The winter seems to have been coming and going. Its seems that one day I can be struggling to drive to the hills and sinking thigh deep in soft snow followed by wet black hills the next morning and a rise of 10 degrees.
With the fickle nature of our winter in Scotland it is often difficult to know which days are going to be amazing and which are just going to be a wash out. With an eye kept on the met office forecasts, Mountain Weather Information Scotland (MWIS) and the Scottish Avalanche Information Service (SAIS) I have been able to get out and about.
Most the January I have been building up to sitting my Winter Mountain Leader assessment (WML). Last March I managed to pass 4 out of the 5 days required for the WML award and thus I had to return to complete one extra day. This extra day was to assess my use of winter navigation had been haunting me all summer leaving me thinking if I really could navigate in the winter mountains of Scotland.
Luckily I have a very good community of friends who gathered around me and took me into the hills to put me through my paces quite literally. I practised walking on a bearing in poor visibility, aiming off, use of catchment features, good route choice for the conditions, timings in differing conditions of snow, slope aspect and much much more. I found myself pacing everywhere, almost unable to switch the function off as I would realise counting my paces around tesco in Inverness. My brain would be a busy mess of thoughts and doubts as I would trudge though yet more soft snow.
Suddenly the day came and it was off to the Cairngorms once again. The time was set for 18:00 starting in the dark by the light of my head-torch I knew it was not going to be an easy evening stroll. Although the weather seemed stable and the snow was crisp and crunchy, at least to start with. By the time we had made our way up to the top of Cairngorm the weather seemed to be turning and the wind picking up. Down into coire raibeirt to find a hidden stream junction and the snow became very soft leaving me sinking up to my knees and even crawling at times. As we made our way across the plateau the views were now disappearing the moon and stars vanished and we were plunged into the white room with a star wars effect as the snow whizzed past my head-torch. One final navigation point then back to the car park. Feeling rather blasted, confused and thinking far too much for half past midnight I wondered on my outcome and result as I fell into yet another snow drift not managing even to find the path to walk out on. As we walked back into the car park to find we were the only car left Matt said congratulation and shook my gloved hand. Relief, I’d done it all the build up and all the mental energy spend wondering and worrying, over, finished.
A big huge thank you to all my friends who helped me, to my family who believed in me even when I didn’t. As I write the weather has turned from strong wind and snow to light wind and beautiful sunshine. The battle to find winter continues…