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Snow holing in the Cairngorms, What's it all about? It felt about -30 deg C...

Easterly winds were forecast and it was drawing cold air over from Serbia, -30 deg C to be more precise, it hurt when you took your first breaths due to the air being dry. But dry cold air can be so much easier to deal with than the normal cold wet air thrown off the Atlantic, it's easier to keep dry, you just need to put plenty of more clothes on.

We had our Winter Mountain Leader assessment looming, we had chatted a few evenings previously that we were both keen for 2 nights out, only possible if we went in after Josh finished work. With a very cold and windy forecast, we met at around 9 pm, both hoping that one would say "lets just head in tomorrow!" But as ever we kept quiet and got the van packed and drove up to the Cairngorms ski car park. Our plan was to walk into Corie an t-Sneachda, up the goat track and dig our hole (fingers crossed for an empty one!) then spend the following day navigating in poor weather to get our winter skills and navigation sharp. On the walk in the wind seemed to be non existent, the moon was nearly full and was illuminating the Corie and we didn't even bother to take our head torches out of our bags. What a contrast to our expectations! We chatted on the way in and had the idea of potentially climbing up Aladdins Couloir en route to Corie Domhain.

Aladdins Couloir
Aladdins Couloir - Night time ascent

And the got even better. We arrived at our snow holing site to discover an empty hole! We made a brew and some food before getting our equipment organised to keep it dry and be able to stay in our sleeping bags for as long as possible in the morning, just getting out to get clothes on, pack up and go. Cutting small snow blocks works wonders for getting your brew going while keeping warm in your bag. It felt cold, even in the warmth of the hole, every square inch of warm air had to be kept under the cords of the bag, any slight draught was enough to wake you, feeling uncomfortable and wrapping yourself even more into the warmth of the down bag.

The following morning we brewed, ate and chatted for a while before braving the cold. -30 deg C was the flavour of today, warning being issued for the severe temperatures, I mean who is crazy enough to head out and walk, navigate, eat, sleep repeat in these conditions...? We kept moving all day to keep the warmth of our equipment, navigating around the Cairngorms before heading up to Ciste Mhearad for our second night. We had been chatting all day, saying that we should probably dig our own hole, even if there are free ones available. And sure enough, there were plenty of spare snow holes. But being stubborn we decided to dig our own. The weather was nice at this point and for the next 2 hours, people had been occupying all of the other snow holes in the corie. We were now hitting very hard snow, cursing ourselves for being so stupid! Why didn't we just make one of the other ones better!? 5 hours later we had our home for the evening. a small cave with 2 platforms for sleeping and a small cooking area that can be reached for our sleeping bags. But our night wasn't over... we had decided that we should do some night navigation. It was windy outside the hole, and we had to be careful of the hole filling in while we were sleeping. We wanted to keep warm in our bags, but need must, and to be honest 20 min in to the nigh navigation we were smiling and laughing (mainly to ourselves as we couldn't hear each other because of the ferocious winds! Back to the snow hole, another brew and kit organisation for the morning, expecting wind and more cold temperatures.

We awoke to the coldest I had been on the expedition, struggling to keep the warm air in my bag, it was time to get the brews on, get some food and get out of our newly build home. Josh went first; you tend to find that it quicker if one person gets ready if the hole is reasonably small, this stops the other person getting cold waiting for the other person to give them space to get their kit organised. I kept eating and drinking until it was my turn. By now we were pretty slick and we were ready to go in around 20min. It was proper Scottish outside, wild, windy and low visibility, perfect again for practising our navigation skills. We were soon warming up as we descended the ski runs to the base station, and as always the conversation turns to what our next meal will be. Mountain Cafe was the next stop. We had our cake before our cooked breakfast... but it felt so right and warm and we didn't really care what anyone else thought, we just had another great adventure in some pretty demanding conditions and we earned our crusts for sure!


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