Ten of us met at the Corie Cas bar at 9:00. Skitouring experience varied across the group, from quite new to the sport to experienced skitourers, who just wanted to spend a day out in a good company. Before we kicked off, we covered some theoretical aspects of skitouring and discussed essentials that every skitourer should have in their rucksack. It was a good opportunity to get caffeine boost, so much needed given that most of us had to leave their house before the sun was up. The weather was reasonably good at the start but soon clouds came low, and all slopes over 1000 m were buried in fog.

Snow cover looking from the car park was thin and patchy. We could hardly see any larger patches, and when we did they were separated by big boulder fields. The plan was to attack Coire an t-Sneachda or just play in Lurcher’s gully. None looked good but we decided to look for a play in the latter. Suprisingly, we managed to start skinning almost straight from a car park. We had to cross a few burns, which was fun (see picture), and navigate between boulder fields which was fun too.

We found our playground on the easterly slopes of the hill dropping to Lurcher’s gully. We did a few laps, and practised zig zags, kick turns, various techniques of taking skins off (see picture) and skiing in wet and heavy snow, and occasionally heather. The level of difficulty was raised by Paul’s dog Brèagha who was trying to bite our skins and (ski) tails off. Coming back was surprisingly easy and we did really well on skis all the way down to the car park, and believe me or not, without hitting any rocks.

We all agreed that it was a great day, because we spent more time skiing than walking (we have hardly walked at all), we could see where we were skiing (some were complaining that contrast was not great), it was not freezing cold, bitterly windy or raining (like it usually does), and we enjoyed our company what was the only thing which has not surprised me today.

By Jan Sznajd

The team: Rachel, Lyndsey, Alice, Cerys, Dan, Bass, Paul, Paul’s dog, Derek, Graham and Jan

Special thanks to Graham for help with teaching and guiding, and to Derek for pictures

A superb week’s guided backcountry ski touring was held in March 2017 in the Tatra Mountains of Poland, thanks to Jan Sznajd’s excellent organisation and inside knowledge.  This was truly a trip like no other; with a few trip member’s commenting that it was possibly the ‘’best week they’d ever had’’

A group of seven IBSC members met at Jan’s house in Zakopane south of Krakow in the Tatra mountains of southern Poland on the Slovakia border on a cold Saturday evening in March, having flown via various carriers from the UK to Krakow’ some members taking budget (or not as the case may be) Ryan Air and Easy Jet, and some taking KLM via Amsterdam.  The next day Jan, Gordon, Xavier, David, Duncan and Lizzie set off into the hills under the care of Alek; a very experienced local Polish guide and friend of Jan, who knew the Tatras like no one else.

After a couple of hours sleep, the group set off early on the first morning to the local Chocholowska valley.  We were picked up by a military vehicle and, hidden like refugees in the back undercover with all our gear, transported 8km to a hut at 1148m which was just at the snow level given the time of year. 

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After a quick delicious breakfast consisting of mostly Polish sausages with excellent coffee, our first ski trip was to Rakon at 1879m.   Our plan was to climb to Wolowiec at 2064m, but due to bad weather we decided to head down early and were rewarded with most excellent powder skiing. Dinner in the evening consisted of rather traditional Polish mountain hut food: ‘’Bigos’’ (cabbage stew), ‘’Zurek’’ (fermented rye flour soup), ‘’flaczki’’ (tripe) and ‘’pierogi’’ (dumplings), which when washed down with several beers was rather splendid.

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After a sound sleep in our quiet hut, our second day skiing was spent in thick fog and mist, but nevertheless some fresh snow as well.   This initially consisted of a steep ascent to Trzydniowianski Wierch at 1758m.  Some of the group enjoyed a short powder ski between trees, before heading to Konczysty Wierch at 2002m.  There was fog aplenty, although some seriously enjoyable runs were had in true powder especially the lower parts.  Another filling Polish meal and second night at the hut were enjoyed by all, and Jan made us all feel very welcome to his country.  

They say third time lucky, and our patience was rewarded on the third day with wall to wall sunshine, blue skies, light winds and great snow skiing all together.  This was a long whole day trip to Lopata at 1958m, with terrific ascents and descents, stunning scenery over all the high Tatra mountains of Slovakia and Poland, and plenty of Vitamin D with it feeling positively warm out the wind climbing.  Absolutely brilliant; no other words to really describe how good this was.

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Our fourth day together consisted of an early morning transfer from our first hut to the region of the High Tatra mountains.  We ascended to a col at Zawrat at 2159m climbing a steep gully with use of boot and ski crampons, as well as ice axes and a good sense of humour.   We descended in fog and crusty snow conditions, and hardly managed to find our next hut in the Five Lakes Valley at 1671m.  Without our local Polish guide Alek, who would often be heard to say ‘’Lizzie, come’’ ‘’Gordon, here!’’, we would have been seriously disorientated.  His expertise and local knowledge were second to none and we were given more personal attention than we’d have found elsewhere.

