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Whiteout

By Phil on 2014.02.11 In General

Well I have finally recovered from my Winter Skills course at Glenmore lodge in Scotland last weekend and got around to writing about it. What a weekend!

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Late last year I decided I wanted to do more winter walking and especially when doing the Munros. And after doing my first winter Munro last month, I was really looking forward to this course and learning some essential winter skills such as using the ice axe for walking, self-belay, cutting steps, and self-arrest but mainly so I could justify buying an ice axe as I have been wanting one for ages. So after convincing another five people to join me on the course, off we went to Glenmore Lodge near Aviemore.

As there were six of us in our group, they gave us our own chalet next to duck pond and ski slope, rather than having to share a dorm with strangers in the main building. The chalet was excellent and could sleep up to eight people in the four bedrooms. It had a great lounge area with large flat screen which we thought we could watch the Scotland v England rugby match on the Saturday afternoon after our first day. With two Scots and four English people in our group this had the potential to be lively!

It was an early start for our first day, as we had to attend a safety briefing before being introduced to our instructor for the weekend as well as get any kit we needed from the equipment stores. Once all kitted out we headed out onto the hills. As soon as we got to our starting point, our instructor Sam told us to get our helmets and goggles on as the conditions were not great. Neil was a little shocked at this, as he was hoping to wear his Ray-Ban sunglasses rather than his goggles. Lee came dressed in her rather nice cream coloured Après ski hat and matching scarf as if she was hoping to have a glass of champagne on the hills during the day. They had both obviously never been to the Cairngorms before.

The weather conditions on Saturday were quite harsh. Probably the worst I have experienced while out on the hills. We had 50+ mph winds with sleet snow and very poor visibility. Despite the weather it didn’t hold us back or spoil the day. If anything it was perfect in a twisted kind of way, as it showed us how bad conditions can be while on the Scottish mountains in the winter and how to deal with it. Recently Scotland has had more snow fall than most of the Alps, with over 250cm in places, which was great for us as we practiced various step techniques with crampons, a little bit of self-arrest with the ice axe, avalanche rescue techniques as well as creating our own snow shelter. Though mine was more of a recliner than the requested snow chair shelter. Anyway, I felt comfortable in it.

It was then back to the lodge for coffee and cakes before a lecture on Winter Navigation, followed by dinner, followed by another lecture on Avalanche Awareness before we all headed back to chalet to find out England beat Scotland in the rugby 20-0. Yeah!!

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The next morning the weather seemed a little better as we left the lodge. At first Neil was thinking he might get to wear his Ray-Ban sunglasses after all. However that was not the case. It’s wasn’t long before the weather changed and it was time for helmets, crampons and goggles as we headed up the mountain in blizzard conditions, which was worse than the day before. This time we had to navigate with our maps and compasses in whiteout conditions. The weather changes so quickly when in the Cairngorms it’s unreal. I have never seen anything like it. Luckily for us Steve lead the team well as we headed off into the unknown.

Fellow Munro bagger Bridget and myself were looking forward to the posibility of bagging another Munro as we headed up the mountain. Something we weren’t expecting on the course. However the weather beat us as we got to about 1050 metres and just a couple of hundred metres away. The weather was so bad we could not see the summit and was time to turn back and head back down. On the way down we passed the ski slope that my mate Nobby, our Col and me had visited over 20 years ago and the lethal T-bar ski lift which had once catapulted Nobby and me half way up the mountain all those years ago. Made me laugh remembering how badly dressed we were that day. With Nobby in his Top Man suede jacket, our Col in his short black leather jacket and me in my Barbour jacket. Not the most ideal ski attire, but we thought we looked good back then.

As we got close to our pick up point, we stopped off to do some more ice axe self-arrest. I think we all struggled and wish I could have recorded it to show people our efforts. Out of all of us, Ian seemed the most comfortable with it, though we all need so much more practice. Sliding down a bank on your backside, upside down, head first and using an axe to stop you is not easy. Though I can’t wait to try it again.

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Overall it was an amazing weekend and so much better than I was expecting it to be. Having such bad winter conditions was perfect for showing us how dangerous it can be on the mountains in the winter and how well equipped you need to be. I also feel I learned a lot of things which will be of use to me come April when doing the Fjällräven Polar and wish I could have shared this experience with my other 19 polar participants who I have been getting to know over the last couple of months, as I’m sure they would have also enjoyed the whole weekend experience.

Another thing this weekend taught me, is that I may have to delay my ascent on Mont Blanc as I really need to master the self-arrest technique before even considering it.

This weekend I’m off to the Lakes…

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Welcome

Welcome to my blog about hiking, trekking, Fjällräven Polar 2014, in fact anything where you require boots and the outdoors.

My name is Phil, and following my outdoor epiphany which started in the summer of 2012 I’m now hooked on everything outdoors. So far my biggest treks have included the 250km Cathar Way, the 170km Tour du Mont Blanc and best of all, winning 1st place to take part in the Fjällräven Polar in April 2014.

I plan to use this blog to write about all my adventures, which will include my personal goal of becoming a Munroist (completing all 282 Scottish Munro mountains), summer treks, weekends in the Lakes and many more.

I like to try and make my blog posts humorous so I hope you enjoy reading and that I can put a smile on people’s faces while showing you some amazing places.

If you have any questions about the blog or the places I'm writing about, don't hesitate to contact me on: phil@philyourboots.com

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