Our blog - Winter Skills, Jan'17

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

Winter Skills

28-29 January 2017
Our last January winter skills event of the 2016/17 season. John Walker was leading, here's tale of the days ...

Heading up Cairngorm Another weekend, following another week spent poring over the weather forecasts hoping for some snow. Trying to run winter skills weekends on the ever-diminishing patches of hard snow and ice is getting more and more tricky, and despite our ingenuity and some great imagination from the clients, eventually it is going to get nigh on impossible. But wait, what's this? SNOW! The forecast for Saturday is for snow. Hurrah!

I met Robert, Phillip, Clare and Wayne in the excellent Route 7 cafe for a short 'classroom' session before heading onto the hill, along with Ian (another WML) who was coming to observe what we do. There we covered route planning, kit selection, avalanche avoidance and basic aspects of self-management, so vital when making the transition from summer to winter walking, as well as fitting crampons to boots and sorting out helmets and axes. Then it was off up to the ski centre.

Light snow was falling as we set off, but there wasn't anywhere near enough to head far from the centre, once again using our imagination on the short, steep banks of icy snow formed by the ski fences. I find however that it is plenty for covering the basics of boot-use to move safely over icy ground, using crampons, using the axe and a whole gamut of skills that you need for the winter hills.

Winter skills in Cairngorms We did little sessions, and then moved slowly and gradually up the hillside to keep warm, playing follow-my-leader up and down the slopes to get used to the equipment and how it feels to use it. Finally we arrived at the Ptarmigan bowl, where the weather really closed in, the snow coming down in earnest, and all the other walkers and indeed Cairngorm Mountain Rescue team were taking the funicular down.

We headed into the gloom to find some snow/ice to practice self-arrest, and whilst it was far from perfect conditions, the guys did a great job hurling themselves down the slope with gusto - Well done for being such sports! That session did not last long, as things were getting very wintery and cold as the last Glenmore Lodge winter skills group passed us with a cheery hello and disappeared into the mist and snow. We sorted ourselves out, and headed down ourselves as the darkness encroached, making the car park 15 minutes after dark. The ambient light reflected by the snow, now full cover, helping our progress without the need for head torches.

Winter skills in Cairngorms Sunday's forecast was a dream. Light wind, sunny all day, and with only a chance of cloud. In reality, it just hung over Ben Macdui all day. We had short evening planning session in the pub, (often the best place! ;) and decide on a circuit of the Northern Coires in an anti-clockwise direction, taking in the Cairngorm, and then a descent down the ridge from P1141. We discussed the SAIS avalanche forecast, and what that may mean for our route, and then whilst en route, covered what windslab snow looks like, and indeed feels like, amongst other things.

Winter skills in Cairngorms The views were splendid, and we got some great photographs. The team were learning all the way around, about the additional effort required in snow, how to alleviate some of that by teamwork, and the ever-present need to manage your temperature as you work. The final summit, and indeed the only munro, is capped with its unusual weather station, all covered in rime ice. It even did its little dance for us, which it does every 20 minutes to take its readings.

The descent was a convivial affair, with various other chatty groups on the way down, and it was a nice end to a great day. Well done to all the team, and good luck on your new adventures with your new knowledge.

More photos by John are here on Flickr along with some by Steven and Richard who were also on the Cairngorms at the same time.

Our next Winter Skills event is on 25-26 February and is in the Cairngorms.

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