Our blog - Winter Skills, Jan'17

A blog of our mountain adventures in Scotland, hiking, biking, rock-scrambling and more !

Winter Skills

21-22 January 2017
Our third winter skills event of the 2016/17 season. John Walker was leading, here's tale of the days ...

Heading up Cairngorm It has been challenging so far this winter to get conditions that are conducive to teaching winter skills, mainly due to the lack of snow. Ironically, this has been the result of some lovely dry, wind-free and stable weather systems which have meant glorious days on the hill. It's a mad, topsy-turvy world isn't it!?

That said, if you have some imagination, a little ingenuity and a bit of local knowledge, you can usually weedle out some obliging snow and ice patches that will allow you to replicate the kind of challenges that winter brings when out on the hill, and indeed keeping within a short distance of the road to maximise the time on the snow and minimise effort is usually quite welcome! ;)

This weekend I was out with Helen and Karl, who had flown over from Denmark especially to get some snow, so I was determined to ensure they weren't disappointed. As I said, imagination is key during the sessions. You don't need to be on some precipitous slope, or out in the wilds of Coire Etchachan. No, the obliging fenced pistes of the ski area will do nicely thank you, and/or the friendly area of the nursery slops just above the Ptarmigan ski area. The skills learned will transpose to the wider environment later.

Winter skills in Cairngorms We covered route planning, kit selection and avalanche avoidance before going onto the hill. Then we covered using the boot as a tool to move safely over hard snow and ice, cutting steps to descend safely, using the axe to self-belay, how to use crampons, how to remain in balance all the time both ascending and descending. We then went onto steeper ground, daggering techniques with the axe, traversing and so on. Finally, we covered self arrest using the axe. We had great fun, and the guys were real sports, literally throwing themselves into it with gusto, (and with a few sore spots and bruises to show their commitment!).

The walk off was one of those where you just ooh and ahh all the way down as the light keeps changing. Very nice, even if it was more autumn than winter.

On Ben Macdui On Sunday it was time to put it into practice, with a walk into the cloud on the atmospheric Cairngorm plateau. We ascended Ben Macdui, the UK's second highest summit, and then left the crowds (as there were several groups and a large university party too) to cross towards Coire Domhain. We had to point the others away from following us so they could reverse their route, as they were tailing us in the mist. It did feel wintery up there, with rime ice building and a dusting of light snow, and we giggled as Helen developed a rime beard, and Karl some rather fetching highlights.

After a peek down the unbelievably snow-free Goat Track and into Coire an t-Sneachda, we went over to the Cairngorm itself, and then down to the Ptarmigan, where we finished off the Cairngorm experience with a welcome funicular ride down to complete the day.

Great company, good sports and willing students. Thanks for a good weekend guys.

More photos (including an earlier January Winter Skills) by John are here on Flickr.

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