Everyone who heads to the Polish Tatras visits Morskie Oko as it’s a popular beauty spot. Whilst I usually look to get off the beaten track I had decided a bus ride around there would provide a great opportunity to walk back to Zakopane over the mountains.
To Morskie Oko
The walk into the Morskie Oko hut from the bus stop is a very boring 8km walk along a tarmac road. There are horse carriages but I’d opted to walk and save money, and as I was staying at the hut that night I didn’t have anything else to do that day.
We only had a week in Iceland and were keen to hike to explore the landscape. The Laugavegur trail is one of the most popular in Iceland due to its close proximity to Reykjavik, its easy access by bus and good huts along the way.
Most guidebooks will recommend around 4 days for the route despite it only being 54km. We had limited time and hoped to do the continuation route of the Fimmvörðuháls and end up in Skógar to the coast so planned to do the Laugavegur trail in 3 days.
There’s a lot of blogs out there on the trail due to its popularity but the one website you really want to check out is the one operated by the Icelandic huts – here you can find out about the trail, river crossings, and hut bookings.
As this is a very popular trail don’t expect to be able to get into the huts to stay, we had to carry a tent for the hike as we couldn’t get booked into the huts despite calling months in advance. And this was at a time of covid travel restrictions.
I’ve just walked off the hill from another disappointing weekend of 70mph winds and a lack of activity it’s made me think – I’ve had difficult winter. I started with the intent to bag lots of winter days towards my winter ML log book and it started well, with a trip with to Glencoe with a friend also working towards her winter ML. (She passed this week). Almost right away it went downhill.
I felt demoralised as I wasn’t as confident as her and lacked belief in myself. I compared myself to her, seeing that I couldn’t keep up with her and she was much quicker at making navigational decisions.
Since then I’ve had 4 other trips to Scotland which have only established this feeling of not being good enough.
I’ve been left to do my own thing by my climbing friends in the Cairngorms and not having the opportunity and confidence to join them, and then two big days in Braemar which I was definitely on it with the navigation but lacked confidence in leading.
And then I went to the Ben, and didn’t manage to finish the CMD Arête circular, only making it to Carn Mor Dearg summit due to really strong winds.
I feel like I’ve had lots of failures and not just that one. There was failing to try Dorsal Arête out of fear and failing to try the Devil’s Ridge on a windy day.
So at the end of winter with one trip north left I’m thinking of not bothering and giving up and letting the spring seep in.
I can navigate really well. I know this. But I worry about being in whiteouts. I have all the skills but on steep terrain I still freak out, especially climbing rocky ridges in the ice.
I’ve suffered from spending the winter with climbers who are technically more skilled than me and have generally left me behind for doing their own adventures. You think this would work in my favour as I’d get to solo some peaks, but I’ve always had someone in tow who either wasn’t as skilled and lacked enthusiasm for effort or occasionally a climber who wished they were climbing and were demoralised they were walking instead.
In honesty, I’ve had some good days too. Snowshoeing in Glen Feshie was the highlight of the winter, gorgeous weather and conditions and I felt success being on my own in the clag in the summit.
I did enjoy the navigational challenges around Braemar too, gaining confidence in my abilities to navigate in poor visibility.
But on the whole winter doesn’t feel like a success to me. There’s been more disappointment.
How do you learn to winter climb?
I joined a mountaineering club to get out more in winter and while that’s happened, after three winters with them I’ve not yet climbed any winter routes.
Winter is so short and the conditions in Scotland so unreliable that climbers in winter lack the patient to teach others in the same way that you find at the summer crag.
How do you learnt to climb in winter without paying for an instructor?
I had a great club trip to Rjukan in 2017 which was aimed at giving people the chance to learn as well as progress. That’s the only time I’ve ever had that opportunity to try and learn.
I’m not against paying for instruction but with winter climbing how does that really build skills to get outside again without a support system?
Or is it my learning style?
Maybe I struggle to learn from the people around me because I lack the confidence to just have a go.
I met a guy this winter at the CIC hut who was in his first winter season climbing and had already lead a IV pitch. His attitude was to just get on something and try, to learn quick and have a go.
Maybe my cautious attitude is what holds me back. Maybe my fears and my reluctance to push myself and find myself scared somewhere exposed, is what stops me just getting on and seconding behind an experience leader.
I had hoped to climb a few routes this winter with friends and the only opportunity I had on Dorsal Arête I bottled it. Since then there’s not been any opportunities, so I’ve failed in that objective for the season.
I’d also hoped to have more log book days completed, but I’ve done 12 this winter.
It feels like poor progress.
I’m heading into spring being grateful for the chance to whinge on the rocks with the more friendly and helpful trad climbing community.
I’m trying to be less critically reflective of myself and be more open to opportunities.
I’ll try this summer to not let fear prevent me getting on routes so that perhaps next winter I’ll get to try something.
