Cragger’s Trip to the Cairngorms February 2014

When I look back I am surprised that I put my name down to do a winter climb in the Cairngorms. I had not climbed before, I don’t like the cold. I have very weak arms, and the only breaks I do have are with a child in tow.
How exciting; a bit of freedom. If I did realise that I would build a snow hole and sleep in it and throw myself off a side of the mountain, eat soggy sandwiches under a plastic bag in a blizzard and survive 10 days with lads who are focused on climbing predominantly, I might have given it more thought. Well life’s rich tapestry and all that, the experience certainly was……..
I had just joined Craggers climbing group after a glorious summer camp. I was in my 1st meeting and drifted off when I heard ‘ a night train to Scotland’ Oh yes I piped up that sounds good I’m up for that. The rest I found out as I went along. Saying that there were clues for example given 2 axes as part of the kit and a poo box (lucky me) and when asking a member if it was a bit like the ice hotel and informed no you build your own snow hole and carry all your provisions to the hole. The training with a she pee possibly could have been more vigorous but did come in very useful.
Train journey. Best sleep ever and even got my contact lens in the morning also left bag on the train but got it back just in time
Arrival in Aviemore; met up with lads had a supper breakfast and booked into hostel. There was a bit of concern when I was told I would be sleeping in the lad’s room. The receptionist must have seen me waving my hand and shaking my head behind them mouthing no! No! no! and took pity . Hurray I’m in the women part of the hostel. We went on a beautiful sunny walk with magnificence views and spirits were high. That night was my 1st experience of putting on crampons.
Up early and getting good at putting my contact lens in quickly only 15 minutes. There was a blizzard outside and off in a van to the Cairngorm mountain. Rain, snow and slush. Each step was different; one never knew if it would be a 2cm or half metre drop a few springs to cross or not as it seemed, I struggled wading through the stream and then axe arrest . Now Axe arrest what a curious activity This entails throwing yourself off the side of the mountain and stopping yourself by bringing an axe out to catch you fall. There is head 1st, feet first and left and right axe arrest and as I had never done it before there was plenty of practice needed. How unfortunate that no photos were taken of this athletic advent but I think the blizzard and the lack of visibility had something to do with that.
Then lunch in a bivi bag with the group in close contact on a bit of soggy heather. I think some pity was taken or was it something I said. ’If I don’t go back soon you will have to carry me’ seem to demonstrate empathy within the group and we were allowed to return to the hostel. On return to the hostel I stayed in the dry room the warmest and smelliest place in the hostel. I was so happy to be there. I didn’t eat that night; bed was needed. I realise I hadn’t drank much as even training with a she pee had not included blizzards. My skills needed further improvement.
I think that gives a flavour of my training and in varying degrees my training continued. I did go skiing and had a day off in Aviemore. I was chatting with the locals telling them how I was going to be sleeping in a snow hole.
Oh said one old lady they had to rescue a couple of lads yesterday where the snow hole fell on them but one of them was holding on his mobile and able to get a message and they were saved.!!!!!
I did mention this to the lads but how kind they didn’t want to worry me!
Day of the snow hole adventure. I packed the night before and then packed again and then again into a bigger ruck sack. Seemed to be fairly big weight I was carrying. (In my diary it says how the hell I am going to get this ruck sack up a mountain) I did have to keep stopping as the weight was ++++++and the obligatory blizzard didn’t help. But it wasn’t as bad for some reason I think I might have been a bit stronger and used to it.
We found a place to make a snow hole. It was good to keep moving as the only heat that is generated is the heat you make yourself. Therefore I was happy to dig away. The night was coming in and we had to complete the shelter. We made a sleeping area that had enough room to sit up in and a kitchen that we could all stand up in. The great thing about a snow hole is you can build and put shelves wherever you want to fairly easily so I built a separate kitchen bit to cook my supper. My supper was awful and I was lucky that the others shared there out of date curry and pot noodles with me. The biggest regret was I didn’t see the stars. I had stood around too much and cold set in so I jumped into the sleeping bag and retrieved every available bit of clothing to wear inside the sleeping bag. I could hear the others outside no light pollution so the constellation was infinite (so I was told) I could hear the exclamations from the inside of my sleeping bag. They came in and had a disco to keep warm. Then we had to seal ourselves in. I had some candles which helped as it was disorientating and I thought I’d know if the oxygen runs out. It did look pretty. I must have slept as when I woke up it was dark. One of the lads was awake and put his flash light on; we were all safe and alive. Hurray.
And then it was morning.
The walk back to the ski station I felt fulfilled and we discussed the difference of Part A fun where it is instant gratification and Part B fun where it last a lot longer and real sense of achievement. I still cannot believe I did it even whilst writing this. It certainly put a lot of things into perspective and leaves a warm glow of Part B Fun and triumph.
Nicky deCourcy