The Rucksack Club does all of these, so could be called a
“mountaineering club”, but we equally welcome walkers who have no
mountaineering experience, so we stick with the name “Rucksack Club”
(which the club has had since it began in 1923!).
Mountaineering on snow-covered peaks in winter involves some extra
skills and knowledge, such as using crampons and an ice axe, awareness
of avalanche risk, and on harder routes, ice climbing. At the start of
each winter season the club organises a special trip to give members the
opportunity to learn and practice these skills. The club also arranges
lectures on subjects such as winter walking skills, avalanche awareness,
and navigation. There are also subsidised training courses available through the club.
For those wanting to take the “next step” from Scottish winter mountaineering, higher mountains abroad offer exciting new challenges. These require extra skills and knowledge as there are extra dangers to contend with, so mountaineering in higher mountain ranges is often
called “Alpine Mountaineering” to distinguish it from mountaineering
here in Scotland.
Scotland’s mountains are big by UK standards, but relatively small by
global standards, the highest (Ben Nevis) being 1344 metres above sea
level at its summit. Higher mountain ranges such as the Alps in Europe
have many summits over 3000 metres (Mont Blanc is 4810m). Travelling abroad to climb higher mountains means knowing how to cope with less oxygen in the air (altitude acclimatisation) and encountering glaciers (in Scotland
the winter snow melts away every spring/summer so we don’t have any glaciers here).
Walking across glaciers safely requires special techniques to minimise the danger posed by hidden crevasses and knowledge of how to rescue someone if they have fallen into one. Glaciers also continually erode the surrounding mountainside, causing rockfalls, unstable ground, steep slopes and narrow ridges, so an awareness of these dangers and how to deal with them is also important.
The best way to learn and develop the necessary skills is to take a mountaineering course in the Alps. There are several subsidised courses available for students and young people each year, and many members of the Rucksack Club have benefited from these. Many have then gone on to organise their own Alpine Mountaineering expeditions using the skills they learned.
Deep, soft snow can be difficult to walk in. One option is to wear
snowshoes, but skis can be easier still and provide the added benefit of
quick, fun descents of the downhill sections. In Scotland, Ski
Mountaineering also has an appeal to adventurous skiers when snow
conditions at the resorts are unreliable but there is plenty of snow up on the
Ski Mountaineering involves special ski equipment including ski
bindings with releasable heels, “skins” to stick to the base of the skis
to prevent them slipping backward when you ski uphill, special boots
which can also be used for walking, and avalanche safety equipment.
As Ski Mountaineering requires a certain level of skiing ability and a
lot of specialist equipment, it has a more limited appeal, so the
Rucksack Club doesn’t formally organise Ski Mountaineering activities. That said,
there are usually a few members around with an interest in it, so if
you are keen there is the opportunity to meet other like-minded folks
through the club.