David and Gavin wanted to learn about winter skills on their week long trip to Torridon; a friend of mine had put Lucy from Arran Wild Walks in touch with me to see what it was like to work on the mainland, so it was a varied and fun day today on Beinn Eighe.
David and Gavin had made deposits in the bank of fitness and weather already this week so they were due a clearer, less windy today. My choice was to visit Coire nan Clach which is a reliable venue in Torridon as it holds snow, offers a variety of slope aspects as well as a choice of routes to the Munro, Spidean Coire nan Clach, 983m.
To begin the day we were in the clag for quite some time which meant that our skills sessions were kept short, sweet and in context. In any case the snowpack was pretty friendly and did not offer suitably hard slopes to exhaustively practice the full range of self-arrest positions. The guys were shown, practiced and mastered the importance of ‘step-slip-slide’: make good steps so you don’t slip, if you do slip self-belay straight away and should the clip become a slide don’t mess around – self-arrest!
Soon Lucy had led us up the slopes to the top of the headwall of the corrie. Now in the wind we pushed onto the summit without much delay except to put on crampons once we encountered frozen conditions, as forecast at around 900m. Having got the measure of David and Gavin earlier and their ability to ‘learn on the job’ my instruction on the use of crampons was quite brief :’The most important thing about crampons is to remember you are wearing crampons!’
With a stronger wind from the west I decided that heading east to the wee bealach below the summit and down the scoured west facing slopes was in order. At this point the day just got better and better as the clouds cleared and the wonderful winter sunlight picked out the beautiful slopes, shining lochans and vivid colours of Glen Torridon.
Nearer the bottom of the descent route David and Gavin built their own bucket seats and practiced lowering a companion down using waist belays. They truly now have started to make that exciting transition from hill walking to winter mountaineering. Well Done!
blog by Jim Sutherland