Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Outdoors Magic Winter Skills Course 2010, February 27th & 28th

For the first time ever Iain & the Kendal Mountaineering Services team encountered problems with too much snow rather than not enough! The preceeding two days prior to the start of the course had seen up to half a metre of fresh snow dumped in the Spey Valley north of Drumochter and at first it looked as though no-one was going to get to the venue at Nethy Bridge. We are pleased to say though, that due to the herculanean efforts of the road clearing teams, the A9 was open by the early afternoon and the clients started arriving at 5pm with the last arriving finally at 3am on the Saturday having undergone a long detour via Inverness to join us.

With the road up to the Cairngorms shut on the Saturday, alternatives had to be investigated and some good slopes were discovered on The Hills of Cromdale only a few miles distant from Nethy Bridge. This venue proved to be so good that we stayed there all weekend!

The first two pictures in this post show people practising the position for ice axe braking and then step cutting - two of the most commonly practiced aspects of winter skills courses. Also practised on the first day were aspects of step kicking and snow belays.

In this picture, Iain can be seen discussing the merits of a well constructed ice axe belay. Other snow belays demonstrated included a reinforced buried axe belay, a snow/ice bollard and a Deadman belay. All of these can be used in conjunction with a bucket seat and an indirect/semi-direct method of belaying - useful techniques to know if you find yourself having to ascend/descend a steep snow or icy slope with a less confident person.

With step kicking/cutting and ice axe braking practice, we had little time left on Saturday to look at snow belays. By 5pm the light was starting to fade and some people wanted to get back to watch the rugby on tv at the bunkhouse.
Sunday saw us back at the same venue continuing looking at snow belays. Here, Iain's group test one to destruction (although it didn't fail) Everyone was tasked with building the various snow belays and then everyone else would set about trying to get them to fail. It was definitely a good way of learning whether or not each one had been properly constructed.

Following a morning looking at snow belays, the groups returned to a steeper, icier slope on Sgorr Goaithe to look at crampon footwork - moving up, down & across slope on what was ideal neve.
Following this Iain discussed avalance assessments and demonstrated the Rutschblock test demonstrating that although the SAIS had indicated all NW aspect slopes were likely to be of a considerable hazard, the one we were using was in fact only category two.

Finally Iain's group looked at building snow shelters before closing the course and heading off the hill - another winter skills course completed.

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