Glenmore Lodge Introduction to Winter Skills Part 2

Yes, this is me, can't you tell? 
This is part 2 of a round-up on my Glenmore Lodge Winter Skills training weekend; for part 1 see here

First thing on Sunday, I headed to the kit store to try and exchange my plastic boots- they had created sore pressure points on both shins, on my toes and heels. The boots were the only terrible thing about the weekend; they just were not made for feet like mine. Sadly, there were no alternatives- the centre was extremely busy that weekend so all of the other brand boots were out for hire.Our general game plan for the day was to incorporate some digging and arrest winter skills, whilst doing some more hiking.

The weather had other ideas. It was unholy. Yes, I am sticking with the religious themes from the previous post about this weekend! We knew it was due to get dramatically worse; with strong winds and snowstorms, but didn't quite realise it would be this bad. When we reached the lower car park there were driving winds, and snow, but it seemed manageable. By an hour and a half into our hike up into the range the gusts had begun to pick people off their feet and the snow was relentless. It did teach us important things about gear- I have never been so grateful for anything as I was for my balaclava, and the tip of my nose was sore from the ten minutes it spent exposed. The wind was pilling snow directly into our faces and we started to pass multiple parties, including weather services and mountain rescue post services, heading back. 

Our guide commented, "How many people need to pass us before we turn around?", then after ten minutes more hiking suggested, "One important thing to learn about winter mountaineering is when to turn back. Do we think that time is maybe now?". We did. I actually found the return trip much more stressful- ice was building up above my snow goggles and blocking the air vents, resulting in them steaming up. At times, between the driving snow and clouded lenses, I could scarcely see. It was challenging when we were hiking on icy downhill, and the wind kept lifting me from my feet. An interesting and scary insight into what snow blindness must be like. I ended up taking the goggles off my eyes and sitting them on top of my head- the wind was behind me so my eyes weren't being assaulted by snow. I preferred to see. 

Example conditions- I'm second closest in the red hat
Instead of returning straight home, we ducked into a protected dip in the mountainside to check out some aspects of slopes, avalanche danger, and test some windslab that had formed (on a non-dangerous slope, don't worry). We saw a woman cross country skiing with her collie dog. Both she and the dog were absolutely beautiful, and clearly loving life. It was a little like an alpine advert to watch. We saw some groups looking into snow holes, but questioned the safety of that idea due to the angle and aspect of the slope the holes were in. Its all about thinking! Next we ate; becoming absolutely frozen solid as we huddled in the maelstrom. I was feeling quite internally snarky about how long people were taking; I was not in the mood to hang about. In this period of time, one member's hands were becoming very cold. A good insight into how important good gloves are- if you can't use your hands you can get into danger fast.

We chose next to hike back down to the car park to change gears, and to get a lift to another area of the mountains to practice some more skills. My internal grumpiness just increased- once off the trails I was hiking down hard packed road, in boots that hurt, being periodically picked up and dropped by the wind. I was actually quietly hopeful that he was going to just tell us to go back to the centre. Sadly not. We got a lift from the buses (which I can't believe waited for us, given the closed road and closed ski centre!) to another ski-off point, which came with its own little dip in the mountainside. The weather was a lot milder here, as it was well protected from the wind. There were some ready-made snow holes in the wall of the slope. Snow holes are last-chance-saloon protections against the wind and snow if you are forced to be out overnight. They are carved from harder packed snow, ideally on non-avalanche prone slopes. The aim is to have a small entrance, with a larger inner cave. They are actually amazingly cosy- no wind, no noise, warmer air. However, they take a long time to carve and often its more beneficial to survival to keep hiking than to bother making one. 

Part of one snow hole- this one is semi-collapsed, has a much more wide entrance than the others

Then it was on to the exciting part of the day- self arrest technique. Now, realistically, self arrest will only work if you are extensively practiced. It really has to be innate; so learned that its an automatic body movement. Otherwise, when you are hurtling down a slope out of control, you will be in too much trouble before your adrenaline-soaked system even thinks to use it. That said, learning how is a start. Essentially you are slipping down a slope, you pull your ice axe up so the head is at the soft dent under your shoulder, pointy part to the side and outwards. You flip onto your front, lifting your feet and chest up so your knees and axe side are in contact with the fast moving ground, then you slowly turn the axe head so the point engages with the slope. This slows you insanely fast. Why not just stick it into the ice? The force will guaranteedly be more than you can hold on to, especially in a real fall. So you will just still be sliding, minus any axe after it is ripped out of your hand. Why lift up your feet? Because if boots or crampons catch on the ice, you can entirely flip- smashing your head on ice and leaving you careering downslope head first. Not ideal. This was actually excellent fun; although due to the hard ice in the area where we practiced I had some insane bum bruises. 

We got familiar and comfortable with the basic technique (see the centre's own how-to video) then finally headed back to base. I was still pretty cold and miserable, and was not especially keen on the plan to head back out. However, it was only 2pm and after some revitalising tea and cake, and a change of clothes, I felt much better. The navigational course was up next. I originally thought it looked like a low-level boy scout course with the marked trees but it was the best way to understand compass work. I am proud to say I can now read a compass and a map together! Its amazing how fast time moved in the afternoon- before I knew it it was time to return all our borrowed gear, thank our instructor very much and head off home.

Predictably, the weather was now completely gorgeous.



I had a great time, if you're looking to learn some winter mountaineering skills in Scotland, I'd really recommend Glenmore Lodge. Everyone we saw, on all their different courses, seemed to be having an excellent trip and learning a lot.

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Can you navigate, self arrest or similar winter skills? For serious mountaineers, have you ever had to use it?


Do you have any questions about what I learned?

4 Comments:

  1. This looks intense, but incredible! Good for you! I'm not sure if I'd be tough enough but I would love to try..my husband would love this sort of thing.

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    Replies
    1. You would 100% be tough enough, I never used to be the outdoors girl!

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  2. Ummm, WHY did you do this?? :) Looks absolutely insane! Reminds me of the time we got caught in a snow storm going up Mt Kosciuszko (highest point in Australia) - I feared for my life :|

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    Replies
    1. To learn true winter conditions ;-) it was controlled insanity- crawl-able out if necessary!

      That experience really does sound INSANE.

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