A pal put a photo up of our Annual Winter Course in the Cairngorms and Ben Nevis where we introduced many to a Scottish Winter. As always we were involved in many call outs. The lessons of taking care were always heightened when often on the first two days of winter skills the odd climber would hurtle out of a Gully and land at our feet!
These made a few of the younger folk and us all take even more care when mountaineering in winter. I look back on instructing and running over 30 annual winter Course and we learned so much! They were a hard two weeks with one day off and so physical. It was the constant checking of the weather and avalanche conditions and planning the climbing were always a busy time and day after day it took its toll.
Many times we struggled for good conditions and ended up bothying or intensive navigation training a key winter skill! On the “blue sky@ days I remember getting 6 routes in Corrie an’t Sneachda climbed in a day . The Corries were full of characters and it was always great to be back safe after an adventure.
At night we had lectures many from the top climbers or Avalanche experts enhancing our knowledge.
On the wild days on the Ben or Hell’s ‘Lum it would be a wait at the top of the routes for the new winter leaders on their first big lead, the cold hanging about memories. Then arriving late with exhausted troops to maybe a call out ! Looking back how did we do it!
The troops soon appreciated the skills taught and how a slip in winter can end up in a disaster! The climb is only part it’s getting of the crag in the dark or poor weather and the hanging about in Glencoe, the Ben or the Cairngorms with the heater full up!
I was glad to leave the responsibility of running the courses and getting the troops all back after a days climbing safely was enough for me!
Giving the young leaders responsibility on a big route on the Ben was interesting to see how they coped and thankfully few let us down over the years!
This year the RAF Mountain Rescue will be up for their annual winter course and things move on. Health and Safety applies now even more but we were doing hill assessments every day and monitoring the routes planned each night taking into the consideration experience, weather, Avalanche report and conditions.
Now it is more formal and things improve as the gear, knowledge, modern technology improves but the danger is still there.
Mountaineering is dangerous but with good training simple skills the risks are more manageable and you learn every winter.
So enjoy this big winter but practise the basic skills no matter the improvements in gear and technology it’s your skill that gets you through the winter safely!