Dreaming of climbs on towering white mountains and
jaw-dropping cliff faces?
|Dreaming of climbs on towering white mountains and
jaw-dropping cliff faces?
Look what happens when you decide
you're tired of sitting behind a desk ...
Well, you've got to learn to walk before you can run and a
five day winter mountaineering course in the heart of the Scottish
Cairngorm region might be the perfect way to get started on those
Experienced mountaineering instructor Ron Walker has been
running winter skills and climbing courses with his company Talisman
Activities for over ten years. For people like me, who work in offices but
love the outdoors, the courses are an unforgettable experience and Ron is
a knowledgeable and practical guide.
Based on the slopes of the 4,082 foot Cairngorm mountain
during the unforgiving Scottish winter weather, the courses are also a
chance to shake off a few cobwebs.
Ron makes sure that participants are well versed in vital mountain safety
techniques. He aims to help people who may never have pulled on a pair of
crampons before get to grips with skills that will allow them to feel
confident tackling steep snowy terrain on their own.
As we made our way up the northern slopes of the mountain on our first
day, it all seemed a bit too bright and sunny.
We headed for the higher snow-covered ground and it was not long but we
had mastered our crampons and were hurtling down the snow in a variety of
alarming positions to practice emergency braking with ice axes - an
essential safety skill for all aspiring mountaineers. We learned the best
ways of climbing up and descending impossibly steep-looking slopes, such
as what Ron explained as the 'Tina Turner technique' - the 'legs wide
apart, knees bent' stance. On the second day, we discovered some real
Scottish winter weather as the cloud thickened, a harsh wind picked up and
wet snow surged around us.
It can be a daunting experience trying to navigate on a steep mountain in
a blizzard and Ron made sure that we all understood how to use a compass
and step-pacing techniques to get us out of potentially disastrous
A highlight of the day was building and having lunch in the snug
snow-holes, which we had painstakingly dug out with our ice axes, and in
which Ron assured us that we could pass a very comfortable night's sleep
or sit out a heavy storm.
For those who stay on for the final three days of Ron's
course, the emphasis is on putting the skills into practice and tackling
some more complicated ropework that will allow you to take on the really
steep snow and ice.
We learned how to set up longer rope-protected climbs using the snow and
ice to secure ourselves with anchors and belays.
||The climax of the experience was our final pitched climb
where my climbing partner and I surmounted a long snow-filled gully,
fixing our own belays as we ascended, under the watchful eye of Ron.
But as we trudged up the mountain again on the final day
there was a final unexpected treat in store. Cairngorm mountain is home to
the UK's only wild herd of reindeer.
About 15 of the Christmassy creatures took an inquisitive interest in our
little party and decided to amble down the path behind us The remote
surroundings are also home to the ptarmigan - we spotted many of these
white grouse-like birds hiding camouflaged in the snow-covered hills.
The fresh air and constant exercise took their toll and I returned home
from Aviemore fairly exhausted but totally exhilarated and feeling ready
to take on some more of those towering white mountains.
More details of the courses are available at:
By Rachel Crolla Senior Reporter
Leeds Weekly News, Pudsey and Wharfe Valley Times 10th
Scaling New Heights Of Fun!
||Do you fancy yourself as a
dashing mountaineer but fear you lack the winter skills? Express
Reporter GREG SWIFT discovers a winter climbing course in Scotland
that can take you to the heights.
Few experiences in life can match that of labouring for
hours through waist-deep snow to emerge on top of a sunlit mountain summit
and marvel at the beauty all around. During a five-day climbing course in
the Cairngorms I gloried in that sensation just once, but it was worth the
other days of biting winds and lung-busting exertion when it was sometimes
hard to see beyond a few feet.
On that day after a tortuous climb to the summit of 4,046ft Cairngorm, my
climbing partner and I were overwhelmed by the glistening spectacle before
us. Under a cloudless sky the serried peaks of the Cairngorm; stretched to
the horizon in all directions an endless swathe of snow smothered summits,
ridges and plateau.
It was the crowning moment under Ron Walker, an experienced mountaineer
who has tackled some of the world's most difficult peaks. His Talisman
Activities winter skills course, set up over 8 years ago, aims to take
novices from the "what is an ice axe?" stage to comfortably belaying a
partner over the edge of a collapsing cornice on just a slender rope. He
chose the Cairngorms for his base because life saving skills can be honed
on its moderately demanding slopes.
