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 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!!

 

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’.

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. 

 

 

 

 

 

By Donald Morris. As is the norm for the last weekend in January, storms and severe weather preceded and dominated the forecast. In 2014 we had trouble standing up on Beinn na Lap. In 2015 we battled the hurricane force winds on Leum Uilleim so we were hoping for more of the same in 2016.

We gathered the bits and pieces at Spean Bridge and an advance party departed with wine boxes, ski equipment and lots of food. Despite ski touring being relatively popular in Scotland we still attracted some strange looks from fellow passengers. No doubt the absence of snow and huge thaw just before the trip made them wonder if we had looked at the forecast. We had and saw that it promised snow. Fortune favours the brave and we intended to shuck off our tiredness and ride the wheel of freedom.

When we arrived at Corrour there was no snow in sight but given that it was dark this wasn't too surprising. A 20 minute walk saw us arrive at the excellent Loch Ossian Youth Hostel which is run by Jan. It's worth pointing our how good Loch Ossian is for skiing; there are various good ski hills nearby, it's at about 390 metres above sea level and often has good snow. The hills are not too rocky and the accommodation basic and cosy.  This hostel and Glen Affric are the SYHA's two main mountain hut type hostels and are a welcome contrast to the more urban establishments. This was the second hostel opened by the SYHA (the first being Càrn Dearg near Gairloch) and has a lot of history attached to it. It used to be the waiting room for guests of the original Corrour Lodge who would be taken by boat to the east end of the loch. It's imperative that hostels such as these are maintained and used. 

Saturday morning dawned wild and windy with lots of snow blowing about. Not a day for the hill at all so we walked around Loch Ossian and past the new modern looking lodge which was built using money earned from cardboard packaging. Had we had track skis the day would have been even better as the snow was perfect for kicking and gliding along nice tracks but the walk was still excellent. 

Meanwhile the Club President made himself known over the radios. Unfortunately he had a tyre blowout on the journey to the train station and was delayed in arriving at the station. His arrival saw an attempt on the awesome peak of Meall na Lice (Hill of the slab) which we knew held snow on its east facing side. The rest of the party stayed in the hostel to keep the wine and whisky company. 

Calum Munro and Mike Cawthorne must receive special thanks as they cooked and catered for us during the weekend. Calum wasn't even there but his chilli was tasty and provided a good basis for 1 litre of Echo Falls (a red wine).

Leum Uilliem, that tempter of skiers, that featured and beautiful hill and one that had repelled IBSC on previous attempts just like Cerro Torre and Gasherbrum IV had their respective ascentionists. Yes! It let us approach to the bottom of Sròn an Lagain Ghairbh and up the nose itself. We are getting to know the terrain of this special hill quite well now. The verdict is positive - the hill provides excellent ski terrain for all standards and gets better the closer you are to the hill. 

Sròn an Lagain Ghairbh

Various parties went their separate ways; one into Coire a' Bhric Bhig, onto the ridge of Tom an Eoin and the other straight onto the ridge to the summit with the attention of traversing to the north. We were allowed to attain the summit on this occasion and onwards to the bealach betwenn Leum Uilleim and Beinn a' Bhric. 

Bench on Leum Uilleim

At the bealach we built a luxurious lunch bench to rest the juices and allow the bubble belly to settle. Don't go jumping down from snow benches though as this is just the sort of thing that causes the veins to become engorged. 

Looking to Loch Ossian - Spot the station

Unfortunately a navigational error saw us descend slightly west of where we wanted to be meaning we had the bonus of a short ascent of the ridge. The ridge to Tom an Eoin is very easy angled and not that exciting to ski but does provide excellent views to the east and the bowl where Loch Ossian is. We descended the slopes to the heathery corrie floor and debated what to do. 

