Well that was a top weekend! The Women's Winter Festival with our fab partners Girls on Hills was a real treat. We were blessed with stunning weather on day one and more challenging weather with lots of learning potential on day two! The aims were empowering, encouraging and enthusing women to explore the mountains in winter, and we certainly achieved this!
After a winter that has been a bit more miss than hit when it comes to snow and ice cover, we were very lucky to get a return to proper wintry conditions. So much so that, unfortunately, it was a bit tricky to get to Fort William with cancelled trains and tough driving conditions. Nearly everyone made it though and we all enjoyed great days out in the mountains, superb and inspiring talks from our guests and lots of fun and laughter sharing the experience.
We kicked off with talks from Keri Wallace, trail running guide and Co-Founder of Girls on Hills, who talked about her recent record-breaking Winter Tranter's Round. And Anna Wells, climber, instructor and Founder of Rocks and Trails, who spoke about a few important lessons she's learned from years of walking, scrambling, climbing and even flying in the mountains!
It was a packed audience in The Highland Bookshop and the stories from Anna and Keri were so inspiring. There are so many women doing amazing things while also juggling family life and careers, and it was brilliant to hear from two women who have found ways to excel at what they do in so many ways.
Saturday started sunny and frosty, perfect for getting out on the hills and learning new skills. Running in the crisp, dry air was a delight, and the ground conditions were perfect for the runners to try out micro-spikes and poles during their route that took them over Meall an t-Suidhe, around to the CIC Hut under the North face of Ben Nevis. The run was concluded with some well earned cake at the Highland Soap Company!
Winter Walking Skills groups headed to Nevis Range to make use of the uplift to get to the snow more easily. There was plenty of old hard snow to get the crampons into, and to learn how to move around efficiently and securely with an ice axe. The groups learnt about different snow types, kicking steps, ice axe arrests and various ways to use crampons, by which point it was time to get up high and catch the views stretching from the Cairngorms to the Paps of Jura.
The climbing teams went to Glencoe where all sorts of snow and ice anchors were practised, along with climbing some brilliant cascade ice. After a very cold week, there was ice in many of the stream lines, some of which make excellent climbs. This low level ice was ideal for focusing on learning skills with minimal walk in required. After eight pitched of beautiful cascade ice the climbers had certainly made the most of the day!
After a long day in the hills, the Ben Nevis Inn served us up a wonderful and very well earned meal. We had lots of people staying at the inn in their new bunk room accommodation which worked out very well. It's a great base for adventures being just outside of Fort William at the foot of Glen Nevis, and right at the start of the path going up Ben Nevis.
After dinner talks were from Mountaineering Scotland Safety Advisor Kirsty Pallas and Lou Beetlestone, one of our instructor team for the weekend. Lou stepped up at the very last minute when Marianne Heading, winner of the Montane Yukon Arctic Ultra, found herself snowed in and unable to travel to Fort William! Lou is a full-time outdoor instructor, with a passion for mountain running, climbing and alpine mountaineering. In 2019, Lou was part of the first all-female team planning to climb all the Alpine 4000m peaks, in one summer season and she told us all about her experiences on this project.
Where day one was crisp and dry, day two was soggy and slushy! We had two very contrasting days, emphasising the changeable conditions we have to deal with in Scotland in winter. It's always useful to learn how to stay warm and dry, even in the wet weather. The poor visibility was ideal for practicing some navigation skills, the climbers found some good snow to learn how secure their snow-anchors are and the climbing on Dorsal Arete was fun even in the rain!
Smiles and good company keep you warm even when the weather is wet. The Scottish Highlands in winter can be wild and intimidating, but they can also be awe-inspiring and beautiful. With the right skills and knowledge, you can make these mountains your playground throughout the winter months. This was certainly a weekend of building confidence and having fun, and we will be back next year for more!
Huge thanks to Hannah Shaw www.Hannah-Shaw.com for taking brilliant images of the weekend and to the Ben Nevis Inn and Highland Bookshop for looking after us all.
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.