The University of Bristol Expeditions Society took thirty odd students mountaineering in the Scottish Highlands over New Year’s. Lucy Rand reports on a chilly few days.
A couple of days after Christmas, a little fewer than 30 of us set off in cars on the M6 towards Scotland. Ten hours later, trundling along the narrow, dark and windy roads of the Scottish valleys, the boredom and tiredness was broken by gasps of excitement as we glimpsed silhouettes of snow-capped mountains against the clear and starry sky.
We arrived in dribs and drabs, weary from a full day of travel, to our warm and cosy home for the week: Calluna bunkhouse in Fort William. With a view of Loch Linnhe, (which we didn’t see until four days in – the first time we left the bunkhouse after sunrise!), knowledgeable hosts, and its own indoor bouldering wall, Calluna was the perfect basecamp for a week exploring the Scottish Highlands.
We hit the ground running with a 06:30 start on day one for those of us enrolled on the two-day Winter Skills course, and an even earlier start for the intrepid adventurers going out to do winter climbing routes and a big day’s walking. The Winter Skills course took us up on to Ben Nevis, and to Stob Coire nan Lochen in Glencoe on day two, where we gained lots of useful knowledge about avalanche safety, how to walk in crampons and – the most fun part – using ice-axe arrests to save yourself when sliding on your belly down an icy slope!
For these two days we were blessed with clear blue skies, cold air, thick snow and views stretching for miles around, the perfect conditions for winter mountaineering.
As expected from Scotland in mid-winter, the weather wasn’t going to stay perfect for the whole week, so we were over the moon to have had two bright days. The temperature warmed up a bit, we had a bit (ok, quite a lot) of rain, and the winds got too high for going up big mountains.
But we didn’t let it stop us having fun or from seeing the beautiful area – we did walks in Glen Nevis (Ben Nevis’ valley), played around under the spectacular Steall falls, had fun swinging and bouncing (or quivering and clinging on for dear life) on the wire bridge over the Water of Nevis river, and playing stuck in the mud, well and truly in the mud.
Meanwhile, the more daring (and experienced) of the group went off to attempt more winter climbs and dry-tooling. On the last day, seeing as we were in the area and in the company of many avid Harry Potter fans, we went to see the viaduct that the Hogwarts Express famously crosses. To our dismay, there weren’t any flying cars, and Daniel Radcliffe wasn’t to be seen, but it was still pretty impressive.
We were there over New Year’s Eve, so all mucked in to cook a big Christmas-y dinner, had a few drinks and considered gate-crashing the Fort William Ceilidh. But due to a severe lack of tartan clothing, we decided instead to have a party at the bunkhouse with traditional UBES organized fun such as swinging apples from your crotch, and a plethora of music from all our favourite musicals (imagine a 27 piece mixed-ability choir rendition of Joseph and his Technicolour Dreamcoat).
All in all, a brilliant way to finish one year and start a new one with lots of fresh air, spectacular views, a good stretch of the legs and some fun-tastic company!
If you want to find out more about UBES, check out their Facebook page. It’s not too late to join and take part in some energetic adventures!