Day 0 (Saturday - The Journey Up)
After the classic DIlshad's curry people are less and raring to go when we are scheduled to meet at 7:45am. A somewhat mild morning to start off the annual Scotland trip.
Day 1 (Sunday)
Whatever Richard A. Did
wet snow and wet rain does not a good climbing day make. With a forecast more normally seen on a windy autumn day we pondered into t-sneachda to have a look. There was water coming off the rock and the snow was wet and sticky. So we aimed for point five gully as one of the few bits of snow and pope's up it. Crampons not really needed as your kicked in steps were good enough. Popping over the top we said hello to 50mph winds with 70mph gusts. So instead of getting blown over we headed down the goat track. Had some food and messed about about making snow bollards before the wet came in and we hopped, slightly soggy, back to the car.
Whatever Richard H. Did
On the first day, I went on a fact-finding expedition with Teddy to see if we could locate any snow. On first appearances, Coire an t-Sneachda was fairly bare of snow with only Jacob's Ladder appearing almost full. There was a rocky section in the middle of the route so we bypassed it and headed for the back of Sneachda near the Goat Track where we put crampons on with the aim of ascending 0.5 Gully.
While the snow had softened significantly, there were some higher quality patches along the route and it was an enjoyable ascent, giving me a chance to try out my new crampons. It was also my first winter lead, though Teddy has plenty of experience in winter himself!
We were expecting storm force winds so were surprised to find that the wind wasn't too strong! Upon heading down to the top of the Goat Track, however, we were wary of what appeared to be a cornice - upon meeting George, Will and Adrian, who had come up 0.5 Gully after us, we decided to head along the ridge via Stob Coire an t-Sneachda. At this point, Teddy and I bade farewell to the others and headed around the south of Cairn Gorm to look for snow.
After a bit of sliding down a steep snow slope, we made our way around the east side of Cairn Gorm and found quite a large patch of snow to the south of Ciste Mhearad. At this point we put crampons back on and head up the slope to make the summit. On our way we encountered many Ptarmigan and I sighted an elusive Snow Hare!
It was quite breezy on the way up to the summit but we persevered and I made my first ascent of Cairn Gorm, my eleventh Munro! We descended to the north east to take in the subsidiary summit of Cnap Coire na Spreidhe, then walked back down past the ski slopes. Later, we discovered that a wind speed of 110 mph had been recorded at the summit that day!
On the first day of the course we learn essential snow techniques such as self belays, ice axe arrests, laddering walking and plunge walking.
We had a great time learning to ice axe arrest. After 20 or so minutes of practicing we were all playing around with just how much speed we could gather before then twisting round from being head first on our backs to being the the correct position and bringing ourselves to a firm stop.
Just after lunch, while we were traversing a rather steep snowy hill, Dora and James both decided to take a slide and put their self belays to the test!
Day 2 (Monday)
Indoor Ice Climbing
We drove to the Cairngorm car park. The thermometer on the van read 7oC. We arrived and the cloud cover started maybe 50m above us. It was damp and raining slightly. As we looked out over the hills trying to decide where to go it got wetter and wetter. Normally I have mega psyche for anything related to snow activities in the hills. Today it would have been swimming in slush.
So we bailed.
Instead we drove 2 hrs to the indoor ice wall. It was amazing. We blitzed up and down slabs, vertical walls, bulges, overhangs, and corners. They fit quite a lot into a fairly small freezer with windows. Matt tried out his new DMM apex's and it seems much like dog owners resemble their dogs, climbers climb like their axes. The DMM apex's are solid and bullet proof in the climbing world and Matt used them entirely as they were built for, with the finesse of an ogre trying to hang a picture two feet above his head, with a nail the size of a carrot going into a concrete wall. Jake took the club axes and crampons which were as good as wooden spoons but with a bit of practise on swinging like you screw and kicking like you poo he made it up all the walls with only a few times popping off. Any complaints from future users of such kit should take stock of Jake's performance today and just keep quiet and get better at climbing wintery stuff.
We finished off with a bit of dry tooling in the boulder room to test our new found skills.
Mega-Death Walk 1
Energised from the first day and with no formal plans yet of my own, I was happy to join Ben on the first mega death walk of the week and Teddy was keen to join in as well!
I suggested an attempt at Braeriach, the third-highest mountain in the United Kingdom at 1296m. I suggested that we try to find a gully in Coire Brochain to the south of the main ridge, which would make the day a bit more interesting and everyone seemed to think this was a good idea!
