True Highlands Blog
A lot of climbers in Scotland have a ritual; when the first snows dust the mountain tops and thoughts turn from rock climbing to ice climbing, then the ice axes and crampons are unpacked from storage, sharpened and made ready for the coming season. For me it is this weekend. Rain has meant crags are largely unclimbable and the first indoor competition of the season at the Ice Factor is looming, so it is time for the mental shift from one season to another.
We are fortunate as climbers to have the opportunity to be able to practice at least one aspect of our sport all year round. Not so lucky are skiers who can count on a few months a year of prime conditions at best. We are in awe of the dedication of Helen Rennie who has plodded up the cairngorms at least once a month for the past few years to set the record for consecutive months skiing, but for the majority of enthusiasts it is still a winter pursuit. This is the time of year then for all of us to hatch big plans, plot frozen adventures and prepare for what will obviously be the coldest and longest winter of all time. To be a snowsport enthusiast in Scotland is to be an eternal optimist but despite the frequent disappointments, we go through this ritual every year because, when things go right in Scotland, there is nowhere else in the world we would rather be. So what’s it to be this year then? What possibilities await the intrepid? As well as being an optimist I have to admit to a tendency for over ambition. With that in mind these are a few of the ideas that excite me in the coming months.
Snowholing is great fun but utterly miserable at the same time. With the popularity of bikes with massive fat tyres that can comfortably ride through snow, there are some amazing possibilities for multi day bike rides round the Cairngorms in winter. It’s good to practice the skills necessary to dig a functioning shelter so a wee spin to the nearest snowdrift on a weeknight is a fantastic mini adventure. (To make it an authentic experience remember to poo in a bag in the morning and carry it with you to work!) It’s very important to leave no waste in the outdoors.
If going up and down, the same pistes gets boring after a bit, then the ultimate ski tour in Scotland is the Haute Route. Basically you ski from Ben Nevis to Ben Avon in the Cairngorms. Sounds easy? In the last few decades it has only been managed by a handful of teams, the total distance is over 155km with over 10,000m of ascent and will take at least a week.
The only 24 hour mountain bike race in the world to be held every winter is the Strathpuffer. Now in its 10th year the race sees competitors suffer in some of the worst conditions you could imagine riding a bike through. Previous years have seen gale force winds, deep snow, torrential rain and sheet ice. Add in 18 hours of darkness and you can see why it is regularly touted as one of the toughest races in the world.
If you prefer your four legged friends to do all the hard work then dog sledding must be the best way to get around this winter. The centre in Aviemore organises tours, training courses and races every year. When conditions are less than ideal you can have your huskies tow you round on a trike.
A bothy trip is something to be enjoyed all year, but there is something special about hiking through the snow and building a fire to keep you warm in the most out of the way location. Bothies can get very busy at New Year but for some this is all part of the attraction, with people frequently carrying bagpipes, fiddles and gallons of whisky with them to party in traditional Scottish way. If the hangover is too much for you the next day then how about another Scottish New Year’s Day tradition, the loony dook. Scrape the ice from your nearest loch, strip off and dive in. Instant revival.
If all these get too much, or if perhaps winter for you is more about comfort and relaxation, après ski and hot toddies then try a winter break at Balneden Steading, just down the road from The Lecht.Tags: aviemore, Ben Nevis, bothy, cairngorms, dog sledding, ice climbing, ice factor, lecht, loony dook, skiing, snowhole, strathpuffer, winter, winter sport