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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. 

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. 

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.  


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. 

By Donald Morris. Our plan to do the Four Cairn Gorm tops did not come to fruition. This mega classic may have to wait until next season. Or will it....

I am really bad for making decisions and was waiting for a critical mass of people to pull out meaning I wouldn't have to get out my scratcher on the Sunday morning. About 60% of the party did pull out the night before but a hardcore was left which meant that I would not get a long lie. 

As it turned out, I did get a long lie and was able to indulge in textual comms from the comfort of my pit. Rose had already rendezvoused with the wind in Coire Cas and reported good snow. Myself and Graham therefore committed to meeting up at the crack of 1pm. 

We skinned up the side of the Fiacaill piste and towards the col between Coire Cas and Coire an t-Sneachda. As expected, the western facing slopes were scoured and we needed to walk a short distance (200m) to get to the snow again just near the large moraine in the coire. 

It was quite satisfying to be the only skiers in the coire and we continued past a tent to the bottom of the slope below the Mess of Pottage. Despite the conditions looking quite good, no one was climbing on the usual routes such as The Message (IV,6), Hidden Chimney (III,5) or even the trade route Invernookie (III,4). You know it's quiet when there is no one on these routes.  

We alloted to skin up the slope to the east of the Mess of Pottage. I have skied down this various times and it's usually the best slope of the coire. This time it was variable with the steeper sections being hard and quite icy. 

About half way up we encountered two people descending on foot, well equipped with axes and crampons. I had no crampons or ski crampons with me and each kick turn was becoming more committing on the 35 degree slope. I am currently working out how to modify Black Diamond crampons for my NTN bindings. It might work. 

Having worked in Gaelic development for many years, my ears are finely tuned to listen out for the language. Cutting to the chase, it's not "snekta" no matter how certain the person telling you is or how well qualified they are. You can listen to a pronunciation here. I have to confess some frustration at the level of understanding exhibited by mountaineering professionals on this issue. If we were skiing in the Bernese Oberland, Lofoten or Gulmarg, people would rightly make the effort. The same would be good at home. It adds a lot to the day. National Mountain centre take note!

All three of us decided to de-skin in various locations. I was glad of my axe and quite nervous about having to commit to putting my skis back on as a slip would not have ended well. Luckily I managed to do it. Later that evening I found myself looking much more closely at my ski crampons. 

The descent was good and on pretty good snow. We skied a long way out of the coire and were only about 25 minutes walk from the car park when we took our skis off. Part of the entertainment was crossing the snow bridges over the burns that immediately collapsed after passing over them. 

We met up with the other members on the ski mountaineering course and repaired to the Pine Marten Bar at Glenmore where no hot drinks are available to purchase. Ginger all round.  

By Troy Wardrop. 

Saturday 26th

We met at Aviemore  youth hostel on a driech Spring morning, full of hope that the forecast was right and it was only going to be a few showers and the wind would die down early afternoon. After a brief introduction, Mike, Nicky, Sam, Mark (instructor) and I went inside out of the cold and discussed our expectations and after we told Mark our present skill levels, he came up with a plan.

We headed up to the ciste car park and sorted out our gear for the day, it was pretty cosy in the back of my van looking at the horizontal rain and Mark's hood puffing up with the wind, we wondered if a theory day might be a better option, but we convinced ourselves challenging conditions are more realistic, we zipped up and made our way over to the snow. We spoke about the usefulness of ice axes in winter and practiced some skills, new to some and a refresher to others. It was then time to practice the dreaded kick turn, I think everyone will be glad I forgot my camera/phone. We skinned to around 800m up An t-aonach and spotted the old generator hut for the ciste chairlift and decided that's where we were heading for lunch. After looking at navigation techniques involving aspect we skied down in pitches practicing down hill kick turns and jump turns with a few back and forward side slips, all excellent techniques to get you out of trouble on steep stuff. It was great to get a wee respite from the rain in the old hut for lunch, but as we packed up the rain got heavier, we gazed out the window , it reminded me of the film '300' when the Persians let loose their arrows at King Leonidas's men. The fact that we were keen to learn new skills and were enjoying it despite the conditions got us back out there for more, we skinned up again to around 800m and jump turned our way back down again to collect our packs that we left to ease the burden and once again skinned up. I was delighted to see Mike with a huge grin on his face, so happy to regain his confidence which had been lost after a couple of hairy steeps we had faced in the last few weeks. It's amazing what a difference a few pointers in the right direction from a professional can make. We made our final decent of the day and stopped at around 400m to do some transceiver training which highlighted to us all that this is something that should be done on a regular basis.

