Thursday 31 December 2009

Curved Ridge and Happy Hogmanay

Today Gill and I took Gareth, Ed, Sarah and Jenny to Curved Ridge on the Buachaille today. they were looking for an introduction to winter mountaineering and climbing and we had a good day on the route with only one other party around. We took the little ice step in Easy Gully near the fork off to Crowberry Gully but it was thin and a little cruddy. Above that we kept to the ridge until we were able to make our way around the left side of Crowberry Tower with care. The snow in Coire na Tulaich was limited to a narrow band of slabby snow in the gully at the top (this gave good walking sticking near to the rocky edge). I'm out again with this team on Saturday.
Today we could see plenty of obvious scouring and further strong winds until about 1400 were continuing to redistribute snow (mostly into our faces!). There was riming on the cliffs above about 900m. Our descent was mostly in a flat calm as the wind died at all levels.

2009 has been a great year- my first full year as a freelance Mountaineering Intructor. Many thanks to all the clients and companies that have employed me and the partners I have climbed with. It has also been an amazing start to another busy winter season. Role on 2010 and I hope anyone who looks at this log has a safe and prosperous year. Al

Wednesday 30 December 2009

Smoking the White Owl

I had some clients cancel at late notice (they are snowed in at an estate cottage a long way from the road) so Roger and I went climbing today. I've always wanted to climb the main waterfall on Sgurr Finnisg-aig (the small top just east of the top station of the Nevis Range gondola) so we went for a look. At the car park things felt much milder than of late and we could hear a strong wind higher up-not promising. We walked out on the forestry road and headed up becide the main stream which was full and flowing fast- but a couple of hundred metres above us we could see ice.
We got about 200m of climbing out of it. The ice was thick (several inches thick and taking screws to the hanger) but there was water, lots of water behind it everywhere. I got to lead today and passed a few holes right through to the stream. Roger reckoned he could see these holes getting larger, as the water melted the ice, as I climbed!
We passed ice formations like I'd never seen; blobs, rippled bosses, chandeliers, juggy holds, wind bent icicles and glass clear 'visors' with the stream completely enclosed behind. Although things boomed a lot as I climbed (glad I've lost some weight this year) the ice was thicker than it looked and often the pick wasn't getting through to the space behind (fortunately).
The last pitch was a belter, long, probably about 4 (lower pitches were 3) but very delicate and some intricate weaving was needed to find a way through holes and chandeliers.
As we got higher the wind picked up and we were lashed with spindrift on occasion. Topping out there were a few feet of loose snow to clear which was blasted up across your face- I had my eyes closed for a few feet of crawling to the belay.
We headed over to the Gondola in a gale watching an Everest like plume from the top of the Nid. The Gondola was predictably off so we walked easily down a snowy Downhill MTB course back to the car.
I'd approach this route with caution unless it gets colder again folks.
Tragic news of 2 deaths in an avalanche on in No.3 Gully today on Ben Nevis- my condolences to friends and family of those involved. The strong winds have redistributed a good deal of the snow on the hills and created unstable windslab deposits creating some dangerous conditions. We will all need to look carefully at both the forecast and the conditions on the ground in the next few days. Never be afraid to save it for anothr day if you are unsure. There were also avalanches on Liathach and on Ben an Dothaidh today, fortunatley those involved survived.
News here on the BBC.

Tuesday 29 December 2009

Buachaille Etive Mor

Today I was out with 6 students from Nottingham University Explorers club to look at some winter skills. I met them at Lagangarbh where they were staying and after a discussion on equipment, crampon fitting and weather and avalanche forecsting we headed up into Coire na Tullaich. The conditions leant themself to discussion of the isolated patches of windslab we found, step kicking on the compressed snow on the path and trying out crampons and axes on the many exposed patches of water ice we found. The wind was a little stronger today making for a bitter feling day. The snow was deep and soft off of the path but did not seem continuous enough to present a real avalanche hazard. A number of teams had been out on Curved Ridge which did not sound too buried.

Monday 28 December 2009

Busy on Beinn Udlaidh

Rich and I went to Beinn Udlaidh today and we weren't alone. I reckon there were about a dozen teams there today taking advantage of the good weather, short walk in and well beaten trail through the powder. The ice varied from brittle and cold to wet, dripping and chewy.
We climbed Quartvein Scoop (IV,4) one of the classics of the crag as Rich hadn't been here before. We were followed up the route by Sam and Callum, then an unknown pair (girl belaying the first pitch in pale blue jacket- e-mail me if you want pictures) then many more! By that time we had rigged a v-thread an abseiled back in.
Next up we went to South Gully of the Black Wall (IV,4)- another heavily starred route and one that I've wanted to do for a while. The first pitch had been 'well used' and the second was rather wet but still great fun.
Other routes that were climbed or looked climbable included The Croc (may have to start by Peter Pan), Peter Pan Direct, Sunshine Gully, Central Gully, Juniors Jaunt (may be thin- but looked complete from a distance) and West Gully. Organ Pipe Wall looked like a slender free standing icicle from a distance.
It was quite mild and water was on the move but an overnight freeze would help heal the hacking and sustain the routes.
Remember folks, if you follow someone up an ice route, you take your own chances and may pay for it with cuts, bruises or lost teeth from falling ice!

