Words and photos: Jessie Leong
Having spent the past week, unpacking, drying, re-proofing and shaking off mud and turf from my kit, I realise I have carried away more than just mud from the mountains. Women’s Winter Weekend has left me filled with inspiration and stories.
I feel hugely privileged to be invited to spend the past weekend in a challenging mountainous environment photographing the Women’s Winter Weekend at Glenmore Lodge - and loved every bit of it. The biggest thing I have taken away is not just hundreds of images of the female participants enjoying the various winter experiences on offer, but the argument that events such as women’s events offer an invaluable choice and option for many women who would otherwise not have considered a course in winter skills in the first place. The course was championed by Sam Leary, who has done huge work for women’s mountaineering this year, both participating in both the AMI’s mentoring scheme, and speaking at the Women’s Climbing Symposium in October 2016 as well as helping so many groups of women harness their passion for the mountains. Mountain guide and WCS16 speaker Libby Peter also instructed on the weekend, sharing years of knowledge, dedication and experience with female participants.
Having seen the success of grass roots movements like WCS which are promoting uptake in women's climbing outdoors, the number of events the have taken place over the past year are a reminder of how successful female-only events are in encouraging women into climbing: From the Women’s International Climbing Meet organised by the women-only climbing group, The Pinnacle Club through to the introduction to trad climbing at the Women’s Trad Festival, which sold out of student participants tickets for 2017 within a day,
As a photographer, there was a feeling of inspiration by seeing women in outdoor adventure and the feeling of and belonging to this movement has continued to inspire me throughout. It was hugely rewarding to experience women of all ages and backgrounds completely throw themselves into unknown situations, acknowledge areas they felt wanted to improve and set goals for themselves.
Learning in an environment with often-unpredictable weather, from sometimes too much snow to not enough, for many ordinary visitors the unseasonably warm weather deterred many winter participants from traipsing up to the Scottish Highlands. However, the attitude that was apparent from the beginning of the course was one of enthusiasm as well as determination – one of the course students had travelled from as far away as Brighton!
Many of the students, cited an aim to learn a range of basic winter skills, such as using an ice axe for self arrest and practising footwork and movement in snow to learning about how the course instructors make key decisions on winter kit, guidance over route planning and course information. In addition, the course students were observant and delighted with the many different aspects of being out in winter. Their enthusiasm was infectious; seeing things that would otherwise go unnoticed, from pointing out sightings of the plucky mountain bird, the Ptarmigan, to the simple pleasures of making a snow angel.
It was a reminder and throwback to the positive energy of the Women’s Climbing Symposium, an environment that encouraged women to write down their own goals to help raise their climbing practice.
On the Women’s Winter Weekend, all of the course instructors were all women, something, which I noticed, the students immediately warmed to and looked up to. It was an environment where students felt at ease to open up without fear of judgement or perception of weakness and the course leaders made sure that the course structure accommodated for this.
I approached a student from each of the different courses (Intro to Winter Skills, Women’s Mountaineering Course and Women’s Climbing Course) about how they had first found out about the WWW, their hopes and aims, their fears and worries, and their own personal highlights. Finally I asked them whom would they recommend the course to- and whether it has inspired them to do anything else.
For Lynn Moir, one of the students who had signed up for the Introduction to Winter Skills, the idea of making a snow angel was one of the many thing she mentioned alongside a goal to begin a post-graduate course in outdoor education.
‘I was looking to make my first foray into winter walking and thought Glenmore lodge would be a good place to start. I was slightly overwhelmed by the choice of courses but when I saw the women's-only option, that gave me the push to book on. I was a bit worried I might not enjoy it, would the people be nice, who would I need to share with, would the borrowed boots hurt, what should I wear – it was a very long list but I was excited nonetheless.
I have been blown away by how challenging and fun the whole weekend was from incredible instructors, to the great company and the magnificent Cairngorms. My highlights had to be wearing crampons, self-arrest and digging a snow shelter.
I learned so much and just wish it was the start of the winter so I could practice my skills – I never thought I would look forward to winter but now I can't wait! The weekend had something for everyone from the absolute beginner like me to the more experienced climber and mountaineer – the one thing that all the courses had in common was exceptional instructors and great company. Now I can't wait to start my post grad in outdoor education in September – definitely the right choice and the WWW confirmed this.’
In conversations with fellow participants, Alison Smith, who took the Women’s Mountaineering Course spoke about the challenges and of consolidating more technical skills on the mountaineering course:
‘Earlier this month I took part in a winter skills course at Glenmore Lodge and the instructor recommended this next challenge - a mountaineering course but that had only women on it!
After rekindling a passion for the hills that I had when I was younger, I’ve been making sure that I have the knowledge I need to enjoy the mountains and also stay safe. Winter mountaineering presents new challenges and new equipment, which I hoped I’d be able to use confidently before the weekend was over.
I thought that the level of the course might be beyond my abilities, but being in the women’s-only group gave us all a chance to voice and address these concerns. In the end, we were able to work together and make great progress - all whilst feeling comfortable that everyone could keep up.
The highlight of my weekend was the challenging climb up the goat track to Coire an t-Sneachda. I’ve not even climbed this in the summer so it’s a great feeling to conquer it with deep snow cover!
I’d recommend the course to anyone who wants to improve their mountain skills, especially with like-minded others who may feel intimidated in a mixed group but who want to push themselves nonetheless! My next adventure is to Knoydart with a group of work colleagues, many of whom I would worry about keeping up with! This weekend has shown me that I am more than able to use what I’ve learned to be at an equal footing with them. ‘
Adele Doran attended the Women’s Climbing Course and spoke about how she found inspiration from the instructors teaching the course:
'I found out about the two events on the Women in Mountain Training Facebook page.
I find it hard to meet other women that want to climb in winter and I hoped to meet other like-minded women who love the mountains whilst working on my winter climbing skills. It was awesome to be surrounded by women who are passionate about the mountains. Many of us shared the same doubts in our abilities and frustrations at normally being the only women at these kinds of events, but we all left feeling confident in our abilities and with some new friends!
Another highlight for me was the female instructors. They were exceptional and it was inspiring to be guided and taught by women of such high calibre.
I would recommend the course to any woman who would like to develop their winter skills, whether that is winter navigation, avalanche awareness, using crampons and ice axes, and climbing winter routes. The course provides a supportive environment where you can develop your skills, build your confidence and be a part of some good banter! ‘
To conclude, it was a huge inspiration and privilege to be documenting the first Women’s Winter Weekend as a photographer, and I hope to be involved in seeing its successful return next year.
Jessie is a photographer based in London and the North of England, with a particular interest for chalked hands and alpine lines.
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