“Just do a tummy crunch”!
This was not something I’d ever thought I’d be attempting while hurtling down a snow slope, head first on my back.
Life is full of challenges and the ‘tummy crunch’ apparently, would enable me to stab the slope with my ice axe, flip over to my stomach and gravity would do the rest.
I would end up stationary hugging the ice axe, feet down the slope.
So this is how you learn to ‘ice axe’ arrest. All I have to do is practise so that in an emergency muscle memory will kick in and save me.
I was up in the Cairngorms, based at Glenmore Lodge, participating in a winter skills weekend run by MTA the Mountain Training Association
Arriving by train on Friday there was a shortage of winter. Green prevailed and all skiing had been cancelled. Expectations were managed to the level of promised improvisation.
Saturday chose to ignore forecasts and it was smiles all round the breakfast table as we watched the world outside turned ptarmigan white.
While many were there to learn or reinforce skills as part of a programme of progression to winter outdoor leadership, I was there merely “for fun” with a bit of personal safety thrown in. After all it does snow in the Lake District and I do go out walking in it. Only I hasten to add, on those picture postcard days when we get a little taste of alpine magic. Yes I have had a pair of crampons for some time which I’ve used on occasions but ice axes look like dangerously offensive weapons. So I’ve always been reticent about buying one let alone carrying one.
While still having no intention of visiting the snow in less than perfect conditions, I’m now somewhat better versed in the uses of an ice axe, beyond rendering myself open to serious injury.
As with anything new the weekend revealed vast areas of unconscious incompetence.
Cutting snowsteps proved to be an excellent way of adding warmth when my core temperature headed down. Aside from their intended purpose of aiding traverse across the snow.
There was so much about winter walking I had no idea I didn’t know. From avalanche awareness to how to stow my ice axe under my shoulder strap for ease of emergency access. Heaven forbid.
Day two. The front had blown over and the picture window was more my kind of winter day. Not really ideal for practicing bad weather navigation but far better for photos.
Everything was somewhat slower but I did manage to find the pegs in the ground, figure out where I was and enjoy the scenery, as well as make a few new friends. The local reindeer had learned that hungry hikers carried more tasty morsels than lichen in their packs and were stalking us softly, until deterred by snowballs.