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Our fifth day skiing was another day of excellent visibility but very strong winds.  we did two ascents and descents, the last one being Nizni Kostur at 2055m. The ascents were steep and rocky initially, but then rewarded with a beautiful descent into a corrie by the frozen lakeside, where lunch consisted of more Polish sausage and local bread.  A second night and final evening in our second hut was enjoyed by all with plenty of fine beer, wine and polish vodka to top off a most excellent day on the hill.

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Our sixth and final ski day was spent climbing Szpiglasowa col at 2110m, consisting of a tricky descent initially, then playing around in the corrie and local gullies which was great fun.  By late afternoon we descended down to Morskie Oko hut for a hot drink.  Our ultimate transfer out of this valley back to civilisation was by traditional horse and cart, which took us to our more modern taxi back to Zakopane.  We enjoyed the remainder of our final evening all together in a Polish sauna complex consisting of several saunas and ice baths with much entertainment and bonding in between.  A truly sumptuous dinner was had by all in a local famous trout restaurant, before returning back to Krakow in a modern taxi and all staying at Jan’s parent’s house where we were made to feel truly welcome.

Our final day in Poland consisted of Krakow sightseeing to varying degrees whilst exploring craft beers and fine dining, before some of us left for the airport to make our way back via various means to northern Scotland.  This hereby ended an absolutely spectacular trip to the Tatra mountains in Poland, professionally organised all voluntarily by Jan Sznajd, who deserves huge thanks for putting so much of his free time and effort into organising such a great trip that ran faultlessly throughout and gave a few privileged members of IBSC a ‘’trip of a lifetime’’ that they would never forget.  One thing’s for sure: as well as fabulous powder skiing and great views, this area of Poland offers skiing and lodging at excellent value with superb local food, drink and amenities.  We will all never forget eating Polish sausage under the stars, group bonding in a sauna complex, and being guided across knife edge ridges in thick mist with near vertical drops.  I, for one, am truly grateful to Jan for the most unforgettable week skiing with such a great group, and one of the best week’s holidays I have ever had.

Written by Duncan Brown, October 2017

With special thanks to Jan Sznaijd

Images thanks to Jan, Alek and Duncan.

By Nicky Jackson (pictures by Hamish Frost). We set off in calm weather up to the CIC Hut. A heavy camera bag and a mountain of gear made for slow going and we arrived in darkness to the hut. Snow conditions this year have been poor, but we were optimistic after hearing from climbers that the gulleys still had snow and there had been fresh snowfall during the week.

We were really thrilled to have photographer, Ben Read (www.benreadphotography.com) and journalist Simon Akam (www.simonakam.com), with us to record our weekend. An article is set to be published later this year in Outside Magazine.

 

On Day 1 we skied from the top of No 4 Gulley. We all dropped from the headwall. Icey scrapes echoed down the gulley, but part way down the slope softened up and made for a great run. We then went on a mission up No 3, with narrow, concave slopes forming a dicey entry. A few keen beans/mountain goats went for another run part way up No 2.

In the evening we all shared a meal in the hut. A Dictaphone was taken out and we were interviewed by Simon Akam, our Journalist for the weekend.

Day 2, we hiked round to Observatory gulley. We took our axes and crampons out before it got steep and icey. Lots of photos were taken of us in action by Ben Read, both candid and posed for. Some went most of the way up Observatory gulley and we all skied right to the end of the snow line, with Finbar winning on the longest run down to the rocks.

Although the snow line was further back from the years before and the cornices less pronounced, it was still incredible to ski at the end of April on the Ben with such an awesome group of people.

NB. Graham the Mountain Goat lost at Gin Rummie and has agreed to swim in the Lochern next year, or Finbar will ski across it if his Dad decides it is not a day for ice swimming.

A weird end of season feel has 

By Rhona Steel.

IBSC in Spiterstulen, Jotunheimen                                          Norway March 2017

Disclaimer: the views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the NSAA, International branch.

Lørdag: is                             Saturday: ice

A week of westerlies has scoured the slope we ascend. Afternoon heat and sunset freezes have formed blisters of ice, which lurk beneath fine layers of powder. Ski edges barely scar it as we traverse. Concerns are unvoiced till one exits,saved by a ski pole arrest. Up over a col, we arrive at a corrie of perfect white. Glittertind beckons through the cloud, but not for this our first day.  We rename the peaks by shape, struggle with Norwegian pronunciation.  

