Basic 1: Charlie, Helen, Amy, Natalie, Blanche, Oscar, Holly, Rebecca N.
Basic 2: Tomás, Sari, Alek, Sebastian, Rebecca L, Seweryn, Julia, Paulina, Caterina
Advanced 3: Tom, Bella, Luc, Ellie
Advanced 4: Jacob, Dan, Carlo, Mallory.
Advanced 5: Justin, Daniel, Kieran.
Non course:  Lucy, Hugo, Alex, Aaron, Ben, Darci, Mark, Iain.

After the traditional van trouble of broken boot locks and missing drivers’ licenses, thus commenced our annual learning-new-things-is-fun/ winter-is-coming/ organisational feat: Winter Skills! This weekend in the Cairngorms is focussed largely on preparing the club for upcoming winter trips including the relevant skills and safety knowledge required for further mountain undertaking. In the past we’ve used Mountain Circles, a guided mountaineering organisation run by Paddy Cave (also casually known as ‘Pad-bae’; if you’ve ever received a handshake from this Irish God, you’ll understand. Don’t read into it.) and this year was no different.

My minibus arrived at the Christian Centre at 12:30am after enduring an exciting skywalker-themed hour being buffeted by the Scottish breeze. The accommodation, a staple of the club, is total luxury: comfy beds, warm showers and functioning ovens (god bless those Christians) so we all conked out immediately.

The morning of the 18th dawned crisp and cool as we met Paddy and the rest of the guides, John, Bryan, Innes, Zach and Lee at the Base Station car park. We split into Basic, Advanced and non-course (basically just older members who we let tag along) and after sorting out kit we got going around 9. The north-easterly 30-40mph winds meant the walk into Coire an t-sneachda (corr-anne-schnekta), wasn’t battering but was bitingly chilly as we felt the forecasted minus 16 windchill.

The Basic course spent the day learning winter mountaineering essentials, including kicking steps, how to self-belay and the ever-entertaining ice-axe arrest. Advanced took it further, with snow anchors, building belays and a grade 1 multi-pitch to finish the day. The non-course hooligans split up into smaller groups. Lucy, Hugo, Alexander, Ben and Aaron attempted the Runnel, a 3 pitch II*** but had to suffer a slow 3-hour queue and ended up playing baseball with axes and snowballs to pass the time, in a show of expert sensibility. Darci Mark and Iain took on the milky way II/III**, where gear placement was sketchier than anticipated.

In the evening we made chilli for 36 people which when I say it’s my biggest accomplishment since starting university, I’m not lying. 2 hours of blood sweat and literal tears (18 onions people- thank goodness we had our snow goggles), combining bulghar wheat (what the hell is bulghar wheat), tomatoes, and about 250 tins of sweetcorn. Despite the rice being illogically both raw and overcooked, it turned out pretty good.

Darci was able to exercise her sadistic tendencies by banging on our doors at 6:29am on Sunday but what followed was a glorious day of clear skies and decent neve. Both courses had cracking days again, with Basic stepping up the crampon work and Advanced testing falls on snow anchors and more gear placement. Non-course groups had a mixture of highs and lows. Lucy and Russell (oh yeah Pete Alasdair and Charlotte were also there) had an unfortune day which Charlotte sums up well on UKC:

 Took the rope for a walk attempting to find Cha No. walked in so many circles pretty sure we got to the sneachda Boulder. 80mph winds made for a dogged route, sadly lost ONS. Ran out of crème eggs and went to the café to evaluate life choices.

 Alexander, Aaron and Ben had a moderately more successful day attempting the Haston line III but got stuck on a cumbersome ledge. Alexander moved past but ended up abing off straight onto Aarons head. And yes, he was wearing crampons, see pictures for visual aid. Darci Iain and Mark tackled Alladins Coulois I*** then walked over to Loch Avon down some forgotten gully and Hugo soloed Jacobs Ladder.

We were waving goodbye to the iridescent scenes and on our way back to York by 5:30, ready for the expected wave of post-trip Monday blues to follow.

Credit to Darci and Tom for organising another great WS trip. For me, not enough time spent in the café, which I guess is a good thing.

E.P. (wanna-be Nan Shepherd)

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