With an estimated 23 - 25 km of walking to do, we set off from the Sugar Bowl car park at 07:30 with our headtorches on. It was raining fairly consistently throughout the first part of the day but we persisted and made it to the Chalamain Gap just as it began to get light - helpful as there were a lot of boulders to negotiate!
The Chalamain Gap marked the entrance to the Lairig Ghru, which we walked up for another couple of hours before beginning the long, boulderfield-strewn traverse around the south of Sròn na Lairige to enter Coire Brochain. At this point we were all cold and wet, and we were rewarded with a fairly disappointing amount of snow in our expected target, the West Gully, resulting in a large rocky section which would have blocked our progress.
Not to be deterred, we found another potential route up the West Flank and put our crampons on. The snow was extremely soft and, at one point, we had to cross a waterfall with some very loose rock around. Needless to say, we were all extremely cautious and we made it up to the ridge safely.
A short walk later in poor visibility and we reached the summit of Braeriach (1296m), my 12th Munro and second of the trip! Given the whiteout conditions, we took a bearing and set off, as we wanted to make sure we were back to the Chalamain Gap before darkness fell, but it was to our surprise when the cloud lifted and we were treated with sensational views across to Cairn Toul and Sgòr an Lochain Uaine, along with the side of Ben Macdui (the summit was in the clouds).
We were losing light quickly and just about made it back to the Chalamain Gap before it was dark - we made the traverse back across in similar light conditions to the morning! We finally returned to the car, with head torches on, at 16:50 - an excellent day.
On the second day of the course we practiced and consolidated what we had learn the previous day in the snow and then set out on much longer walks around the plateau. We later found an ideal spot to do some digging so we got to work and made ourselves a couple of rudimentary snow holes. Alex and his team's snow hole was particularly impressive for the short time we had to make them - it had a sloped entrance and enough room to fit 1 to 2 people!
Day 3 (Tuesday - New Year’s Eve)
With the 31st December having clear skies and low winds predicted, it was an obvious day for an attempt at the second highest mountain in the UK, Ben Macdui.
With a horde of 18 people making up the group, and with perfect conditions, it felt more like a casual stroll in the park than a day of mountaineering! We made it up to the summit quite quickly and I made sure to get a group photograph taken!
On the way down we had a lot of fun sliding on the ice! Unfortunately my right knee began to complain and I decided to head down by the easiest route - thanks to Pauline's expert ministrations I was soon ready for the ceilidh!
We all headed to Grantown-on-Spey for a Hogmanay celebration in the town square! Having had a bit more experience of ceilidhs in the past few months I was able to help quite a few people who were less sure of the steps! It was an excellent night of celebration and a great way to spend New Year's Eve.
On the way down the mountain we discovered you can flip Ice Axes if you are skilled enough:
It was going to be a very different day. I could tell this when I woke up at 6am and could see my breath inside my van. This meant the temperature had dropped! Yay. Though yesterday's rain had melted nearly all the snow and ice away. What remained was hard and slippy. With the promise of alpine views and sunshine all day we popped up to the Cairngorm carpark with the view of doing the ridge scramble on the side of t'sneachda. Easy stuff to start with we even found some hard neve snow for Lauren to practice her new found crampon skills. The ridge becomes a much more exciting prospect as it nears the plateau as it is the top out of a fair few climbs. Decided to stop Gemma from falling off and we popped some harnesses on and continued with some short roping techniques. Mid way through we discovered that the sun shines out of Lauren's arse. Made it to the top and found a steep snow pack to slide down in a survival bag to make us go even faster. Just an easy stroll back down before the day ends.
Day 4 (Wednesday - New Year’s Day)
Richard H and Richard A
New year's Day so you can imagine that most people did not rise before 10 am after an evening at the Granton on Spey Hogmanay In the Street. Lots of Ceilidh dancing performed by people who have no idea what to do in the dances all squished into a small place. It's a recipe for fun and disaster. After a morning spent recovering a short walk to the nearby loch meant that it was time for a traditional new year dip.
New Year's Day was a late start for most of us and we went for a walk to a nearby loch for the traditional skinny dip! It was good to see that several people did it properly and took all of their clothes off. I'm not as conditioned for cold water as I used to be and didn't spend too long in the lake but it was still an invigorating swim!
Day 5 (Thursday)
The warmest day so far so off to the seaside! Went to cummingston cliffs to do some sea cliff climbing on sandstone. Spent the day following Gemma up routes and taking photos of the protection she had put in for some constructive advice about better placements. Routes weren't too difficult as all were done in thick socks and worn out undone trainers but the aim was to improve Gemma's ability to lead on rock. Weirdly this trip is very similar to the Petzl team trip to Scotland about 8 years ago just without any pro climbers or odd videos of a sponsor's brand name and much easier climbing. Obviously you can't stop students finding the trip back up the slide the hardest climb of the day.
