Category Archives: Winter ML

WML Assessment Days 3-5

Mark on the summit of Stob Ban

Mark on the summit of Stob Ban

It’s all over except for the result! We had a hard couple of days in the Grey Corries, the weather was challenging to say the least and I found carrying a large bag with bivi kit particularly tough through soft snow. It was a good job that I’ve been in training all winter, carrying both Penny’s and my kit.

Life in the snow hole

Life in the snow hole

Our route was 27km long with 2000m of ascent over the two and a bit days. Tuesday started with a walk in along the disused tramway and then up the valley, we continued to gain height and were soon talking about how we would get groups up onto a ridge. This had a steep section at the top and whilst I demonstrated my movement skills on steep ground Andy had to protect Mark by setting up a belay. After this a few nav legs took us the a point on the ridge where I was asked to take us down into a corrie to the snow hole site. By this point visibility was very poor and it was with some relief that I found a patch of less steep ground more or less where it was supposed to be. However it took a little searching to find the deep snow bank that would be our home for the night.


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Our Route

The snowhole seen from outside

The snowhole seen from outside

Two hours of digging later we had a hole with sitting head room and plenty of space for three of us. Whilst we were cooking Dave (our instructor) confirmed his intention of a 2:30am departure for our night nav and to continue the journey in the direction of the bothy where we could rest during the day. Whilst this sounds harsh his logic made sense, it was forecast to rain and thaw so we wanted to be out of the snow holes before they became slush!

Mark in the snowhole

Mark in the snowhole

2:30 came far too quickly, especially since we had been intending to wake up at 1:45 for breakfast and packing. So with a packet of jelly babies in my pocket and two reluctant contact lenses in I hurriedly packed and we were ready to go at about 2:45. The first leg took us up to the main ridge, Andy led the way but I was asked to lead the group through the cornice. It was about person height in most places but I found a slightly lower section and cut a slot in it. Some big solid steps helped my group to gain the ridge. The rest of the night was a blur of up and down from the ridge but it did involve summitting one Munro in the dark and another in the light.
Grim conditions

Grim conditions

My navigation was on good form and I felt mentally strong. Physically things were worse, jelly babies can only give you short-term energy and I needed proper food, peanuts and cheese. I was very grateful when Mark took a turn breaking trail on one of my legs.

Me enjoying soup in the bothy

Me enjoying soup in the bothy

We also dug some emergency shelters before descending to the bothy. To our surprise we found firelighters, wood and coal in the bothy and it was not long before the fire was going and we were enjoying the breakfast we had missed eight hours earlier. This was followed by a good sleep, lunch, another nap and then dinner. Around 6pm we headed out for a second night nav. This had the advantage of not needing to carry all our bivi kit and by now the rain had stopped and my clothes actually dried during the evening. After good feedback on my nav the previous night I relaxed a little and enjoyed myself. The terrain was more like the Lakes and similar to what I had done with a friend of a friend in preparation for her summer ML assessment.

We got back around 10pm and I went to sleep quickly, the other were chatting to a group of Lads from Sheffield who were having a week away. All that was left was to get up in the morning and walk down the track to the car, about 6km away. I must say it was an exhausting 48 hours, especially the early hours of Wednesday morning. I feel I conducted myself well, and so far the feedback has been mostly positive but the final result will be in a few hours.

Added a little later: I passed! My feedback was mostly very positive and praised my knowledge and navigation skills. I must say that the whole experience was stressful, and hard work. Of course now I’ve passed I’m glad I did it but if you are reading this considering going for your assessment make sure you are well prepared both mentally and physically. Recent practice at all areas of the syllabus is vital as is a commitment to ‘do it properly’ I had two trips to scotland in preparation and several skills sessions in the lakes, if you are not committed you may struggle.

WML Assessment Day 2

Me on some Scottish ridge somewhere

Me on some Scottish ridge somewhere

Today was steep ground day, plenty of lowering, abseiling, bollards and buried axes as well as a lot of looking at the snowpack. I had a good day, the nav was not too tricky and went smoothly whilst my recent practice on snow belays really paid off.

Mark Reeves’ (a fellow assessee) blog on today is here, it includes a photo of my bollard!

Tomorrow we head into the Grey Corries for our three day exped. The forecast is for warm and wet after tomorrow so we may have to head for other shelter since snow holes are not well know for their structural integrity at temperatures above freezing. So next blog post is likely to be Thursday evening (when I’ll know the outcome) unless the phone signal is strong enough.

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Today's route

WML Assessment Day 1

The one photo I took today

The one photo I took today

For our first day we headed to Buachaille Etive Beag, The People’s Mountain, and took an interesting route up a ridge on the northern end. We were assessed navigating, route finding, assessing the avalanche conditions and coaching a variety of skills including ice axe arrest, and movement wearing crampons.

I generally had a good day, the nav was reassuringly solid and the route finding came naturally. I had a couple of hiccups with demonstrating ice axe arresting and cutting steps. My ice axe arrest was rushed and a little hit and miss, sometimes my axe and hands were pulled upwards and other times my feet were not kept off the snow. The slope was less than perfect with very hard neve which resulted in very bruised knees. I know that I will get another chance to demonstrate this but that next time if I can’t get it right it could lead to a deferral. All three of us cut steps far smaller than needed when asked to cut steps for our novice group, next time less hurry and bigger steps is what is needed.

Tomorrow is another mountain day but we will include steep ground, including the use of the rope and perhaps some buried axe or snow bollard belays. The forecast for Tuesday onwards is very wet and mild, not ideal snow holing conditions but we’ll worry about that later.

Todays route (clockwise)

Todays route (clockwise)

WML Assessment Starts Tomorrow

Me in my shelter

Me in my shelter

So I’m now in Glen Coe unpacked and ready for my Winter ML assessment that starts tomorrow. Today I met up with Andy who is on the course this morning and we headed north from the King’s House practicing our navigation. There was plenty of fresh snow that had fallen last night and in places the drifts were thigh deep.  In one we dug emergency shelters, in five minutes I dug one bigger than I managed in twenty minutes in the cairngorms a fortnight ago. On the tops visibilty was about 20-40 metres and I managed to complete a 1km leg with a slight dog-leg with only a 20m error at the end. It was a good note to end my preparation on!

The locals at the Kings House

The locals at the Kings House

On the descent we had a play at building belays but the snow was too soft. It was even too soft for ice axe breaking, we just stopped!
Our Route

Our Route (we went clockwise)