Have you ever hiked in a Winter storm?
“It was titillating to brush up against the enigma of mortality, to steal a glimpse across its forbidden frontier. Climbing was a magnificient activity, I firmly believed, not in spite of the inherent perils, but precisely because of them.” ― Jon Krakauer, Into Thin Air
I sit here, in Aviemore, with a coffee and a winter view to rival any mountain environment in the world - An entire world, away from home in London.
Nearly 10cm of snow has fallen in the past couple of hours and, with 20-30cm of the fresh white stuff expected up high, I've deemed it too dangerous to head into the mountains. So... Here is my first blog post!
Winter Hiking in UK
The 2018 City Mountaineering Winter Hiking season has got off to a great start with conditions that would challenge any hardened mountaineer.
The Introduction to Winter Mountaineering trip certainly was a great introduction for the group with Day-1 delivering high winds and complete whiteout conditions, whilst Day-2 offered clear skies and magnificent mountain views.
We love to see those photos of blue skies and white mountains, but it's not always such a picture-postcard place to be...
Have you ever hiked in a whiteout? The sky blends with the ground. A ground in which you have security. A firm footing. Safety.
The whiteout offers nothing for the sense that we rely on most in the mountains - sight!
Up, down, forward, back, left, right... Everything is white!
You walk forwards not knowing what you are about to step on. Is it firm, snow-packed ground, or is it thin air at the edge of a cliff?
We moved slowly and methodically. I followed the compass. The group followed my every step.
We hiked 5km through the whiteout, with a precipitous drop of 300m being offered by the ridge on our right-hand side... Invigorating... Exciting... Scary (Deadly?) to the uninitiated.
Then came the wind...
The second trip has just ended and to say it was a little challenging would be a slight understatement!
With thawing conditions from warmer weather over the previous few days, we had to get up high to practice Winter hiking and safety techniques... This sounds easy enough... We hike above the snow line at 650m and have a play around... Simple.
However!! The wind had other ideas and presenting us with 140km/h gusts, the mountain gods really didn't want us to climb high this weekend!
I tried to get the group up to 900m, if only to experience this wild force of nature. However, it was at 850m when I watched the group almost get strewn across the snowy landscape like discarded confetti.
It was then I decided (after chuckling hard to myself) that it was time to turn around... I think they understood the power of the wind...
We did as much as we could do at the lower heights and the wind enabled us to dig emergency shelters in real conditions - If only to create some shelter for a spot of lunch...
Whilst we didn't manage to cover everything that was planned, the groups have certainly experienced Winter Mountaineering at its hardest.
And what continues to amaze me is how the groups that I lead in the mountains take everything in their stride with a beaming smile on their faces.
How else would they experience such wild environments, so far removed from their comfortable lives in the city? These are conditions in which you would not usually leave home to venture to the local shops, let alone face it head on in the wild mountains!
And so the season continues...
The winter season, so far, is looking very promising! After last year's mild, dry winter, it's great to see the mountains covered in snow once again!
The snow continues to fall and consolidate here in Scotland. Let's hope that the temperatures stay cold to bring a very prosperous season without incident!
Visions move from the storms to previous seasons' trips in more benign, and certainly much easier conditions...