Winter Skills

Winter Skills in the Cairngorms, 2-3 February 2019

A blog post from one of our mountain adventures in the Scottish hills and mountains. Two days of Winter Skills based in the Cairngorms. Johnny Walker was leading.

Winter Skills in the Cairngorms

Day 1

Our Winter Skills weekend got off to a really good start, given that for the first time for a long time, everyone presented themselves in suitable winter B2 or above boots. Awoohoo! That said, one person didn't present himself with a suitable car for Scottish winter driving...a big BMW automatic. Lovely cars, but the big wide tyres and rear wheel drive led to one or two pushing incidents, before it was finally dumped at the Youth hostel and abandoned for the rest of the weekend :)

It was a bright but very cold morning on the Saturday, so we had our briefing in the cafe at the ski centre, where I covered kit requirements, emptying my rucksack and talking through the items carried. Then we talked about avalanche avoidance and route planning, before setting off up the hill.

The objective of these weekends is to give an appreciation of moving safely over winter terrain, so it isn't necessary to go far if you can find some snow or ice suitable to learn on, and this we did once we got past the busy ski area. The skiing is greatly reduced this year due to the funicular being out of action, but 'it's an ill wind' as they say, and we profited from some slopes to work on that would otherwise have been too close to the skiers. We covered using the boot as a tool to kick safe steps, crampon use up and down slopes, including a little steep section requiring some front-pointing, and then ice axe use. The slope was either a little too icy in one area, or too powdery in another, but we managed some basic self-belay and arrest skills using the axe, and everyone had fun.

We finished the day with a walk up onto the Fiacaill a'Choire Chais, where we got wonderful views of the Northern Coires and our planned walk for the next day, as well as extensive vistas further afield. It was then just a case of joining the rest of the folks who were coming of the hill trailing down to the cars, but still appreciating the need to keep our balance and our weight over our feet to avoid a slip...not always successfully ;)

Day 2

Sunday was to be much windier, with snow in the morning, possibly breaking in the afternoon. We opted for a proper old Scottish hill day, and set off for a round of the Northern Coires. However, it soon became apparent that the deep drifts caused by the wind would make our progress much too arduous, so assessing that along with folks' fitness, we opted for a quick about-turn, and Plan B. It is important in winter to be pragmatic and conservative with your route plans for just such a reason, and we decided on a clockwise ascent of Meall a'Buachaille, the excellent little Corbett at the head of the Ryvoan Pass. This would prove to be a fine winter's day out, and indeed we met a good few others who had also decided to eschew the higher routes for the same reasons. The clouds cleared as we made the summit, and the views on the descent were quite breathtaking.

We had a nice relaxed late lunch in Ryvoan bothy, where I explained bothy culture and the great work of the MBA, and then finished the day with some micro navigation on the walk out along the exquisite Ryvoan path, resplendent as it was in its winter garb.

A very pleasant weekend, where everyone really engaged with the course subjects and soaked up the information. I hope they get many more winter's days such as these.

More photos by Johnny Walker are here on Flickr.

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