Saturday, 4 January 2014

Crampons, cornices and snowy arêtes, Dec'13

By Martin McDermott

Some weeks ago Steven asked me if I would like to run a winter skills weekend and of course I said yes !

Sue, Maureen, David, Damien, Bill, Jamie and Allan booked on to learn how to kick steps, walk in crampons and dig into the snow to assess for avalanche risk.
The first day was spent at Nevis Range. In the morning we spent sometime discussing the clothing and equipment needed in the winter.  We went on to discuss the need to look at weather forecasts and decision making.

Then we used the gondola uplift at Nevis Range to access the snow slopes where we put into practice the topics we talked of earlier. The whole group were soon confidently walking with winter boots, using ice-axes and hiking in crampons up and down various grades of snow covered ground. We got using ice axes to also dig avalanche pits so as to get an understanding of snow-layers. Before we left the area I even managed a impromptu demonstration of falling through a cornice - just a tiny one and no danger, but enough to emphasise the importance of precise navigation ! A good point to call it a day and we headed back to the gondola station.

The original plan was to head to Glencoe the next day but with a high avalanche risk and poor weather forecast I decided that the best option would be to attempt the Carn Mor Dearg arête instead. The lower slopes were not too snowy and the upper slopes we walked without crampons kicking steps where needed.

At the summit we put on crampons and took out our ice axes .  The weather had become much more wintery.  The group moved across the arête with ease and had a break at the abseil post area before ascending the slope to the summit of Ben Nevis.

Despite being in near white out conditions we navigated off using the new marker cairns down the zig zag path to the half way lochan. The final bit of the walk back to the car-park was in the dark using our head torches. It ended up a good route choice challenging us and making us use all the skills we had learnt on the first day.

I certainly had a good time and was very impressed with fitness and determination shown by everyone.

More photos are on our Flickr site.

We've another Winter Skills day on the 18th January, this time in the Cairngorms. More details are here.