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Winter Skills Diary: Day Five

As you are reading this you may well know what the weather was like in the Highlands of Scotland over the weekend. An extreme weather front started when we coming down Aonach Mor on day four. Over Thursday night the wind really picked up. The Premier Inn I was staying in was as solid as all the others I have stayed in, but I was still up most of the night because of the sheer power of the wind! When I woke up the local news reported that a group got stuck up the top of Ben Nevis and mountain rescue had to get them off the summit which took several hours because of the extreme conditions (I was relieved that we didn’t head over to Aonach Beag because that could have been us). Once we all got to Rob’s we checked the weather report which was pretty self-explanatory, high winds in the valley which would mean very high winds on the summit and fresh snow fall. The avalanche report was manageable (it was rated “considerable”) but because of the winds we wouldn’t even be able to make it to 600 metres without it being a struggle. Low level hiking was out of the picture, and summits weren’t even on our mind, what to do? Well the natural progression in winter hiking is winter climbing. So we headed over to the Ice Factor in Kinlochleven. Now let me get this clear I’m not a massive climber, I have really only experienced some grade three scrambles and a bit of indoor climbing so my feelings were pretty mixed. Before we hit the ice wall we had to “warm up” so we all got on the indoor climbing wall, this was so the instructors can assess our technique and build it up so we will be safe on the ice walls. After about two hours of climbing (and about half an hour of us skipping, running and jumping to get the blood flowing) we set off to the ice climbing wall. dayfive2small When you stand in front of a vertical ice wall all you can think of is “there is no way in hell I will be able to climb on this!” The first thing we had to do is trust in our crampons that they can take our weight. We had to dig the front two spikes of our crampons into the ice and shimmy round the ice wall. Next we had lessons on how to use the ice axes, how to dig them into the ice, how to position them properly and what to know/feel for when the ice axe has “imbedded” into the ice. Once we had a couple of tries we roped up and away we went! It was an amazing experience (once you got your head around the fact that you were climbing ice). Dare I say it I found it a million times easier than climbing a normal wall! It’s such a weird feeling that the ice axe really is only say 1 cm into the ice but it can hold your weight (as long as you pull down on the ice axe), and by digging your crampons into the ice you can free stand without using ice axes, which is also a strange feeling. dayfive4small We were climbing the ice wall for well over two hours, at least two groups came in and out while we were there so I think you can say we all enjoyed it, considering that the room temperature is -5 degrees! After a while we decided to take a break so our group sat down and had a coffee before we hit the climbing walls again. During our break, we all turned to the massive window where you can see the mountains, well on that day you couldn't! It was covered with snow cloud, you could see the wind swirls at mid sections of the mountains! We all looked at each other and said thank god we are not up there! To end the day, and the course, we headed back to Rob's to have a cuppa and debrief. We all talked about what we had learnt from the week, what our best bits were and what we think we will need to work on more. But it was a cracking (and different) day to finish a brilliant week!