Tom an Eoin

One party had returned to the hostel after a few first descents and excellent skiing in the coire. Another decided to re-ascend Leum Uilleim to take advantage of the excellent ski terrain and snow on the east side. It was worth it. We skied down excellent gullies and all thoughts of our spoor and scratching it were forgotten and replaced by the wheel of freedom. 

An Ostail - The Hostel

Returning to the hostel as it got dark was satisfying - it had been a full day on the hill with excellent skiing. Well worth the effort. We tidied up the hostel and skied back to the station, travelling full draught and laden with everything we had brought with us. It wasn't lightweight at all. 

Jan, the hostel warden, had decided to sit out the severe weather forecast for the next day, near Fort William and we all missed this special place the second we left it. 

Ceò - Steam

Scotrail are to be commended for running their services to time and dealing with the severe weather. Again we attracted some funny looks on the train as we boarded with a tonne of gear and big smiles. 

Soraidh slàn - Farewell

So the West Highland Line delivered. Loch Ossian delivered. Leum Uilleim delivered and we delivered as a team. Can you ask for more?

By Martyn Crawshaw. Six club skiers headed over to Lecht uplift for a day to practice the free heel telemark bran of backcountry.  Helen brought alpine touring kit which does not telemark turn so instead she was the braves with metal edge nordic forest skis and a Salomon bar binding.

Rhona Steele (with new skis from last year!) and Helen brushed up on down hill technique while Sandy Macleod took Steve Bunn and Roy Gibson to the steep and deep on the east side of the Glen.  We all enjoyed skiing in company trading tales and tele-tips but most of all enjoyed great snow and blue sky weather.  

Telemark skiers are like corks in a barrel they tend to collect together and ski sociably just because it feels good and its nice to compare different styles. Many of the runs were not on piste so although we did not use skins or maps it was a kind of backcountry day.

It was not steep, nobody needed transceivers but we did have fun and that was the aim of the game! 

By Mike Cawethorn (Pictures: Helen Rennie). On a dark frosty morning you couldn’t have missed the dozen or so folk in the corner of the Inverness carpark, all brightly attired like some travelling troupe of dancers. Or a bunch of backcountry ski enthusiasts. Members became re-acquainted, some new faces introduced themselves, and in that generous spirit folk offered their vehicles for the conveyance of all to our destination in the arboreal wilds of Feshie, at a pull-off a few kilometres short of Achlean. Here we were joined by a handful of other members and in twos and threes and with skis attached like antennas we eased up through native Caledonian Pine to the open moor. 

The glen was locked in frost but it was the promise of good snow higher up that had lured us here. At about the 500 metre level we donned skins, left the path and headed in the general direction of Coire na Cloiche. To be honest the skinning was marginal. The tall straggly heather held just a few inches of powdery snow and avoiding each others’ tramlines was the order of the day. Only sheer zeal got and us up that first bit.

As we pulled to Meall Buidhe the bright morning had given way to cloud and a snow-blowing wind but at least the rock count was less. Realizing no shelter was to be had anywhere for lunch we simply bunched up and turned our backs on the weather in the manner of a group of Arctic muskox. The similarity ended when one of our number pulled a fancy stove from his sac and brewed a mug of coffee, not something I’ve even seen muskox do. Batteries recharged – or was it that everyone’s hands were beginning to freeze – and with renewed enthusiasm we skinned the kilometre or so to Sgorr Gaoith and all gathered and prepared for an amazing descent. In near white-out I for one felt pretty rusty making my first turns of the season, edges clipping the odd lump of hidden granite and struggling with variable windslab. But there was some impressive technique on show.

While three of the party retraced their tracks to Meall Buidhe the rest chased a brilliant run into Coire Allt a’ Mharacaidh, a great ski on the best snow on the mountain and well worth the additional skin up. Then it was every man and women for themselves in the final descent, skirting rocks and ditches and floating over heather in great thigh-burning switchbacks each terminated by kick turn and shuffle and many a flounder. Scottish off-piste at its absolute best. Only one member managed to reach the path with her feet still attached to her skis, and she is famous for such antics. All in all a great first day’s skiing.

