This weekend I traveled up north to the Cairngorms, a fantastic mountain range in Northeastern Scotland. The Scottish Winter is in full swing and there was a TON of snow. So, so, so, so much snow.
Friday night, the EUMC left from Edinburgh around 6 pm and we made our journey northward. It’s always exciting to get away from the city and get out into the countryside. Especially, when there is snow on the ground. Within an hour we were properly in the highlands and there was snow everywhere.
We stayed at the Woodlan Lodge, a house the Uni owns near Aviemore. It was a lot more luxurious that what I am typically used to on the weekend trips, but it was nice to come home to a warm house with hot water and proper bunks after a long day on the hills.
Saturday was an early start. I got up at 6.20 am to make breakfast and have a cup of coffee in the kitchen. Again, really thankful for the real house to stay in because I didn’t have to crawl out of a tent and scramble to get my Tranger started. After breakfast, I packed my day bag for the safety course I was taking. I had signed up to one of the 12 spots on the day course. Since I had very little mountian knowledge prior to moving to Scotland it would be smart to learn some basic Winter Safety.
(In two weeks, I will be taking a weekend long safety course to learn some more. I’ve learned that Scottish Winters can be really fun, but Mountaineering can also be dangerous and often times it is the people that don’t know what they are doing that get hurt.)
The course covered a variety of things ranging from survival skills like recognizing different types of snow and what they indicated about the climate and how to dig a snow cave. A snow cave is for in case you get stranded on the mountain and do not have any shelter. You can dig one out with a shovel or even your ice axe. (I am learning very quickly just how useful ice axes can be, from survival to even serving as a bottle opener.)
We also learned how to use our gear such as the almighty ice axe and crampons (steel points you attach to the bottoms of your boots so you can walk easier on ice). We learned how to perform a self-arrest with the ice axe in case we slip whilst walking up the mountain. We finished the course by trekking to the top of Cairn Gorm, the central mountain in the park.
The weather on Saturday was amazing. The temperatures were cold at right around -4C (24.8 F). But, when you keep moving you stay pretty warm – also the temperatures were pretty much the standard Kansas winter, if not warmer. I was fine in a base layer, midlayer, and outer jacket. For bottoms, I had fleece lined legging with knee high wool socks over the top and then my outer softshell layer. Over my boots I wore gaiters to keep out the snow.
I cannot get over how clear the skies were on Saturday and there was practically no wind at all. The visibility was perfect – you could even see mountains near Inverness that were nearly 40 km away.
(Click through the slideshow to see more pictures… also photo creds to my wonderful friends for letting me steal some of these because the cold killed my phone.)
Saturday night, was actually pretty chill compared to previous mountaineering Saturdays. Everyone sat around in the common room sharing stories from the day and planning routes for Sunday.
Sunday morning, a few friends and I got a lift back to the Ski Lodge where most of the trails could be easily accessed. A few people from the club decided to go skiing instead of hillwalking or climbing – I figured since the last time I went skiing I fell off the lift it would probably be better to stick to walking.
The weather on Sunday was still really good for the weekend, but it was colder and windier than Saturday. The temperatures were around -6 C and the wind was pretty bad in the morning. I put on my sunglasses and had to keep my buff up around my face, but my lips and cheeks are still pretty chapped. We did a great ridge on Sunday and got some fantastic views. I used my crampons to get up an icier part of the route.
My patella tendonitis also really started to act up this weekend, which I figured it would considering that my knees are always worse in the cold. The knee pain levels are still tolerable, but it’s definitely annoying when my cardio is up to par but my legs physically can’t move faster because my kneecaps are genetically crooked (Your fault, Dad.) But, I rested them up at the lodge and stretched out the best I could. There really isn’t a lot I can do about it except continue to wear my braces and just be a bit more mindful when I’m on uneven ground. Meh.
The funniest part of the weekend was definitely the new gear. Not going to lie, it was pretty cool using an ice axe and crampons to get up a mountain. (I basically aspire to be Lara Croft.) But, I am still a beginner and there were a few slip ups in the snow that ended up with me buried up to my waist after walking head first into a drift.
I can say though, I am enjoying my first Scottish Winter and can’t wait to see where I am at in the coming years. I’d love to try my hand at ice climbing!
This weekend was the best way to start off the week and semester. I’ve got upcoming lectures about Medieval Scottish archaeology!
(p.s. Mom before you freak out… yes I am being totally safe. Yes, I am taking the proper safety courses. Yes, I make sure to double check my gear.)