Monday 30 November 2009

Man Flu on Bidean

Kenny and Guy went to The Lost Valley Buttresses today to have a look at Neanderthal only to find it covered in 'snice' that useless white stuff your pick drags through and that falls off when you kick it. Plan B was what they described as the steepest IV on the planet- details on Guy's Blog later I'm sure.
Rich and I went to Bidean Nam Bian and the cold I picked up in spain had me hacking and coughing all day long. Such a stunning day was not to be denied however and I've wanted to do West Chimney (IV/V, 6- depending on your guidebook) for years and today was the day. A predawn start and a fast steep walk in by head torch took us up into the coire beneath Stob Coire Nam Beith where the path was covered in firm refrozen snow. As we got higher the effects of the more continuous cold temperatures told and the snow became less consolidated. Rich said he wanted breaking in gently (actually I don't think he wanted to scratch his shiney new Grivel tools or stretch his new BD Spinner leash) so I led the first pitch up a ramp covered in poor snow and then under and over the 3 chockstones. Rich then led up through the 15m tunnel (not one for the large- good job I've lost weight) to a comfy belay ledge for 11ses. I cut back right for some more excellent sustained diging for hooks in the continuation of the chimney. Round above the spectacular arch the crux Raeburns Chimney was also mine- excellent climbing, a real pleasure. As I brought Rich up Andy (who climbed un Poco Loco yesterday) appeared on the main ridge to Bidean and shouted a warning that the normal finish was iceless and awkward and sugested a more direct route. Rich led us up to finish in the last of the sun with stunning views all around. I coughed and spluttered my way down to the car- that descent always takes forever!

Sunday 29 November 2009

Home again

Had a grand time in Spain, 23 degrees, wall to wall sunshine every day- a taster of pics above, slide show to follow soon. Off out tomorrow for some climbing of a different type. There has been plenty reported on the Cairngorm action over the weekend but Kenny and Andy also did Un Poco Loco on Bidean today- Kenny reckoned a team may also have been on Flake Route too.
Today a late cancellation meant Glenmore Lodge had insuficient numbers for the CWA Assessment I was supposed to be directing to run. So I did a refresher session for Tom on the walls there as it snowed outside. Busy week ahead with a Workshop on the new CWA Leading Award at Ratho on Wednesday, a day's pre-winter Staff Training at the Lodge and a DofE Assessors course.

Friday 20 November 2009

MTB in the Lakes and KMF

Kendal emerged from the waters this morning- far enough for Sal, Ant, Steve and I to go out for a bike ride above Kentmere- you can see from the pics that I fell off, but I was almost that muddy before I fell! I also went to see David from who has a stand in the Kendal Mountain Festival marquee about an expedition I'm planning next year. Tonight I'm off to listen to Steve House speak about his alpine climbing in N America and the Greater Ranges- should be good!
For those looking ahead to winter I've contributed some information to Dave Macleod's Article on Ben Nevis on UKC (info. on beginners' routes and descents).

Wednesday 18 November 2009


Well, almost. Off down to Englandshire for ABC AGM at the BMC offices tomorrow (do you like how many TLAs I got in this sentence?). Then the Kendal Mountain Festival and some biking for the weekend and a flight to Costa Blanca on Sunday night for a weeks hot rock (fingers crossd for the weather).
Above are some pics of a great pair of historical EB climbing shoes I saw at The Ice Factor whilst finishing off a CWA Training last night- funky eh?
Last but not least the heavy rain last night translated to a good low blanket of fresh white stuff on the Lochaber hills (down even on some 750m topes). Kenny and I enjoyed the views whilst tearing round the Annat loop today.

Tuesday 17 November 2009

Today in lochaber and Far from Help First Aid Course

From the looks of it the rain has reduced the snow cover lower down and added a little at the highest level. Generally wet and milder today though.

