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MIC Training Weekend - 15th to 17th Jan 2016

Last week’s training was a little bit different.  Forsaking the familiar comforts of the Derry or the Spittal bothies, a hardy bunch of AMRT pioneers loaded the wagons and headed west for our yearly MIC weekend.  Every year Di Gilbert and her team spend a weekend putting us through our paces, sharpening up our mountain skills and desperately trying to convince us to carry less kit!  Normally done around our own patch, this year however was different.  To drag us out of our comfort zones we agreed to spend the weekend in the west with different mountains, different snow and most importantly places we don’t know intimately for navigation. 

 

Friday night saw our Land Rovers rolling out of Westhill and heading west to the Raeburn hut; an excellent base for the weekend!  Even better, Di had arrived ahead of us and got the heating on and kettle boiling! 

 

Saturday was forecast to be a cracking alpine day – freezing cold, clear blue skies and little wind.  And so it looked as we drove west to Aonach Mor.  Within a few hundred meters of the gondola though, it was obvious that this was not the case; the clag was in, the snow was on and the wind was picking up.  Though a little disappointing, it was also excellent for our skills day – wildly different weather meant that avalanche forecasts etc. were no longer accurate and we’d have to assess everything as we travelled – great for training!  We spent the day continuously discussing the weather, the snow and the terrain we were traveling through.  Practising winter anchors, assessing the snow pack, route choice and consequences as well as the staples of ice axe arrests and white out navigation made for a great skills day. 

 

Meanwhile, Scott and Mike were having a “great” day out having their personal climbing / snow swimming skills coached by Rich.  One of the best things about this day was being in unfamiliar terrain, which was actively building avalanche potential – we witnessed the snow pack gaining more and more energy, as the day progressed, cracking, sloughs and spindrift purges around us.  Brilliant learning and great lesson in terrain management!  Good to have the experts there to keep us right too.  A good session on rope handling was run at the hut before dinner as well as a session on different ways of tying people on or attaching yourself to snow anchors.

 

Di also revived her annual attempt at getting us to lighten our rucksacks; no mean feat!  Di, Steve and Rich all gave us good advice on what they carry and advice on what they thought we could do without.  Maybe we’ll get down to 15kgs each yet!  To check that we’d been listening, the brief for Sunday was “light is right” with the threat that all unnecessary kit would be confiscated and possibly sold on e-bay while we were on the hill…..No-one was complaining a nice light sacks though!  Sunday was a “Journey” day – a chance to practice basic ropework on more technical mountaineering ground.  Di, Steve and Rich chose the east ridge of Beinn a’Chaorainn as a good objective for the day.  Breaking us down into small groups they headed out to whip us into shape.  A cracking day was had, with good advice on rope techniques, safeguarding on easy ground and efficient movement on mountaineering terrain.  Bonus prize on the summit was the cloud clearing completely giving stunning views!!!!  A bit of nav to find the right ridge off the hill and we were soon back at the landies grinning at the day.  Rounding everything off – fish and chips in Aviemore on the way home!  A great team (and personal!) weekend – loads learned, loads done and big grins all round! 

 

Cheers to Di, Steve and Rich for their time, patience, enthusiasm and evening banter!  A great team of instructors for the weekend! 

 

Words and pictures by Stuart Doig