The snow on this plateau is hard, soft, icy, but as we return through the col, the afternoon heat has softened the snow and we weave through the rocks, our laughter echoing across the valley. The hill catches another, who lands on ice, cartwheels over rocks, but bounces back. We empty our flasks, unwinding in the late afternoon sunshine.

Søndag: breen                    Sunday: glaciers

Svellnosbrean and Tverrabrean

Morning sun and startling blue skies as we file up the valley; long stick shadow puppets beat time at our feet. Orographic cloud, I'm told, tops the hills.  We’re rewarded with a skyline of creeping glacier, blue seracs grinding memories in the inevitable cycle of life.

A slope of untouched powder, we carve it up and onto the next glacier.  The wind picks up and we dig in for another lunch, sandwiches getting ever taller than the day before.  Wind and flat light stop play.

Smørbrød                             Sandwiches

Bread with ham, salami, beef, gherkins, boiled eggs, beetroot, olives, coleslaw, prawns, pickled chillis, pickled herring, pickled herring with tomatoes, pate, soft cheese, blue cheese, hard cheese, cheese with caraway, cheese with holes, brown cheese, cheese you would not want to meet in the dark, tomatoes, cucumber, carrots, seeds, biscuits, dried fruit, oranges.Vel bekomme!

Mandag: trær                       Monday: trees

Weather forecast reads ‘frisk bris, -4’.  We take shelter in tree skiing, weaving through the trees, rocks and burns, following Roy and Howard’s unlikely tracks.  Is Howard really tall enough to straddle that sapling?

A natural stop at a fire pit for outdoor ed, we languish in the suntrap, while others explore, down towards the ravine. We skin back, but Sandy waxes lyrically up through the rocks.

We discuss plans for the week and another hut visit, but the weather is against us if we want to try for Galdhøpiggen.

Tirsdag: Sætre                    Tuesday: shieling

The current occupants’ ancestors moved down the track from Gamelsaetre to  Spiterstulen in 1750, birch snow poles mark the way.  We are drawn up the valley on blue wax, troll-like cairns whisper of bigger and better views. Hares’ tracks are everywhere, but they remain undetectable in this magical monochrome.  20km of stride and glide: some of us are feeling it.

Skål!                                       Cheers! (from old Norse for quaich)

Oodles of bottles of duty free wine and cans from a snatched foray in the supermarket: there are murmurings that they might not get finished in time and the boys set about making a name for themselves...

Onsdag: Minigolfing         Wednesday: skin up choice slopes, stuff skins up your jacket, carve it up

Wind again keeps us from the higher ground, so we go for a wander and a carve.  Sandy digs a snow pit revealing the weak layers we'd been warned of.  Roy’s gone for a quiet wander and we rejoin him at the mouth of a hanging valley, he stands arms raised, it’s all his. Turning for the evening, settling into an impossibly long telemark turn on powder, I praise and give thanks to the master of telemark instruction - you may know him as Sandy.

Torsdag: brehest                           Thursday: nunatak

(literal translation: glacier horse, so said mountain guide Niall)

‘Frisk!’ says a fellow guest and shrugs. These Norwegians are tough, tend towards understatement.  It’s blowing a hoolie again and it is bitter.  We divide into two groups: one heads towards the nunatak glacier and we head up Galdhøppigen.  The wind is forecast to drop.

We zigzag up with kick turns and shuffles, scarring ice blisters. Roy offers to lead and skins straight up: his toes reach his knees. We cut across.  Up past the tree line, where a reindeer breathed its last; up through cloud, mist and spindrift. Three ptarmigan flee as we look for shelter for the first sandwich stop, boiled eggs frozen around the yolk.  Onwards up to a bowl where the snowdevils dance, viewed by banks of mist.  Impossibly perfect mini landscapes forming and reforming at our feet.

John speeds up, drawn by the views over the glacier and hilltops that are all ours. Man, it’s ‘frisk’. Go to the summit and descend in the dark, or enjoy the descent, which we suspect may still be icy?  Common sense wins and the top’s for another day.

Spindrift has started making sastrugi, but when we go over the brow it's all powder. John flies past, rictus grin, teeth sparkling in the sunshine, snow fanning off his tails.   Andy’s -15 wax kicked in and he headed for steep bits to scrape it off; now he's twirling telemarks below in the distance. A rock reaches up through the snow and nips at Roy’s ski. He sits in the waist deep powder, a dark glacier horse surveying his domain. We get carried away, but Andy’s waypoint leads us back from the gully.   

Down through the trees, a few more nose dives and back in time for tea.

 

Fredag: hytte           Friday: Hut

The spindrift is deep and driving. Roy and Howard are addicted and set off. The rest of us drift.

