Being asked to help out with a university trip to Cairngorms in December, was a trip that I couldn’t turn down for several reasons. Having a minimal amount of practical winter mountaineering experience, it was the prefect opportunity to change this. The date was set for, just before Christmas and with 14 others, we would be spending 3 days in Cairngorms National Park.
Having recently pass my summer Mountain Leader Assessment, I’ve been reading a lot of mountaineering books, mainly Mountaincraft and Leadership as prep. Within them was, also, a theoretical knowledge of winter mountaineering, so this was the perfect opportunity to increase and improve on the theory, with some practical knowledge.
Onwards to the Cairngorms!
It’s blooming long drive from Exeter to Granton-on-Spey, which is where we had based ourselves for the week. It took 15 hours in total, with many stops including a 3 hours stopover at a Tesco’s in Perth. It’s really worth a visit… Basically we drove slightly faster, with fewer shorter stops than the other car plus, we had two drivers instead of one.
Onwards, the A9 to Aviemore was somewhat snow and ice covered, making for an interesting night drive. The snow covered half of the dual carriageways that we encountered. Luckiy, Scotland is way more prepared to deal with snow compared to us, down in Devon. That was until we had to drive up the road to our accommodation…there was so much snow and ice…!!! Being in the snow with a heavy diesel van made the going pretty easy for us, not so much fun for the Focus.
Having the whole place to ourselves made a huge difference. The evening was dedicated to a “very informal” run through of what was going to happen that week, the weather outlook, latest avalanche report, as well as the seriousness of being in the winter in mountains. The other things that we went through, was the kit required and wake up time, which pleased everyone!!
Waking up at a reasonable time, 06:30. Breakfast, gear up, out the door on the 15 minute walk to the cars. At the Cairngorm Upper car park, we spent the day really “messing around” on powder snow in some places it was several feet deep from drifting. On the lower sloops there wasn’t as much of a covering.
During the ascent, snowball fight, sledging and snow angels were of course obligatorily, it’s mandatory first time out in the mountains. Pushing on through the deeper snow to finally reach the Ptarigian for a spot of lunch in some shelter. Not that it was really needed, as the wind was calm all the way to this point. Being in the mountains, however, it didn’t last long with the wind increasing in strength the higher towards the summit we approached.
At the summit it was blooming cold! We hung around long enough to get a team photo before descending down the eastern slope.
This was where the crampons came in to play, this turned out to be amusing fun, for most of the team had never used them before. To be honest, they weren’t really needed, there were only a few patches of ice and they were easily broken through. It was more for the group to experience them.
With somewhat interesting navigation following pacings over 600m, with the weather getting towards, near whiteout conditions. We hit our cairn target at the top of Insert Summit name here. From the cairn we descended the small ridge back towards to the ski resort, while running to several other people doing the same, along with another expedition society.
We played a game of cat and mouse with the other group, they would overtake us, we then overtake them before it came to a head crossing a snow covered bridge. Where the fight broke out… Snowballs everywhere.
Eventually, getting back to the van and car, we kicked off all the snow, before heading back to our highland house, for a bite to eat and sleep before another day in the snow.