Ice Climbing Course in the Cairngorms

Posted on February 13, 2016 in ClimbingWinterPlacesGlenmore Lodge

I recently wrote that I was going to be attending an Introductory Course on Winter Climbing in the Cairngorms which is in the Scottish Eastern Highlands just south of Inverness. Last weekend it all happened and I have to say it was one of the best experiences of my life and truly enjoyable for many reasons. Here’s just a few:

  • The Cairngorms National Park where the course was run is a truly stunning location. It ranks right up there with one of my other favourite places in the UK, Snowdownia National Park in North Wales.
  • Glenmore Lodge was a great choice of training centre for this particular type of activity. Everything just seemed to run very well.
  • The instruction we received was really good. I’ve certainly broadened my climbing skills and reinforced other skills I already had. Our instructor, Karl Atherton really took the time to explain various climbing techniques as well as the conditions in which we were climbing.
  • The conditions were extreme and I found this a nice challenge.

Here’s a quick overview of the trip:

I flew up to Inverness via Easyjet on Friday afternoon and having hired a car was able to get to Glenmore Lodge within an hour. By the time I entered the Cairngorms National Park it was starting to get dark but even then I could see what a beautiful place it was. After checking in at the lodge I went to pick up my kit from the stores. This consisted of crampons, karabiner and sling, ice axes, springer (for attaching the ice axes to your harness) and plastic boots. Additionally I was supplied with specific equipment to deal with avalanche rescue, namely a probe, transceiver and spade.

Glenmore Lodge Ice Climbing Kit

After receiving my kit I went to try out the lodge climbing wall which was quite quaint. What I really liked is that I got to do my first indoor crack climb

Glenmore Lodge Climbing Wall Crack ClimbGlenmore Lodge Climbing Wall

Day 1

After an early morning briefing and breakfast we met up with our instructor and got kitted up. Before leaving for the crag we assessed the weather conditions, there was a reasonable amount of snow but we knew the main issue would be the wind which was clocking speeds of 30-40mph.

We arrived at the car park and proceeded to walk the crag we intended to climb, namely Central Gully. It was probably one of the toughest walk ins I’ve ever done to the crag as it was really windy and this contributed to a significant drop in temperature. The ground was quite slippery and walking on it in plastic boots was pretty hard work - it took us two hours to walk two miles. The clip below gives a brief look at what the conditions were like

Once we arrived at the crag we donned crampons and harnesses and started to climb up. We had a quick practise session with our crampons and ice axes and then undertook a multi pitch ascent. We managed to do three pitches and then abseiled down rather than climb all the way to the top as it was felt the windy conditions might make a walk off rather difficult.

Cairngorms Climb Central Gully Belay PointCairngorms Climb Central Gully SecondingCairngorms Climb Central Gully Ice ClimbCairngorms Climb Central Gully Abseil

The pic below shows the route detail provided by my Garmin Fenix 2 watch overlaid onto Google Earth – the total elevation of our climb was 140m

Cairngorms Ice Climb - Garmin Fenix Google Earth Elevation Profile

Day 2

Ice Climbing Training Wall Glenmore LodgeOn the second day conditions had become much worse as more snow had fallen overnight and the wind was now blowing even harder than the day before. There was also significant risk of avalanche. For this reason we climbed lower down in an area called Central Couloir and did a small pitch. We spend most of the day learning additional techniques and considerations for ice climbing as well as practising some skills like fall arrest and crampon use. Lastly, we got to learn how to use a transceiver and probe which is used to undertake a rescue of anyone trapped in an avalanche.

Having finished the course I then stayed in Inverness for the Sunday night and flew back home early Monday morning.

After this experience I find myself having a new found respect for people like Ueli Steck who are just so incredibly fit and tough that they can do this kind of thing all the time.

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