Lørdag: vind og vann                   Saturday: wind and water

It's the first time we've seen beads of water on the tips of our skis.  As we turn up to Tverrabrean, the wind hits us and soon the visibility is low, the snow busy sculpting in every crevice.  Waiting to regroup, it's immediately freezing.   A snow layer shifts under our feet with a thud. Those with beards head up onto the glacier.  For us smoother chins, turning downwind transports us into another world of lazy turns and wanderings.  We finish the tour ‘minigolfing’ to the sound of avalanche as an unseasonal thaw sets in.

Tusen takk to all at Spiterstulen for their hospitality and craic and to Sven who drove us the 18km of iced-over single track to the main road. Mostly, thanks to my fellow IBSC companions for their planning and great company.

By Mike Cawthorne. Imagine going to a place where you can’t check snow conditions prior to leaving, no webcams, no SAIS report, no Facebook postings. Has anyone even heard of Coire Leachavie?

Strawberry cottage in the wilds of Glen Affric is a new venue for IBSC and it was apparent that none of the twelve members gathered had ever skied the surrounding hills, the likes of Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan, Mam Sodhail, Càrn Eighe, Mullach Fraoch-choire, A’ Chralaig, names that resonate with all who love the Northwest Highlands.

On Saturday morning and beneath the promised blue skies, five of the party who were without skis trundled off to climb Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan and tackle its stunning ridge. The remainder, six skiers and a split boarder, headed east on the path above Loch Affric and swung north into Coire Leachavie.

The toiling began, the juices flowed. And then evaporated. After five kilometres and five hundred metres of ascent the happy gaggle of skiers that had left the cottage were strung out like a ragged peloton and as one by one we reached the snow all seemed to fall upon it and kiss it like a long lost friend, albeit a friend with a crusty face.

But it was snow and newly buoyed we skinned the upper corrie and burst onto the ridge. The views were simply jaw-dropping, hills in a great orbit from Torridon to Ben Nevis and beyond. There was time to climb to Mam Sodhail and after more wordless gawping at the scenery we deskinned and went sailing down the south ridge on spring snow, over the lip into shade to tackle the ski-gobbling crust, each in his or her own style, fast or pedestrian, in smooth pleasing arcs or staccato fashion that left a trail of craters. Either way the fun was over all too soon. No snow ribbons burnside to chase in the afternoon sun, just an abrupt vanishing. The story of the winter.

The hill-walking party enjoyed similar vistas, theirs with a more western flavour. Heady with the alcohol of sun and views, Duncan and Lizzie remained on the high crests and we began to wonder about them until their arrival matched the serving of dinner, a hearty Rogan Josh courtesy of Jan and Monika. All a little weary and faces red from sun we toasted the day and spoke of the high corries seen, their lines and headwalls and of future winters that would blanket them. 

In the morning some drifted homewards along the track while two parties made for the great northeast shoulder of Mullach Fraoch-choire. Of yesterday’s tourers only Jan bothered to carry skis. Lugging skis all day for the promise of few minutes downhill was not just a Scottish thing it seems.

A long steady ascent and so warm and windless some of us had to detour to find water and two in the other party climbed the ridge shirtless and lay in a great drift of snow. We watched as Duncan, Lizzie and Xavier attempted the final snowy crest to the summit but they turned around. Too steep and the drops too huge. From our vantage we could survey the pinnacled crest to A’ Chralaig and high corries and possible lines, a backcountry arena of the future.

From a distance we spied Jan drop into gully. It narrowed and for a few seconds he was gone, lost among bands of dark rock, and guessing where he would appear a tiny figure emerged swerving the many obstacles and crossing the lower corrie, stitching like a master weaver the last strands of snow. He climbed back to our stance to enjoy one last slide and his tracks drew a double line under a fine weekend. But I think we would all barter a little of the sun for a little more snow. 

"Basecamp Sneachda" didn't go ahead due to lack of snow so we instead took an chance to go to the Grey Corries and ski some of the snow there. Personally I didn't expect such a  beasting so I was delighted to find myself sweating my way up a steep slope with no snow in sight!

We had driven to the furthest point you can get to without smashing gates down and sauntered up through the trees to the point we could break onto the hill proper. This is where the beasting started as there is no easy way to avoid major exertion when carrying skis and boots. The boots really add to the load. 

Once we actually reached the snow, which was at about 750 metres, we donned skis and headed up the north slope of Stob Coire Gaibhre. The sharp rocks were in evidence and ready to rip any skins to shreds that came into contact. 

 Stob Coire Claurigh has some excellent ski corries but they require an earlier start that we had planned so will have to wait for another day. The dog did explore to the east and reported excellent snow conditions. 

Most of the party had summit fever and wanted to get to the top of the Munro even if it meant leaving skis slightly lower down. The views were excellent as they have been most of the season due to the stable weather. Tìr nam Beann indeed. 

