A GROUP of inspirational veterans have ventured up the Cairngorms to participate in a life-changing winter skills course.

The trio learned about winter navigation, mountain weather and avalanche forecasts, using ice axes and crampons, moving on snow and ice, ice axe arrests and what to do in an emergency.

It was an experience they never imagined they could do because of their visual impairments.

The veterans, who were all extremely apprehensive and nervous before the climb, included East Linton’s Iain Young, an RAF veteran.

He was joined by Ian Hunter, from Tullibody, an army veteran who lost central vision due to three brain surgeries and an optical stroke; and Steven Williams, from Edinburgh, a veteran who sustained his vision impairment during active service.

Sixty-year-old Iain said: “We all travelled up with quite a lot of trepidation as we were unsure whether we were capable of doing the course; both physically and due to our visual impairments.

“When we arrived at the lodge, we were fitted with our equipment and were talked through what to expect the following day; I was really worried I wouldn’t be able to do it as I have long Covid. But I was reassured to give it a go.

“I am just so happy that I did, as the whole experience was amazing.

East Lothian Courier: Iain Young climbing using ice axes and cramponsIain Young climbing using ice axes and crampons

“Our instructors were great, we practically received personal instruction and were taken through everything we were doing on the hill step by step, constantly being reassured we would only do what we could manage.”

Iain, who has Stargardt disease – a rare genetic eye disease that happens when fatty material builds up behind the macula, which is needed for sharp, central vision – spoke about his sense of achievement in completing the course.

He said: “Then before you knew it, we were at the top, which was incredible. It was only when we came down we actually realised how high up we were.

“We were all buzzing.

“It really did show us all what we can do; it was a real sense of achievement.

“I would do it again in a heartbeat. It was 10 times better than I could ever have imagined.

“It gave us all such a massive confidence boost, not just while we were there but in everyday life, as it showed us to believe in ourselves more.

“So we went worrying about what we couldn’t do and came back feeling reinvigorated. It was so good for us mentally.

“It helped us to almost relive what it was like to be in the forces again: pushing each other, camaraderie and using skills we all thought we had forgotten.

“I always think confidence breeds competence. I can’t thank the organisers enough.”

The course was organised by

Able2Adventure, a company which strongly believes in the long-term benefits of participation in outdoor activities for physical and mental health.

Through adventurous activities, people with disabilities can strengthen muscles, build balance and co-ordination, develop social networks and increase confidence and independence.

Gemma Hendry, from Able2Adventure, was lead instructor on the course and found the veterans both resilient and inspiring.

She said: “They were incredibly organised, resilient and eager to dive into activities.

“As we progressed, their belief and confidence visibly grew and, by the end, they were effectively managing themselves.

“They even taught me new techniques, like using reference points and navigating with a clock face, which we will now use with other groups.

“It was also great to see how much they wanted to have fun; by the end, we were all gleefully sliding down snowy hills like children!”

For more information, visit sightscotlandveterans.org.uk or call 0800 035 6409.