Sunday 2 March 2014

Winter Map Reading & Navigation Skills Training Courses in The Cairngorms. February 19th & 20th 2014

After our two day Winter Skills Course in The Cairngorms, we moved on to our two day Winter Navigation & Snow holing Skills Training phase of the week.

Our Winter Navigation & Snow holing Skills Training Courses usually involves a walk in to a snow holing site such as Ciste Mhearaid, or Coire Domhain learning & practicing map reading & navigation techniques along the way. On arriving at the snow holing site, hopefully, it is usually a case of clearing out & enlarging existing snow holes then settling in for the night. However, on occasion, new snow holes have to be dug from scratch, so we always arrive at the snow holing site in good time - just in case!

However, the MWIS forecast for the next day indicated storm force winds on the Cairngorm plateau meaning that we would likely be "pinned down" waiting for the wind speed to drop. So, the other option was to spend the night in Ryvoan Bothy and just have two days out on the hills.

Today had a glorious start as can be seen in photo one during our walk in to Coire Na Ciste. Blue skies, sunshine & a light breeze made up for having to tramp through difficult snow (hard crust on top, soft underneath!) We spent the day navigating from point to point as directed by Iain and the party learnt all about pacing & measuring distance and taking & walking on a bearing.

We started off by walking up the ridge between Coire Na Ciste & Coire Cas before crossing to the north ridge of Cairngorm where we encountered a strengthening wind and whiteout conditions as we approach the summit of Cnap Coire Na Spreidhe (photo two)

Everyone in the group picked up the skills taught by Iain well; and were spot on throughout the day with their accuracy. Having reached our high point of 1150m at Cnap Coire Na Spreidhe (very close to where we had been the previous day - Ciste Mhearaidh) we headed north back along the ridge and upon hitting hard ice just above Coire Laogh Mor, donned crampons before descending into the back of this coire.

It was quite an exciting descent! The back wall of Coire Laogh Mor is pretty steep and the sudden onset of whiteout conditions certainly added to the atmosphere. However, just as we reach the corrie floor the cloud lifted to reveal a beautiful sunset over Loch Morlich (photo three). After a short pause to look at a Rutschblock and Hand/Shovel Shear Test (avalanche prediction skills) here, we walked back out to the car park at Coire Na Ciste.

20 minutes later we were walking away from the vehicles at the road head by Glenmore Lodge with different rucksacks packed for our overnighter in Ryvoan Bothy. Imagine our disappointment when we arrived after walking for around 40 minutes to find it already packed with a group from a local Adventure Training Centre. About turn and back to Aviemore!

On Thursday, the weather was indeed as forecast and the usual associated "cloud cap" was in evidence on The Cairngorms. Uplift had been cancelled by Cairngorm Mountain and was apparently to remain that way all day.

We returned to the Glenmore Lodge road head with a view to staying low for the day and learning additional navigation techniques and it was as well we did! Whilst in the floor of Ryvoan Pass, we were relatively sheltered from the wind we could both see & hear roaring through the Caledonian Pines only a few hundred meters above our heads on the slopes of Meall a' Bhuachaille.

For the first hour or so, the wind was accompanied by a light drizzle (photo four) which Iain surmised was more likely to be windblown snow scoured from the plateau turning to water as it dropped below the freezing level.

On our route through Ryvoan Pass we looked at finding "tickoff features" something that had been rather absent during our previous day on the snow covered ground higher up. These included various paths and stream junctions along our linear route (the track through the pass) In doing this we were able to focus more not only on measuring distance but also pacing it accurately too.

We took a break for a brew at the now empty Ryvoan Bothy (photo five) and spent some time learning about grid references and how to find them and give one for a known location.

The group had asked for an early finish today and wished to be back at the vehicles for 2pm. After learning additional new skills today we continued out on to the open plain at the foot of Strath Nethy in order that we could put all of what had been learnt into practice. We made for  one of the many small lochans in the area (photo six) and spent some time there using the compass to identify an unknown feature from our "known location".

Following this, we made our way back to Ryvoan Bothy and commenced the walk back through the pass to the vehicles.

Photo seven is a view taken just beyond Ryvoan Bothy as we headed back towards Ryvoan Pass. Though the pass way in the distance across Glen More can be seen a snow covered Lurcher's Crag with the notch of the Chalamain Gap to its right.

On the opposite side of Lurchers Crag to this view is an excellent winter climbing venue - also called Lurcher's Crag, where Iain had been hoping to take the group the next day. By the time this photo was taken the wind speed had dropped and the wind had changed to a westerly. However, the MWIS forecast for the next day was if anything, wilder than ever with a south westerly wind gusting up to 70mph! As Lurchers faces in that direction it would be a totally unsuitable location for a teaching climbing day. We would have to use another venue other than The Cairngorms.

You can read about that day in the next post, in the meantime, if you are interested in attending one of our Navigation & Snow holing Training Courses in The Cairngorms then contact us here. This group paid only £100 each for their two day course with Iain.

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