Winter Mountaineering Training
Aviemore station, gateway to the Cairngorms and the start of many Scottish mountain adventures. For me it marked the final leg of my journey to Glenmore Lodge for a week of winter mountaineering skills training.
The weather on the first day was decidedly un-wintery but provided a good chance to blow away the cobwebs, enjoy being back in the hills. Eventually a small patch of snow was located and we immediately set to sliding down it on our bottoms. It is great when sliding down snow on your bottom counts as a legitimate training exercise. Building up sufficient sliding speed providing the opportunity to practice ice axe arrests. Having perfected our technique it was back to the lodge for tea and cakes and some prayers to the snow gods. The snow gods must have approved of our bottom sliding antics. The following we awoke to that phenomenon that has thrilled us since childhood, the telltale extra bright glow and eerie silence that can be detected even before getting out of bed and is joyfully confirmed upon opening the curtains; fresh snow!
Over the next few days we hiked into the ciores, one moment hopping happily between exposed boulders, the next abruptly finding ourselves wallowing waist deep in an accumulation of snow. This occurring to one member of the group always providing a source of hilarity for the rest of the group. We used crampons and snow shoes, both great invention as they much reduce the bottom sliding and snow wallowing respectively.
The mountains lived up to their reputation of providing rapidly varying weather conditions. Bent on finding gale force winds with wind whipped snow reducing the visibility to almost zero, 'to really test our navigation skills' our instructor, Colin led us up onto the Cairngorm plateau to search out some small indistinct geographical features.
The relief of successfully locating the cairn that marked the route off the plateau, referred to as the 'halleluia cairn', only being eclipsed to by the wonder of isolated breaks in the cloud revealing brief windows of awe-inspiring views. The tantalising glimpses appearing in apparently random places like a spot light illuminating small points of interest. Again it was time to head back to the lodge for tea and cake and to begin the daily ritual of unpack gear, use avalanche probe as makeshift washing line to dry gear, re-pack gear, repeat.
We learnt about snow pack and avalanche safety. We tried out our avalanche transceivers by crawling around what looked like a large dressage arena filled with wood chips but was actually an avalanche training simulator. Wind was an ever present feature, sometimes it was at our backs propelling us speedily to our destination, sometimes it was in our faces making each step feel like wading through treacle and filling our clothes with blown snow and sometimes we just took shelter from it, digging a snow hole or hunkering down in our shelter.