Monday 30 March 2009

Bothy trip

A welcome change of pace with an overnight bothy trip for The Ice Factor with the Bedford Schools CCF. We set off from Kinlochleven in bright sunshine with plenty of evidence of a frost at 500m and above. After a good walk and a night at a top bothy we tidied up behind us and walked out in much milder drizzly conditions.
The monument in the video is near the shore of The Blackwater reservoir and is to a Minister who died in a December in the 1870s and who was carried home to be buried in Surrey. What was he was doing in this remote spot in the Highlands 130 years ago?

Saturday 28 March 2009

A day off

Back in Lochaber with my time at Glenmore Lodge finished for the winter. I've got a fairly full April of CWA, SPA and Mountaineering courses ahead but still some availability.
The snow line is low down on Ben Nevis today but looking ahead at long term forecasts:;sess= I think we are in for a mild week. This has got my thoughts turning to Spring and the excellent scrambling and mountaineering weather we often get. Late April and May often produce the best weather of the year and Spring Mountaineering courses, particularily on Skye, are a popular way to use that winter walking/climbing fitness. I'm off with Cadets from Bedford School for a couple of days camping/bothying tomorrow.

Friday 27 March 2009

Final day of the Intro to Winter Skills

For the last day of our Introduction to Winter skills course at Glenmore Lodge the group led themselves on a winter walk. The weather forecast was foul and the SAIS forecast the worst for days with a hazard of Category 4, High so the team put in some time planning a route that was safe and achievable. We headed up the ridge on the west side of Coire Lochain. The walk in was on paths covered in fresh snow and the visibility decreased as we passed the top of the twin burns. Carefully using the edge of the Coire as a handrail and now wearing crampons the team soon found the top of Cairn Lochan. Using the obvious feature of the top of The Vent as a starting point they took a bearing on the Goat Track and headed straight down into a perfect whiteout. There was some real pleasure (relief?) as we arrived perfectly on target. Carrying on round the rim of Coire an t Sneachda the weather worsened as the wind and amount of snow increased. We were glad to reach 1141 and head down the Cas ridge through a ski area where the runs were again filling in. The team showed that they have picked up a good grasp of the skills which have enabled them to cope with some pretty bad winter weather and still complete a route in the Scottish Hills - nice job guys.

As an aside, all of us going to the outdoors in the UK risk tick borne Lyme Disease. Please consider signing this petition to raise awareness of this potentially debilitating disease :
Also worth reading Andy Turner's blog on his and Tony Stone's awesome ascent of Sassenach:

Thursday 26 March 2009

Day 4 - Blizzards and snow shelters

Our fourth day of the course saw us heading back into Coire an t Sneachda to look at emergency shelters. We went to the moraines where the remains of an igloo gave us a little shelter for a snack. Then as we started to dig in the weather really took a turn for the worse with strong winds and drifting snow. The team all managed to disappear within about half an hour and then we headed up to windy col to get a bit more experience on slightly steeper ground. The plateau had reasonable visibilty but the gales helped us decide to head down the Cas ridge from 1141 to end or day. I was working for Glenmore Lodge today.

Wednesday 25 March 2009


Day 3 of our winter skills course and we decided to give the legs a rest and exercise our minds. We spent the day round Glenmore Lodge looking at mapsetting, interpreting contours, taking and following bearings, measuring distance, timing and pacing legs with orienteering maps to get lots of practise in. We then headed out into Glenmore Forest to put use our new skills and to apply techniques such as slope aspect identification and aiming off. Finally we switched up to 1:50000 maps and looked at relocating and navigated to Lochain Uaine and back to the Centre. Wild looking weather but we have planned a route for tomorrow that should give us plenty of options and let us look at those winter skills we haven't visited in detail yet.

