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Way back in time before the onset of adulthood I enjoyed countless days heading into the hills of Yorkshire with nothing more than a squashed sandwich & youthful sense for adventure! Despite long past youthful and work commitments keeping me in the city, the sense of adventure and love for the outdoors never left me. After digging my boots out and returning to the hills I attended a number of courses to improve my hill knowledge and skill base, during one of these courses it was suggested I join the Mountain Leader Training scheme and was delighted go on to gain the MOUNTAIN LEADER Award in April 2012. As well as spending time on the hills and mountains of the UK I have also enjoyed trips to the Nepalese Himalaya, Swiss & French Alps, Mallorca’s Tramuntana, Andorran & French Pyrenees, Morocco’s High Atlas, Tanzania’s Mt Meru & Kilimanjaro, Argentinian & Chilean Patagonia and winter expeditions to Norway’s Hardangervidda. Since gaining the ML I have also gained the SINGLE PITCH AWARD, INTERNATIONAL MOUNTAIN LEADER AWARD and the WINTER MOUNTAIN LEADER AWARD. I am now enjoying working in a freelance role whilst trying to get out climbing as much as possible.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Snow Holes, Sheds & School Dinner in the Cairngorms - February 2013

With much of the UK enjoying clear still skies due to a lengthy period of high pressure and after consulting the avalanche forecast (Scottish Avalanche Information Service), I decided it was too good an opportunity to miss and headed for the mountains of the Cairngorm National Park in the Eastern Scottish Highlands for a 3 day mini expedition & 3 valuable Winter Mountain Leader log book days!

 Making the 6.5hr journey North I arrived in Braemar late Sunday night (too late to find any food available!) and stayed overnight in a local hotel with the idea of being refreshed for an early start the following morning. Unfortunately due to a 'slight' failure in the body clock department things didn't go exactly as planned so it was after a hurried breakfast that I drove to the Linn of Dee car park on the Mar Lodge Estate to begin my 3 day stroll.

 Day 1 - Leaving the 'Linn of Dee' car park it took me around an hour to reach 'Derry Lodge' following Lui Water as it made its way through the snow covered landscape.  From Derry Lodge I took a route that led North West and started ascending through the tree line until I was making my way up the hard neve on the flanks of 'Carn Crom'. From 'Carn Crom' I carried on ascending over 'Little Cairngorm' and to the summit of 'Derry Cairngorm (1155m). Progress hadn't been record breaking in the warmth of the bright winter sun with its snow glare, and with a full 3 day pack on my back!

 As I made my way towards 'Ben Macdui' I noticed a snow bank which looked suitable to build a snow hole in. After deliberating weather to walk up to Ben Macdui then back down to shelter overnight at the 'Hutchinson Memorial Hut' and then back up to continue my route the next day I opted to put try put some skills I had gained on winter skills courses into practice and build myself a snow hole!
 Digging a shoulder width hole into the snow bank I removed snow until I could get the trunk of my body in the hole. At this point I started to dig out the snow parallel to the outside snow wall leaving around 150cm of snow. After digging a tunnel around 3ft long I took myself out of the hole and moved along the snow bank approx 6ft, here I repeated the process in the opposite direction until I had dug myself out a tunnel approx 6ft long and 3ft high. At this stage I shaped the walls and ceiling smooth to prevent water dripping from them and leveled the floor. Digging 12inch deep trenches at either entrance which would act as cold wells the snow hole was soon ready for me to put in my bivvy bag, roll mat & sleeping bag - cosy!
 I measured a temperature of 0C inside the snow hole through the night whereas the outside temperature had been forecast for 8C.
Digging into the snow bank.
2nd window/door.
Creating the tunnel.
Bivvy bag & kit in the snow hole.
Cosy apartment or the evening!
Day 2 - rising with the sun I had breakfast and packed up my kit and left the snow hole (which is available to rent for a short period?), I then made my way up to the summit of Ben Macdui (1308m) which is the second highest mountain in Great Britain. From a rime ice covered summit at 8am on a bright winters morning I was treated to 360 degree views over the East Highlands of Scotland as far as the eye could see. I could also see the peak of Cairn Gorm North East some 6km away which is where I was heading next.
Sunrise from my overnight 'apartment'.
 Making my way over the rolling plateau I passed by the satellite summits of 'Cairn Lochan''Stob Coire an t-Sneachda' before ascending to the summit of 'Cairn Gorm'(1245m) with its rime ice covered weather station. On the summit I met the first people I had seen since breakfast the previous day, a pair of snow boarders who informed me that the Ptarmigan restaurant of the Cairn Gorm mountain center was open and I headed there for lunch.
 During an 'expensive school dinner' at the Ptarmigan I set my route for the afternoon and decided I would head for the 'Fords of Avon' refuge rather than dig myself another snow hole as this would leave me a 5hour walk out before the long drive home rather than a lengthier and more tiring day.  I again crossed the summit of Cairn Gorm before making my way down thru Coire Raibert, following the path of the would be stream down to the banks of Loch Avon.
 The Loch was covered in snow and appeared well frozen but I resisted testing the strength of the ice and kept myself on the banks of the Loch as I made my way East towards the refuge which I reached around 15:30hrs.

