Over the weekend we joined forces with Girls on Hills to run our first Women's Winter Festival. After a big Covid shaped spanner was thrown into our plans to launch the event last year it was absolutely fantastic to get the festival going this year, and to have so many keen and capable women join us for the various events.
Over the two days, courses run by Girls on Hills and ourselves included:
SATURDAY 12TH MARCH
Kicking off on day one, we were fortunate to have fairly calm weather, although there was a few very wintry squalls to keep things suitably Scottish! After a chat about kit, weather forecasts and avalanche forecasts, Kirsty and one of the Winter Hill Walking Skills teams headed to Aonach Mor, while I took the other team to the North Face of Ben Nevis. The aim for the first day of the Winter Skills course was to introduce basic skills such as using crampons and an ice axe, ice axe arrests, route planning and avalanche awareness. Both teams did brilliantly and were ready to put all their new skills into practice on a mountain journey on day two.
Keri took her group of Winter Trail Runners to Aonach Mor where they were able to quickly get onto the snow. There, they put their microspikes to the test and worked out the limitations of their winter kit before enjoying a run over Sgurr Finniosgaig and Meall Beag, then back down to the Nevis Range base station.
All four of our climbing teams opted for the North Face of Ben Nevis, with Becky and Sally, and Rachel, Lindsey and Bea heading to Garadh Gully. Julie, Katie and Cat, and Emma, Donna and Ellie went to Number Two Gully Buttress. The ladies on these courses all had varying degrees of winter climbing and mountaineering experience, generally as seconds, and were keen to develop their leading skills so they can start getting on the sharp end. Saturday saw them brushing up on gear placements, belays and movement skills to get them ready for leading on Sunday.
SUNDAY 13TH MARCH
Sunday's weather forecast wasn't ideal with 50 to 60 mph winds suggested. Fortunately the snow conditions were more favourable so we had plenty of options to try and find shelter from the wind.
Keri and the Descending Performance group made use of many of the descent options on Cow Hill to hone their technique on a variety of terrain. This great little hill just above Fort William has everything from rough landy track to slippery muddy path to pathless tussocky heather. Plenty to get to grips with!
Emma and her team of navigators also took advantage of the fantastic Cow Hill with all it's contour squiggles to brush up on their skills. Accurate navigation is vital in the mountains, and particularly in the winter when you can be faced with zero visibility. Practising skills such as contour interpretation, pacing, timing and following a bearing in a friendly and inconsequential environment is a great way to make sure you know what to do when it really matters.
Both Winter Skills teams opted for a day in Glencoe on day two. Kirsty's group went for the Wee Buachaille (Buachaille Etive Beag) where they practised more movement skills on the steeper ground up to pt. 902, and then got themselves out the wind by digging some emergency shelters. My team were psyched to try a circular walk where they could practice a bit of navigation so we planned a route with a few options, depending on how the wind was when we got up high. We found shelter by heading into the Lost Valley and up towards the south west ridge of Stob Coire nan Lochan. The wind was lighter than expected so we were able to quickly tag the summit before descending off the north west ridge just as the squalls started to pick up.
After a big day on Saturday, two of the climbing teams had tired legs on Sunday morning so a visit to the Ice Factor and an afternoon at Onich Slabs was a good choice. They practised lots of movement skills and climbing techniques on ice and rock, so they're ready to go when they aim for their next mountain route. The other two groups both headed to Stob Coire nan Lochan, with Emma's team going for Dorsal Arete, and Julie's team opting for NC Gully. Ellie, Donna, Katie and Cat all had a turn on the sharp end, leading at least one pitch and absolutely crushing it!
What an incredible weekend!! For me, one stand out memory from the weekend was listening to one woman tell me on Saturday morning that she lacks confidence in the mountains. Then on Sunday afternoon I watched her lead the way confidently up a steep snow slope, 100% at ease with where she was and what she was doing. So awesome! The purpose of the weekend was to empower, encourage and enthuse women to explore the mountains in winter. I really hope that this weekend has done that, and everyone who took part has gone away with new skills and a massive boost to their confidence. It has been an absolute pleasure to share two days in the mountains with such an amazing and strong group of women.
Big thank you to all the participants and instructors, Girls on Hills for collaborating, and Ellis Brigham in Fort William for hosting. Hope to see you all on a mountain soon!
The 2023 Women's Winter Festival will take place on the 10th to 12th March. See you there!
Self reliance is a fundamental principle of mountaineering. By participating we accept this and take responsibility for the decisions we make. These blog posts and conditions reports are intended to help you make good decisions. They do not remove the need for you to make your own judgements when out in the hills.