Once again I'm back at work all to soon after a fantastic holiday. Our week at Glenmore Lodge certainly delivered all that it promised. I didn't want to leave. And despite my wishes of getting snowed in the efficient staffed ploughed the car park and provided giant shovels for digging the car out. We were treated to the biggest snow dump in recent years. So much snow in fact that the ski centre remained closed for a day and a half!
Our instructor, Doug, was patient, knowledgeable and it was a privilege to spend 5 days on the hill with him. Likewise the other members of our group were all good company. They were probably a little over qualified for the course but didn't make us feel like we were holding them back.
The weather was so extreme that we only made it to the top of the Cairngorm Plateau once. That was on day 2 via a shallow snow gully from Coire an Sneachda. Not quiet hard enough to be graded but kicking in the crampons, clinging to my axe whilst battling 35mph gusts it certainly felt exposed to me. No photos were taken that day. I was too busy trying to stay on the mountain!
We also did a lot of work around navigation, route choice and avalanche avoidance. There is so much to learn and so much that can only really be gained through experience and practice.
By Thursday the whole of Glenmore had transformed into a magical winter wonder land. With the main access road closed due to the amount of snow our options were limited. Doug put into action 'Plan D'. A day of snow appreciation. We snowshoe'd west towards Chalamain gap and spent the day building and learning about snow shelters. We had glimpses of still blue skies, whilst we tried to take in the awesome views of the snow covered coires. Snow so deep and pure that it looked like the hill had been covered in royal icing.
We all went to bed that night hoping conditions would remain calm, it wasn't to be. Friday, our last day, was the day that I felt like a true mountaineer. Decisions were made based on forecasts and Doug's local knowledge but we wouldn't know what the conditions were really like until we were in them.
We hoped to follow a path trod by a group the previous day. However, more snow had fallen and strong winds had covered any tracks. After two and a half hours of wading through thigh deep snow and howling winds we were less than a third of the way along the ridge to Cairn Gorm. It wasn't a long conversation and a "good mountaineering decision" was made. We turned around and headed back. Our snowshoe imprints already blasted off the mountain side. We would even have to brake trail to get down. There were now snow drifts nearly 6ft high and visibility was poor. I wasn't too disappointed to be turning back.
It's strange how quickly I became institutionalized and how much I thrived on it. 0745hrs: breakfast, 0900hrs: out on the hill, 1700hrs: tea and cake, 1800hrs: lecture or climbing wall, 1900hrs: dinner, 2000hrs: lecture, 2100hrs: bar, 2230hrs: heavy eyes and achy limbs. Repeat.
I can't recommend Glenmore Lodge enough. We're already planning our next trip.