SNOWHOLING IN THE CAIRNGORMS Feb 2010
On the evening of Friday 26th Feb 2010
eight members of The Cairngorm Club met up at Fraoch Lodge, Boat
of Garten for a weekend of Winter Skills with a difference…
On offer this time was the opportunity to
spend a night in a snowhole … we would quite literally have “to
make our beds and lie in them" ! ! !
Would I like to do it again … I most
Our instructors (James Woodhouse assisted
by Richard Hathway) joined us before supper on the Friday for a gear
check and briefing. We learnt amongst other things that meths
stoves are not ideal for snowholes. Gas is what is required. We
found ourselves also to be deficient in one or two other areas
and so a pre snowhole shopping trip was planned for the Saturday
morning in Aviemore. The two Mountain Gear shops we visited were
heaving with skiers and climbers and it was some relief to
eventually leave them behind for the drive up towards Cairngorm.
With the snow gates still closed we parked up a little before
them got geared up and then eventually got moving.
What I liked about this Meet was the lack
of decision making I had to do. One simply had to put one foot
in front of the other. Our guides made most of the decisions
....… we simply followed their instructions.
Richard and John at Glenmore
Into the forest
There were many groups out… sking…digging…walking
So where would we be going ?
We would head towards Bynack Mor…easyish at
first on the ski tracks but once off path progress slowed to a
crawl. There was a lot of deep soft snow about. Our instructors
covered navigational techniques (amongst other things) on the
walk in to the snow hole site. We took turns on navigational
legs using pacing and time, map and compass… no GPSs here. This
was back to basics ...… the fundamentals of moving in open country.
Not surprising really as James’ background is an Army one. He is
a former Scots Guard. I found both James and Richard to be top
geezers who knew their stuff. Their enthusiasm was addictive and
instruction, advice and technique were delivered in an easy and
positive fashion. Adrian Scott had picked our instructors well.
The following is mostly a pictorial account
of how our two days in the mountains panned out. Travel was
slow. Less than 1km per hour at times. But of course we weren’t
really here to walk… we were here to dig initially… and then to
And to freefall...Fun in the snow
John in freefall...
Looking for "the right snow"
The Cairngorm Club Feb 2010
Our route took us across the allt a'
Garbh-choire and up into the rough choire though there were very
few "rough" boulders visible today.
Our instuctors checking things out
Evidence of a recent avalanche meant our
first choice was a no go and probing of another two sites
incredibly revealed there was just not enough snow for our
We descended a bit and eventually were
looking down on an almost perfect spot
This looks right
We were in a curious ravine, not quite a
rentrant. A place quite safe from avalanche. A homely nook in
the hills with a wonderfull reverse cornice at one end (part of
which we tunnelled into).
And the digging starts... Jon and
Jenny Maria and Derek
Jon and Anastasia had to abandon their
initial hole due to a combination of hard snow and not enough
depth. And at hole number two Jenny,Maria, Adrian and myself
also soon hit heather :o But the other hole was now looking
very cosy and soon work commenced on another (on the other side
of the reverse cornice).
We started digging around 5.50pm (as I
recall) and we were all inside by 8.30 pm.
As the night draws in
No caption required ! ! !
Our hole (myself, Adrian and Maria's) was
the smallest of the three constructions. We were rather proud of
our little home in the hills ......... a snow home I may add
which had THREE levels.
Maria enjoying some soup
After soup, tea and some mulled wine it was
lights out for these snowholers (at 9.30pm) as there was not
really enough room to do much more and besides we were all a
little tired from our earlier effort. Cosy in our sleeping bags
and with a full moon illuminating the inside of our proud snow
home each dozzed (or slept) in some comfort till James popped
his head in the door at 02.30 and asked "if everyone was
alright" he then went on to say that the roofs on the other
holes were sagging a fair bit (he thought they might). Ours
wasn't too bad... but it was lower.
"Get up and get packed... we'll night nav
to "The Bothy" for some breakfast"
At 2.30am in the morning this rather
surprisingly sounded like a splendid idea and by 3.30am we were
all packed and moving for a bothy less than 2km away. The
journey took us 2.15 hours in the deep soft snow. We took turns
at the front navigating and breaking trail. It was hard work but
Name that Bothy
We arrived before 6am to an empty bothy
where we refuelled on porridge and tea (some slept) and at
around 09.30 I joined the team for Meall a'Bhuachaille.
Adrian Scott on Meall a' Bhuachaille
On Meall a' Bhuachaille
The Hill of the Shepherd
Descending into Glenmore
I found this Meet to be a very enjoyable
experience ... and it ended with tea and cake at
James Woodhouse Mountaineering -
Fraoch Lodge -