Tuesday 24 March 2009

Winter Skills Day 2

Today we went to Ciste Mhearad. the day began with light winds and much better visibility. We found plenty of freshly transported snow and looked at snow profiles and dug some walking rutsch block tests. After investigating the snowhole village and a bite to eat we looked at a few more skills: self arrest, self belay, step cutting and using the axe on slightly steeper ground. We spent a bit of time discussing which of these skills were most important to us in practical terms and which were quite complex or time consuming to apply without regular practise. As we left the little coire the wind had strengthened but gone round to a more southerly direction bringing much warmer conditions to the tops. We said farewell to Fiona and the team from Winchester College CCF digging in for the night. I was working for Glenmore Lodge again today.

Monday 23 March 2009

Winter Skills in the Cairngorms

Winter came back today to the Cairngorms. A dusting of snow accompanied us on our walk in for Day 1 of a 5 day Introduction to Winter Skills at Glenmore Lodge. We looked at the basics of using the boot, the axe and crampons to walk on bullet hard neve near the base of the Fiacaill of Sneachda. As we went on a little journey into the Coire the wind picked up and by the time we reached the flat ice below the Goat Track things were getting quite wild. We walked out into a strong gale and more fresh snowfall.

Saturday 21 March 2009

Ben Nevis

A busy day on Ben Nevis as Heather, Davey and I visited. It was drizzly, grey and misty as we walked in and many people were sruggling to find routes ranging from Comb Gully to No.4 Gully in Coire na Ciste. The temperatures were mild and water was running under ice and on black rock. There was also some rock and ice falling in Coire na Ciste and reports of a loud rockfall somewhere left of Observatory Buttress. We climbed North Gully, sticking to 1 axe each as Davey has an injured shoulder. The snow was good lower down and there was a little ice at the narrows. We found softer snow higher up but were busy admiring the views as the cloud lifted to give a lovely sunny descent.

Friday 20 March 2009

Last day with Joe and Matt

Last day of the Intro. Winter Climbing Course at Glenmore Lodge and it was a scorcher! It was time for Matt and Joe to get out on the sharp end so we headed in to Coire an t Sneachda looking for something fairly straight forwards for them to lead. Central Gully was clear so we jumped into that. Matt has led single pitch climbs in summer before but Joe had never led at all. They did well moving quickly and easily up the Gully into the baking sun on the plateau. We had time to nip down the goat track and head over to solo Aladdins Couloir. Its been a lean springlike week (today was 18 degrees at Glenmore) with only easier gullys complete and plenty of loose rock. Next week it looks like a return to winter with more snow due though! Before that I'm on Ben Nevis tomorrow for a mountaineering day with Davey and Heather.

Thursday 19 March 2009

A little ice

Day 4 of the Intro. Winter Climbing Course I'm running for Glenmore Lodge and we went in search of some water ice. Despite the warm temperatures (and a little more water than we wanted!) we found plenty fat ice on the right of Coire an Lochain beneath the main buttresses. we looked at placing and removing screws, making abalakov/ 'v' threads as anchors and climbed a couple of good, long, open pitches before abseiling back down. We finished on the ice by bottom-roping something a little steeper. The last part of the day was spent looking at belaying from bucket seats and using snow anchors before Matt led Joe and I a scorching pace back to the car park (I think he just wanted to be first for tea and cake).

Wednesday 18 March 2009


Day 3 of our Intro. to Winter climbing at Glenmore Lodge and we went over to Lochain to escape the crowds. It was warmer and milder from the word go and the thin smears of ice that had frozen overnight were falling off the crags from the beginning. We climbed Milky Way which was only just being held together by a coating of ice on the steeper sections and there was water running under that- although there was plenty of firm snow on the ledges. We had been going to abseil down before the route joined the Vent but the thought of us and our ropes dangling above, below and amongst all the loose rock decided us against it. So we headed over to the Vent and went down and back up that instead. It looked like Y Gully Right Hand and Oesophagus (possibly) were the only other routes climbable in the coire.
Over in Sneachda the usual chaos abounded as loose rocks came down the bottom half of Spiral Gully and parties chose to walk above other climbers on steep firm ground whilst roped together but not connected to the mountain. One slip is enough to send them and anyone they scythe off beneath them to the bottom........

