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Waking up to lovely weather (which doesn’t often happen in Scotland) we hurriedly packed our bags ready to hit the slopes. With two vans packed full with excited people, we departed from Badaguish and arrived at the lower car park of the ski centre. The aim for the day was to head into the Coires and practice winter skills, so we broke off into our two separate groups and everyone headed east towards Coire Laogh Mor. At the outset it became clear the the Cairngorms had LOADs of snow, with people often sinking ankle deep with each step. WE eventually decided to “post-hole” to make the trudge through the snow easier.
When we arrived at our base for the morning ice axes and shovels were pulled from bags and we dug an avalanche pit, in order to assess the risk of a possible avalanche. After ascertaining that the slope was suitably firm we took to practising self arrests, using an ice axe to break a fall. In order to become proficient in this vital skill we took in turns to fling ourselves down hill in different types of ways, including head first on our backs!
After a quick bit to eat the two groups rejoined and set off for a bit of a walk. Zig-zagging up the side of the Coire, we made good progress up hill with those at the front breaking trail.
From the top of the top of the Coire we headed south west on a gentle incline to the summit of Cairn Gorm. The weather station on the summit appeared as a huge mound of ice and snow, with staff desperately trying to de-ice it as the recording instruments had become frozen open! With fantastic views of the surrounding area, we headed down the ridge between Coire Laogh Mor and Coire Na Ciste back to the car park.
Today we once again split into our two separate groups, starting off at the top ski centre car park, with the aim to head into Coire an t-Sneachda. Unlike yesterday the winds had picked up overnight and during our walk in we were accompanied by large amounts of spin drift, which was literally getting everywhere!
Once at the base of Faicaill Ridge we continued to practice our winter skills, today learning about security on steep ground, practising snow bollards, t- axe belays, placing deadman anchors and using body belaying to support a climbing partner.
Following on from this, we headed further into the Coire, and proceeded to practice with crampons on the hillside. After a light snack the group headed out of the depths of the Coire toward the moraines below Fiacaill a Choire Chais, to inspect the snow for snow holing later on in the week. After locating some potential campsites we zig zagged up the sides of the Coire up the ridge to reach 1141. After the precarious climb up the ridge we headed back down to the ski centre in glorious sunshine.
Tuesday we headed up towards Glen Avon from the bottom carpark.
From the bottom car park we trekked up in some form of sunshine towards The Saddle skirting around the mighty Cairn Gorm. From The Saddle we were supposed to be able to see Loch Avon, but as heading up in the morning the cloud had rolled in and a white-out engulfed us – weather that could continue for the rest of the day, so we couldn’t actually see anything! This gave us a great chance to practice our micro-navigation skills with the group walking in a straight line, with the person at the back directing the group to ensure we stayed on our baring.
After a spot of lunch we walked, in the clouds, towards Bynack Beg before going down into the valley of Strath Nethy and out of the clouds. A nice scenic walked into Glenmore Lodge to be picked up awaited us after coming down Bynack Beg’s ridgeline.
We had planned a shorted walk for Wednesday after the 20km walked the day before… however this didn’t really materialise!
We headed from the top carpark in the beautiful Scottish sunshine, up the ridgeline one the west side of Coire an Lochian. After a brief break we decided we were walking far too fast for our planned route and would have been completed the route in a couple of hours. In order to turn into more a day we decided to extend our route to take in the second highest peak in the UK, Ben Macdui.
After deciding on the new plan the clouds rolled in again, giving us less visibility than the day before… typical! A longish walk in yet another Scottish whiteout were becoming all too familiar to us – were was the Alpine conditions from 2013! Not waiting to look on the negative side, we used the conditions to reinforce the navigation skills we’d learnt on Tuesday.
After eventually reaching the summit we headed back towards the familiarity of Sneachda, passing only a handful people brave enough to tough-out the conditions. After reaching the top of the Goat Track, we proceeded to handrail the cliff at the top of the Coire, keeping a good distance between use and the monstrous Cornice along the cliff tops.
After making it to 1141 we began the familiar decent back down to the car park to meet Russ.
We left late Thursday morning and walked up to Coire Sneachda, through driving rain with 60mph gusts that almost took you off your feet, carrying everything we would need for the night of snowholing.
When we arrived we found some previously dug snow holes that we sheltered in, giving us a chance to regroup our thoughts after being utterly drenched from the walk up. We ate some lunch and mercifully the rain and wind let up, and we were even treated to a glimpse of the sun!
Given the relatively warm temperatures and rain of the morning the snow holes we had just sheltered in were not good enough to spend the night in, so we got to work digging out our own ones. In pairs we started to dig corridors into the snow, big enough to stand in (unless your a giant like Chris). Once we were suitably fair enough into the slope we began to dig the main chambers we would sleep in, eventually linking up with the next group over.
As the snow holes took a while to dig the night was drawing in when we eventually finished. Tired out from all the digging and shifting from the day we got in our snow holes and got down to the important business… cooking a much needed warm meal! Revived by dinner we set in for an early night.
Waking up early at 7:30 we went about getting cooking breakfast, getting a hot drink and packing away our damp kit, ready for the walk out. At 9am we were joined in our snow holes by Besty, Dan, Smudge and Chris, who closely resembled the abominable snowman, more then their normal selves, having battled through the 60mph head wind and blinding spindrift to make it in.
After they had a quick breathier and regain feeling in their wind burnt faces it was decided we would try and make the most out of the day, rather than just head straight back to cavitation. We decided that we would use our last day in the hills to demonstrate what we had learnt over the course of the week. We were each tasked with setting up one of the form of anchor, like practiced on Monday, before taking it in turns to do some more Ice Axe arrests. The weather was truly dreadful (or typical Scottish weather as we kept being reminded by the leaders) and we kept popping in and out of the snow holes to warm up.
By 11am it was decided that we’d had enough of the being whipped by spindrift, so we put on our crampons and made our way back to the bus. We zig zagged up the side of Fiacaill a Choire Chais, and with the wind behind us, came very close to being blown over on a number of occasions.