A group of inspirational Sight Scotland Veterans recently ventured up the Cairngorms to participate in a life-changing Winter Skills Course.

The veterans, who were extremely apprehensive and nervous before the climb, enjoyed a great couple of days learning 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 impairment and gave them a huge boost in confidence and independence.

The veterans who attended were Iain Young, 60 from East Linton, an RAF veteran coping with stargardt syndrome; Ian Hunter, 65 from Tullibody, an Army veteran who lost central vision due to three brain surgeries and an optical stroke; and Steven Williams, 41 from Edinburgh, a veteran who sustained his vision impairment during active service. Steven is also a Centre Officer at the charity’s Linburn Activity Centre in West Lothian.

Iain Young explains: “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. 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. 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 ten 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.”

Ian Hunter commented: “This was the first night I have spent away from my wife since 2017, so it was massive in terms of my confidence and independence. I really was not sure about doing the course, but I was encouraged to push myself, so I went for it. It gave me a real sense of what I can do, and I already have another walk planned to Hadrian’s Walls. It does show you that in life you shouldn’t be worried about what you can’t do, even with a visual impairment, we should all be encouraged to push ourselves, try new things and most importantly to continue doing the things that we love.”

“Steven Williams adds: “I went as veteran with a visual impairment, not as a worker for the charity, and like the other two I was apprehensive about it even though I am a bit younger. I didn’t know what to expect, but we all just got so much out of it. The first day we were climbing the hill, using ice axes, crampons and learning new techniques to walk in deep snow, the second day was more about navigating and learning about our surroundings, we all had experiences of this during our time in the Armed Forces and Able2Adventure were constantly adding challenges to push us on, it really was a very inspirational and empowering trip.”

The course was organised by Able2Adventure, a company which strongly believes in the long-term benefits of participation in outdoor activities on physical and mental health. Through adventurous activities disabled people can strengthen muscles/ build balance and co-ordination, develop social networks and increase confidence and independence.

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