We got about 300 metres of descent which you might laugh at but in this truly poor season, is not to be missed. It's about being out on the hill though isn't it?

By Duncan Brown

There may have been poor snow cover, and there may have been gale force winds & lashing rain all of Friday night, but a sturdy group of 7 IBSC members met on a dark stormy Friday night in a forestry commission carpark by Achnashellach for an adventure.  We were to meet the legend known as Eric; who took us in his 4x4 8km up an offroad track to the impressive remote Glenuig lodge up Gleann Fhiodhaig, with James following closely behind in his vehicle.

It was here that Eric promptly opened up Glenuig lodge for us & started the fire, briefly explaining in part how the hydroelectricity & gas worked, and where the generator was, before disappearing into the night, promising he’d help if we call him.  Under an hour later, the power went out and the slogan ‘’Call Eric’’ became the motto for the weekend along with much banter and horror stories. This didn’t deter us for all enjoyed James’ superb Bolognese dinner. We all enjoyed a night sleep listening to the wind howling outside with gas heaters & candlelight making for a romantic Friday evening.  Eric did however return Saturday bright and early at 0930, with a cheery grin on his face amid talk of a cleaning lady and Lanzarote.

The powder may have melted with just a few snow patches higher up, but Saturday made for a bright & breezy hill walk altogether bagging a Munro; we ascended Sron na Frianach to summit Sgurr a' Chaorachainn, then along ridge to Bidean an Eoin Deirg. 

Group then split, with James, Lizzie, Duncan & David descending a grade 1 scramble on NE ridge down to Drochaid Mhuilich, and the others descending as per outward ascent.  We enjoyed some panoramic views with strong gusts on ridge & much windchill but very little daylight hours’ precipitation.

After Duncan & Lizzie reclimbed the valley to locate a missing camera, a fine evening was had with copious amounts of splendid wining & dining.  The evening started with fine champagne courtesy of James, with everyone enjoying steak pie & blueberry cake desert which Lizzie had prepared.  More beer, wine, whiskey & rum, along with irish coffee was enjoyed relaxing by the fire in a splendid lounge, where one could have been 100 years ago with nothing unchanged. 

Sunday morning started with a cooked breakfast, then the group split.  Lizzie & Duncan enjoyed a fell run down Pollan Buidhe then up the southern slope of Sgurr nan Ceannaichean (915m) to enjoy a ridge run encompassing Moruisg (928m) the Munro of the day, before descending sharply back to Glenuig.  A little brightness was witnessed with cloud base at 900-1000m, before closing in rapidly after 1400hrs.  Nevertheless, the Torridon and Glen Carron Munros were briefly witnessed. 

Jan & Monika enjoyed a walk up from Glenuig on old stalkers’ path to Coire a’ Chlaiginn, whilst David walked out back to Achnashellach, making for an earlier return.  Jamie had left Saturday evening to return for a commitment.

The weekend would not be complete without an open water ‘loch bag’ so without a loch nearby, the nearest plunge pool had to do; Monika, Duncan & Lizzie enjoyed a ‘fresh’ dip in the pool followed by warm bath and James’ lasagne which tasted even better as a result.

Sunday 1500hrs & the heavens opened to cold lashing rain with strong winds again; it was time to head out with all piled into James’ 4x4 for a bumpy ride out.  We didn’t end up needing to ‘Call Eric’ but would have been stranded even we’d tried with no phone signal up the entire glen & miles from any civilisation.  The group farewells were said, and Lizzie & Duncan met Eric’s wife, still in her dressing gown at 1700hrs, to hand the keys back. 

There may have been no fresh powder this year, but a superb weekend was had staying in a stunning location with a great group of new friends all enjoying every moment of solitude, isolation, nature & reflection on how lucky we were to have been there.  Above all, this wouldn’t have been possible without a legend named ‘Eric’.

There are two versions of this weekend. One claims there were blue skies and snow depths of a metre or more and all present skied amazing lines. The other that it was cloudy throughout, that only a few centimetres of snow lay on the ground and the only skiing to take place happened in our dreams. Wine-soaked ones at that.

Of course the upside of not having to lug skis and boots the two kilometres from Corrour Station to the lonely outpost of Loch Ossian Hostel meant we could cart in greater quantity of various liquids. Fourteen of us had gathered here, determined to make the most of a thus far poor winter.

An overnight covering of snow was a good start as morning dawned and with more falling we set off in two groups for a pair of Munros south of the loch. A group comprising Lizzie, Rachel and Duncan were away speedily from their blocks, the reminder at a more leisurely pace and we strolled up into the mist and all gathered at the rime-encrusted summit of Carn Dearg . Snow fluttered past as those armed with navigational aids consulted map and compass, pushed buttons on an altimeter, squinted at a GPS.