Sunday 27 December 2009

Home again

Well we went to Norway to ski and could have done it if we'd stayed here! However there they are measuring the snow in metres, it was minus 18 in the daytime, the cut tracks are great (before they drift in) and the kiddie pulk we hired for Sandy (karrimat insulation, builit in sleeping bag and bivvy bag, skidoo style visor, a hot water bottle around your feet and mum or dad powered) was superb training! I'm a novice to planks and the idea of pistes and queues doesn't grab me but 30k of gliding along in deep powder with just the occasional skier for company was great. Super break. Now, off to pack my sack for climbing tomorrow.

Monday 21 December 2009

Late news

Well done to Andy Nelson and Kenny Grant for the FWA of the summer HVS Line Up on Rannoch wall today (VII,8). I'm off Nordic skiing to Sjusjoen in Norway. Back on 27th and working on the hill from 29th onwards. Have a great Christmas folks!

Swimming lessons

Jamie had the bright idea to go to Stob Ban today.... about the right height, less travelled mixed climbing, close to home... sounds good. Rich and I happily agreed. Wading through the knee deep snow on the approach path and tripping over the powder covered scree we began to wonder. Jamie backing off of Skyline Ridge ridge because of the loose blocks and turf that wasn't quite there and I was having serious doubts. To get higher we then went into South Gully and soon realised we had made a biiiiiig mistake. You know things are bad when you use your hands to dig enough snow away from your chest to make it only knee to thigh deep. We swam, dug, waded and swore our way up the gully keeping an eye out for grooves on the right that might look like good climbing opportunities (guidebook in the car...... of course). We were right up under the summit before a likely looking groove caught our eye. A glance at the watch sent me traversing into it from the left on a ledge where every step had to be excavated to see if it was air or solid snow. The guys tossed me the ropes and we were finally off and climbing.
More digging revealed some nice climbing and some creative bulldog and hex placement (and a very shallow tied off peg) got me to some solid rock and a couple of runners. Fortunately under the champagne powder there was some good turf and after 50m I found a semi hanging belay. Unfortunately it was only big enough for one so I brought the guys up to a ledge 10m lower and led off again (that's just how it worked out.... it wasn't planned..... honest guys). Another runner and 60m more climbing, the odd steep turfy step and a little compact quartzite and I'm belaying off of the summit cairn.
No sign of what we did in the guide, it was about IV maybe IV,5 at a push (or was that just because of the amount of digging to find the route? Who cares). We descended South Gully each on our own little avalanche cushion of snow in a matter of seconds and plodded back to the car.
Stob Ban (pointy white peak) was certainly white today! Sorry if the video doesn't contain much climbing- I was busy leading, digging or gasping!

Sunday 20 December 2009

Not so bad on The Ben

Today I was out with Mike who has some experience of leading at up to Grade II and wanted to see what something a little harder was like. We went to Ben Nevis waking to several inches of fresh snow in Corpach and a windy forecast. A careful look at the charts showed a possible clear spell this morning so we tried to time things to be hitting Coire na Ciste to be able to see what was happening. There was a great deal of fresh powder on the walk in but very few climbers (other than a pair heading for Ledge Route and a pair heading for Garadh Gully we seemed to have the Coire to ourselves). The snow hadn't been subject to a great deal of wind and we didn't see any consolidated slab until we had waded to the base of No. 3 Gully. Scuttling across this we headed for South Gully- a short option given the possible gales due to arrive. We soloed across part of the traverse until it was time for me to leave Mike on a belay and head for the short high step that gives entry to the main groove. There was plenty of fresh powder on top of good older snow ice. The main pitch was in good climbing condition but gear was hard to come by in iced cracks. Mike followed the pitch well despite the odd torrent of spindrift from above. We topped out after a third pitch into light winds and more heavy snowfall. Descent was accomplished rapidly by the Red Burn and back down to Torlundy.
A good day out and the weather was never quite as bad as forecast. a bit of windslab beginning to form on a variety of aspects with plenty more snow falling and moving around as we climbed.

Friday 18 December 2009

A morning on Ben Nevis

I had a half day off, before returning home for baby-sitting duty, so Rich picked me up at 0730 for a quick hit on Ben Nevis. We were far from the first into Coire na Ciste with parties gearing up at the foot of No.3 Gully Buttress and Central Left Hand and 2 teams heading up towards No.2 Gully as we arrived. We made a quick decision that we just had enough time for Green Gully. This turned out to be a good choice; whilst its not fat it was in friendly condition with good ice helpfully stepped in places. We had only taken a light rope and rack so we didn't have much in the way of gear to worry about and were on top in short time. Whilst we climbed the visibility dropped and a few large snowflakes came down (no wind though). We passed the top of No.3 Buttress which looked well rimed (not too heavy for a mixed route to look attractive though) and dropped down No.4 Gully. Most of the snow underfoot in the coire is firm. There is plenty of ice around (good screws available in Green today) and North Gully, Central LH and RH, South Gully, No.3 Gully Buttress, Green Gully, Garadh Gully and Glovers (a little thin at the base) would all have been good options today.
Mike and Danny were both out today and should have reports on their sites on Ben Nevis.
Rich was out on Aonach Mor yesterday reporting more in the way of soft snow and some very large cornices about.
Enjoy the weekend but pay close attention to the incoming snow and winds, watch the SAIS forecast and make a careful judgement about where you go.

