One very cold snowy Wednesday morning (perfect for practicing!) four of us who are going on the Scotland expedition met up bright & early at Brighton station to go on a nav &rope adventure.
We caught the train to hassocks and navigated immediately to a cafe. The cafe had a big table that we were able to spread our maps out on. Tony set about teaching us all about maps & the compass &how to read them. Some things we covered were contours lines- maps have orange lines and they go up 10 meters at a time, apart from in our own dear south downs &white peak in Derbyshire, then its 5 because it’s not very high! &have a contour line every 50 meters in purple. The closer they are together the steeper the slope.
Map scale-1:25k this was the map we were using and 1:50k and 1:40k. These different scales are marked on the flat bit of the compass and are very handy, so u can work out how far the distance is between two points.
The 3 Norths -grid north, true North and magnetic North.
How to align the magnetic north of the compass with the grid north of the map. and then you need to take off 3 degrees as its changing slightly every year.
How to spot 3 different landmarks so you can work out a triangle area that you are in.
How to give a grid reference to search and rescue if you need to. And remembering that you must give the horizontal line first and then the vertical one. Two ways of remembering this are -you go along the hall &up the stairs or as I learnt at school you have to crawl before you can walk. I've got very basic map knowledge &can tell what some of it means &read the legend. But didn't know how to use a compass & found it a bit confusing. So it was good to get out in the snow and put it into practice.
Andrew lead us first and as went we read our maps and Tony pointed out landmarks that we should mentally tick off (like footpaths, streams etc) to make us realise how far along we have come.
We went over the railway and passed the amazing Clayton tunnel built in between 1839 to
1841. But not opened until 1880. Not designed by Brunel, as I had originally believed, being very similar to one of his on the bath Bristol line, but designed by David Mocatta (which must be why the Dvla in Brighton is called Mocatta house) and built by over 6000 navvies. Any how
Andrew did a sterling job and then it was my turn. Which started off OK but then didn't go so well and I ended off 150 meters away from target but at least I didn't nav backwards!
We took turns in doing this a few times and pacing out our steps on different types of terrain.
We briefly had some lunch on a very snowy log and talking about avalanches, how to predict them and where they are most likely to occur. This is quite a common problem in Glen Coe as some climbers died up there a few days ago we were all acutely aware now avalanche is no joke & to check with the SAIS. Soon we were away again. By now it was snowing on and off and bitter piercing wind was blowing.
We finally came to holly tree on the side of a steep hill, with contours very close together. The ropes came out and were tied onto the tree. Ice axes out and harness on.
Now for the horrible bit! We had to dig a bucket seat out of the snow & sit in it. Then one of us wrapped the rope around our self &then the left arm. NOT the right arm else it could break! Then the other person tied in and was lowered down the slope. Not bad for the ones being belayed, but body belaying for the belayer sitting in the snow is jerky, uncomfortable &Cccccccold! My fingers felt like some had stamped on them with ice skates
At this point I lost it a bit. I hoped I would have an accident & would be unable to go to Scotland but save face by breaking a finger or something!! Happily I cheered up and got on with it & started to enjoy myself. I remembered that winter climbing is as much about mental strength as physical.
We learnt how to descend the rope using the angel wings position if it’s not a very steep gradient or using the South African , which was almost another harness out of rope.
We made ice axe anchors and anchors with the dead man. Also bollards to wrap the rope through. Quite frightening really to think we will be multi pitching high up and abseiling off them! It got to five pm and was nearly dark so we called it a day. I navved up to the top, then Dan got us all the way back to the station, where there was building work going on & ironically we got lost in the plywood hoarding in the small platform station! Tired but elated we just made the train, running with our heavy rucksacks. Had the best night’s sleep in months.
Can’t wait for Scotland!