Saturday 28 February 2009

Last week's winter mountaineers

Here is a video short of last week's Winter Mountaineering Course for The Ice Factor. Next week I'm back East working for Glenmore Lodge.

Friday 27 February 2009

End of a damp winter week

For the last day of our mountaineering course Kenny and I took the guys to Curved Ridge in Glencoe. It was mild and misty but we caught the occaisional view of Rannoch Moor as we made a rapid scent of the snow free ridge. There was plenty of evidence of the recent rockfall on the wall under the polished corner but it is easy to avoid. Higher up the gully below Crowberry Tower was made easier by being filled with wet snow and good footprints. Over the summit of Buachaille Etive Mor and down to the head of Coire na Tullaich which had enough soft snow in the base of the gully for a quick bumslide down to the screes. We made it back to the car just as the rain set in. Today I was working for The Ice Factor.

Thursday 26 February 2009

Wet on the Ben

Cack forecast and rain on my Velux windows all night. We went high to the Ben. Busy carparks with the BMC International meet again but we had Ledge Route to ourselves. My team this week have now split in 2 (took an extra instructor for their last 2 days) and I went with my pair to look at a classic mountaineering route- Ledge Route. We walked in in the rain but there was evidence of yesterdays fresh snow from the base of No.5 upwards and still ice on the first slab. It was still raining when we topped out but half way down the Red Burn bumslide (more holes, but we sent Mike from Abacus ahead as a crash test dummy) it dried out a little for our walk back to the car. Today I was working for The Ice Factor. Jamie B climbed No.3 Gully Buttress meting various hosts and guests from the international meet topping out on harder routes from below. Kenny (and the Abacus team) climbed Thompsons. There is still snow and ice up there in the mist and rain- we'll see what survives tomorrow.

Wednesday 25 February 2009

Glencoe 25 Feb

Off to Glencoe today. The snowpack has been saturated but had begun to freeze high up. NC, Forked, Broad, Boomerang and Dorsal all saw ascents today. There were some blustery snow showers during the day as we looked at bucket seats, holding sliding falls and buried axe belays. We mad a quick ascent of Gully and dropped back into the coire abseiling off of a snow bollard. Today I was working for The Ice Factor.

Tuesday 24 February 2009

No 3 Gully on Ben Nevis

Day 2 of our Winter Course today and we decided to put yesterday's skills into practise with a bit of a journey. We walked into Coire na Ciste on Ben Nevis behind 2 minibus loads and several other vehicles full from the BMC International Meet based at Glenmore Lodge. Fortunately they had all gone into Observatory Gully (one instructor who went that way pushed straight on through up Gardyloo describing the queues and crowds as 'carnage'- hope they had fun). We meandered up No. 3 Gully taking our time and focusing on using our axes and crampons well. We passed a queue on Glovers Chimney but no-one on Green Gully. Kenny and at least 2 other parites did Central Right Hand, Chris came down No. 3 and did South Gully, Karl took his clients up North Gully. We took the steeper right hand branch of No. 3 Gully, pulling the rope out for the last 15m. We then managed to bum slide the length of the Red Burn but beware there are a number of large holes through to the burn appearing. Today I was working for The Ice Factor.

Monday 23 February 2009

Aonach Mor winter skills

Day 1 of a 5 day mountaineering course saw us at Aonach Mor today around the Nid area. We weren't alone and there were Plas y Brenin, Outward Bound, Jagged Globe, 2 other Ice Factor parties and military teams there too. It was still possible to move around and look at a variety of skills there though. We started with walking skills; using the boot, and the axe for stepping and stopping slips. We spent some time looking at self arrest and then moved up to an icey step to introduce crampons. There was an igloo and a shovel up as well as some emergency snow shelters and we saw Blair from SAIS at work. We moved onto some steeper ground looking at both upwards and downwards movement before retreating to the cafe to dry out and for 'refreshments'. The snowpack was still wet and slowly retreating but there still seems to be ice around even at only 900-1000m today. Today I was working for The Ice Factor.

Sunday 22 February 2009

Cornice Capers

A very cosmopolitan day on Aonach Mor today. I detected French, Spanish, Italian, Swiss and Japanese (?) accents- there were shiny new climbing axes, battered Monsters and even a pair of knuckle bashing 'Terrors' in evidence. Today was day 2 of an Intro to Winter Climbing Course for Ben and Rich. We descended Easy Gully and turned right (because all the other footprints went left) and climbed Nausea which has its little ice pitch at the base complete. Although we were expecting a 900m freeing level it was dripping water at the base of the route. At the top of the second pitch I was faced with a sizable cornice but I borrowed Ben's Mountain Tech tools which make much better digging implements than my Quarks. After 10 minutes we had a good slot dug. Back down Easy Gully and the guys led the first steep icey groove we found- with an easier escape round the cornice this time. Karl and his team climbed Tunnel Vision and Jamie B climbed the Web and Tunnel Vision. There were lots of shouted conversations on routes off in the mist north of that. Today I was working for The Ice Factor.

