“Do you ever question your sanity?” I ask Andy as I stop digging momentarily to assess our progress. We have been digging for three hours, the daylight is fading fast and it feels like I have barely made a dent in the snow pack. At this rate, I'm worried we will still be digging come midnight. “Just keep going” Andy replies, “it will all come together soon, you’ll see.”
I met Andy of Scot Mountain Holidays last summer when we spent a day hiking a few Munros. He’s been living and guiding in the Cairngorms for over 15 years and mentioned to me that one of his most popular trips was building snow caves. I was instantly intrigued and vowed to come back in winter and give it a go.
Whilst hacking away at the hard snow with my saw, shovel and ice axe, I am most definitely questioning why I said yes to this. It’s Friday evening and I’m feeling a little anxious about digging this snow cave and sleeping in it. The slope we are on is rock hard and steep. I have to use crampons and my ice axe to secure myself whilst digging. It’s below zero already and I can’t imagine how cold it’s going to be in there tonight. I’m just not sure I’m ready for how uncomfortable tonight could be.
However, as with so many adventures in life, it’s the times that require an element of hard work, suffering and overcoming fears, doubts and anxieties that often bring the greatest sense of accomplishment and reward, and the best stories when you are home safe and warm!
Better keep digging then.
We dig through the toughest part of the snow crust and hack away at the softer snow underneath. By 8pm we break through and create a tunnel between us that we open up into a cave. Finally at 9pm we call it a day and after five hours of building this thing, it’s time to get settled, make some hot food and have a wee dram of whisky!
Exhausted after all the hard work, I put on every item of clothing I have brought with me - two down jackets, a fleece, base layer, down trousers, gloves and hat - and snuggle into my sleeping bag. I’m starting to love it.
The glow from the candles we place in the walls of our cave and the smell of food cooking make it feel homely. Andy and I chat as we make dinner before realising it’s gone 10pm and should probably get some sleep!
I wake up at 7am desperately needing to pee. There seems to be a lot of snow in the cave that wasn’t there when we went to sleep. The funny thing is, you are so protected in there that you can’t hear anything that’s going on outside. I was imagining a beautiful sunny morning but my imaginings couldn’t have been further from the truth. Outside a blizzard was raging!
We make breakfast, pack up and head off down Cairngorm Mountain in a whiteout. A few hours later, we are sitting in a café drinking hot chocolate and the world seems like a totally different place. I have that warm, glowing feeling of surviving something challenging, of knowing I’ve really lived and keep thinking “I can’t believe I woke up in a snow cave in a blizzard.” Definitely one ticked off the bucket list and I can’t thank Andy enough for making it a fantastic, safe and memorable experience.
Partners and More Info
I’m currently partnered with Ellis Brigham, a family run shop for all your mountain needs with stores all over the UK. I’m wearing Arcteryx kit from Ellis Brigham; down jacket, Goretex waterproof jacket, Goretex bib trousers and fleece mid layer. I have been wearing this kit everyday whilst out adventuring in the last three weeks in Scotland and I have never felt so comfortable and warm in mountain kit!
If you are looking for a winter or summer walking, biking or adventure holiday, check out Scotmountainholidays.com Andy is awesome to adventure in the mountains with, you can stay at their lodge in the Cairngorms, with home cooked meals and cakes that are a real treat after a day on the hill!
For more information on Cairngorms, how to get here, where to stay and what to do, check out VisitCairngorms.com
Filming and GoPro
All the filming in this video was by me on my GoPro Hero5 and edited in iMovie.