Monday, 20 February 2012

Winter Skills, 15-16 February 2012

Jim Groark leading a couple of Winter Skills days in Perthshire.

Jim met up with Ian on the Wednesday morning, and spent an hour talking about kit, what to take, and careful route planning for our day out. Then we headed for the car park below Ben Lawers, (the Visitor Centre has now been levelled), and on a mild, but very windy day, with not much snow left anywhere, we wondered about the prospects of doing any of the winter skills techniques we’d come here to practice.

As we headed up towards Beinn Ghlas, at about the 900m level, dropped into the Coire A’ Chonnaidh side (South facing, out of the wind), and practiced moving with ice axe and crampons, and methods of self arrest on banks of snow, and it was even sheltered enough to sit down for a brew! Afterwards we decided to continue up to Beinn Ghlas (1103m) on that leeward side, up steep icy grass , where Ian commented on how much confidence the crampons gave him on the exposed slippery slope.

Having reached Beinn Ghlas, we crossed the ridge towards Ben Lawers (1214m), but had trouble staying on our feet in the strong gusts, and decided that continuing up Ben Lawers would not be a good idea. So if in doubt, have a brew! In the warmth of a group shelter, with gales howling all around, we had lunch. Then headed north on a lower traversing path into a corrie with some good cornices to look at, and enough snow to dig a pit to look at the types of snow, and the snow pack’s stability. We then climbed a snow slope over the ridge into Corrie Odhar, and headed back down to the car.

The next day it was still very windy, but the MWIS promised it would ease up later, and amazingly enough, that’s exactly what it did! With it being too windy, we decided against the Ptarmigan Ridge, and went up Schiehallion (1083m) instead. On the way up in the clouds we practised various ways of calculating time and distance and arrived on the summit in very strong winds, but blue skies beginning to show. We took a bearing down steep slopes towards the Allt Mor burn, and practiced point to point navigation along the South side of Schiehallion under clear blue skies. (Not the best for the navving, but we did the theory anyway). Ian had a more up to date 1:50000 map, and it showed more detail of crags etc than Jim’s did,….. mental note to invest in a new map!

Finally, it was back home for tea and medals! As there was very little of the winter conditions left after the thaw, Ian and I had made the most of the conditions, and we had a very enjoyable two days. I’m sure Ian learnt a lot, and even managed to cast his expert bird watching eyes on snow bunting, ptarmigan, ravens and buzzards. We also saw deer and mountain hares.