There are spaces left on a Far From Help first Aid course at Glenmore Lodge (details below). For anyone undertaking remote overseas expeditions this is an excellent way of adding to your UK based First Aid knowledge.
Wilderness Medical Training: Far From Help Course
Far From Help is WMTs foundation course focusing on the core medical skills of diagnosing and treating a range of injury and illness conditions, including problems relating to hot, cold, high and tropical environments. The use of prescription medications such as antibiotics and painkillers is included (for use only in remote, foreign settings). FFH is outside the scope of the HSE but it fulfills the first aid course requirements of NGB Awards. This is certainly not a basic course by any standard - it provides a solid, stand alone knowledge base and is also a good platform to carry on to WMT's next level of training. It is ideal for mountaineers working in remote environments who require more than just the basics.
Venue: Glenmore Lodge
Start: 0900 Saturday 28th Nov
Finish: 1730 Sunday 29th Nov
Price: £252 non-residential/£318 residential
Further details and booking:

Monday 16 November 2009

Rest for me ... but Tooling Comp on Sat. for some!

I'm keeping off of the hills this week - after 10 weeks my ankle is still gving me problems so I'll stick to the bike for the moment. I'll be down south at the weekend at the Kendal Film Festival and then off to Costa Blanca for a quick 5 day break. I wonder what the snow will be like by the time I get back?
Today from the top of the Annat loop I got these views of Ben Nevis. Looks like the same wet snow on ledges and edges and black cliffs (even the top of NO.3 Gully Buttress looks quite black in these pics).
Whilst I'm in Kendal at the weekend don't forget:

Scottish Tooling Series Round 4
Glenmore Lodge
Round 4 of this year's Scottish Tooling Series will be at Glenmore Lodge on Saturday (21st November). The qualifiers will be held on the 2 granite towers in the grounds. The towers provide a realistic experience of Cairngorm mixed climbing and competitiors will need to wear crampons.
Throughout the day Andy Turner will be running beginner and masterclass tooling workshops and he is also going to present a lecture after the qualifiers at approx. 5pm.
Places for the comps and workshops still available- prebooking advised. Call Glenmore Lodge on 01479 861256 for more info or check out
Sharpen your tools and have fun on Saturday!

Sunday 15 November 2009

MCofS Seminar Day 2

After a pleasant and sociable evening last night today I had 2 students out for some rock climbing for a short day today. They wanted to look at multi-pitch climbing techniques so we went to Duntelchaig and climbed a rather damp Drum in 4 pitches and then made 2 abseils to descend. We looked at belay construction, plate orientation, use of the harness belay loop vs the rope loop and retreating from a route by a multipitch abseil.
Views of the Cairngorms showed a reduced snowcover- very lean looking.

Saturday 14 November 2009

MCofS Student Seminar Day 1

Today I was working alongside about 20 other volunteer Mountain Instructors and Leaders at the MCofS's Student Safety Seminar. For many year students formed the largest category of people subject to accidents climbing and walking in the hills. It is hoped that the BMC and MCofS Student Safety Seminars are slowly eroding this. Today I was running a workshop on choosing and maintaining pooled equipment and this evening everyone was out around Glenmore Lodge looking at navigation. Rock Climbing tomorrow and the prospect of some dry weather!

Friday 13 November 2009

Day off and heading East

A day off looking after Sandy (can a day looking after a 16 month old ever be described as a day off?) and putting together some notes and kit for the weekend. Thisevening I'm heading over to Glenmore Lodge for my annual weekend volunteering at the MCofS Student Safety Seminar. Tomorrow I'm running a short workshop on Selecting and Maintaining pooled equipment for a student club and teaching some Navigation. Sunday will see some form of Rock Climbing instruction. Above is a pic of Ben Nevis this morning, more fresh wet stuff on top- the Sea King from HMS Gannet was out again first thing today. If it was a rescue it may be that someone had a rotten night out on the hill.....

Thursday 12 November 2009

On the Bike, at the Ice Factor and CWA Training

A quick circuit of the Annat loop on the bike this morning gave me the picture of Ben Nevis above. The snow line is higher than in my pic from the 7th below but similar to Mike Pescod's pic from the 8th. The showers we have been having have still been falling as fresh damp snow high up but I doubt the Ciste buttresses have been riming up the way the summit cairns have been. Too little wind, not cold enough and not in the right direction. The ridges might still give a good struggle though... start early, climb fast, take a headtorch and leave a grade in hand or you could end up being rescued like the Tower Ridge party earlier this week.
This afternoon I'm doing some training for Duty Managers at The Ice Factor and then this evening is part 2 of the CWA Training.

