Club training course hits the heights

Posted by Tony Ryan on 26/03/2013
Higher learning. Photo: Craig Rice

University of London Graduate Mountaineering Club member Craig Rice attended the BMC-organised winter mountaineering skills course in Scotland earlier this month. Find out how he got on.

The course is one of a series of training weekends organised by the BMC in response to the BMC Club Survey carried out in 2010. The survey revealed that a majority of clubs felt that they would benefit from training in specific areas, and to this end the Clubs Committee has begun to offer training to club members.

The winter skills course was based at the Alex MacIntyre Memorial Hut in North Ballachulish, and led by Adele Pennington and Paul Lewis.

Here’s Craig’s report:
"I've picked up hill walking and climbing experience over the years and for a long time wanted to visit and learn more about winter environments. Last year, 2012, I didn’t make the cut for the Jonathan Conville courses and it was too late to arrange for an instructor to take a small group of students for a weekend in Scotland. This year, 2013, was different.

I kept an eye out and the BMC's January newsletter didn’t disappoint, as the listed Club Training Courses included a Winter Skills course. With my place confirmed, and everything else planned I just needed to wait.

We covered a huge amount during the two days, starting with the basic gear needed and packing of bags for minimal stress and fuss. Planning of routes played a large part, using public resources to learn of weather and avalanche forecasts for the area and how they would impact us throughout the day.

Even on the approach we were able to pick up clues as to the conditions we expected further ahead. Throughout the day we constantly assessed the conditions around us to determine our safety, the risks and options available. Using different methods we were able to apply a great deal of techniques to give us stability on differing surfaces and the ability to navigate them safely and efficiently too, with and without crampons, an axe and even ropes.

On day one at Glen Coe, after plodding on up into the sky through the Three Sisters to just below Stob Coire nan Lochan (1115m), we practised fundamentals including: self-belay; self-arrest, with and without an axe; and safe stances. The instructors gave the group a choice: bag a summit or hone more skills. I opted for the summit and off our group went. When first introduced to front pointing, scrambling on rocks I was sceptical, however I learned to trust the metal. We reached the summit in good time, had a bite to eat and planned our route back down via the north side. Visibility was very limited, therefore navigation and pacing were crucial here. The cornices and frequently topping out climbers constantly reminded us of the many hazards surrounding us.

The instructors thought highly of the entire group after the first day and suggested a visit to Ben Nevis. We planned, packed and headed out. Passing the CIC hut and up No. 4 gully to the summit (1344m); it was awesome! New terrain and conditions presented themselves constantly, requiring time to study and plan next actions. After roping up to top out of the gully we headed, in near white out conditions, to the summit. Tired – yet successful – we navigated and paced from the summit to the descent.

I'm keen to continue learning and improving my understanding of winter conditions, including winter climbing around Scotland and abroad too. I was surprised to learn of Plas y Brenin’s mock student opportunities and they could be a great way to help develop. Thanks to the BMC for organising the course!"

Other courses on offer during 2014 include navigational skills and outdoor first aid.

Find out about 2014 club training courses

Also on offer in 2014, discounted outdoor climbing courses at Plas y Brenin for climbers aged 18 and over. Dates available from April through to October.



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