Down to a bealach and with no sign of a break in the weather Sonya, Nicola and Julie left for an early exit while the remainder forged on over Sgor Gaibhre and the slightly lower Sgor Choinnich. Descending north someone spotted a pair of antlers protruding from the snow. A red deer stag. By sheer coincidence it had died and come to rest just a few metres from a fixed camera that will no doubt make celebrities of local raptors when they come to feed.

The promised clearance only arrived as we approached the hostel and once everyone had been counted in we could begin the day’s serious business – eating and drinking, and so in the warmth of the dining area unfolded a long and merry evening, a seamless cocktail of reminisces of winters’ past and tales from the summer gone and cuisine from the east and wine glasses always half full.

Come morning and before most of us could blink the sleep from our eyes Duncan, Lizzie, Rachel and Julie decided the best hangover cure was a dip in the icy waters of the loch. It was truly shocking and my headache went immediately.

Over bacon and eggs plans were laid. Half the group would walk out to Tulloch and half would stay for a horseshoe traverse of Leum Uilleim. We said our goodbyes and set off north, around Beinn na Lap and up the exceedingly long shoulder Meall Garbh. Nobody wanted to climb Chno Dearg  so an easy downward romp in soft snow all the way to Fersit.

To reach Tulloch from here Donald, Jan, Nicola and myself reckoned it quicker to hack two kilometres through the undergrowth and cross the River Spean rather than chance a lift along the road. Needless to say the ‘undergrowth’ party were a poor second, left with mud on their faces. Literally.

So there was no powder, no skiing and no sun, but a weekend with great company that will live long in the memory. 

By Mike Cawthorne. 

As is traditional for IBSC, the events at the start of the season are very well attended as people are keen to get out on the hills and prepare for the snow. The 2016 event was no exception as 20 people gathered at Glenmore Lodge for an evening of training on avalanche transceivers. Mark Kerr led the evening, commenting that a 1:20 ratio was not normal in his working life. He did a great job though and split the large group into smaller more manageable sizes. 

I can't comment for others, but I was struck at how rusty I felt in terms of conducting the initial signal search. The urgency of the scenarios felt real as well charged through deep heather among the Scots Pines. 

You can see a video of one of the searches by clicking here. 

 

This has been the most variable event on the Club's calendar. The Committee spent a fair amount of time thinking about cèilidhs, gatherings on the beach, party at Nevis Range and the Scottish Ski Club Hut on Cairn Gorm. We settled for the latter as it was central and it provided a good opportunity to check out the SSC Hut at the the bottom of the White Lady.  

But to skiing first. We aimed for Ben MacDui.  Aimed is a good description as we couldn't see the hill at any point during the day. Good Cairn Gorm clag called for reasonably good navigation and we made the top of the hill without too much bother but a huge amount of skinning.  

In fact we hardly did any skiing at all as we kept skins on for a lot of the way back, only removing them above the slope leading to the top of the Goat Track and that was like skiing down a washboard carrying a mangle on your back.  

The best skiing was ironically down the headwall of Coire Cas and the piste itself which was in excellent condition. It was great to see others arriving at the foot of the White Lady at the same time as the Ben Macdui party. There was much anticipation for the feast that Troy was about to provide for us all. We weren't disappointed!

The SSC Hut is maybe not as well used as it was back in the hey day of the White Lady when the t-bar used to go up the left of the piste (looking up) and could be heard from Coire an t-Sneachda so loud was the gear box. Sadly no longer however and there has been much chat over the years about the effect the funicular line has had on the snow gathering capabilities of this part of the hill. Certainly the White Lady piste is narrower than it used to be and not the glorious descent it once was. It also seems that many don't bother to ski it which is a shame as it's a piece of Scottish skiing history and provides great terrain for practicing short radius turns. 

Inside the hut the Wardrops were busy preparing a feast for us all and had altruistically sacrificed their day to cater for others. Such generosity has been a hallmark of Troy's catering this season and he is rightly congratulated for the quality of his output. No spit roast though. 

The juices flowed along with the beer which Fiona had purchased. A good combination of bevvy was available and made use of. Troy thrust a throbbing mass of meat in our direction and we all gorged our gaping gizzards like hungry sparrows awaiting the next juicy worm. Then we ate cakes.  

Half of the team repaired to the vans in the car park but lack of comms meant that the drinks had already left the site and were heading back to Inverness. It might have been a good thing in the end but we did have an excellent discussion about morse code and semaphore signaling which was thought to be a good fun way to communicate.  



The SSC Hut is much bigger than we all expected and quite similar to an alpine restaurant. It's big enough for at least 50 people and provided some good shelter in the weather. Had we been on the shore of Loch Morlich, things would have gone limp pretty quick. 

