Dr Lorna Linch up a snowy mountain

Winter Skills in the Scottish Highlands

Dr Lorna Linch, Principal Lecturer in Earth Science and expert in all things icy at the University of Brighton, has taken part in a 5-day Winter Skills training course in the Scottish Highlands. The aim of the course is to learn and develop core winter skills required for mountain walking under winter conditions whilst undertaking ascents of the mountains in and around the Cairngorms.

The course equips participants in selecting and using personal kit appropriate to winter hill walking, personal movement skills on snow (including kicking/cutting steps and ice axe self-arrest), use of crampons in ascent/descent, emergency procedures (including digging snow holes), avalanche awareness and safe route choice, core techniques for winter navigation in poor visibility and route planning in winter taking into account weather, conditions and avalanche risk.

With up to 50 mph winds, temperatures of -8°C with a wind chill of -20°C and full blizzard white-outs on mountain summits, the course was not for the faint-hearted! Lorna, who’s glacial and periglacial research has taken her to many cold environments including Svalbard, Iceland and Arctic Russia, decided to complete the course in order to gain valuable practical skills for competently and confidently moving about in snowy, icy conditions. These new skills, experiences and observations will support future research projects Lorna is planning in polar and alpine regions, and will help to inform her teaching on the BSc Geography programme, particularly ‘The Frozen Planet’ module.

In this module students learn about processes and resultant landsystems occurring in both contemporary and past glacial and periglacial environments, with particular reference to how ice interacts with, and physically shapes, the landscape. Topics may include, for example: why understanding ice is important (hot topic!), behaviour of glacial ice; glacier hydrology; glacier motion; glacial and periglacial erosion, transport, and deposition; glacial and periglacial hazards; palaeoenvironmental reconstruction; sedimentology and micromorphology; permafrost and ground ice; periglacial slope processes; relationships between ice and sea level change, ice and climate change, and ice and engineering.

Lorna shared her final thoughts on her Scottish winter adventure: “Despite the obvious challenges I really enjoyed this course – being in the mountains is good for the soul. But winter in the Scottish Highlands is wild and unpredictable – my advice is to only venture out into the mountains in these conditions with proper planning, the right gear and accompanied by those who have years of winter mountain experience. And even then, be aware that things can still go awry.”     

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