We were given our itinerary for the next couple of days: with the promise of good weather, we'd spend the first day climbing, and in the evening hike into the mountains for a night on Cairn Gorm. If conditions allowed, we'd spend the next day scrambling, or summit Ben Macdui - the highest mountain in the national park and the second highest in the UK.
Climbing at Kingussie
Bright, clear conditions over Aviemore heralded a fun day ahead for the team, with an afternoon of climbing on the agenda.
A short bus journey to Kingussie and we were led by Glenmore Lodge guide Al Gilmore up Creag Bheag – a cairn-strewn 500m hill with spectacular views towards the Cairngorms over the Spey valley and the exposed moorland surrounding Loch Gynack. The morning was an opportunity for the guys to really get into a testing mindset, to familiarise themselves with the equipment and technology, and to gauge what they needed to be considering in terms of comfort and fit. We held an easy pace, with the guides taking the opportunity to discuss navigation techniques, equipment design and what we expect from gear in the mountains.
After a quick lunch break at the summit of Creag Bheag, we dropped down to Kingussie crags, a local climbing Mecca. This was an excellent opportunity to see the Glenmore guides at work - providing excellent tuition for those new to the art of sport climbing, while offering challenging E1 and HVS routes for the experienced in the group to show everyone how it was done!
Into the Mountains
We returned to Glenmore Lodge to stock up on our gear and provisions for a night amongst the Cairngorms and were promptly driven up the mountain road to the ski area. The team split into two, with guides leading each up a different route to our evening camp at Coire Domhain. Our guide was Sean (a Jeremy Irons doppelganger) with a vast knowledge of these mountains. He'd throw us tit-bits of information about the geology and history of the area
As the evening set in, so did the weather. The cloud descended over the summit ridge, with the wind gaining strength as we made our way up the Coire. By the time we'd hopped our way over the boulder field and reached the Goat Track of Coire An Lochan, the summit had vanished into a shroud of rain and gales. We carefully picked our line up the back wall, made all the more precarious by the by the roaring north-westerly wind, but the rough granite meant that we all kept sure-footed. As we came over the top, visibility was reduced to only a few metres and we all reached straight for our The North Face jackets once we were clear of the ridge. This is the weather the Point Five and Kichatna jackets are designed for, and they really came into their own. As we were in the cloud, the rain was very fine, but in the wind it was quickly saturating anything that wasn't waterproof!
We made camp before darkness finally descended, pitching up at Coire Domhain – a flat area slightly sheltered from the prevailing north-westerly soaring over the ridge. We had a range of North Face tents to choose from - both tunnel shaped and geodesic - depending on how many were sharing, and our little trio (Mark from Castlefield, Phil from Chester and myself) had our West Wind 3 up in no time, braced securely against the elements.
The tent proved perfect for the three of us, super light and spacious. The rain and wind strengthened even more as we tucked up in the porch to rustle up our Mountain House and/or Wayfayrer meals (I can strongly recommend the Wayfayrer Chilli Con Carne). As we got comfy and brewed up, the other half of our group emerged from the gloom having taken a longer route over the mountain and pitched up in the cold dark.
It was a tough night's sleep. The temperature dipped to around 1 degree in the small hours (definitely at the comfort limit of my sleeping bag), as rain hurled itself at the tents at 60mph. While the sensible among us had foreseen this and had brought ear plugs with them, the majority of the group simply buried their heads in their makeshift Redpoint jacket/pillows until the morning light came through the flysheet.
Bleary eyed, we were staggered to find everyone dry and that no one had blown away in the night! A hot brew and a good layering system was definitely the order of the day. Almost everyone had immediately thrown on an Icebreaker and thermal pants, their Redpoint Optimus and their The Face GORE-TEX Pro shell, with the Venture Pant providing protection on our lower halves. This was real Summit Series weather.
The plan to explore the Cairngorms and summit Ben Macdhui had washed away with the relentless rain, and the decision was made to pack up and head back down the mountain in a roundabout way. Sean led us on a route that took us over the ridge past Cairn Gorm's famous ice climbing gullies of Jacob's Ladder (the bottom was invisible) before reaching the Heriot-Watt weather station at the summit of Cairn Gorm. The relentless wind had us bent double as we tried to grab some lunch, but didn't seem to affect the mechanical weather station! We trudged down to the top of the funicular for a brief respite before making the final descent to the car park.
DebriefAfter a much-needed hot shower, we spent the remainder of the afternoon analysing the kit we'd used, discussing and explaining the features, design and importantly how each piece of kit is influenced by both the Scottish conditions and the input of the guides at Glenmore Lodge. The two days provided a fantastic insight into the tech and performance of some truly stunning gear in the field - just ask any of our Staff Experts! More than anything, it demonstrated how perfectly designed the Kichatna and Point Five jackets are for the Scottish winter. If you're Munro-bagging, these won't let you down.