Cold and wet we all made our way to the vehicles, I don't know about anyone else but a roaring fire, shower and steak dinner (being a butcher has its perks!) was all I could think about.

Sunday 27th

Well, the day didn't start well, Mike and I had a few too many, stayed up too late and totally forgot the clocks were going forward. We were on the back foot from the word go, I checked the weather and MWIS said high winds, snow, rain and lightning, it didn't bode well. However, it was a fine morning setting off from Grantown and after meeting the rest of the team at the youth hostel we headed up to cairngorm lower car park and assessed the conditions. We decided to head over to lurchers staying low to hopefully link up snow patches, navigating our way over to the bottom of lurchers we discussed the Avalanche report and how it doesn't tell the complete story, actually being there to judge and make your own decisions is all part of the process. We started to ascend Creag an leth-choin and stopped for lunch, by this time it was a fine day with the winds dropping and we were all thankful that again MWIS had got it wrong. We ascended once again and Mark showed how well he knows his patch, it was ideal for what we wanted, around 30 degrees and icy. We took off our skins and after an individual talk from Mark we descended one by one and then received feedback on our skiing, it truly is amazing how one wee small thing can make a world of difference. We took on board the feed back and skied again under Marks watchful eye tweaking little things like hand position and balance on the ski's. We skinned up again all smiles and happy at our individual achievements and decided one last transceiver practice was in order, this time Mark buried his shovel (sadly not enough snow to bury a pack) and we had to use our probes and again I can't emphasise enough we all need to do this on a regular basis, it should be second nature. We picked our way down to lurchers and had our last blast of the day full pelt to the bottom and then made our way back to the car park.

In summary, I'm a believer in courses and this weekend kind of proves that there's always something new to learn, even a true veteran mountain man like Mike Cawthorne came away with some new tools that he will be able to call upon when needed.

By Mike Cawthorne: ‘Champagne and Powder’ was coined by a budding wordsmith on the committee, a weekend tucked away at a remote hunting lodge in the heart of the Highlands. It was much anticipated, especially as high pressure had clamped itself firmly over the northwest in the days before and word from Kev on a preamble ski in nearby Torridon indeed reported that there was powder. Now we only had to visit the off-license.

Excitement was palpable as ten of us gathered at the forestry carpark by Craig and loaded a trio of 4x4 vehicles and headed off over the railway and bumped and rattled six miles down a snow-covered track to Glenuaig Lodge.

A magical place with high hills all about and situated over 300 metres, and with glens on both sides we were officially on the Scottish watershed, a fact of interest to geographical geeks like me. Having matched our keys to the correct door on our third attempt we flooded in and went room to room like gullible house buyers. This bolt-hole was super-comfy, spacious, log-burners in kitchen and lounge, beds with real sheets, showers and even a rumour of a bath somewhere. A cork popped and the weekend had begun. Troy rolled out a fantastic curry and later folk went out in the deep frost to gaze at the firmament and witness a waning moon cast its silver on the snows.

Faultless skies the first morning and the hills resplendent. Breakfast finished we split into two teams, one of Fiona, Kev, Bridget and Al going for steep stuff, while Lizzie, Troy, Andrew, John and myself were just looking for a great tour. Peter, still on the mend and unable to ski, set himself up outside with tripod and long lens and would survey our progress.

The long east ridge of Sgurr a’ Chaorachain provided a fine skin and lifted us above the glen and in an hour the views north and west rendered us almost speechless – snowy hills in an arc from Sutherland to Skye, and reaching the summit we could see Ben Nevis, the Aonachs and Cairngorms. The A Team (let’s give them the benefit of the doubt) joined us for photos. 

They wandered along the ridge eastwards to pick a plumb line whilst we skied back down the shoulder and dropped into the corrie and carved lines through fantastic powder. We tarried to watch the brightly coloured quartet one by one drop down a gully and disappear behind a great prow.

Meanwhile we skinned back up and tore more lines and this time belched steam to run the ridge round to finish in the sunshine by the lodge, and there was Peter laughing at our antics. A little tired but we shucked it off and rode the wheel and Lizzie, Troy and myself skinned to the col east of Sgurr nan Ceannaichean and chased the evening shadows back down. Always good to be last in.

The evening in full swing by now, everyone reunited and word from the A team that one had suffered an epic fall, a cartwheel into the powder. Even the Go Pros had been switched off but it was a great tale and the talk at dinner all the richer for it. And what a dinner.