On our first morning we had a briefing on equipment and basic climbing
techniques, then went to the mountains to learn the most vital of skills,
how to stop a fall. Next came ice axe breaking: shooting down slopes head
first before rolling into position and using axes to come to a halt. I
discovered a childish delight in whizzing down a mountainside, knowing
that you can stop yourself (in theory!) at any given moment.
Then we learnt to traverse icy slopes using crampons, kicking steps in
snow or hacking them out in ice with an axe. And how to belay yourself or
another climber over a ledge using just a short rope and anchor cleverly
dug into snow. Navigation skills, too, are invaluable. especially when a
sunny day can become whiteout within minutes. Techniques such as pacing
knowing how many steps to cover 100 metres are carefully covered.
But the highlight of the week had to be the night spent in a snow hole.
After a gruelling climb involving a navigation test, with only two and a
half hours of daylight left, we start hacking at the wall of snow in front
of us, pausing only to shovel the collected snow out of the way.
The knack to making a good snow hole is to build two rooms one with a low
ceiling and a raised platform as a bed, the other deep enough so that two
people can stand up and get dressed in the morning.
|"...after five hours of digging and swearing
we had carved out an impressively smooth bedroom and a large
Although you are surrounded by ice, a night in a snow
hole is not uncomfortable. The temperature hovers around 0 degrees
centigrade and after consuming enough food for four people it is
comforting to slip into a sleeping bag for a kip.
The right equipment is a must, particularly
entirely waterproof clothing, half the battle in the mountains is staying
Reporter Greg Swift: (The Express Travel
Section 10th February 2001)
We Beat Our Fears!
Abseiling down a sheer cliff face may not be the obvious choice of
activity for someone with an intense fear of heights.
But when Sally Lovell was offered the
chance to do just that while on holiday in the Greek Islands two years
ago, she took it. For once, she was determined not to let vertigo spoil
her fun. Sally, a 38
old BBC marketing manager from London,
can't recall a specific trigger for her fears. As a child she could never
climb trees or negotiate the ropes during gym class, and fairground rides
were out of question. 'I remember feeling left out, part of me really
wanted to join in’; she recalls. While a teenager, Sally visited New York
and was persuaded up the Empire State Building. On the viewing deck she
was overwhelmed with a stomach churning sense of panic. It was a feeling
that was to return whenever she was at any height. 'I love trekking and
would often go oft with friends, only to turn back when the route took us
uphill; admits Sally. ‘I was convinced that I was going to fall and it
made me shaky.’
In June 2000, Sally went on a singles
holistic holiday to Skyros where activities were offered and she was
looking forward to painting, yoga and sailing. When someone suggested she
try abseiling, she laughed. Then she realised here was a golden
opportunity to tackle her fears head‑on. 'As we approached the cliff I
almost turned back. But it was such a beautiful day and I was enjoying
being with the group, so I persevered; says Sally. The others scaled the
200 ft. cliff face ahead of her. Then the group's instructor, Ron Walker,
helped Sally into a harness and coaxed her slowly over the cliff edge. 'It
was terrifying but Ron talked to me all the time and I felt safe with the
harness on; says Sally. 'To my amazement I felt OK. I even paused to
admire the view. On the ground, Sally felt elated. I'd done something I
would never have thought possible. It was like discovering a new me.
Inspired, she signed up for a holiday run by Ron of Talisman Mountain
Activities the same year and found herself walking on Mont Blanc‑the
highest mountain in Europe 4,000 metres
from the ground "....It
was terrifying but truly the best experience of my life.",
holidays helped me to believe in myself. I'm so much more confident now. I
don't think there's anything I wouldn't try, Mont Blanc was terrifying but
the best experience of my life".
Reporter: Hollie Smith Woman 55 (Summer 2002)
The fun is all in the preparation on a winter
skills survival course
||THERE’S something about throwing yourself head
first backwards down a steep snow slope which appeals to the suicidal
instinct: which must be why I’d actually paid to join five other
ashen-faced hill- walkers on the lower slopes of Cairngorm this week.
In fact, the intention is to stop you breaking your neck - or anything
With an increase in winter mountaineering and
greater publicity about safety, the demand for basic skills courses is
surely welcome, and our own instructor, Ron Walker of Talisman Activities,
proved patient and interesting.
Head first, feet first, backwards, for wards and
roly-poly, we dived in the quest to brake, first with the ice-axe, then
(more scarily) without it. Next, crampon practice: hallelujah .- they’ve
now invented devices which don’t take 10 freezing minutes to untangle,
before you realise you’ve forgotten from last season which way the
tortuous strap ping and looping actually goes.
