Slushy snow and a boggy path made for a squelchy start to an overnight trip in the Glen Affric hills. There was more heather than snow visible so the skis went on the packs, making for awkward loads. However not far above we could see the hills were streaked with big drifts and the corries and gullies were filled with snow. This was an Inverness Nordic and Ski TouringClub trip with the aim of combining ski touring with igloo building using Igloo Ed’s wonderful Ice Box. The numbers of intended participants dwindled as the weekend grew closer and in the end just three of us set off. Luckily three just happens to be the best number for igloo building.
Finding a long stretch of snow in a shallow burn gully we happily shed the skis from our packs, attached climbing skins and climbed more easily uphill. Crossing the burn to a huge bank of snow we decided this was a good site for the igloo. Not far above the land faded into the high mountain mist. Here we had views of the surrounding hills, a grand scene. There was also ample snow – the drift was twenty feet deep in places – which meant we could dig a big door for the igloo, making access easier. The air was still, the temperature a little above freezing, so there was no hurry to complete the igloo and we stopped for hot drinks with it half built and took time to admire the wild surroundings. As darkness fell the clouds dissolved and a crescent moon and the large bright circle of Jupiter appeared in the sky, soon followed by the constellation of Orion and a myriad stars. A chilly katabatic wind blew down the slopes above and the temperature dropped to -2.5°C. Shovelling snow is warm work though so the two of us doing this were in no danger of freezing while Mike, the snow block maker, was now protected by the rising igloo walls. The cloud clearance was temporary however and by the time the igloo was finished the sky was overcast and the temperature had risen to -0.5°C. Soon we were inside the igloo making hot meals and drinks and relaxing after the efforts of constructing our shelter. Andy produced red wine to celebrate our igloo and a very civilised evening ensued as we discussed outdoor literature and activities.
Dawn was damp and chilly with the cloud still clinging to the hilltops and the temperature around freezing. Reluctant to abandon the comforts of our igloo we lingered over an extended breakfast before finally venturing out for a short up and down ski tour. Deciding that navigating in the cloud didn’t appeal we skied up to its edge then turned and skied back down, a good descent with many turns, for me the first of the season. Then it was time to pack up and leave our little home and descend back to the glen. If it remains cold the igloo will remain though and I hope to return in a few weeks and see if it’s still usable.