Not only had Troy left no stone unturned, he’d burrowed beneath cliffs and excavated whole mineshafts to provide a culinary experience fit for prince and princesses. It may have been cooked in a bag but each bag contained a hunk of beef in a bed of herbs and spices that had been precooked for seven hours. Heck, you can travel to Moscow and back in that time. We filled the dishwasher and retired to the lounge for beer, wine and John’s cakes and talked hills and skiing, and Troy’s recipes were traded like rare metals and later listened in stunned silence to Peter and his guitar belting out their repertoire.

Sunday dawned almost as bright and this time we headed for the great bulk of Maolie Lunndaidh. The A team now bolstered by Lizzie, trail blazed the steep flanks of Carn nam Fiaclan, we not far behind and finding it so steep that at one point we removed skis and climbed with axes.

When we arrived at the plateau-like summit area Kev was poised above a corniced Fuar-tholl Mòr (Big Cold Hole) and promptly disappeared into its shadowed abyss. Possibly the first ever ski descent of this remote headwall. The remainder of his team dropped into the south facing Toll a’ Choin (Hole of the Dog) and reported steep and amazing powder. No cart wheeling this time.

The four of us gathered at the summit and made great sweeping lines on the north side then east by a burn and steeply into the lower corrie with rocks to avoid and now joining Kev’s tracks and skiing the marginal slopes of this fantastic narrow amphitheatre, Glenuaig below bathed in sun and the last snowy reach of a thigh-burning no-turning ride over a canopy of heather. The others were not far behind and all mustered over pots of tea and coffee to chew over the day and weigh what magic the hills and company had given, and to parcel it up for the memory store, and title it ‘Champagne and Powder. And damn good grub’.

By Max (the dog): I was excited yesterday morning when Helen didn't take me out to the park before breakfast and we left in the van very soon afterwards - that usually means an interesting day's in store, and it certainly was!

After an hours drive we parked by a railway line [Editor's note: at Dalwhinne] and she got out her skis and put them onto her backpack. Ah, I thought, some fun on the snow - although I couldn't see any nearby! I really began to think she'd lost it when she then got her bike down from the rack - she's always used one or the other before, so how was she going to manage both?

Jan prays for a lighter rucksack

Anyway, she seemed determined to do whatever mad exploit she had planned, and so I trotted along beside her as she cycled with the skis on her back. We progressed along a tarmac road at a steady pace (she's very slow up the hills so I lead the way to encourage her along) and I'm pleased to say that she didn't go too fast on the downhills (as last time I hurt my paws racing to keep up with her). After a while we turned off the hard road onto a track across the hillside. This was much more interesting in terms of smells and softer underfoot, although not too muddy for her to cycle on. After quite a while [90 mins,1 5km] we saw some people the other side of a river who Helen seemed to know. I was all for wading cross the river, but Helen didn't want to (humans are very fussy about getting their feet wet), so we backtracked to a bridge to join the group of 4 guys by their tents.

I was pleased that Helen was able to have a rest for a while while the guys packed up their tents, and once I'd met them all and had a good sniff around I too was happy to lie down for a while. I noticed they all had both bikes and skis, so maybe they were all equally mad - especially as there was still no sign of snow nearby.

Eventually we set off, without the bikes, but with the humans carrying their skis on their backs. As we walked up the path I tried my best to keep the group together, running from the front to the back to make sure they were all there, but it was hard work as frequently someone would stop to alter clothing and get separated from the rest. They all regrouped when we met a girl with a bike (but no skis) and the guys talked with her about coffee - although I couldn't smell any.

At last we got to some snow, and everyone took their skis off their backs. After more faffing & eating ensued (it's great being with a crowd as I was given food by several people other than Helen, including a lovely sausage). Finally, they put their skis on and we were off.

Loch an Sgòir - 698m

At first the snow was quite hard and not too steep, so I found it easy to walk on and the humans progressed quite well too, although slowly. I didn't see any wildlife, but there must have been Ptarmigan about as every now and then there was a noise and one guy would shout Ptarmigan! ;-)

We came to a big round flat area with a slightly blueish hue, which had cracks around the edge, was cold underfoot and very slippy when I tried to run on it. The guys were only going around the side of it, and Helen seemed a bit anxious, calling me back when I got too far into the middle. At one point there were lots of small lumpy bits sticking out from the flat, and I heard them talking about avalanche debris, whatever that is.