Saturday 21 February 2009

Wet ice on the Ben

Ben Nevis with John today. With strong winds, mild temperatures and rain forecast we opted for a quick ascent of South Gully. This was wet but with enough snow and ice for the first pitch and as I turned the corner I was delighted by the sight of a steep ice filled runnel. There were a couple of steep steps leading to an easier exit pitch (with a slightly worrying cornice- beware climbing this in further thaw conditions). We came down No. 4 Gully which has plenty of steps. There was water running everywhere in Coire na Ciste today but the remaining ice was quite friendly to climb. Teams were on Central (lh or rh- dont know), Green (although one team backed off describing a waterfall), North Gully, No. 2 Gully Buttress, No. 3 Gully Buttress, The White Line, Glovers (sounds of falling ice from that side of the coire late afternoon), Ledge Route and No.s 2,3 and 4 Gullys. Colder conditions forecast tomorrow and another busy day on the hill expected- watch out for falling rock, ice and kit! Today I was working for The Ice Factor.

Friday 20 February 2009

Aladdin's Couloir

Last day of our Winter Mountaineering Course and John decided to give his hip a rest after a week with a very steep learning curve (never worn axes and crampons or a harness until this week and now making a creditable imitation of a mountaineer!). Tab, Jim, Mary and I went to Aladdin's Couloir. We waited for a gap in the parties wandering up and down it ropes together but placing no gear and wandered up past those enjoying the pitch of ice on its left hand side. Near the top we roped up (and took a belay) and Mary broke out left to lead us up a steeper finish than the usual route. Other Lodge staff today were involved in assisting a casualty who had fallen down near the Goat Track and helping a walker find their mislayed partner, whilst still getting a route in and making it home for tea and cake!
The easier gullys are fairly firm and have steps kicked up them and there are still plenty of ice bulges around. The slightly steeper lines like Invernookie and Hidden Chimney are quite hacked up and rocky. There was a bit of rime around the coire rim today but it was raining at 1230 when we topped out.
This week I was working for Glenmore Lodge - next week I'm back in the wild west for a week.

Thursday 19 February 2009

Winter back for the day

Cooler overnight temperatures were accompanied by a stronger wind today. We climbed Fiacaill Ridge which was entertaining as the moisture was freeezing nicely to the rock. The guys coped well and we descended the goat track to much calmer milder conditions. I've put a little clip of conditions in Sneachda below (sorry for the slight blur- snowflake hit the lense) and a picture looking up Spiral Gully. Butresses still mostly black but many gully lines looking fine. Today I was working for Glenmore Lodge.

Wednesday 18 February 2009

A little peace and quiet

We walked just a little further today to avoid the worst of the crowds and went to the little coire between Fiacaill Ridge and Coire an Lochain. The snow was just a little firmer up high today and may improve further in cooler temperatures over the next day or two. the main gully lines are still there in Sneachda and there is some pleasant climbing around the coires if you throw the guidebook away and think outside the box.
Day 3 of our winter mountaineering course and we wanted to look at rock anchors. We found a nice patch of ice to start up and looked at various methods of belaying in a mountain context over a few pitches. today I was working for Glenmore Lodge.

Tuesday 17 February 2009

Snow, slush and crowds

Another extremely busy day in the Cairngorms. Even a number of West Coast instructors had come east in search of climbable conditions. Routes like The Runnel, Fiacaill Couloir, Goat Track gully, Hidden Chimney were busy with some firm snow and icey steps around. Bring plenty of spare socks though, the walk in is through giant slush fields that look like melting arctic tundra! A lot of funky ropework in evidence again on the Goat Track. Being roped to someone else on a steep slippery slope does not confer any safety upon you. When your partner falls and yanks you off too your rope will cheesewire everyone underneath you off the slope. Solo, belay or move together with runners but dont just stroll blithely around tied to someone else with a slack rope on ground like that. Sorry- rant over.
On day 2 of our winter mountaineering course we had a nice day lower down on the Fiacaill of Sneachda. We looked at Rutschblocks, bucket seats, bollards, buried axe bleays, holding falls dynamically and abseiling. Very civilised. Today I was working for Glenmore Lodge.