I have been thinking about doing the Winter Mountain Leader Assessment for years. I had been put off by my training in 1997 where the expedition took place in 110+ mph (gusting upto 140+) winds and it was a terrifying experience! At one point the group were all lying on the ground with the picks of our ice axes dug into the snow and clinging on for dear life for over ten minutes in a bealach! The knowledge that if you let go off the axe you would be ripped off and blown away by the wind was not very comforting!
As the years went by, I was going out on the Cairngorm Plateau by myself and all over Scotland. (Despite the warnings which are often given about Solo Winter Mountainwalking, a lot of the time I would not have gone out at all if I had not headed out by myself accompanied by 1 or 2 dogs). After many years of Winter experience I realised that far less experienced people were going for the assessment, sometimes with only 2 decent winter seasons under their belts, and decided to give it a go.
I booked into do the Assessment with Phill George for March last year. Unfortunately tropical temperatures hit the UK and I watched the snow disappear with the speed of the end of the Ice Age. .
This January it looked like the same scenario was about to be repeated with temperatures at the summit of Cairngorm reaching 13.8'C a week before the assessment! So it was with fear and trepidation that I drove up to the Cairngorms on the Saturday. I needn’t have feared; that evening it began to snow and by morning it was white on the tops and in the glens.
|The Cairngorms stripped of snow (again!); Danny's photo|
I drove over to meet the rest of the group and our Assessors, Steve Spalding and Sam Leary on the Sunday evening.We were briefed on the week and then headed up to bed for a reasonably early night. Unfortunately I don’t like stress and so the sleep I so wanted did not arrive. In fact from the Saturday to the following Friday I only had 12 hours sleep in total! Not ideal when you want to be on form and with it!
Day 1: Monday.
This was Teaching Skills and navigation. The snow was bullet hard and great for crampon work, but Ice Axe arrests would have been lethal. The first hour was spent discussing Weather and Avalanche conditions and studying the SAIS forecast and relating it back to the weather forecast. As a group we discussed suitable and safe locations and decided on the western slopes of Coire nan Lochan. Each person took turns to lead navigation legs either in or out at the end of the day.
A small trough of bad weather had arrived and the weather clagged in so we did not see much all day.
Once in the corrie we were assessed on our personal skills and techniques and our teaching skills. We also had to navigate closely as the mist clagged in. By the time we reached the car park again it was dark.
I received some good feedback which basically was about how my years’ of experience were apparent and it was obvious that I could look after a group well in winter. Very encouraging.
When we got home we had a 2 hour discussion, question and answer session on the Weather and Avalanches.