By Mike Cawthorne. I’m not altogether sure why the met office has begun naming storms that sweep these islands. But at least we have someone to blame for the atrocious start to winter. The early culprit was Storm Frank, all the way from the tropics and carrying a very large bladder of warm rain that all but stripped the pre-Hogmanay snowcover. When five of us gathered on a grey morning at Inshes we knew it was only for a hill walk. Ice axes strapped to our sacs were for decoration only. Or so we thought.

At Wyvis car park we were joined by Dave More from Ullapool who told of big winds by Glascarnoch and a forecast of hill snow later that day. It might feel a bit like winter afterall. I threw in my gloves, though not my monkey cap. Let’s not get carried away. So there were six of us on the path to a cloud-swathed Wyvis – Troy, Donald, Dave, Terry, his son Ruairidh, and myself. I’m not sure if Donald thought the early pace a bit slow but after ten minutes he decided to run back to his campervan. Forgotten something, so he said.

The pace definitely slowed as we approached the shoulder of An Cabar and fought periodically against a big sou’easter. It toyed with us in gusts and lulls and at some point we hunkered in the lee of boulder perched on the ridge and munched sandwiches and remnants of sweet treats from the festive period. Rime had begun to coat grass and rocks, and the wind felt bitter. It was not exactly a council of war but at this stage Dave, Terry and Ruairidh decided they would climb a little further then turn back, happy enough for the small workout and to see the cobwebs away. Donald, Troy and myself pushed on, and I’m glad we did. Over whitened ground we were pummeled sidewards by hail and blown snow the two kilometres to the summit. The only let up in the onslaught was a space fifty or so metres below the trig point, a strange pocket of stillness from where we took a minute to examine the great snow-holding bowl of Coire na Feola. Virtually snowless thanks to aforementioned Frank.

For variation and because we wanted to escape the wind we dropped a little and made a more direct route back to our ascent ridge, and here we came across a real rarity, an extensive snow slope. It swept down to about 800 metres and we reckoned would have made a wonderful ski descent, though on balance it wouldn’t have been worth the sweat of lugging our skis all this way. Inverness Backcountry Ski-carrying Club doesn’t quite have the same ring. Or appeal. Anyhow ice axes were required to safely traverse it. A little further on we found the ridge and dropped below the cloud and trundled down in good humour. Frank had done his damndest yet there was still snow. Just hope he doesn’t have any friends.

We were once again welcomed by Glenmore Lodge and allowed to use their transceiver park. It really is an excellent resource and available for all to use. The evening brought together a variety of people with different strengths with regards to transceivers and their use. Mark expertly guided us through various scenarios which involved hiding stuff in the undergrowth and groping around for it afterwards.  

The more devious decided to hide their transceivers in the bushiest bushes which required considerable thorn action to get to them. Certain scenarios saw people retrieve a transceiver from trees. It's unlikely to be a common occurrence but we must all practice and expect the unexpected. Next year we hope to be looking for transceivers immersed in liquid or attached to a drone.  

The Club has transcievers for members to use free of charge.  See Equipment.   

By Calum Munro. With the first snow dump of the winter upon us the backcountry skier’s mind turns to the season ahead each according to their own ability, ambition, or in my case age, views the season ahead differently.

In my case a prerequisite to enjoying the season is keeping warm and at the heart of that is the choice of thermal base layer. It could be argued that my longevity in the sport and indeed on the planet is founded on my constant quest for thermal balance – the foundation of skiing nirvana. I can genuinely claim that my initial skiing outfit was based on my father’s cast off white wool long johns and vest under wool breaches, tartan wool shirt, a Shetland wool sweater and a cotton anorak! As the decades have rolled on I have experimented with every new development and sought comfort in knitted polypropylene (smelly helly), Modal (a definite no! no! for sweaty sports), Merino (wool coming round again…) and almost every mix and combination of material in my “combinations” know to inventive outdoor marketing people. Each iteration claiming to be THE solution to the challenge.