Long ago, there was a dream to roll a beer keg down into Coire Dubh and consume its contents at the landing area below. The idea was that ropes would be attached to the keg and it would trundle down the slope with two skiers controlling it as it descended to a convenient area ready to provide its contents like a haggis laid bare at a Burn's Supper. 

We haven't put this plan into action yet, mainly as there hasn't been the time to approach breweries, get the keg to the top of the hill, ski down the Nid and then launch off a cornice to the depths below.  I am pleased to say though that Club President, Peter MacKenzie, has provided a fine example and skied "Chancers" with a log in his rucksack. More of that below.  

Some got there early and some later but rucksacks and logs were deposited at a very specific location south of the Braveheart Chairlift ready to release their contents when the skiers returned to claim them. Meanwhile, people rode the wheel of freedom and enjoyed the excellent snow all over the hill.  

Descents of various difficulties of slope were made from the stressful to relaxed which demonstrated that it's not all about steeps. This seems to be an issue - that new people think it's all about steep skiing.  It's not and you are all very welcome regardless of your ambition to ski any type of slope from steep to slogs to the top of Ben Macdui. 

Four of us found ourselves on the summit of Aonach Mòr with another skier just ahead. This turned out to be a friend of the President and who decided to join the bivvy despite having no sleeping bag, food, sleeping mat, tent or bivvy. 

We skied a thing called "Hang Left" and I traversed out to the bealach between Stob a' Chùil Choire (Point of the Back Coire) and Aonach Mòr itself. Interestingly, the "back corries" are misnamed and this is quite a new feature that has come about since the opening of Nevis Range. An Cùl Choire, (the Back Coire), is actually further south, low down and NE of Aonach Beag. I also noted on the high scale map that the slopes facing due south from Aonach Mòr but just short of the bealach before Aonach Beag, are called Seang Aonach Mòr - the Aonach Mòr Slope (wide ridge slope). Anyone reading this can decide whether it should be Seang Aonaich Mhòire when the genitive case is applied...

"Hang Left" is well named as the boys continued their descent to impassible cliffs and had to climb up the gully again. Skiing back to the bivvy spot, we were united as one team and the craic was really quite amusing. We cooked up some great food, arranged our gear and got the drams going. Peter had made a swedish candle, which is a log cut with six deep cuts that helps it to burn. 

The weather was very friendly. Cold but no wind meaning we enjoyed the fresh air and good company and didn't have to worry at all about stuff blowing away. A rare state of play. 

Will, camper with no camping gear, was adamant that he would last the night but others were not so sure. Either way, we waited for darkness and when it came, put our skis back on and skied back to the bottom of Summit Gully area.  

It felt really alpine. Like Glacier d'Argentiere at 4am in August 1996. The low gradient coupled with bulges and darkness made us wonder if creavasses might be encountered or a bergshrund would have appeared. They went unseen but we did see the lights of Spean Bridge and Glasgow from the top of the bealach. 

Sking down was great fun. Some had good head torches and some had rubbish ones like Wee Willy Winkie's candle. We all made it back to the bivvy spot and took our skis off about 5 metres from our beds. Will decided at this point, 2345, to descend to An Gearasdan and a warm bed. He got back at 0130 hours with a list of supplies to be gathered including double deckers and a hot toss from the Golden River in Caol. 

Night was cold, clear and beautiful and dawn came gradually with a rising light from the east illuminating the slopes above us. A bomb went off and we saw large blocks slide down over the traverse out of Coire Dubh. All of the ski centres employ people who are keen mountain enthusiasts and Nevis Range is no exception. Bombs had been deployed at 8am on a Sunday morning. 

 

Some of us skinned up to the top of Stob a' Chùil Choire but from a more northerly approach to access the excellent un-tracked snow. It was worth it in the sun, or any other weather. 

We then lugged our stuff back out to the top gondola station and reflected on an excellent weekend and how the beer bomb might be deployed in 2017.  

 

The Grey Corries beckoned but the snow didn't play ball and the mid week hairdryer did its worth on the lower bealachs. Fair enough really as the third week in April is a fairly optimistic time to be attempting a large ski tour such as the Grey Corries. Another time...but feast your eyes on a previous expedition at Grey Corries trip - 1st March 2014

So we headed back to Aonach Mòr but resolvng not to give it pride of place on the day as we have skied there lots this season. Great times, but there are other places to go. We didn't go that far in the end though but had plenty of adventure. 

Graeme Ettle, in the 1996 series "The Edge", said that climbing White Magic, at that time a test piece, was the same as walking in the Lake District but just that he had taken it to another level.  Proof here. That's sort of how skiing has evolved in the intervening years - a huge jump in standards as confidence, access to the sport and equipment has improved. This was no showcase of the cutting edge of skiing though. 

