Magalie Castelin

Snow and Ice Climbing – Improvers course

Magalie2Very Scottish protection technique

In March 2019, thanks to The Neil Mackenzie Skills Grant 2018, I attended a 5-day Snow and Ice Climbing Improvers course, organized by Adventure Peaks. The course took place in the Western Highlands in Onich, which is situated midway between Fort William and Glencoe. The course was aimed at improving winter climbing skills in the Scottish landscape which requires specific techniques to protect oneself on unbolted walls.  This winter was very mild with unstable conditions, ice was not well formed and a lot of snow had fallen. This reduced the number of climbable routes and made the accesses challenging.

On the first day, we headed up to the Stob Coire Nan Lochan on Glencoe to climb the Ordinary Route (IV, 4). This was tough, with a 2.5 hours approach under rain and winds, and a 3.5 hours climb in deep powder snow. Arriving on the Summit Buttress at dusk, we needed to leave the summit quickly to descend before dark. In the foggy landscape hidden by deep snow, we then learned how to retreat using only charts, compass and short visibility landscape reading. The guides did an amazing job providing walking techniques and cheering us on.


On the second day, we climbed the South-West Ridge (180 m, IV, 5) of the Douglas Boulder North-West Face on Ben Nevis……………….The third day, we headed to the West Face of Aonach Mor, the UKs eighth highest mountain, and climbed Western Rib (500 m, III+). Despite its proximity to the ski area, the climb offered true wilderness, solitude, and adventurous or spectacular moves, such as walking on very narrow snow shelves and ridges……………………………………..

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Besides improving climbing skills, I wanted to attend this course, in Scotland, to honor and remember my friendship with Neil. Neil introduced me to Ice Climbing in 2013 in Canada, when nobody would take a complete beginner, female, and with poor English skills, on vertical ice walls. He took me to very challenging routes in British Columbia, near Pemberton and Squamish, on the Boston falls of Vancouver Island, and in Colorado near Snowmass. Neil showed me that, with a good teaching and thorough gear and landscape checking, one can take almost anyone on these amazing ice walls. Since then, I have been practicing every winters and encouraging other climbers. Neil always laughed about “those rubbish ice walls of Scotland, where one have to deal more with mud and rocks than with ice and snow”. I know now what he meant and I am very grateful and proud for having had the opportunity of climbing in the Highlands thanks to The Neil Mackenzie Skills Grant 2018!


For full report: Magalie CASTELIN report-1