I recently spent a month working for Plas Y Brenin in their Scotland base, Altshellach near Glencoe. A small team of instructors and myself packed up a whole cacophony of things and made the 9 hour pilgrimage in minibuses to our new home for the next few weeks. My role in the team was to run the stores and drying rooms for the courses, this meant keeping track of everything handed in and out, drying kit out and maintaining and fixing any equipment that had been broken or damaged. The fantastic thing about the role was that by working in the morning and evening it left me free during the day to shadow courses or get out climbing myself, a perfect opportunity to hone skills for winter ML and ‘enjoy’ the fine line between beauty and torment in Scottish winter conditions. There where a few steep learning curves about kit during my month on the stores.
Firstly, anything made of Gore-tex doesn’t mix well crampons and ice axes. The number of waterproof trousers, gaiters and surprisingly a few jackets that came back with battle wounds was alarming. Small patches are easily sewn and resealed, larger patches can render the whole item as useful as tissue paper in a blizzard. Anything with a reinforced ankle to stop yourself kicking through expensive Gore-tex is a winner. A way of keeping your points less pointy when you’re not using them is also crucial. We had a few jackets made sieve like by people storing their crampons in their rucksack with no protection. A good crampon bag could save you an expensive replacement.
Secondly, Scotland has water, and in copious amounts sometime frozen, sometimes liquid and sometimes in a slushy in-between state. You need to stay dry, being wet is not only uncomfortable but could also put you in life threatening circumstances, keeping the precipitation off and sweat minimal is imperative. The kit in our stores was used nearly daily for 8 weeks. That means our waterproofs and boots where getting worn out and less waterproof as the season went on. An evening or centre day spent re-proofing was never wasted because in the end the clients where dry and happy. I spent many Saturdays in an ordered system of washing, drying and rotating using Nixwax Tech Wash and TX Direct to reproof garments from stores. It meant the life of the garment was extended and that wondrous beading you have when the garment is brand new is restored. The same with the mountain boots, reproofing with the Wax for Leather and Nubuck and Suede Proof meant the clients had dry feet longer and where therefor much much happier!
Thirdly, Scotland has wind and again in copious amounts, it seems to sneak up and ruffle you when you’re least expecting it, like when trying to read a map or adjust your layers. Having protection from the wind is essential. A full shell of Windstopper or similar to keep the wind from biting at you, with thermal or insulation below to keep you toasty (but not too toasty, you don’t want to sweat, see above). Trying to read a map in wind of anything over 60mph was a trial of stubbornness and patience. Having a good set of comfortable goggles so you can actually open your eyes to look at your map is a good start. The ability of the wind to whip the snow, hail and small grit into your face with a pain similar to needles being thrown at you is astonishing. Having goggles and something to cover any exposing flesh on your face will make you not only more comfortable but makes necessary skills like map reading bearable.
My month is Scotland was a steep learning curve but also a month of lessons, amazing memories and some fantastic routes thrown in.