On Thursday we had an amazing day of climbing! There was a great mix of bouldering and lead climbing at the crag and we enjoyed weather warmer than many days you'll get in the summer. One of the highlights has to be Will pulling of this cracking hand jam.
Still to be written.
Richard’s Mega-Death Walk
While I was still concerned about my knee, I was keen to get another Munro and I identified Bynack More as a good target. It was a long walk out and back, with 11km of walking in each direction, resulting in a 22km walk. The weather was forecast to be absolutely foul, with storm force winds and heavy rain predicted. Given the position of the mountain, directly behind Carn Gorm, it was likely that we would experience the full force of any winds.
Fran and Pauline were keen to join me for this endeavour! We set off just after sunrise and headed out. I was wearing my B1 boots, which was a welcome relief for my knee from the heavy B3 mountaineering boots. Upon coming to the ridge, the wind picked up, though the rain stayed relatively light throughout. It was only during the final push to the summit that walking became extremely difficult, with us often walking at quite an angle to the wind and having to take shelter or crouch down!
We made the summit without too much issue: my thirteenth Munro! Heading down we met several other groups, many of whom had thought better of attempting the summit. Of course, being from UBMC we were made of much sterner stuff!
We next enjoyed a trip to Aviemore and lunch in the Ski-ing Doo, always a highlight of the trip! A quick trip to the gear shops and we returned to the hut triumphant - another mega death walk done!
Day 6 (Friday)
On Friday four Stoats decided to explore a new sea cliff- Logie Head. A 20 minute scenic walk in along the coastal path, where 3 deer were spotted, led to the idyllic crag. John and George quickly got to work climbing at least two climbs whilst Noah and Gemma tried to navigate their way down from the top of their first climb of the day which took longer than it should have.
Not long later the weather took a turn for the worse with the wind and rain picking up making belaying from top of the crag less than ideal. Due to the aspect of the crag, the two seconders were ignorant to the conditions the leaders were facing before being informed by Gemma “It’s blowing a hoolie” (said in a rather questionable Scottish accent). Once all four Stoats had made their way back to the foot of the crag they decided to leave and head to the nearby Walkers Shortbread factory and find some local whisky.
Play in the Snow
Richard H and Richard A
Temperatures dropped overnight so fingers were crossed for some frozen stuff. Popped some climbing stuff in the bag for the optimist in me and headed out with Tom [Dudley], Dora, Lauren, Richard [Horridge] and Pauline [Kui] for some potential crampon practise.
We split into 2 Groups with Tom taking the girls up point 5 and Richard and I heading for Jacobs ladder. Keen followers will remember this is the route a few years ago which Tom and I found Joe and Ed shivering just below the top out and abseiled down with them. This time there was just enough snow in it and over the rocky middle bit just enough ice to make the route possible. Turns out we didn't need the rope or climbing stuff as Richard felt confident with a bit of guidance. Climbed past two teams who were using ropes but were sticking to the edges.
Met back up with the others to practise sliding down slopes on our bums. Turns out a metal beer tray is an absolute rapid sled on icy slopes and beats an IKEA bag or survival bag. On our way back we met a guy and his dog who had come up an easy route with no winter kit or map or compas and had followed another pair down an unfamiliar icy route so was spending most of his time falling over. Tom saved him and took him back to the car park with Pauline and Dora. We also spoke to the pair he had followed who also didn't have crampons and were falling over but they at least knew they had been silly and knew how to get back.
All that was left for the day was to stuff ourselves with all you can eat pizza at the Italian in Aviemore.
There was a temperature drop predicted for Friday 3rd and I was keen to head out to the Northern Corries again. There was a lot of pessimism among the group, with some people being told that they wouldn't need crampons!
This theory was proved wrong quite quickly - conditions had markedly improved since earlier in the week and it would not be possible to get up the Goat Track without crampons! Myself and Richard split off from Tom, Lauren, Dora and Pauline, with the aim of ascending Jacob's Ladder, both for the first time!
We came to the bottom of the route and prepared for the ascent. While we had a rope and gear with us, we both decided that we were comfortable without and we started the climb. Richard was extremely helpful throughout, giving lots of advice on axe and foot placements.
While the gully is normally a Grade I, given the lack of snow it became a Grade II route and it was my ascent of a Grade II climb without a rope! Overall the climb was quite straightforward and I felt confident with my crampons and technical axes throughout.
