Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Winter update 2...

After waiting almost 9 months I was finally able to sit my Winter ML assessment on the 17th December.  The plan had been to do this in March 2012 but due to temperatures of +20C and a severe lack of snow this was rescheduled. Thankfully the snow arrived early enough this season for  Pete Hill to run the assessment. Due to a pretty dire forecast for the second half of the week we started with the expedition to make the most of conditions and weather. After a frantic repacking of the rucksacks we headed up to the Ski Centre and from there walked into the snow-holing site. The exped mainly focused on navigation and we were put through our paces during the night nav. The second day was spent in glorious weather on the Cairngorm Plateau looking at avalanche awareness and more navigation.

Enjoying one of our few breaks in the Sun!

From L-R- Mark, Cristian, Neil and me

The walk out on day 3 was pretty horrendous with very strong winds really reducing our mobility. Glad to make it off the hill we had a few hours of R&R at the bunkhouse. Day 4 was out security on steep ground section looking at all the usual belays and snow anchors as well as digging emergency shelters. The final day mainly focused on our Winter and snowcraft skills with some great practice of ice-axe arrest at speed!
After the debrief and pass result I was ecstatic! I'd spent a lot of time out over the past couple of seasons practicing in awful weather and was relieved that it had all paid off. Thanks to Pete and Ginge for running a great assessment that was enjoyable and informative. Also cheers to Neil, Mark and Cristian for being good company on the hill too and helping to reduce the assessment nerves
After some festive celebrations it was back to work at the weekend...

Paul and Michelle had come up from down South to do a days skills followed by an attempt at a Winter ascent of the Ben.
Due to high winds the gondola on Aonach Mor was closed so we headed up to Coire na Ciste on the North Face of Ben Nevis to make the most of the snow. We found some good snow not far from the hut and covered ice axe arrest, step kicking and cutting as well as some basic winter skills and movement. The guys did well and picked up things very quickly. Well done to Paul whose perseverance paid off when he nailed the head-first-on-his-back self arrest!
Michelle and Paul

Coire na Ciste on Saturday
On Sunday, despite a pretty dreadful forecast of 70mph+ winds we met at Achintee and headed up the Mountain Track. From a fairly early point in the day the weather made things very challenging but Paul and Michelle soldiered on. We put crampons on about the 3rd Zig Zag as the snow here was scoured and icy. At the end of the 5th Zig Zag it was time to call it a day as strong winds, spindrift and whiteout conditions reminded us the mountain was boss! Still, reaching a height of 1100m was a great achievement in itself given the conditions and Paul and Michelle should be proud of getting that far. All other teams we met decided on a similar strategy.

Some brief shelter from the wind at the Red Burn, everyone well wrapped up!
It's a good reminder that in Winter even the most straightforward of routes can become at best challenging and sometimes pretty dangerous to the less experienced. There were some worrying sightings of a chap with no gloves and trainers on the track!

Meanwhile there's been a massive thaw here which is set to continue for the next few days. Hopefully there will still be some good conditions for climbing left once everything freezes again. Time will tell...