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Scotland Winter Mountaineering Trip #1

Scotland Winter Mountaineering

Scotland winter mountaineering in the Cairngorm mountains, Scottish Highlands

This is the first in a series of posts, leading up to our inaugural Scotland Winter Trip which starts on 23 February. It is no ordinary Scotland winter mountaineering trip, but the first of an handful of annual community events, in which we aim to give you the chance to get to know like-minded people, have a laugh and enjoy an adventurous week in amazing surroundings.

 

It is poignant to think that exactly one year ago, I made the long journey north, deep into the Cairngorms, shouldered a heavy rucksack and stepped out onto the hills of Lochnagar above Braemar. Inspired by the film Skyfall (Scotland, Skyfall & Ulysses), with its evocative Scottish backdrop, and the words of Tennyson in the forefront of my mind, I  tentatively set about fulfilling my plan for the next six weeks which would result in me successfully gaining my Winter Mountain Leader Award.

 

Adventures are best shared 

 

There is something satisfying, then, in announcing our Scotland winter mountaineering Community Event, in which one of the key aspects is, of course, community. Whereas I spent most of my last winter season alone, left to my thoughts and devices, this February is all about returning to share adventurous experiences together. There is great satisfaction in not only passing on skills, knowledge and experience to others, but also sharing those very same adventures with another; to return home and evoke that shared process, the sensations and reflections. This truly makes the experience whole.

 

On my first mini expedition (Highland Hobo #1), one of the main battles was with myself: I was totally alone and with recourse to no one. I vividly remember the feeling of vulnerability and the need to own my decisions, as well as any potential mistakes. It was a liberating experience, but one that I yearned to share in a broader context than that of one.

 

Good laughs, good company

 

In this way, you are invited to join us this February for the sheer pleasure of enjoying the amazing mountains of the Scottish Highlands in good company and for some good laughs. If you have never been out in winter before, we will ensure you are taught the necessary skills, and then the aim is to get on the high tops and see what the weather throws at us! For those itching to get stuck in straight away, we will brush off the cobwebs and then tackle some classic ridges and itineraries.

 

The emphasis is on good relationships, rather than running a commercial event, hence the shared minibus ride north, self-catering and cooking together. However, an all inclusive Scotland winter mountaineering trip for £350.00 is good value, so spaces are limited and fill up fast. Get in there quick!

 

For more details, see our Community page.

 


Categories: Blog, Mountaineering, Scotland, Simon, Winter
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Highland Hobo #1

The cliffs of Lochnagar. Photo courtesy of Nick Bramhall. Some rights reserved.

The cliffs of Lochnagar. Photo courtesy of Nick Bramhall. Some rights reserved.

Rather than sticking to a typically prosaic and bland title, for example, ‘WML Update’, I feel that ‘Highland Hobo’ better befits my current lifestyle and state of mind.

 

I write from the quaint, sleepy town of Ballater, having spent the last three days in the Lochnagar area. Southern Cairngorms. The conditions were rather lacking in the winter department, apart from New Year’s Day, which was was cold and viciously windy. Thereafter, the onset of a rather prolonged thaw brought rain and mild weather, depleting the snowpack and rendering most areas a soggy mess.

 

Nevertheless, I managed three big days, traversing Lochnagar south to north on day one; the plateau east to west on day two; and finally returning from Loch Callater to Loch Muick (pronounced ‘Mick’) yesterday. On all days I took in high Munros and the opportunity to practise WML (Winter Mountain Leader) skills.

 

The main challenge I found was the mental one – all elements, whether decision-making, risk assessment or potential for failure were reduced to a factor of one. There is no one to talk to, no one with whom to share thoughts or plans, no one to ease one’s anxieties and no one with whom to laugh. Solo winter hillwalking or mountaineering requires a great degree of self reliance and determination – something that is key in the UK outdoor ethic – all the more so when undertaking a multi-day expedition.

 

Still, the chance to savour the unique Highland scenery, beautiful light and wild weather was wonderful. I especially enjoyed the freedom in abandoning the continual temptation to check the weather and avalanche forecasts, consulting them once at the beginning with a three day outlook in mind, and then making my progress and choices based on current hill conditions. The snowpack was no doubt benign, but the three-day hill journey seemed to contain a greater degree of consistency and integrity as a result of focussing more on directly underfoot and overhead conditions than those gained electronically.

 

I am glad for a rest day and the chance to wash and shave (a sell-out hobo, clearly!), but keen to get out again tomorrow for the next instalment in the Northern Cairngorms. You can’t keep a hobo down…

 

 

Simon is the Morocco Director and an instructor with The Mountain People. He is currently preparing for his Winter Mountain Leader assessment, as chronicled by the ‘Highland Hobo’ series.

Categories: Blog, NGBs, Personal, Simon, Winter
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Scotland, Skyfall & Ulysses

I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees: all times I have enjoyed
Greatly, have suffered greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone

My next six weeks will be spent in Scotland preparing for my Winter Mountain Leader (WML) assessment. The WML award validates the individual to lead parties on hill walks within the UK under winter conditions. I will spend the time undertaking a number of short expeditions to various areas, to gain winter experience, practise the relevant skills (such as ropework) and, of course, do plenty of navigation, which is key in tougher, wilder, winter weather.

 

It seems hubristic announcing this so openly, with the obvious expectation that I will pass (the WML is widely considered to be the hardest of the UK outdoor qualifications physically and mentally). However, I want to share the experience, as I am able, partly because of my sheer enjoyment of the outdoors and partly out of a love of writing about my experiences and the thoughts and feelings that they prompt.

 

With this in mind, I was inspired recently, having watched the latest James Bond film, Skyfall, which borrowed several locations from Scotland: Glencoe and Glen Etive. It included the wonderful shot of Buachaille Etive Mor from the Kingshouse-Rannoch Moor direction.  The current weather forecasts are rather depressing with massive low pressure depressions battering the country. However, it was impossible not to catch the sense of wild and adventure from the film and project it forward for my yet undocumented adventure.

 

Skyfall also drew my attention to the poetry of the great Lord Tennyson, quoting the final lines from Ulysses:

 

Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

 

What a joy, then, to hear poetry evoking the Classical era coupled with the fine landscapes of Scotland!

 

The speaker in the poem is, of course, Ulysses, probably known better by his Greek title, Odysseus, the hero who masterminded the downfall of Troy – well deserving of his heroic epithet, Sacker of Cities. He speaks of the end of his rule, the transfer of power to his son Telemachus. The tones are melancholic and mindful of the former glories, Odysseus all too aware that his strength is waning. However, the strength of his spirit remains powerful and resilient, and the call of his speech is clear: there is still much to be done!

 

Skyfall drew parallels with Odysseus and Telemachus (as well as Turner’s magnificent The Fighting Temaraire) to illustrate the dwindling influence of Great Britain – a nation with a great heritage, but facing an uncertain future – and the natural cycle of manpower within its constituent institutions. I particularly liked the appearances of the Union Jack bulldog – with its unmissable references to Churchill and British national spirit – precisely because, if you looked closely, it had been shattered, but put together again.

 

We often feel unprepared in life, unready for the works and challenges that lie ahead. This might be as a result of family circumstances, busyness, stress or fear. However, I think we should all draw from the example of Odysseus, as related through Tennyson: keep moving, don’t make an end, savour shared experiences with friends.

 

How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!
As though to breathe were life. Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains: but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this grey spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

 

I am on the brink of what I consider a great personal endeavour, and cannot help but feel small. I take heart from Odysseus and encourage you to do so too. As I tackle each of my expeditions, I hope to share with you a small part of what I have endured, and hope that you will similarly be inspired.

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