Mountain Journeys

Winter skills course

This weekend saw a return of the snow and just in time for our 2 day winter skills course for Will & Helen.

About 5 years ago I took Will climbing around Langdale, he's now pushing grade 7a or in other words, climbing very well indeed.

But this weekend is all about winter in the mountains and how to prepare, cope, and deal with the conditions in the UK mountains when the snows arrive.

On Saturday we spent a lot of time near the ski centre on Raise. Here there was plenty of consolidated snow that was perfect for practicing Ice Axe arrest, self belay, steep ground skills, and crampon techniques. We finished off with a walk to the summit of Raise and some great views. The weather was pretty kind, no precipitation and a wind speed of about 25mph.

Sunday was a completely different story!!
The weather forecast was quite horrid, with storm force winds and whiteout forecast along with heavy precipitation. We aimed to stay around the Red tarn area of Helvellyn and that's exactly what we did. Walking up towards the tarn we were being buffeted around and spindrift would cut into our faces even though our hoods were securely up, this was going to be interesting.

A solitary climber walked passed us, he was hoping to climb a gully on the Helvellyn headwall! Seemed optimistic to say the least. Later he passed us again, on his way out, having left the gully for another day.
More climbers passed us, again they were retreating from the storm and deep snow.

We found a safe place tucked under the headwall and with plenty of rock above us to alleviate the avalanche risk. From this base we set about doing the most logical thing possible, constructing a snow shelter of course.
Once built this provided virtually complete shelter from the howling gale that was now swirling around us.

After a brief rest for a bite to eat and warm drinks we back our retreat as by now the wind had become even stronger and at times it was an effort to stand upright.

So whilst we weren't able to stick to a schedule today, the lessons learnt from being out in the wilds of winter are invaluable and every bit as important as other winter based skills. Stay flexible in your planning, adjust if necessary, retreat before things get out of hand.

All in all a really fab weekend, thanks so much to Will & Helen for your good company and seemingly boundless enthusiasm.

Mark

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