I might still squeeze in one last trip this winter to Scotland but as for the future of my winter ML?
I think I need to be honest that I don’t know if it’s really for me. I don’t know if I’m really a leader in the winter environment, maybe I bit off more than I can chew with that particular challenge.
You’ve probably heard of type 2 fun – when fun challenges you and might scare you but otherwise leads to massive personal development.
I actually imagine fun to be a bubble that I’m in. Its a fairly massive bubble that most of the time I never notice the edges of where it becomes fear. As I’ve pushed myself to do harder and newer things the bubble has grown.
I hate caving. I know hate is a strong word but having had a go I can honestly say, I hate caving. Wading around with wet feet inside cold wellies wearing a rubber boil-in-the-bag suit with a fibre pile onesie underneath so any physical exertion leads to being really sweaty. Having a mild panic attack in the dark, when the choice presented to you is to either wriggle through a tiny slot barely big enough to fit in or to slide down rock and somehow avoid landing in the pool of freezing water at the bottom. I feel a bit sick just thinking about it now. There’s always the choice to turn around but I’m not a quitter and like to push my boundaries of fear.
But I didn’t know any of this when I agreed to give it a go. I thought ‘It’s a bit like rock climbing, but underground’. Walking through passages marvelling at rock and fossils and wandering into huge caverns.
The reality is more like grovelling in the dark, wedging myself through rock and losing my dignity and nerve as I lower myself over the void to disappear into the abyss, dangling in free space.
Its 11am – I’ve already got frozen snot across my face and my buff has frozen with my breath. The goggles I loved earlier in the week have failed me and I feel like I’m in a white out as they’ve misted up.
It was windy and cold as we headed up onto the Cairngorm plateau on Thursday, in search of somewhere to spend the night. We spent most of the day leading each other on navigational legs, predominantly heading into the South-Easterly wind. It was a time for head down trudge and holding on tightly to the map. Having lost one person from the group at the start of the day due to fitness, the pace had suddenly quickened and as we had to start breaking trail through the deep wind slab it was a lot of effort to keep up a good pace to keep from being cold in the wind.
Looking for obscure contour features in these conditions was a test of endurance more than it was of ability.
As you can imagine I’ve never been so happy as when we reached our snow hole spot at Ciste Mhearad at 3pm. Especially when we found old snow holes which we could get away with extending. It still took 3 hours of digging before we could sit in relative comfort for an hour of melting enough snow to eat freeze-dried food before we headed out for night navigation practice.
‘I think I’d rather carry on walking in horrendous weather than dig a snow shelter’ I complained as I lay on the floor trying to dig out the back of my shelter. When I then compared my rather snug hole to everyone else’s I realised digging isn’t my forte. They had all made theirs much larger and added a seat in the back. If I ever find myself benighted or in gale force winds I’m likely to die before I’ve dug a snow shelter suitable to save my life….
I walked a few hours to dig some holes in the snow. Well actually it was rock solid neve that went down for half a metre and took forever to dig in. I felt like Popeye by the end of the day.
I can’t really complain, there had been a lot of snow fall over night so the walk into Coire an Lochan was fantastic. The visibility was pretty good and we could see up to Cairn Lochan and the Fiacaill ridge, though visibility eventually dropped as we got on to the edge of the ridge west of Coire an Lochan.
Tough question I know. I’ve been known to have a half hour discussion with a friend just about different crampons, and then we moved on to axes.
I love gear. Not in a ‘all the gear and no idea’ way. I don’t buy gear to look good. I like the technicality of different gear whether that’s climbing kit or waterproofs. But that’s not to say I don’t hoard gear too.
But in winter my favourite bit of kit has to be my rose-tinted goggles which add a veneer of sunshine to the worst weather, and despite my love of gear I only own one pair. (Well except for the glacier glasses that have goggle attachments…)
Anyway, goggles are fantastic, especially for someone who wears glasses and doesn’t get on with contact lenses. My glasses fog up on the most peaceful days if I make the mistake of tucking my chin into my coat to keep warm. So goggles are brilliant for keeping me from stumbling around like I’m in a white out all the time.
I’d planned on doing my Winter ML last summer when I realised I had the ability and skills required. I knew my log book was a bit thin on days but I knew navigation wasn’t a problem and I was confident on snow and ice. So why wait?
There was an intimidating moment as we went round the table this morning at Glenmore Lodge, introducing ourselves. One Outward Bound instructor, 2 members of Braemar Mountain Rescue Team, someone who has returned from working with British Antarctic Survey and someone who’d done the assessment before and left it too long to redo the bit they’d deferred on so having to do it all again (so basically adept at most of the syllabus).
And then there’s me. Someone who’s done a fair bit of personal winter walking, some winter scrambling and only uses her summer award about 6 times a year to either take Duke of Edinburgh groups out or lead challenge walks. Out of my depth doesn’t begin to describe how I felt!