Thanks to The Neil Mackenzie Trust, In February 2020,I had the opportunity to attend a winter skills course. The five-day course was organised by Glenmore Lodge and focused on improving skills in winter navigation and route planning in the Scottish mountains. As a confident walker with extensive experience hiking abroad, I had a foundational understanding of navigation and leadership skills. However, I am incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to further develop my skills. There is always more to learn to improve your own, and others safety. On the first day of the course, I met the other participants and we were introduced to our instructor with whom we discussed our aspirations and ambitions. After going through the equipment and route for the day we set off. Walking into the mountains this first day, as the snow-coated landscape stretched out before us, I was reminded of true wilderness. Over the course of the week, numerous aspects of winter hill walking were covered, such as preparation, planning, navigation and emergency procedures. The dynamic environment, and the volatile weather conditions, meant we were able toput our knowledge and newly-learned techniques into practice. I was particularly impressed by how my instructor navigated the various elements of planning, showing an excellent example of how to tackle adverse situations whilst maintaining calm and rational thinking. A pertinent example of her successful leadership skills was when we encountered issues as one of the group members expressed difficulties with ascending. Consequently, as a group, we made a sensible decision to select a different route that was better suited for the overall competence-level of the group, as opposed to the route we initially intended to take. Adapting my approach as conditions change and unanticipated situations arise, is an important lesson I will take forward. As part of the course, Glenmore Lodge provided evening lectures which were thoroughly tailored for outdoor enthusiasts. The lectures included route planning with limited visibility, avalanche awareness and gave an insight into how other guides would solve situations presented to them in the mountains without sacrificing safety. Aside from providing critical information and encouraging us to develop our knowledge of the outdoors, these evening sessions were a wonderful opportunity to meet like-minded people and walking away with new contacts and friends was certainly an added bonus of the course!
Taking part in this winter skills course was a very formative experience for me. Throughout the course, I felt that I was both doing and developing my passion; spending time outdoors in the mountains and challenging myself both mentally and physically. This course allowed me to develop the in-depth and holistic understanding required to confidently navigate Scottish mountains during the winter. The emphasis put on avalanche risk and how to mitigate potential risks was a part of the course that I found particularly interesting as these skills are transferrable and, I feel, have equipped me to go far beyond the mountains surrounding Glenmore Lodge. I am confident that I will use the knowledge and practical experience I gained from this training course trekking in the UK and in other regions with similar landscapes. With the support of The Neil Mackenzie Trust,I have improved my planning skills and feel much more confident in my decision making. I am now eager to explore the country’s unique landscape by myself while applying the essential skills I have learnt! I also look forward to applying these skills further afield and to continuing to develop them in the future through more advanced levels of training.