Our juices flowed uphill though to the bealach, often visited, near Summit Gully. Our plan was to descend to the gully to the bottom of An Cùl Choire (The Back Coire) and then skin up under the north face of Aonach Beag and return by Aonach Mòr. 

Skiing down the gully from the bealach went well and it really brought home the alpine nature of Aonach Beag with its big glaciated slabs and interesting terrain which needed care and respect. Aonach Mòr is friendly, Aonach Beag is aloof and much more threatening with its large cliffs and more remote feel. But ski here with your mountain head on and you will have fun. 

Down we went and in classic style. Whilst communication had been thought of and radios with the party, the two people with the radios stayed together meaning there was no way with communicating with anyone else once we split up. Not everyone was up for the really rocky and narrow bits and decided to skin back up the great snow from half way down. A good decision if your watch was working and you like gondolas...

The rest of us continued down, with a great sense of urgency now and quickly put our skins on for the ascent. The first bit was actually scrambling up a steep crag to gain the snow above. No easy route-finding here!

Skis back on and the north face of Aonach Beag made itself felt above us and on the snow. Where there had been no sun, the snow was hard and the skinning tentative. Ski crampons can be a confidence booster in such settings. The ascent brought us to a hanging coire, just below the final steepening which looked to be fun. 

Crampons are handy in these situations but if you don't have any, why not take along Mike who can follow you up and provide lots of support? The final steepening proved to be fun and heightened the senses but everyone survived ok. Another quick change over, it now being 1640 and last gondola at 1700, and we raced to the summit of Aonach Mòr. 

Some of the party spent time on the summit look at the views down Loch Linnhe, along Loch Eil and to the Ben. Skye, Knoydart and Mull were all visible as was Cairn Gorm. A great view point of the best places in the world. The next time you are in Tignes, Les Trois Valles, St Anton or anywhere else, tell people about this view and our home. 

I have walked down from the top of Aonach Mòr to the car park twice, after climbing on Aonach Beag or Aonach Mòr. It's not a massive walk but one to be avoided if you can, so I skied the worst snow of the day, the pistes, and just made the gondola. Faff factor rewarded the faffers with a scenic route back to the cars whilst I supped on my pint of Tennent's...  Donald Morris. 

By Mike Cawthorne: It was only the promise of a fine day that inspired Troy and myself to rise at an unearthly hour and attempt a tour of the Cairngorms' four highest tops, a Scottish ski classic. Fortified by Troy’s massive fry-up we skinned the icy pistes of Coire Cas, past a few early boarders to a scoured and deserted Cairn Gorm summit.

After the narrow corridors here was the freedom of the plateau, the snows shadowed and faintly sunlit and the far crown of Macdui rising like a nanatuk from the Arctic. A short ski carry to reach the snowfields then we skinned as direct a line as we could manage, the snow frozen smooth or set in sastrugri, the unblemished white broken only by a jogger then a lone walker who would have their feet up long before we were even half-way.

On Macdui the clould lifted just enough for us to survey the peaks and terrain we’d yet to cover – Braeriach, Angel’s Peak, Cairn Toul then across the Moine Mhòr to Glen Feshie – and when we told the Irish lads at the summit they thought us a wee bit mad. Committing to the Four Tops happens when you point your skis southwest and swing past the outcrops and drop into Tailors. A fantastic run on sun-softened snow that curled and narrowed until tipping us onto heather still some way from the Lairig’s floor.


Hot work footing up the Lairig Ghru lugging skis, hotter still cutting over the lower moraines of Garbh Choire and applying skins and tolling slowly the way to Braeriach in great zig zags, all in the baking sun. The afternoon was slipping away. Both stretched out in the recovery position on Braeriach summit, I barely noticed it was sub-zero again and now cloud floated about the Cairngorm tops and the light grew flat. Angel’s Peak and Cairn Toul would have to wait another day.


We needed to get out. We rattled over the now-frozen snow of the plateau and skinned the slight incline to Càrn na Ciche then two kilometres of laboured turns to the Moine Mhòr, a shame for with fresh legs this is a wonderful descent in a remote setting. The white disc of the sun appeared again but was rapidly setting. Troy broke trail over the great white cloth of the Moine and we went due west with the sun. Reaching the hillcrest a little south of Càrn Bàn Mòr, we paused only to remove our skins. The hills to west flickered crimson then darkened.

We plunged into Coire Gorm and forged some of our best turns of the day, my third or fourth wind, I’d lost count, and a final dark and torchless thrash through knee-length heather to Achlean, where Troy’s wife, Fiona, with infinite patience was waiting. Nearly thirteen hours and we only managed three tops. Now that must be a record. 

   

   
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