Tales of the Unexpected.

Day 3 of the Kirkby Stephen MRT winter skills course.

There’s something to be said for experiencing three consecutive dry days in Scotland. The term amazing comes to mind. Add in some blue sky and sunshine and we were surely experiencing a miracle in the making.

Lunch in the sun!

With the need for the Team to head home around 3pm, it was remarkable how much we managed to fit into a six hour day on the hill. After two days of winter skills training, the aim was to apply our new learning into a scenario involving a stretcher lower on snow. Two rucksacks strapped on the stretcher mimicked a casualty and it was good to see that their condition remained stable throughout the exercise.

The winter skills team 2023

No 2 gully in Coire na Ciste had just enough snow to allow a lower over three rope lengths and offered an opportunity to revisit how a team gets the casualty, its members and all accompanying kit down a hill in one piece. Couple that with eighteen of us moving on a steep snow slope wearing crampons with axe in hand and you’ll understand why everything was done with an enormous amount of due care and attention towards individual and team safety!

I’m actually in this photo – on the left with a red helmet.

The camera was stashed as my hands were employed in flaking rope, watching how to set up a lowering point with an MPD, abseiling angel wing style down the hillside or digging snow bollards.

The name conjures images of an upright column and, when these were first mentioned, I did wonder if we would be building some snowmen and using these somehow as a belay anchor point. The actual device is the complete opposite. A trench in the shape of an upside-down teardrop is carved in the snow using ice axes to around 30cm deep. The point of the teardrop leads down to the point where an attachment is required. The belay rope is then inserted in the trench, with both ends fed down to the belay, thus providing a surprisingly strong anchor point. Axes can be added to reinforce the structure and the bollard itself can work as part of a system of further bollards. We noticed some that had been created by another team on the opposite side of the valley. As someone commented, they did look like the hoof prints of a giant horse!

Our bollards were used alongside some cowhorn axe and New Zealand stomper belays. I’m realising that I’m not just learning new skills but a whole new language too!

By 3pm we were indeed back at the car park, all kit and team safe and accounted for as we exchanged boots and waterproofs for food and drink and fitted ourselves around luggage in the various vehicles. As I crafted a nest for the five hour journey using two rucksacks and a couple of duvet jackets I reflected on the weekend and its impact on me.

I’ve been allowed to mess about in my favourite environment using new kit and techniques with like-minded individuals who know how to bring some necessary light-hearted good humour to what is a serious matter.
I now need a hot shower and about a week’s worth of sleep. I’ve eaten my own body weight in sandwiches and pork pies and gone the whole day without needing to wild pee on the hill. I am eternally grateful to my bladder for not insisting I remove climbing harness and various trouser layers to answer the call of nature in a baltic gale. It must have known…
As has my body, which has done way more than I believed it capable of.
A miraculous day? I’d say!

The five of us from our newbie group who came on the skills course.

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