Last week I went on a Winter Mountain Leader training course in Fort William with Plas Y Brennin. The six day course showed us how to perform and coach the different skills involved with winter work. It also reinforced how changeable winter mountain weather can be. On the first few days, while studying general winter skills like ice axe and crampon work, the cloud was high and some days were actually sunny. On the day we left for our snow hole expedition and night navigation exercise, we had blue skies all the way up to the point where we dug our holes.
In the morning we stepped out of our snow holes and found we could only barely see each other, let alone anything to navigate by. At this point we were told by our instructors that instead of the leisurely walk and skills work they had planed,t we were going to have to navigate our way across a couple of mountains and back to the vans.
This was a real-eye opener. As a Summer Mountain Leader my navigation skills are very good but even the worst summer conditions do not compare to being in a white-out, not knowing whether you are looking at the sky or the ground.
We proved this by standing on the edge of a cliff, looking out and realizing how easy it would have been to carry on.
We all managed to get back down without any problems and even returned in time for tea.
On the final day, we dug emergency shelters for one person. This was an interesting experience as it is surprising how deep a hole you need to dig in order to cover a person -without burying them.