Tuesday 17 March 2009

All change

Day 2 of our intro. to winter climbing course and we had Fiacaill Couloir to ourself most of the day. We walked in the calm cool air and blazing sunshine and all the signs were that there had been a good freeze overnight. Sure enough the route was an icey playground with styrofoam snow and god ice. We climbed in series to give Matt and Joe the chance to build some belays and bring each other up. Higher up we switched to parallel to up the pace heading for the sun. We were greeted with a chill wind on the top so we hurried back down the Goat Track to shed some layers for the walk out. Alex (the younger) from the Lodge bar and Kev climbed Short Circuit, Phil took a team up Invernookie (reporting it much better than it looked from below). The usual suspects around the Trident Buttresses all also saw ascents. The MIC Assessment course reported good conditions on Ben Nevis with ascents of Green Gully, Comb Gully and Central Right Hand. Expect a busy day up there tomorrow as there will be 6 candidates each with 2 clients doing their best to provide a good day's climbing instruction. Today I was working for Glenmore Lodge.

Monday 16 March 2009

Intro. Winter (?) Climbing

I'm out with Joe and Matt this week on an Introduction to Winter Climbing course working for Glenmore Lodge. With a wet and mild forecast today we went in with an open mind to Coire an t Sneachda. We climbed Central Gully Left Hand route which still has a nice ice pitch at the top (just- wet but taking screws). Phil and his team were in the Runnel when a pair of unannounced tv sized boulders fell from near the top of the route narrowly missing them (there was no-one up there, they just fell off). With the recent thaw after cold ice forming weather there is a lot of loose rock on the move so be careful out there.

Friday 13 March 2009

Last day of the winter skills course I have been running for Glenmore Lodge today. The weather was lovely, sunny and springlike. We walked in to Coire an Lochain and across to the twin burns area. We headed up the steep firm snow there onto the icey rim of the coire and round to Cairn Lochain. We saw climbers on Sidewinder and Ewan Buttress and there was a very little riming on the summit cairn. The plateau was icey where the wind (gentler than forecast) was blowing but there was water in the hollows where the sun was melting it. From here we went to the top of the Goat Track and then out along the edge of Coire Domhain to get a view of the crags. I did look down the Spiral Gully, The Runnel and Central Left Hand (all of which had plenty of neve and the last a good bulge of ice). Hell's Lum had quite bit of ice, buried under blown snow at the Domhain end. There were large cornices and evidence of plenty of cornice collapse probably caused by the thaw in the last couple of days. Next we went along the top of Stag Rocks to sit on dry bare granite above Final Selection for lunch. After a lazy sit in the sun we went up over 1141 and back to the car park.

Thursday 12 March 2009


Day 4 of our winter skills course. We were dropped off at the Ciste car park and navigated in a stiff breeze up to Ciste Mhearad. Here a little fresh snow was drifting in and Digger from the SAIS was hard at work. We explored a couple of snow holes and dug emergency shelters to have our lunch in. We also managed to release a little slab on the edge of the gully. From there we headed up to the summit of Cairngorm where it was gusting about 60mph. We carried on navigating to 1141 and made our way back down.

Wednesday 11 March 2009

A little Navigation

We spent the third day of our Glenmore Lodge Winter Skills Course lower down today looking at navigation. We used a few simple exercises to get to grips with map orientation and understanding features on an orienteering map (so that we could get lots of legs in). We also looked at compass bearings using the course laid out here at The Lodge. At the end of the day we were out on the 1:50000 maps in the Ryvoan area on a pleasant springlike day.
Teams in from Sneachda report a lot of very black, wet rock but easier snowy lines were still holding on to their snow well.

Tuesday 10 March 2009

Day 2

Second day of my Glenmore Lodge winter skills course today. We had a mixture of showers and very fine weather and, as promised, much lighter winds. We went back to Sneachda for a bit more cramponing on the flat ice. Then we moved up on the steeper ground beneath the Mess of Pottage, looking at trenching to assess the snow and on through windy col to .1141. From here we dropped down the Cas ridge to do some self arrest practise and look at walking Rutschblocks.