We met up with the rest of our group, who had ascended the 0.5 Gully. Those that had done the Winter Skills course earlier in the week appreciated having the opportunity to practice the skills in actual winter conditions, realising the importance of learning to cut steps and to be able to ice axe arrest!
Heading behind Cairn Lochan, we found an excellent patch of névé to play with and lunched in Richard's 8 man shelter. After a bit of practice in descending, traversing and ascending with crampons, we had a bit of arrest practice, both with and without an ice axe!
After setting up a rope to re-ascend, the fun began. Tom had brought a beer tray with him and he tried out the slide while sitting on it - he picked up a lot of speed! Unfortunately, he put his foot down and the tray and him went separate ways - the sight of him running after the (never again seen) tray was a sight to behold! Lauren tried out an IKEA bag which was also effective, though not quite as fast.
Myself, Lauren and Richard returned via the Goat Track while the others escorted a gentleman and his dog who were somewhat unprepared for the conditions. Descent is always unnerving in winter so it was good to get some more practice, We returned just before it was completely dark. Overall, it was an excellent day and it was fantastic to experience some actual winter conditions!
Afterthought Arete (Winter III) in winter-ish condition...
It was the final day of Scotland so with great optimism we hatched a plan to go and climb Afterthought Arete in Loch Avon. The walk in would be relatively long and the climb was 150m of Winter grade 3 or Summer Mod. With conditions looking like they were going to be a bit variable we headed up expecting to only need walking axes and then to climb the route as if in summer conditions.
However, with the cold night and harsh winds the snow has all hardened and ice had formed on the rocks. Jacob’s Ladder looked climbable as we walked past but determined by our original objective we continued up the Goat track. Well… 3 out of 4 continued up the goat track. Not naming names, someone in the hut had suggested to Jon that he wouldn't need his crampons and they would simply weigh him down… hence he had not packed his crampons. This proved challenging for Jon and after letting him slip and slide on a bit of snow we decided it was unfortunately going to be the end of Jon’s day.. He won't make the same mistake again! We descended back to Jon swapped some gear and sent him on his way ready for us to continue back for our objective.
Now quiet behind schedule the route would have to all go smoothly for us to finish in the light. We continued and made great time over the plateau and down into Loch Avon. We then spent a fair amount of time trying to find the route. All we had to go by was a google picture of someone climbing it from above! Not ideal and i was sure we were on the wrong route until i finally got to the belay where the picture was taken and it all fell into place!
Unfortunately for us the cold had brought a lot of ice onto the route but not enough to freeze the turf or make it full winter condition. This provided us with our next issue. Abandon mission here and not start the climb, put crampons on and wreck the turf or just give it our best go climbing it as if it was in ‘Summer condition’. We elected to continue without crampons on and to just go carefully up as if it was a summer climb.
In hindsight this was probably what slowed us down and if we had done the calculations we would have realised we were never going to make it! None the less we continue kicking ice off holds and teetering up the icy rock. With the first pitch turning out to be the scariest lead I have ever done with approximately 0 good gear compounded by us having to stand on ice foot holds. Nevertheless, I continue up until i find a bomber offset placement and decide to build my belay with only 5m left on our 60m ropes. 55m run outs were not the plan for the morning!!
Now severely behind schedule and literally bricking it we continue again for another pitch. This time with many more pieces of protection in the middle but still not enough to put me at ease with the situation. The route was amazing and if the turf had frozen it would have been great fun with crampons on.
At this point we all reach the second belay around 30-40m from the top out and darkness is coming in and the next section looks even harder and icerier. We make the call to abseil off a boulder down to the river to the left of the route and then do a makeshift gill scramble to the summit to attempt to make it back before sun down. The abseil is a success and we only leave one sling behind managing to escape the darkness we get to the plateau before dark. We then navigate back up to the ski slope decent (crossing a few frozen rivers and completely stacking it i'm sure we can insert an image of us all sliding down stream).
We manage to descend to the ski slopes as the pitch black sets in. Walking back to the car under head torches feeling disappointed we didn't complete the route but equally pleased we made the right call to abseil off. In the end the only casualties were: a sling, Tom putting a small rip in his new £300 belay jacket and Pier’s mental wellbeing after the traumatic realisation that winter is a tad scarier than summer!
The day lasted for a total of 10hrs30mins and was a great way to finish the trip. It certainly left us hungry enough to go and demolish the pizza buffet i had planned for that evening!
That evening, we headed to the all-you-can-eat Italian buffet to round off the trip. Intent on beating my record of 26 pizza slices from the previous year, I put on a strong showing of 30 slices (plus dessert of course!).