Ice Axe arrests

We all got ready and left the hostel early in the morning while it was still dark. We walked and climbed for over an hour into the Cairngorm mountains, in the cold morning light, to a good spot for training in winter skills. It was a bright and sunny day, the snow capped mountains were beautiful and we had an amazing view of the peaks.  When we got to a suitable spot, Tony demonstrated various mountains skills including ice axe arrests.  We then each practised the skills he had shown us, first we rolled down the icy incline and practiced the ice axe arrest in which we used the axe to stop our roll so we didn’t slide to the bottom and hit the craggy rocks below. Once we felt confident doing this we got another member of the group to spin us around as we slid down the hill. This made the ice axe arrest harder as you quickly became disoriented while falling. We did this so that if we fell in the mountains we would be able to stop the fall safely. We also learnt how to safely carry our ice axes using the straps attached so we wouldn’t drop or lose them which could be fatal to us or other climbers. By practising these skills I realised just how dangerous ice climbing can be if you are not fully prepared or equipped.

Avalanche receivers at the lake

We got a bus to Glenmore Forest Park, where there is a large lake.  It was a cold but sunny day with good visibility. The Lake had a sheet of ice partial covering one end, and there were blocks of ice pushed up onto the shore, we couldn’t understand how they had got there.  Some of the group walked out onto the frozen lake. At that time the ice started to make a very loud creaking noise and the whole sheet of ice began lifting and moving towards the shore, It was the wind pushing the water underneath the ice which lifted it up and it slide under the ice blocks lifting them out of the lake, the whole process must have moved the ice and those stood on it at least a foot closer to the shore. The wind and noise died away and the lake was still again.

We walked around the lake and it seemed like a good place to practise using the avalanche receivers. Avalanche receivers are use to find people who have been caught in an avalanche, both receivers are turned on before walking in snow, if someone is caught in an avalanche another receiver can be used to locate the missing person, by tracking the signal using a beeping tone or a digital display if further away. To practise using them, two of the group walked off into the woods and hid an avalanche receiver, one by one rest of the group practised locating the receiver, and this was surprisingly hard but good fun.

Mountain Lake Eruption

One day four of us went up into the mountains to do some ice climbing, on the way up to the climbing site we found a frozen lake, we could clearly see how at some point in the recent past an avalanche had fallen into the lake from the mountains above, the pressure of the falling snow and ice had caused huge blokes of ice to be thrown out of the lake, like an eruption, some of these blocks were bigger than a car and now stood at least 50 feet away from the shore line, it was an amazing site one I shall remember for the rest of my life. I would have loved to witness this natural phenomenon, maybe if is spend enough time in the mountains I will.

Snow Holing

Snow holing was another experience I will never forget, it was like sleeping in a coffin made of snow, the site where we stayed was even called Jenny’s Grave! We walked to the site which is often used for snow holing as the snow lies deeply there. When we got there were several snow holes already made we split into two groups and each claimed a hotel for the night, we brought a saw and two shovels so that we could improve the existing snow holes. We sawed off a layer of pure ice that was dripping on our sleeping areas and rucksack’s; we also shovelled out snow so that the entry way to the hole was easier to slide into. After dinner we all went to the toilet, this is important as once you have taken off all your kit you don’t want to put it all back on as it can take 20 minutes in the freezing cold. We then took our kit off and tried to get comfortable for the night, it was very dark and quiet. I’m glad we had our head torches! It was extremely cold, I hardly slept all that night, As I lay there in the dark, It felt like it was minus 30, but I’m sure it wasn’t. After an uncomfortable night I watched the sun rise from inside the snow hole and was glad the sleepless night was over. We all got up tired and hungry, we struggled to put on our kit, and my fingers were so cold I couldn’t grip anything and our shoelaces were frozen to our boots, I’m not sure how I managed it.  We were glad to have some hot porridge after such a cold night, it tasted like the best meal I have ever eaten.