Cracks in the ice of Loch an Sgòir

They then started to climb up the snowy hill. Humans are very inefficient - I don't know why they don't just go straight up the hill like I do, but instead they zig zagged up, turning in a most ungainly manner! I had my work cut out herding them then as the group spread out a lot. The parts of the slope that were not in the sun were a bit icy. One of the guys got out some spiky things which he put on the bottom of his skis; I just put my claws out to grip. Part of the slope was now in the sun, so everyone made their way up that section as the snow was softer, although I found it harder going as my feet sank in.

Ben Alder in the background

They finally came to the top of a ridge and stopped for more food - I helped clear up anything they dropped. After a brief rest, they set off again, (some on skis, some on foot) for the summit which was up an easy snow slope. What a view from the top! We were now above the cloud and could see several mountain tops sticking out. I heard the names Creag Meagaidh, Ben Alder and The Ben mentioned.

Summit of Geal Chàrn with Ben Alder behind

The sun was starting to drop a bit and some whispy clouds surround us by the time they set off down. I find it very difficult to know where to go, as the humans don't go straight down most of the time and they are moving very fast so I am worried about being run over. The snow was quite soft and grainy at the top, so it was quite difficult for me to run in and the humans were soon ahead of me, so at least then I could run down in a straight line. Then we were out of the cloud and onto very hard snow, which the skis made a lot of noise on.

Skiing and running down

Instead of following the way we'd come up, some of them decided to go down a narrow gulley, which was very icy. Helen went too, so I followed, but kept to the rocks above it, as that was easier and safer for me due to their erratic skiing! One guy carried on down the gulley, but Helen and two others got part way then changed their minds. One guy dropped his iceaxe but luckily Helen was lower down so she was able to get it as she climbed back up, then out of the gulley. We then went down a wider and shallower slope to join the others at the flat area again - there were big smiles all round :-)

Skiing back to the burn

A windy route through the patches of snow, with short sections walking over heather in skis followed, then they skied down the snow piled up next to the burn until the snow ended. Skis were put back onto rucksacks and they started walking along the path - less spread out now, so I didn't have to herd them a much!

Fire on second night

When we got back to their tents, we were pleased to see all the bikes were still there. Helen didn't seem to be too keen to sit on hers now though and during the cycle back she kept complaining about the hard saddle and her aching back. She was very slow up the rises, and I kept a steady pace on down the hills as I knew there was a comfy bed awaiting me. At one point I saw some deer sitting on the road, so I ran over to say hello to them, but they all ran off and Helen called me back, so yet again I didn't manage to make their acquaintance :-(

It was dark by the time we got back to the van after a long but very enjoyable day [12hrs, 5 mins]. Once we'd eaten, I was pleased to relax onto my bed while Helen drove us home.

Today I'm feeling a little tired, but am still up for a good walk, whereas Helen took ages to get out of bed this morning and is walking around very stiffly - these humans have no stamina!!


We had planned to go to the Fort William Mountain Festival and ski on the hills the day after. We successfully implemented our plan but these bald facts do not tell the full story. 

A few had Friday off work so decided to whet the appetite with a windy ascent of Geal Chàrn starting from Balsporran Cottage next to the A9. Windy it certainly was - the sort of wind where even the slightest doubt planted in anyone's mind would have been enough to abandon the attempt on the lofty peak. We all knew though that some proper suffering was in wait for us so crossed the railway line and ascended the majestic moss of Geal Chàrn. The descent was actually quite good with a strong gale behind us and we returned to the vehicles to convince ourselves that it had been fun.

Friday night at the festival provided two options: a backcountry ski evening at which our esteemed president presented a film and the second option which was a talk by Greg Boswell, one of Scotland's most prolific winter climbers currently.  

Saturday and the wind remained a constant. Four intrepid skiers headed for Beinn Teallach just to the north of the Laggan Dam. Unfortunately the dog decided to explore the forest and then return to the car meaning one person didn't get much of a day out. 

The rest headed towards the lower slopes of the beinn though only to be rebuffed the wind and father time. The descent was good though. 

Saturday night at the festival really was good. A team called "Bob Shepton and the Wild Bunch" didn't just talk. They played maritime music and had some great stories. Check out this video. 

Sunday saw another three people on a covert mission into the "back corries", which misnamed, as An Cul Choire means the back corrie, to research locations...  

There is some amazing terrain just to the north of the Braveheart Chair which is well worth a short tour. 

We made it as far as 900m above sea level when we decided that the relevant information had been gathered and it was time to feed it back into the Club computer for later consideration.