Where are the...

Lilly Wild

It All Began At London’s Euston Railway Station

I was far from inconspicuous on a Thursday evening at London Euston railway station. Fashioning hiking gear and carrying a towering 60litre purple rucksack, it was like spotting ‘Where’s Wally?’ in a crowd of suits. I stood on the outskirts of commuters and eagerly waited for the boarding of the overnight train to Aviemore. The looks of bewilderment as people passed only intensified my excitement for the Explorer’s Connect Winter Snow Skills Weekend.

Aviemore Adventure Team: Assembles…

As the platform number flashed onto the departure screen, several adventure-crazed people suddenly emerged from within the crowd. This made me smile, because it reminded me of a clip in the film Anchorman, when Ron Burgandy calls his team to "ASSEMBLE" and they all swiftly appear by his side!

Lilly Wild

What The Great Western Train Provided In Luxury, It Lacked In Exoticness…

The Great Western train was in many ways more luxurious than the train I caught from Beijing to Ulaanbaatar. 

I enjoyed being presented with a thick soft mattress, white bed sheets, a neatly folded towel with a bar of soap on top and 'free' morning Starbucks coffee in bed. 

However, I felt nostalgia for the exoticness of the Trans-Siberian train, with its characterful and charming decor and awesome train community. The dining cart was something out of Agatha Christie’s Poirot and it was terrific fun to stick your head out of the window and feel the wind brush against your face, whipping your hair all around you. 

We Stood Sleepily On Aviemore’s Platform…

As the train pulled away from Aviemore, a group of bleary eyed and happy EC'ers were left standing on the platform in the morning sunshine. I couldn't wait to catch up with Belinda, meet old and new faces and step foot for the first time on Scottish Mountains!

Fantastic, Addictive And Positive Vibes Filled The Room…

We all gathered in the cosy Alpine-style youth hostel, glitzing ourselves further with hiking paraphernalia and preparing for the day's adventure. 

A wonderfully warm, positive and fiery energy was radiating from everyone and intoxicating the room, making me feel giddy. My body was tingling and a wide smile spread across my face. 

When EC/adventure people congregate together, I always find that a unique energy is emitted on a different wavelength to normal social encounters and it creates magical moments.

We Were Ready For Snow…

For the snow skills weekend, we were split into 4 groups of around 6. I was with 3 old EC friends (Neil, Ian and Dave) and acquainted with 2 new (Matt and Simon). 

Despite my group having mixed snow skill abilities, from complete beginner to intermediate, we were all game and ready to get stuck in! We were buzzing to immerse ourselves in Aviemore's mountainous landscape and feel the snow crunch below our borrowed B2 boots!

I Fell In Love With The Aviemore’s Mountains…

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The landscape was stunning; an undulating valley spread out across the horizon, dappled with pine forest and decorated with snow. 

A large elongated loch glistened in the glorious Spring sunshine and burly purple clouds dramatized the view. 

With the mountains blanketed in thick white snow, when the sun began to disappear behind the horizon, a luna landscape was created.

The Thrill Of Ice Axe Arrests…

We slid down a snow slide and practiced ice axe-arrests, which are just a great excuse to slide down the snowy slope on your back and front, head or feet first! 

Initially, I was slightly apprehensive, because I was scared that I would be unable to stop myself from plummeting down the slope. However, after a few small cautious practices, I realized that it was terrific fun!

Far More Exhilarating Than Rollercoasters…

As I launched myself down the slope on my back and head first, with the ice axe stretched out in front. I first flipped myself onto my front and then swung myself around on the axe. I was now on my front, with feet in the air going down hill and the slope face whizzing passed my eyes. The axe firmly in my hands, I brought it into me at an angle and pressed my weight onto it. I then waited to stop. At first it didn't work, which slightly worried me. I then pressed harder against the axe and slowly I came to a halt. Phew! I loved it! It was fun, thrilling and sent my adrenaline pumping! 

Ended The Day In A Pub!

After a brilliant day out on the mountains, we finished the day with an outstanding meal in a indie Alpine-style pub. The wood paneled room was covered with posters and skiing/snowboarding memorabilia. Downstairs was a further surprise: it turned into a local alpine bar/club!

I Felt Like A Child On Christmas Eve…

I was almost too excited to sleep that night, as I was impatient for the next day to arrive. My head was full of curiosity and wonderment, as I dreamt of what it would be like tomorrow night, sleeping in a snow hole.

Forbidden From The Funicular…

I jumped out of bed in the morning, as I was very excited to build and sleep in a snow hole! 

Plan A failed, because we were rejected from the funicular for carrying ice axes and stoves.

So onto Plan B…We decided to hike up the snowy mountains adjacent to the ski resort and the view was beautiful. However, as we ascended higher, the wind became stronger and colder, reducing our visibility; but, this made it much more of an adventure!

Lilly Wild

We Descended Into The Cloud Filled Corrie…

Once in the corrie, the wind disappeared like magic and all was calm. The clouds hung low in the valley, mysteriously hiding our surroundings and creating a world of our own. 

Our guides then found us a suitable area to build our snow holes. We split into 4 groups, with each group building an entrance and half of a snow hole. We then joined two holes together to create two big snow holes!

Many Shovels Of Snow Later…

Following 5 hours and many shovels of snow later, we had successfully carved out 2 magnificent ice palaces for ourselves. 

Our hole was sufficiently long to sleep 10 people, just wide enough to sleep a tall man and the ceiling meant you could only crawl or kneel. 

We were missing the four-poster ice beds and reindeer skins, but used ice bricks to create grand entrances. However, it was a brilliant experience doing it Bear Grylls-style with sleeping bags tucked into our bivvy bags! I would not have had it any other way!

 

Our 5 Star Meals…

We were all ravenous after digging our sleeping quarters and cooked dinner inside our snow hole. We felt like royalty dining on our camping food! 

I definitely underestimated how much food I would need and will not make that mistake again! This was before I was vegetarian and I had made myself pemmican and a lamb hotpot, others bought boil in the bag camping food too.

Sleep Tight, Too Cold For Bed Bugs…

I enjoyed my sleep in the snow hole. Although not overly refreshing and rather cold, it was super fun and very novel. I loved waking up to a snow roof and snuggled in between my friends, then stepping outside into a winter wonderland.

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We Were Deceived By Mother Nature…

Within the corrie, all was calm, quiet and serene. We all thought this was great and we would have an easy 3km hike down! However, as soon as we climbed out of the corrie, the winds became powerful and visibility dropped to 5-10m. The wind battered us all of the way down and even in the car park! 

I Felt As If I Was Drunk…

I felt as if I was intoxicated, because I couldn’t help but stagger, stumble and fall over in the wind! It was a very surreal and frustrating feeling! It revived my memories of traversing Thorung La Pass, Nepal, 2013, when during part of the descent we were hindered by a snowstorm. I was very grateful that this time, I was at low altitude and only a short distance away from civilisation!

We Made It!

Relief washed over me as we reached the car park 4 hours later, I was exhausted! Although,, the adventure was not over yet. As I walked towards the car, I was blown across the car park and battled against the wind to open the car door! When the door slammed shut, it felt bliss to be encased in a windless and quiet environment!

Type 1 and 2 Fun…

My Scottish experience was fantastic and I can't wait to have another! It was definitely Type 1 and Type 2 fun, which made for an epic weekend. Most of us flew home and I felt sorry for those sitting next to use on the plane, as we all probably exuded a lovely snow-hole-adventure scent!  Once arriving home, I greatly appreciated the Western comforts, especially warm meals, lavender scented steaming hot baths and my super comfortable bed with a fluffy duvet!