Tuesday 4 April 2017

Winter Skills Training Courses in Scotland. Glen Coe, March 25th 2017.

A little over a week ago, we were in Scotland for the first time in 2017. The intention - to run a Winter Skills Training Course for Matt Bishop & Eleanor Good pictured here in photo one. As you'll see from all of the photos, the weather was just great - but Matt in a T shirt at 1800 feet; and with all of that snow around! What was going on? Well, the weather was all wrong to be truthful. The temperature was probably about 10 - 12 degrees C at the time photo one was taken!

Scotland has seen it's mildest winter ever this year; and despite a dump of fresh snow the previous week, the generally "above freezing temperatures" had resulted in few deposits of Neve - that's old hard snow which has resulted from a series of freeze/thaw cycles; and it was this we were looking for in order to run any Winter Skills Courses.

We did find some Neve on Buachaille Etive Beag in a popular area that we last used two winters ago. Just below the Bealach (col) between Stob Coire Raineach and spot height 902 is a north west facing bowl that often gets used by groups for Winter Skills Courses. Iain spotted a shaded bank of snow and after a short period of "bulldozing" was able to uncover an area of Neve buried under six inches of recent soft snow that was ideal for "Daggering" (photo two). This skill is commonly used for ascending or descending a steep bank of Neve which is hard enough to just kick steps into whilst pushing the pick of the axe into the hard snow to give security whilst moving up or down such ground.

Our patch of Neve was only some ten feet wide by some 30 feet in length, but we certainly put it to good use.

As well as Daggering here, we also had a go at the basic technique of Ice Axe Braking - this is useful if one slips and starts to slide on hard snow or ice.

The Ice Axe is held diagonally under the chest with one hand over the head of the axe and the other holding the bottom end (spike) of the axe. By pressing the axe into the snow using the weight of ones chest to press on to the shaft; and pressing the pick in to the snow; one can slow to a halt quickly. Ellie is lying in the typical ice axe braking position - feet up to prevent crampons catching in the snow, knees pressing down, back arched, chest pressing on the ice axe which she is pulling down under her chest. The head of the ice axe is pulled in to her right shoulder and she looks away from the adze (part of the axe head) so that if the axe bounces out of the snow it doesn't hit her in the face. Good skills!

We also had a chance to practice a few snow belays whilst at this particular location. In photo three Ellie is sat in a bucket seat  having just brought Matt up to her location using a body belay.

This type of belay is the most basic form and should only be used on grade one or two winter ground - ie very easy slopes. The integrity of such belays can be markedly improved if they are used in conjunction with a buried ice axe or a "Deadman" (a type of wedge shaped Aluminium plate that is buried in the snow)
We practiced setting up a buried axe anchor and also a reinforced buried axe testing both for strength. We also set up a snow bollard (photo four) which can be used as an anchor; or as a means with which to abseil down a steep slope and then be able to retrieve the climbing rope afterwards.

Snow bollards vary from the very large (3 metres across) to the very small - usually known as an ice bollard and the strength of the medium determines the size. A bollard is a horseshoe shaped structure with the arms facing downhill and the lip around the top is cut downwards to act as purchase for the rope which is looped around the whole structure at it's mid point. Either end is thrown down the slope (with an overhand knot in each "tail" to prevent one abseiling off the end of the rope. Once people have abseiled down then the rope can be retrieved by pulling on one side - make sure you take the overhand knot out of the other side though - you don't want it to "jam" in the bollard!!

As with all of our Skills Training Courses, it is amazing how quickly time goes by! Having started Winter Skills at about 10:30 am, we soon got to 3pm and there was still much to do. We had, by this time, pretty well destroyed the surface of our ten foot by thirty foot Neve patch, but there was another nearby gully containing a steep bank of snow in which Iain reckoned it would be possible to dig a snow-hole.

We set to - going straight into the bank; and in no time, Iain & Matt had dug out a chamber going in about five feet; and being about 12 feet wide by 3 feet high. If you are "benighted" in the mountains in winter, then being able to dig your own snow hole may mean the difference between surviving; or freezing to death! People are always amazed by how warm and sheltered you are in a snow-hole. In photo six, Matt emerges whilst Ellie looks on.

At about 4:30 pm, we packed up and prepared to leave the site of day one of our Scottish Winter Skills Course in Glen Coe (photo seven).

The weather was warm in the sun and as you'll see if you compare the snow on the distant Aonach Eagach Ridge in photo six as compared to the first photo, a significant amount of snow had melted away on that ridge during the course of the day. Save for the snow, there was nothing else winter-like about the weather today - it really felt like Spring had arrived in the high mountains. We would go hunting for more Neve the next day!

Our Scottish Winter Skills Training Courses can be run in the west in the Glen Coe area; or in the Northern Corries of The Cairngorms. The cost for these two days courses ranges from £80 per person per day to as little as £50 per person per day depending on your group size. We do also run Winter Skills Training Courses in other locations such as The Lake District if suitable conditions exist. Contact Iain here to enquire. We look forward to working with you.

No comments: