Trainee Blog 1 – The Beginning
The course began with a day of paperwork, eight trainees sitting around a table piled high with forms and folders and cups of tea. All excited to be there and eager to get out into the hills we got all the boring stuff out of the way in time to spend the last hour trying on our shiny new PPE. The heavy-duty waterproof clothing, steel-toe wellies and thermal gloves gave us a clue as to the conditions we would be working in and made us even more eager to get out and start our training. Before we could set off up our first hill, however, we had two more days of learning – one day of manual handling training in Inverness and one day of mountain-specific first aid at Outwardly Mobile First Aid in Newtonmore. Certificates tucked safely under our belts we headed off up Meall a’ Bhuachaille (actually pronounced Meeal a Voucle!) for our first day of path work – waterbar and cross-drain maintenance.
Put in place to direct water off the path and prevent the surface material from being washed down the hill, waterbars need periodic maintenance to keep them in good working order. As water hits the line of backing stones (a) and is directed off the path, any material that the water was carrying is deposited just off the path in a small stone box called a silt-trap (b). Our task was to dig this material out of the silt-trap and place it back on the path as well as removing any material from the lining of the waterbar (c). Vital but not very technical, this maintenance got us familiar with waterbars and by our second day up the hill we were ready to try building our own. Rather than starting from scratch we picked out some waterbars that were built too high and needed replacing. If the stones are too high then people and mountain-bikers tend to go around the waterbar rather than over it, creating a new channel around the bar, widening the path and allowing the water to bypass the waterbar and flow down the path. Digging out the old waterbar revealed that what you see above the ground is actually just the tip of the iceberg and most of the rock and most of the work is buried. After a day of digging, shifting rock and figuring out how to make awkward stones join neatly into a straight line we stood back and admired our very first waterbar.
Throughout the week of maintenance at Meall a’ Bhuachaille we honed our waterbar building skills whilst bathed in glorious sunshine, hail, sleet, snow and lashing winds but nothing could spoil the amazing feeling of working up in the hills surrounded by some of the most stunning scenery in the country. Tired, muddy and happy we headed off the hill at the end of the week, looking forward to starting our own project on Creag Bheag and putting our new skills to the test.