HSX went to Scotland from Saturday 15th February to Saturday 22nd February for annual training. The main blog entry covers what happened on every day, whilst this blog covers what HSX Antarctica did apart from the main group, that being on days Tuesday to Friday. The 4 out of 7 members of HSX Antarctica in Scotland were Adrian, Joe, Liam and Matt.
Tuesday 18th February 2014
HSX Antarctica rented some Nordic skis to use on Tuesday and Wednesday. As none of us had ever been cross country skiing before and half the team present had never skied before at all, we started gently on the flat snow outside our lodge with BMG Harold Edwards instructing us.
After we had mostly got the hang of going forwards and turning on flat ground we headed out in the van to a track near Loch Morlich. This was mostly a success, but the track wasn’t completely covered in snow and the team had to resort to de-skiing and walking on several occasions so as to not scratch the skis.
After lunch the team headed up into the mountains where we intended to ski to a loch we’d seen a few days before. Having steeper gradients, this proved more challenging and turning on the spot required new techniques. The length of the skis and the lack of binding at the back of the skis meant heading downhill on even a gentle slope led to several falls. Fortunately the Antarctic plateau doesn’t have steep hills.
Wednesday 19th February
We were a little more ambitious with our skis on Wednesday when we attempted some ski mountaineering, climbing from 550m to 750m at the top of Castle Hill in just over a kilometre, a gradient of 20% which proved particularly taxing as our skis had no skins to stop them sliding backwards. The snow conditions made things even more difficult as it was very icy, slippery and hard to dig the skis into.
The descent from Castle Hill was found tough by all there. It was very hard to stop on the slopes and numerous tumbles were taken by everyone. Even the views disappeared when a dense fog closed in. We eventually got down to a stream at the bottom and skied along the steep banks, which was physically tiring, then crossed and headed back towards the van carrying our skis.
Thursday 20th February
Thursday morning marked a change in the weather. Wind speed had picked up to around 65/75mph with rain across the lower valleys. The plan for us was to summit Ben Macdui via Lurchers Crag and back down into Coire an t-Sneachda for a night’s sleep in snow holes. Our day started well however as we headed up onto Coire an Lochain ridge we felt the full force of the wind. After much battling up the ridge through the deep powder snow we collectively made the call to change our plan and headed into the Chalamain gap and down to the Sugar Bowl car park. Once at the Sugar Bowl car park we made our way up to the Ski Centre and into Coire Sneachda where we found the other HSX party at our snow holes. Our arrival at the snow holes was at around 14:30 and being early and wanting to make the most of our day we headed up the Goat Track and onto the ridge. From there we contoured around to 1141 and headed back down the slopes into Sneachda for the night.
Friday 21st February
We awoke in the morning unaware of the weather outside our snow hole. As we started to prepare our kit and get breakfast it became apparent from all the snow drift that the winds were indeed as high or higher than the day before. With this in mind we layered up, put gloves on and made our way out of the night’s accommodation. As our heads popped out of the snow we were hit with the high winds carrying snow from the ridge down into the valleys below. Our plan for the day was simple, get down and back to the campsite. As we made our way down out of the corrie we were wearing our crampons to grip onto the hard ice and battling the winds that were set on knocking us down. At 10:30 we arrived at the Ski Centre and took a moment to reflect on the weather and our last views of the upper mountains before heading down onto the footpaths and back to our camp site.