Booted and Suited

Looking at the Allt Coire an t Sneachda

I am already awake when the alarm clock rings at 7:15 am. My roommate, Jon, whom I met for the first time an hour before the night before, struggles to find his mobile. He turns off the alarm, rolls out of bed, and goes to the en-suite bathroom to take a shower. I get out of bed, putter around, and decide to stretch. After my own quick shower, Jon and I go to the dining hall for breakfast.

A Room with a View

A Room with a View

A buffet style breakfast awaits our arrival. We have a choice of cereal, hot porridge, toast, hard-boiled eggs, and other items like sausage, bacon, and hash browns as well as yoghurt and a vegetarian side dish.

We fill our trays, sit at an empty table, and are soon joined by two other participants who Jon met the night before. They introduce themselves, and we swap adventure stories while we eat a relaxing breakfast.

After we grab prepared sandwiches and snacks for a box lunch, we go to the lecture hall for a brief introduction to Glenmore Lodge. We learn about the different courses and receive our instructor assignment.

Jon and I go to our designated meeting point. The participants in hallway are hectic and a loud commotion fills the air like the sound of an approaching thunderstorm. Graeme, our experienced instructor and International Mountain Leader (IML), is calm and collected. He deftly gathers his four member team together amid the surrounding chaos while maintaining his broad, Cheshire cat smile.

Graeme shows Jon, Johnny, Simone, and I to a conference room where we conduct our first daily briefing. We introduce ourselves and share our expectations for the course. Working off our positive vibe, Graeme creates a rough schedule for the week that matches our interests.

To give us a proper start, Graeme leads us in a review of current weather and avalanche conditions. Before my arrival, I had found some of the resources he mentioned, but his expertise and familiarity with the reports gives me a greater understanding about their use. The weather forecast for the week was excellent. In fact, it was too good. The clouds were to remain in the valleys and the temperature was expected to hover above the freezing point. The conditions were not ideal for a winter course, but the weather could always change for the worse.

Before we leave to verify the current weather conditions outside, we review maps. We look at their major features and discuss the impact of wind while traveling across different terrain. We also speak about snow pack and its accumulation on different facing slopes.

The theoretical part of our morning concludes with a primer on avalanche safety. We check the local reports and learn more about the forecast techniques behind them.

After a brief drive to the Cairngorms National Park, we are finally booted and suited. We have our boots on and our required equipment ready for a day’s journey.

Heading Towards Coire Cas

Heading Towards Coire Cas

We start with a hand’s on review of our avalanche safety equipment. Using our transceivers, we learn how to locate a victim. We use the search beacon and follow the curved arc of the radio transmission to pinpoint the broadcasting transmitter. We also try our snow probes by testing the depth of the heather instead. The snow is too shallow.

Hiking thorough a mix of slushy snow, heather, and mud, we travel below the ridge line leading to Cairn Gorm summit. Our legs receive a proper introduction to the Scottish Highlands.

We climb above our starting altitude of 626 meters ever so higher stopping along the way to review the proper use of crampons and footwork techniques.

Walking Like an American

Walking Like an American

Graeme shows us how to access the snow pack by digging out a block of snow. With his special, very unscientific probe, he pokes at the different layers in the snow explaining how they formed. We giggle, but his low-tech method works. We can see the difference between the different layers.

Snow Probe

Snow Probe

Our final climb of the day is a brief scramble over a rocky crest. We reach our peak altitude of 1123 meters and then descend back down the Fiacaill a’ Chais ridge line to the car park.

Climbing Near Coire Cas

Climbing Near Coire Cas

Our 5.5 hour journey with 3.5 hours of actual travel time is a tiring first day, but the outing was an enjoyable start.

 

Waypoints Time Distance Altitude
Cairngorm parking lot
to Coire Cas
3:30 hours (travel time); 5:30 hours (total) 6.6 km + 509 m to 1123 m

 

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