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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.

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Into The Eye Of The Storm (nearly) For QMD's.

Tuesday and Wednesday of this past week I managed to tactically work in a trip to Scotland to claim two more valuable Quality Mountain Days.
 With Storm 'Henry' causing chaos and my regular working hours being during the night I spent a couple of days keeping up with weather reports and looking at possible routes all over Scotland before deciding to head to Bridge Of Orchy in the Highlands for a 2 day route that would take me across two Munro's, spend a night in a mountain bothy and put my feet into more snow covered burns than I care to recall!
 The 'QMD's' or 'Quality Mountain Days' I refer to are days spent on the mountain that fulfil a list of certain conditions to be included as experience days towards earning the 'Winter Mountain Leader Award' which I have been working towards.

 Leaving Bridge Of Orchy at 10am would see me walking in the back end of the storm and involve a couple of hours night navigation (all good practice) to find the bothy. With winds forecast to be 60mph+ with gusts up to 80mph I thought the late start would be beneficial by spending less time battling the weather at the cost of losing daylight, it did have me thinking how much I do support the reintroduction of Wolves to Scotland however!
 The route took me up and over into Coire a' Ghabhalach which was a struggle to reach as the wind blew me all over through the col.
Descending slightly to take easier ground lower than occasional Avalanche debris I made steady progress until I turned North and contoured around the hill so as to not lose too much height.
 My target was the summit of Beinn Mhanach and I chose to head for the saddle below the summit from a North Westerly direction. This enabled me to make steadily gain height, though saw me at the mercy of the wind which had me down on my knees to save me being blown over as I saw a cloud of wind driven snow approaching. This wasn't the nice, pretty patterned snow flakes being blown along on the breeze but snow that had been battered by the wind and formed into hard icy pellets that hit me as though fired from an air gun, very exfoliating on exposed skin and very painful.



As I increased in height the surface became increasily icy under foot so it was on with the crampons, remembered them for once!
 Having made the summit I was rewarded by taking some satisfaction that my timing and interpretation of the weather forecasts had been fairly accurate as the weather cleared and I had occasional views of Loch Lyon beyond.
Loch Lyon
Loch Lyon just minutes later in the constantly changing conditions 
 From the summit it was quite a pleasant walk down slightly sheltered from the wind as the light began to fade and the night navigation to the bothy began, it wasn't too a difficult navigation as there wasn't anything to fall off just the regular 'burns' to fall in and peat bog to negotiate!

On reaching Gorton Bothy I quickly unpacked and took off my wet water proofs before getting a fire going and a boil in the bag meal on the stove.
I think next time it may not be worth carrying the fire wood in as most of the heat just went up the chimney though it was a morale booster having the flames going, may just take a picture of a fire to save carrying the weight!
Priorities - Wood chopped and fire going!
Overdue refreshment and a 'selfie'.
 After an interrupted nights sleep due to the cold I was up before sunrise to put on another boil in the bag meal before setting off on the route I had chosen back to Bridge Of Orchy.
Early morning Red Deer surprised to see me.
 Wednesday's route would take m up to the summit of Beinn a Chreachain, a Munro of 1081m.
Overnight snow had covered the landscape down to the glen floor and as far as the eye could see which was nice, walking in the soft drifts that had accumulated as I gained height was anything but nice. Areas of knee deep drifts that required wading through soon saw my energy levels drop along with my enthusiasm for the day ahead.

 Reaching the summit was to be the highlight of the day, as I descended the walk became a wade through the fresh snow with a small drop into a buried burn every so often entailing a moment of panic to get my out before my boots filled up with icy Scottish water.
 To be quite honest this was probably one of the lowest days I've experienced whilst on the mountains and as I grew increasingly tired due to the conditions I questioned myself as to wether I would have been committed enough to continue on the Winter mountain leader training scheme if I had many days like this at the start of the process. I have spent days in worse weather conditions and on routes demanding more attention to navigation and use of skills but this was an energy sapping, morale draining slog of a day. Deep thoughts that were definitely influenced by a massive calorie deficit through what eventually was approximately 20 hours of walking in full on Scottish winter conditions with an overnight in a cold bothy as the only respite. Deep as these thoughts momentarily were my heart soon overruled my tired brain and they became irrelevant as I have already completed the Winter ML 'hard skills' assessment week and just need to complete a few more winter mountain days to have the award ticked off (having being deferred for lack of QMD's!). Also, as is usually the case, as soon as I was out of the weather and I had a good meal inside me the slog of the day was not so much forgotten about but smiled at in a "I just did that" way. I think a touch of masochism helps for Scottish winter days!

Summary - I was hugely disappointed to have been deferred on Winter ML assessment on log book days last year, I was even more disappointed to be deferred a second time after completing a further 12 days and told only 3 had counted! I firmly believe that I have a case for having more of the required days than having been credited towards the award, and that may be something I may look into later. Having passed all the hard skills during assessment I could easily sit at home and read weather conditions and basically 'fudge' my log book to gain the award as I don't have to be reassessed or have anyone out on the hill checking my latest log book days.
However! - Being passed on assessment pending these additional log book days has given me a confidence in my skill level and in the knowledge I have absorbed throughout my training which I didn't have before, or during assessment.
Would I have attempted this trip before assessment? Would I have been happy to go with the added stress of being solo so nobody but myself to make decisions and to discuss with? I may have looked at the conditions and not had the belief that my judgement was correct,  basically it could 'get a bit spicy' if something went 'a bit wrong' on a solo, two day Scottish winter trip in a remote location, no dog walkers passing by around these parts!
Pi*sed off to have been deferred on assessment - yes.
Happy because I'm now confident in my own knowledge and skills to be able to consider conditions, find a route, make a judgement of risk and decide 'yes, I can work within my limits and still enjoy a trip out when some may put off'.

All that considered and much more importantly - 'I love this sh*t' as my mate Smally would say, pity he wasn't there to break trail!


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