I met up with Ruth Peter Jeff John and Duncan on Friday evening at Cairn Gorm Lodge hostel , there we discussed the group’s expectations for the next few days. Kit was issues to those who needed it and a plan discussed for the following day. Richard Cockburn was shadowing me on the first day of this three day SYHA winter skill course and has provided the bolg for day one.
The group started Day One with a chat about the expected weather and avalanche conditions. Some initial navigation legs brought us into Coire an t-Sneachda where we looked at contours and continued our checks of the snowpack. Foot placement, kicking steps and self belays were next before finding a safe slope on which to practise self arrest. The wind was picking up and the snow never stopped blowing, leading to a breezy walk part of the way up Fiacaill Coire an t-Sneachda. Ducking into shelter for lunch, we talked about personal administration to keep kit dry and then, using cut steps, avoided an unstable slope to head down into Coire an Lochain for more navigation training. After a perfect demonstration of pinpoint navigation by Dunc to a buried lochan, the group took over and navigated out of the Northern Corries, spotting ptarmigan around us as we descended.
The previous day we had experienced strong easterly winds depositing significant amounts of wind slab on SW through to NW slopes. This made it difficult to find any suitable terrain for Crampon Practice. We decided to get onto the east facing slopes of Cairn Gorm in the hope of some scoured slopes.
Our day began at the ski car park with a steep start up windy ridge although the angle soon eased and we spotted a couple of mountain hares perfectly camouflaged in their winter coats. The main learning on this part of the journey was snow pack assessment and navigation as we moved from feature to feature with a combination of timing and pacing. By mid-day the cloud base had lifted and we arrived at Ciste Meredith in beautiful sunshine, the perfect spot to do some more ice axe arrest. There were also some abandoned snow holes to explore and get some shelter from the biting wind. After some sliding about we traversed around Cairn Gorm to its easterly aspect. Here the snowpack firmed up enough to use crampons. After some tuition the team were ready to ascend to the summit of Cairn Gorm, a new Munro for some of the group. We had a quick look at the weather station then descended to 1141 and down Fiacaill a Choire Chais to the car park.
After two days in the Gorms we decided we needed a change of scene. Some of the group had already visited Glen Feshie in winter and the mention of the Drumochter Munros didn’t seem to raise anyone’s pulse, however when I suggested Creag Meagaidh I got the reaction I was looking for. This would be a good test of the skills learned during the past two days.
I met the group in Aviemore and we then travelled in convoy to the Creag Meagaidh Nature Reserve. The tops were in Cloud but there were patches of Blue so we were optimistic that there would be some decent views. The walk into Coire Ardair through the native birch woodland was beautiful. There was a covering of snow from the car park which increased in depth to large drifts
near the coire. We stopped for a quick bite to eat and took few moments to gaze at the enormous wintery cliffs that form Coire Ardair. Then with no time to loose we headed up the steep slopes to the Window. The last section that led to the plateau was particularly steep and east facing with the potential for firmer snow and scoured slopes so we used crampons. It was really pleasing to see the groups increased confidence from two days ago, as they easily cramponed up to the Plateau. We still had over a kilometre to go as conditions deteriorated with heavy snow being driven by 40MPH gusts. Eventually we reached the summit and I turned to see five smiling faces, everyone delighted with their achievement.
We returned by the same route due to the deteriorating weather and arrived back at the car park with just enough light left to find my keys. Everyone was tired but content with their achievements.
Many thanks to everyone for a great three days hope to see you again soon.