Thursday 17 December 2009

SAIS live today

Remember the Scottish Avalanche Information Service goes live today with daily reports for the winter. Its looking cold up on the Ben today. Although we lost a lot of snow in the thaw a few days ago I can see the water ice smears from Corpach.
A good afternoon dusting of snow showing in these lovely afternoon views of Ben Nevis.

Wednesday 16 December 2009

Today I was out on Aonach Mor working for BASP on their Ski Patrol Training Course . I was responsible for delivering a winter skills day which for some was a refresher and for others was a genuine introduction. Having taken the gondola up we left the top station heading for the Nid. It was immediately obvious that there was a huge amount of water ice around and a lot of frozen ground despite the snow having been stripped back. We looked at vital walking skills; the use of the boot and the axe for support, cuting steps and walking in crampons and the what to do in the event of a slip; self belay and self arrest. We discussed information gathering for avalanche avoidance and also looked at simple snow anchors; the bucket seat and body belay and a buried horizontal axe.
There was rain, turning to sleet and higher snow during the day- but not a great deal. At about 850-900m we hit the freezing level and the rocks were heavily rimed, bare rock almost completely obscured and lots of ice around.
Back at the gondola we bumped into Andy, Jonathon and Sandy (expect he'll have a report up when he gets home) who had done a new route on the east face. They said that Left Twin had been done in reportedly good condition and that whilst not exactly fat, there was plenty of ice on the east face.
Interesting the amount of frozen bare ground around, a good dusting of snow before it thaws could give good mixed conditions if places like Arrochar and the Bridge of Orchy hills are similar. Aonach Mor might be a good option for the weekend (gondolas at 9am- no early climbers gondola yet) providing the snow doesn't provide an avalanche hazard but I suspect that with this much rime and icearound rock gear will be hard to come by.

Monday 14 December 2009


Today I was running a site specific training and assessment course for staff at The Glasgow Climbing Centre on teaching lead climbing indoors. We looked at information gathering about clients and coaching the skills for both the belayer and the lead climber. This may be the last site specific course of this type as in the new year we will move to the new Climbing Wall Award Leading Award.

Sunday 13 December 2009

Curved Ridge

Today, Neal and I took eight pupils from The Glasgow Academy to Buachaille Etive Mor, to climb Curved Ridge, along with Gavin, the new Deputy Rector. It was bitterly cold at Lagangarbh but the snowline was quite high- despite patches of water ice from the carpark we didn't put crampons on until we were above the corner at the rockfall from last year. The weather was stunning throughout the day with great views to the north and Ben Nevis. We were glad of our axes and crampons as we skirted Crowberry Tower on bullet hard neve. I hear there were a number of incidents involving slips in Broad Gully and other areas in Glencoe today (nothing life threatening I believe/hope) but it serves to indicate how slippery things are at the moment- especially after yesterdays tragedy at the Lost Valley Bridge. Take care with your fun folks.

Saturday 12 December 2009

MLTS Seminar

Whilst the sun shone and the frost hung heavy over Strathspey I was indoors at Glenmore Lodge on a Mountain Leader Training Scotland award providers seminar. Oh, well, as well as updates from MLTS, the MCofS and discussions of the new CWA Leading module we were treated to interesting talks from Geoff Monk from MWIS and Graham Moss of SAIS on updates to their services. Out on the hill tomorrow in Glencoe.

Friday 11 December 2009

A fine day on the Ben.

I knew I wouldn't be able to be good and rest my ankle (shaved my leg to tape it... a new experience) or chest for long..... Kenny and Mike and I got an early start today for our day out on Ben Nevis. After hearing from folks yesterday we decided to go around to Observatory Gully and get as high as possible. Up at the top the buttresses were well rimed but there wasn't as much ice as we woulld have liked. Discounting a few options on our way up we finally settled on Smith's Route as being one of the few lines looking icey enough. Once we got onto the route the placements for tools were actually rather good. The snow was generally firmer than expected but you never new quite whether the next step would be solid or not- so we (well.... Kenny- it was his lead) aproached the crux tentatively. Fortunately conditions continued good through all 3 pitches. We topped out in sunshine with a great inversion and headed off to descend No. 4 for what was the first but not the last time of the season. There were a few things looking climbable in Coire Na Ciste but I'll leave it to Mike for a fuller description- he has my pics and video clips from today so expect a good vid later on on Abacus Mountaineering's Conditions page .