Cairngorms Winter Skills Course

January 17-20th 2020

This trip was organised and run by our very own mountain leader Isaac Walker. We stayed at the Cairngorm Christian Centre in Kincraig, about 5-6 miles from Aviemore. What a terrific place it was and Jane who runs the centre was great.

After a very cold snow-filled December, January was positively sub-tropical across the UK and we were worried that there was virtually no snow until just a week before the course started. Luckily in the days beforehand is started to get much more “wintery” to everyone’s relief.
A few people drove up on the Friday and a couple of others made themselves comfortable on the overnight sleeper train for what turned out to be a delayed journey up north (after 2 hours they had returned back to near Euston Station having travelled just 1 mile)

Once everyone arrived and we could get out on the hills we were able to do some basic winter understanding. Learning about avalanche risk, reading the avalanche forecast and interpreting that onto the map. Also discussing other factors such as route planning factoring in the wind and snow drift it causes. Then it was how to properly use our crampons and ice axe equipment. How to move across different terrain in the crampons – side steps, toe-ing up steep slopes and properly moving down them. Then cutting steps and different techniques.

We finished the course by moving onto practising ice axe arrests. This was a little harder trying to find some suitable areas to practise. Partially because good snow that had not been touched was still hard to come by, and also quite a lot had started to turn to ice in the freeze-thaw conditions. However Isaac found an untouched area of snow with strategically placed “safety heather” that would catch us if required. We practised basic technique before trying move adventurous moves such as head first, on your front, back and then finally backwards head first!
It was great fun although hard on the knees, arms and chest. It was great practise and really re-affirmed that we all hope to never actually have to use the skills for real…

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