 The 'Refuges' or 'Bothies' are small unmanned building or huts located in the remote mountainous areas of the UK. Mostly found in Scotland bothies provide a basic watertight and windproof shelter for anyone that may need them. Varying in size from small huts to 2 storey former cottages, some may have fireplaces & sleeping platforms whereas others may be nothing more than a large box, non offer bedding etc but all are free of charge and are left unlocked - Mountain Bothies UK

 After unpacking my sleeping kit and cooking equipment, I boiled water taken from the nearby 'burn' (Scottish name for stream or small river) and had my tea before retiring for the evening - at 17:30hrs!

Rime ice on Cairn Gorm weather station.
Snow covers the frozen surface of Loch Avon.
Refuge/Bothy at Fords of Avon.
Hotel it is not, shelter from the elements it is.
 Day 3 - Did you know the usually fairly silent (until your about to step on them as they hide disguised in the snow or heather, when they then fly out suddenly trying to make you sh*t yourself!) Ptarmigan and Black Grouse like to have a bit of a chat in the time just before dawn? I didn't but do now, and so it was before dawn that I awoke to gentle bird(!) song and made porridge for breakfast, packing my sleeping kit as I boiled water. The sun rising behind the horizon turned the surrounding mountain tops pink through to orange as I swept the floor of the bothy and removed any trace of having been there.
 Leaving the bothy heading South I took care to avoid the snow covered frozen surface of 'Dubh Lochan' & the 'burn' that feeds into them, which I could occasionally hear running from beneath the snow.  Dropping into Glen Derry I made my way over mixed patches of frozen ground, snow & ice which had been consolidated underfoot and delayed my decision to remove my crampons in the knowledge of tired legs and a rucksack that didn't seem to be getting any lighter!
 Joining the path on which I had set out 2 days earlier at 'Derry Lodge' I followed the track back to 'Linn of Dee' car park with a much reduced spring in my step but confident that making my way to the bothy rather than sheltering overnight in a snow hole had been the right choice!
Sun rise.
Glen Derry.
Summary. Over the 3 days I walked approx 42km and ascended over 1500m. There were alternative routes I could of taken but I felt 3 days & 2 nights spent out in winter conditions alone needed some respect as things could go wrong very quickly.
 My rucksack weighed around 16kg with the food, cooking equipment, sleeping equipment, snow shovel etc and the extra weight over a normal day pack made a noticeable difference to my pace and the effort needed when going up hill.
 I found the over nights no problem though weather conditions were still & dry which meant my clothes were dry.

 All in all it was a very worth while trip as it gave me 3 log book days towards the Winter Mountain Leader Training Scheme and a chance to put into practice some skills I had been previously taught. It also provided with me with 3 days in a stunning winter mountain environment.

Wildlife seen - Ptarmigan, Black Grouse, Arctic Hare.

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