Wednesday 11 November 2009

Recovery and CWA Training

After a wobbly start this morning tonight I began a CWA Training to be run over 3 evenings with a trip to Alan Kimber's Bunkhouse Bouldering wall. This small wall in Fort William makes great use of the space there and is a well used local training facility. This evening we discussed equipment, warmups, entry procedures for walls, bouldering personally and with groups and principles of climbing movement- visited through a number of games.

Tuesday 10 November 2009

Sick as a dog....

Ugh. Bad night. I think the family Halewood ate something bad last night as we spent the night vomitting down the loo- not a family activity I can recommend.
I spent the day retching and assessing 2 Second years from Lochaber College's Adventure Tourism Degree course on their rock climbing at Duntelchaig. Fortunately after intial rain the weather cleared and Lee and Craig had no problems- making life easy for me. Off to crawl into bed feeling sorry for myself now :-(

Monday 9 November 2009

North East Buttress, Ben Nevis

Today Nick and I went to climb North East Buttress on Ben Nevis. A hard frost in the glens was reversed higher up as we experienced warmer air from a temperature inversion near the CIC hut. We were shaded under the north face but there was blue sky above and we even caught a little sun as we traversed to the first platform. At least 2 parties have done the route in the last couple of days and the snow has settled and refrozen in places. This meant we followed footprints rather than having to clear everything ourselves. We had some refrozen snow and turf solid enough to take a good swing of the pick but also a lot of fresh thin glassy ice choking cracks from thaw and refreezeing. As we tackled the mantrap high on the route a Royal Naval Sea King helicopter circled the top of the mountain. Later when we topped out we could see where a flare had been used on the summit so I don't know if it was picking someone up or even part of a rescue. On our descent we passed a couple of guys who had had a good traverse of the Carn Mor Dearg Arete and we found ourselves in the wind we had been sheltered from all day. This wind had deposited impressive drifts of snow on the zizags of the bridle track- several feet deep and blocking half the width of the path. So less snow but more consolidation. Plenty of bare rock but also verglas in cracks.

Saturday 7 November 2009

More snow

A colder showery night and the snowline is back down again. I've had a few e-mails about conditions. The conditions on any given route can be very different from one day to the next- especially at this time of year. A little change in aspect, a hundred metres of height or a degree of temperature can make a huge difference to what things are actually like. Do remember though, soft unconsolidated powder and verglas make for very time consuming climbing and the daylight is very short at this time of year. Best to arrive at the foot of anything at first light to use all the daytime you have.
Have fun. I'm off to Inverness for the Scottish Arctic Club Annual Supper so wont be on the hill today or tomorrow- next out monday.

Friday 6 November 2009

Wet snow on Ledge Route

This afternoon I'm babysitting Sandy but this morning I went up Ledge Route on Ben Nevis to see what things are like. The snowline crept up a little yesterday and today it was sleety with freezing rain on top of Carn Dearg. The snow is soft, wet and still ankle deep higher up. At the top of Ledge Route a blob of exposed turf was still frozen but there was water dripping off of rocks and anything turfy insulated by the snow is still sodden. I didn't need an axe or crampons today and it looks like we still need a little more cold weather to make it winter yet.

Wednesday 4 November 2009

Hard work on Tower ridge

Today Jamie and I went to Ben Nevis. Jamie has indoor climbing experience and wanted to see something gnarly from a day's mountaineering in Scotland- he wasn't disappointed! The torential rain at sea level last night fell as a large dump of snow above 700m. After a stiff walk in to the CIC the snow began pretty much as we hit the ridge and it was deep in places. In fact above 750m every groove, hollow and flat ledge on Tower Ridge held betwen 1 and 2 feet of fresh powder- I began digging.... Under the snow or on walls, in cracks and on bare rock moisture had frozen to a fine coating of verglas. The axe and crampons were definitely needed today and Jamie did superbly giving 110% to wade and slide his way up the ridge in very tough conditions. The tat round the block at the gap was frozen to the rock in 1 big icey lump but even that high there was water beneath the ice at 2pm. On the summit plateau there was calf deep fresh snow and people had been following the re-located cairns (see: MCofS for details) leaving a fine trail to the summit. Stunning inversions and late afternoon light on descent.