Monday 9 March 2009

Winter Skills in the Cairngorms

A breezy day for the first of a 5 days of Winter Skills at Glenmore Lodge. The snow was being stripped from some aspects and deposited on others. Donald was able to find some really good scoured slopes left of Jacob's Ladder for his Intro to winter climbing and my team visited the end of the Fiacaill Ridge to look at footwork and self belay and moved over to the ground above the moraines to do some cramponing. Looks like a little less wind tomorrow.

Sunday 8 March 2009

Friday and the weekend

Friday was a relaxed and sunny end to the week for Bill and Jim’s climbing course at Glenmore Lodge. We walked in and the guys led up Jacob’s Left Edge. Despite the Mess of Potage being typically busy everyone was being fairly sensible and we exited Jacob’s Ladder easily. After a pleasant route we topped out in the sun but were able to see a change in the weather on the horizon. We headed round to 1141 and back to the Lodge for tea and cake. Last week I was working for Glenmore Lodge.
This weekend I have been down at Glasgow Climbing Centre directing a Climbing Wall Award for students from Auchencruive College and taking a little time out from a hectic winter schedule to see my wife and son. Sandy has just learnt to crawl. We have just invested in stair gates and locks!!

Thursday 5 March 2009

Escape from Sneachda

Finally conditions and weather matched up to give us a day away from Sneachda. We went to Coire an Lochain sharing trail breaking with Giles and his team. The wind was quite strong bringing in more fresh snow but we managed to follow a windscoop from the left into the edge of the Vent which we crossed one at a time and on to the base of Milky Way. A pitch up Milky Way we broke right into Andromeda. The right hand groove gave us some steep well buried ice and mixed moves. A couple more pitches took us out the top via a little more digging and a fine snow arete. By the time we topped out the sun was shining again so we ambled across to the Goat Track for our descent. I was working for Glenmore Lodge today.

Wednesday 4 March 2009

Sunshine on a snowy day

The day dawned sunny in the Cairngorms and just got better. The copious amounts of overnight snow didn't make route selection any easier though. Jim and Bill wanted to try something a little meatier so we headed for Fiacaill Buttress in the direction of The Seam. After a careful route choice at the base of the buttress a pair passed us heading for the Seam and a team of 4 abseiled in from the top. The climbed the Georgian Variation to Invernookie which neatly left us Short Circuit in the Middle. There was enough snow to climb the main corner and a teeter up the final slab brought us out into the afternoon sun. We descended Fiacaill Ridge to maximise our sunshine time. Other parties were climbing on the Mess of Pottage and right of Jacob's Ladder. The Guides Assessment reported huge volumes of poised snow on Ben Nevis.

On a seperate note Pesda Press have just published an excellent book on Climbing Games by Mountaineering Instructor Paul Smith. For a preview of the contents take a look here: . Its available on 16 April.

Tuesday 3 March 2009

Winter is back!

Today Jim and Bill went out on the sharp end. We went back to a very different Coire an t Sneachda. Along with the winds we had a lot of overnight snow. As the day went on this began to build in the gullys, especially in the bowls at the top. An avalanche tripped at the top of the Runnel apparently carried on around the coire rim almost to Aladdins Couloir. Over in Lochain avalanche activity was also spotted in Y Gully. Here is a little video short to give a flavour of things today. Well done to the guys on their lead of a nice icey Central Gully Left Hand in wild weather.

Monday 2 March 2009


Out on a Guided Winter Climbing Course in the Cairngorms today. There were still limited options for climbing above Grade II. Bill and Jim have done a bit here already so we opted to start up Spiral Gully (because it was mostly white - a dusting of snow on the small bare patches lending respectability and the possibility of harder ground above). We took a nice little icey mixed groove to the right of the main line and higher up the Grade III direct finish. We stuck to rockier ground as the turf was variable in consistency (not really poor but only thouroughly frozen where near icey patches). The temperatures got milder during the day and the wind rose- a promise of colder weather to come! Today I was working for Glenmore Lodge.