In preparation for hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, there were a few winter skills I was eager to learn. The idea of possibly having to use an ice axe (when I’d never held one), or having to hike and navigate my way over high passes through snow, made me incredibly nervous and had been contributing to a few of my PCT nightmares! (Snakes, drought and no food on the shelf at resupply towns were a few of my other recurring dreams!)
Glenmore Lodge near Aviemore in Scotland runs numerous mountaineering and skills courses all through the year and I chose the 2 day Introduction to Winter Skills course as it covered exactly what I needed and more:
Selection and organisation of personal kit appropriate to winter hill walking
Personal movement skills on snow, including kicking steps and using the ice axe for walking, self belay, cutting steps and self arrest.
Use of crampons in ascent/descent
Avalanche awareness & safe route choice
Core techniques of winter navigation
Getting to Glenmore Lodge:
Fly: London Luton to Inverness with EasyJet,
Bus: Inverness airport to Inverness city (~20 mins)
Train: Inverness to Aviemore (~45 mins)
Taxi: Aviemore to Glenmore Lodge (~10 mins).
There is also an overnight train from London to Aviemore but flying was the considerably cheaper & quicker option.
I booked the inclusive package which included 2 nights accommodation (the night before the course starts and Sat night) and all meals during the course.
When I arrived on Friday afternoon I met Alistair at reception who has also hiked the PCT and spoke very highly of his experience, then I was given a keycard for my room and now had the rest of the evening free to explore the lodge before meeting my instructor in the lecture room after breakfast the next morning at 8:15am. (Coincidentally, that evening I met a guy called James working in the bar who is also heading out to hike the PCT this year. He gave me a copy of “The Last Englishman” by Keith Foskett which was an interesting read about his experience on the PCT a few years ago).
The lodge was quite big with a gym, sauna, pool, climbing wall, lecture room, drying room, laundry and a terrific bar & restaurant.
Saturday morning I had a huge breakfast, picked up my packed lunch (various rolls, fruit, cake, chocolate), filled up my flask with coffee and headed to the lecture room at 8:15am to meet my guide for the weekend, Johannes.
We were a nice small group of 6 and after introducing ourselves and studying a map of the region, we headed out to learn how to use an ice axe and crampons.
It was only 1 week after my second round of back injections so I was a little limited with what I could do, not wanting to twist or aggravate my back, but our guide was very understanding and by the end of the day I felt comfortable and confident on the snow using an ice axe and walking with and without crampons.
When we got back to the lodge there was just enough time to have a quick slice of their famous cake and a quick shower before listening to a lecture on winter navigation, then dinner and then a lecture on avalanches.
Sunday was all about winter navigation and we certainly got the best weather for it – one minute it was sunny with terrific views, the next we were being blown around by gale force winds and a total whiteout! Together we navigated to the top of 2 peaks, passed skiers, and got to put our ice axe and crampon knowledge from the previous day to the test. It was a terrific day.
It was just a 2 day course but I definitely left Glenmore Lodge feeling a lot more confident about walking through snow on the PCT (if there is any when I get to the Sierras because it’s so far been an extremely low snow year).
I’ve bought some Kahtoola Microspikes but I’m going to hold off on buying an ice axe just yet until I get closer to the Sierras and suss out what the snow pack is like.
I fly out in just over a week so I’m sure panic mode will kick in soon!