Next day, past bustling queues of skiers at the
funicular, we trudged through soft, heavy snow towards the stunning cliffs
framed by blue skies, a rock climbers’ paradise Coire an t-Sneachda.
Climbers, ignoring avalanche warnings, crawled like beetles up snow
gullies and clanked past us hung with vast ironmongery.
While spring may appear to have arrived in the lowlands,
further north there is still a great deal of ice and snow. So it was that
Ron showed us how to marvel at rare snow buntings and experiment on a huge
bank or mini-ridge dense with drifted snow Someone volunteered to be
buried in the stuff; we fell through cornices; we tried primitive abseils
and snow belays; then we spent time and energy carving snow holes with ice
axes and shovels into the side of the snow-banked mini hill. Ron promised,
or threatened, us with lunch inside our own shelters!
|"I proved hopeless. The secret is to make a
small entrance you can barely squeeze through, but while the others
whistled and hummed and built fantastic lintels, or heaved beautiful
square snow blocks about, I fashioned the kind of cavernous entrance a
force nine gale could swirl into, the snow fell to powder in my mitts
and, most embarrassingly, I kept falling off my perch...."
It’s remarkable, though, when you do sandwich yourself
into a well-made snow hole, how roomy and tough-walled it seems. On Ron’s
longer 5 day courses, the group digs a massive hole for up to four hours,
and stays there overnight It’s apparently one of the great attractions
….which shows how odd and masochistic people are! At least I felt cheered
at sharing Ron’s verdict on those trendy, pricey, ubiquitous GPS
navigation gadgets (global positioning system)........................
Reporter Sarah Nelson from the “Heralds” Weekend
Living, Saturday, 22nd March 2003
Winter Skills course
The snow was falling nicely as we made our way to Aviemore for the Winter
Skills course, and it looked like it would continue throughout the
weekend. Temperature on the hills on Saturday was around –8, with a
good wind blowing the snow off the tops. After being kitted out with ice
axes, helmets and crampons we made our way up Corrie Cas alongside the ski
lift and funicular. Stopped to make ice footholds in a slope with
the axe, then further on made snow holes to sit in for lunch.
Although it seemed warm out of the cold wind Ron advised that maximum
temperature was probably around zero degrees. Feeling very cold in the
fingers at this point – useful tip from Fiona was to swing arms round in a
circle as if swimming, which pushes blood out to the fingers and warms ‘em
up in no time. Afternoon saw us performing (and I use that term very
loosely) Ice Axe arrests on the slopes with the use of the ice axes to
stop us. This involved throwing ourselves downhill head first, feet
first, sideways, and every other possible combination known, with a few
new ones not previously seen before on the slopes.... Great fun was had by
all, once the initial fear had gone. We then tried out the crampons
on icier slopes further up, perfecting the ‘John Wayne’ walk and various
other methods, again some previously undiscovered such as the 'Tina
Turner' (but equally effective).
two saw the weather worsen and the hills were closed to walkers, so an
alternative route took us up behind Glenmore Lodge. Ron had
brought a rope with him which drew suspicious looks from those of us
who suspected a plan was afoot, however we were assured that it was
just part of his kit for the day…hmmmm.
We did some navigation
with compass, maps and pacing and then stopped for lunch. After lunch we
found out what the rope was for, as Ron abseiled over a cornice on a
nearby slope, closely followed by Fiona then myself. Beautiful icy
blue colours showed through underneath the cornice. Stuart wisely
declined to follow, and looked on from above while Ron dug out a snow
trench to the top of the cornice. Things looked a bit dicey when the roof
collapsed, causing a mini avalanche, however after a bit of digging we all
emerged unscathed and laughing. We then looked at layers of ice and stress
lines in the cornices, then down to the park to practice some more
navigation (OK, maybe we didn’t all end up where we started but it was
close!). Then it was back to Fiona's for a nice hot cuppa and news reports
to check that the road at Drumochter was open again for the journey home.
Can’t wait until next year to do it all again!
By Susan Allan, 'Summit-Up', May 2003, Bank of Scotland
UPWARDLY MOBILE: John scales Old Man of Hoy
May 2007.. And it was off to Orkney with John and James
for a 40th birthday adventure to climb the Old Man of Hoy. We had mixed
weather but on our third and last day, we hit a weather window of a few
hours when it was dry and calm enough to safely complete the climb. John
got a mention in his local Guardian newspaper and raised over a £1,000 for
the Rathbone charity. More details and photos of John climbing the Old Man
of Hoy can be found at
London Guardian 7th June 2007
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