such as a sleeping bag, a tent, a thermarest, cooking utensils...
Hiking in the summer along challenging trails
Such routes require a higher level of physical and mental fitness. Hiking there requires equipment, similar to that for hiking, plus protective and technical equipment:
- The same equipment as that for hiking along marked trails
- A helmet
- Self-belay set
- Gloves (for a better grip on steel cables)
Hiking in the winter
Winter hikes take additional skills and equipment because the ground is much more difficult and hazardous, days are shorter and temperatures are lower. Because most of the equipment is the same as for summer hiking, only special, winter hiking equipment, is listed below:
- Winter footwear
- Thermal underwear (T-shirt and pants)
- A warm jacket or a puff jacket
- Warm walking pants
- Wind pants
- An extra pair of warm gloves (boiled wool)
- A cap an/or balaclava
- A mountaineering ice axe
- Crampons that fit your shoes
- An avalanche rescue beacon
- A shovel
- A probe pole
Ski touring equipment is similar to that for winter hiking. The difference is the additional ski equipment:
- Touring skis
- Ski touring boots
- Climbing skins
- Ski crampons
Alpine ascents in the summer and in the winter
Mountain climbing takes a higher level of education, physical and mental fitness as well as equipment. It is above simple hiking and it can be learnt at mountaineering courses, organized by climbing clubs. Without proper climbing education, such ascents are life-threatening.
President of the Education and Rescue Techniques Commission
The equipment section provided by Klemen Sladič, Mountain Rescue association of Slovenia , sub-division Radovljica
Edited by Dominik Skumavec, member of the Information and Analyses Commission and web site editor