Last year despairing of yet another sweaty/cold/sweaty/cold… season I read the advice of Andy Kirkpatrck on the subject of winter warmth. He recommended a base layer outfit by Brynje of Norway topped with a thin merino or fleece shirt. (Brynje is suppled through www.nordicoutdoor.co.uk) Basically it is a polypropylene mesh – a sophisticated string vest! Brynje supplied the mesh thermals that Tenzing and Hillary wore on Everest in 1953 and their products are a firm favourite with Nordic explorers and “Special Forces” across Europe. It comes in two version – plain polypropylene and a polyprop/merino mix. The colour options are Navy or Black. I have gone with the plain polyprop. The down side of the kit is – as stated by one military reviewer – “ …great kit but don’t let your mates see you wearing it!” As the picture attached shows it has a certain burlesque ambiance… The Polyprop/merino mix version is highly recommended by the great backwoodsman Ray Mears and I suppose in a survival situation the mesh structure would be good for catching fish.

Last season and so far this I have been using a high zip neck shirt with short johns (supposedly knee length but they come half way down my calf -Norwegians obviously have very long inside leg measurements) topped with a thin fleece shirt under a Paramo salopettes and smock set and find it comfortable and efficient with little wick back onto the skin when at rest. I have a slight reservation about the string vest like structure on my shoulders under the straps of a heavy sack but I haven’t experienced a problem so far. However I notice that the military versions of the Brynje gear have plain material shoulders instead of mesh. Aclima of Norway do a similar range of both polyprop and merino/polyprop but they have protected shoulders on all their shirts and protected knees on their long johns. Their kit is available in Scotland through Nordic Outdoor of Edinburgh - www.nordicoutdoor.co.uk

On an associated, if delicate topic - Helly Hansen, Brynje and Aclima all produce wicking wind protection briefs/trunks/shorts for gentlemen who appreciate their assets. This may seem like a luxury bit of kit but the zip in trousers/salopettes is a true weak spot in most designs… Those of us who are mature enough to remember the Sarejavo Winter Olympics may recall the excruciating tales of damage done to male skiers through a combination of faulty kit design and very low temperatures that came from the event.

If you appreciate warmth in the winter mountains and can get past the slightly off putting look and the Rab C Nesbit associations this style of kit could be for you.

The Club Secretary is always exhorting us to “get our juices flowing” well this kit helps get them flowing but more importantly keeps those juices flowing away from the skin so that we stay dry and warm.

By Donald Morris. We had planned and envisaged many things for this day. The first idea was to use the Scottish Ski Club's hut on Cairn Gorm as a social point but it turned out it wasn't available. Then we had the idea of having a barbeque at the bottom of the Braveheart Chair at Aonach Mòr. Lowering the beer keg over the cornice and then skiing down the coire with it in front on a rope was considered. Several scenarios were mapped out all of which drew comparisons with the famous bouncing bombs of the Dambusters.  

In the end though we decided to gather at Loch Morlich after a day out on the hills. One party went up Bràigh Riabhach and another up Cairn Gorm. It was all very pleasant and relaxed in the April sunshine. The back of Cairn Gorm actually held a lot of snow despite the west is best nature of the winter to that point. 

The Club radios proved to be invaluable in adding to the confusion as to where the best descents were. We chose the excellent line down towards the saddle in Strath Nethy without actually getting to the bottom due to some massive avalanche debris. 

A beast of a skin back up followed and that classic moment when some mentions another run down. Yes you do want to but the sweat and exertion from the ascent are still fresh. We did though. 

Then it was down to Loch Morlich for a relaxed gathering by the beach and an excellent BBQ prepared by Troy. One person even barbequed a scotch pie instead of chicken. Now that's clever!

   

   
© ALLROUNDER