Wednesday 10 February 2016

An Igloo & Ski Tour in the Glen Affric hills

Igloo building under way
Last year the only igloo I built was indoors in Glasgow during a heatwave in July (see this post). Less than six weeks into this year and I’ve helped build one where it belongs, in the snowy hills, and spent the night inside. This took place last weekend when I set off into the Glen Affric hills with fellow skiers Andy, Graham and Chris from the Inverness BackcountrySnowsports Club. The forecast was for cold stormy weather, perhaps not so good for skiing but probably excellent for igloo living.

Climbing to the snow
There was little snow in the bottom of the glen or on the lower slopes and we had to carry our skis a fair distance, an arduous task when climbing through bogs and tussocky heather on steep slopes. It was a relief to reach fuller snow cover and be able to continue up the slopes of Toll Creagach,  the easternmost of the high Glen Affric hills, with our skis on our feet not our backs. 

On skis at last
A cold wind was blowing and bits of sleet and snow occasionally came with it. The summits were in thick cloud and the world was grey and white. A fairly sheltered spot below a gentle bank looked promising as an igloo site. Prodding the snow with my ski pole I found it came almost up to the handle. We’d build the igloo here. Igloo Ed’s Icebox was unstrapped from Andy’s pack and soon the first circle was well under way. Below a few inches of powder the snow was dense and solid and easily formed into solid blocks. 

The igloo begins
Nearing completion

Not long after dark the final snow was heaped onto the top of our home for the night and we could move in, marvelling as always at how quiet and still it was inside. Andy had organised the food and was soon heating up pasta and a tasty sauce. As usual it was cosy in the igloo, while outside the wind strengthened and a mix of sleet and snow with occasional rain fell.
Cosy inside

Dawn came with pale light slowly filtering into the igloo. No brightness, no sunshine. But then we hadn’t expected any. Hot drinks and pancakes warmed us up for venturing outside. Here a touch of hazy sunshine and patches of blue sky encouraged us to go for a ski before packing up so with light packs we headed further up Toll Creagach. The suggestion of clearing skies quickly faded and eventually we reached the edge of the cloud and the light became flat and hazy. Above us a stony, heathery broad ridge only partially snow-covered led into the mist. This was far enough we decided. Time to remove the climbing skins and ski back down. 

In the morning

The snow was reasonable but the light poor for the descent. My muscles soon made me aware that I hadn’t done any skiing for a long time. Still it was fun to link turns down the slope, even if some of them were rather wobbly and certainly not elegant. By the time we reached the igloo the wind and snow were becoming heavier. After more hot drinks we packed up and headed down, the skiing more awkward now with big packs and on wetter less consistent snow. Soon there were heather clumps to avoid too and eventually not enough snow patches to link together. Down here the snow had turned to rain too and it was a wet walk out to the cars.

1 comment:

  1. Classic experience Chris, thanks for the article - tom higgs