Tuesday 30 November 2010

Hill skills

Today Bill, Gill and I were working with students from UHI West Highland College's Adventure Tourism Management course. We used orienteering maps to maximise the no. of navigation legs we were able to do as well as discussing some emergency scenarios. It was cold but clear again today- the hills look great and I'm off up Ben Nevis again tomorrow.
Ben was out on Ben an Dothaidh reporting little ice but good mixed conditions.

Monday 29 November 2010

Back down from the Ben

Well I left Torlundy at 1240 and got down to the Distillery at 1640. In between I had a nice brisk walk to the CIC hut and a chat with Tony and his partner who had experienced plenty of crud on a route on Moonlight Gully Buttress and Kenny who had had a good quick day on Ledge Route to celebrate his 50th birthday (dinnae worry mon- its the new 40 as I said!). Kenny is an old friend having trained and assessed me for my SPA many moons ago!
There is a good deal of ice smeared around the Ben, bits on the CIC hut falls and the Curtain (would want to be a little thicker before most of us wanted to climb them though). The higher IIIs and IVs like Glovers, Comb, South, Central (and North) and Central Trident are all white and show some ice. It was after 2 when I got into the Ciste via the icefalls to the right of the 'gulch' . So I nipped across to climb Garadh Gully which was sporting its usual two short pitches of Grade III ice to give me a little fun. There was running water behind the lower pitch (spurting out on me as I took my tols out). The Italian Climb looked sporting, Comb looked white and had footprints running into it. Up higher the harder routes on No.3 Gully Buttress looks good so there is plenty to go at on Ben Nevis- just watch out for the odd patch of freshly wind deposited snow. There is plenty of obvious scouring and visible windsalb to walk around.

Solo on Garadh Gully from Alan Halewood on Vimeo.

Late start

Ooops. Was sup;posed to be winter climbing early this morning but spent last night trapped on the A82 with many other motorists. Jane, Sandy and I slept in a layby on the van floor (ontop of a couple of ropes and my El Chorro Laundry- J and S sharing a nice big down bag and I had my little Cuiilin Ridge/sleeping on friends floors bag). Well done to the Inverbeg Inn dealing with the a huge influx of stuck unhappy travellers- they opened the hotel, prepared rooms and food and generally looked after everyone.
So, a late start today but I think I'll nip up the Ben and see what's what and blog again later. Video of Sandy sledging in Keswick here in the mean time!

Sandy Sledging from Alan Halewood on Vimeo.

Sunday 28 November 2010

Back from El Chorro to the snow

Whilst the UK has been experiencing the first throws of winter I’ve been in El Chorro for 5 days with some friends. Conditions there ranged from windy and sunny, to baking hot, to cold and misty. Fortunately the rain didn’t really kick in until we headed for the airport!
We climbed a number of good routes, single and multi-pitch from 5 to 6B+. Gill and I also went bolt to bolt on Poema De Roca, a steep 7A fortunately consisting solely of enormously juggy tufa.
We had a half day on the decrepit but fun Camino Del Rey too. We stayed at the excellent Olive Branch Hostel- a fantastic climber friendly place a short walk from many of the crags.
Sal and Adam being a fit pair each day began with a steep run- good training for the winter ahead!
Woke up early on Satyrday morning to snow in Kendal and went to join Sandy and Jane sledging in Keswick- he's a 2 year old nutcase. He will only go down in a sledge on his own and has to pull it up the hill again himself.

Sport climbing in El Chorro from Alan Halewood on Vimeo.

Saturday 20 November 2010

ice today, hot rock tomorrow

This morning George, Heather and I were working with MCofS members who will be attending the first MCofS International meet in Rjukan in January.
Today we were at the Ice Factor to give everyone a chance to meet up, to discuss equipent and to get a little practise in.
I'm on the train to Kendal now and tomorrow it's a flight to Spain for a little sport climbing in El Chorro before the busy winter season's work begins.

Friday 19 November 2010

Daim Buttress

No partner today but I wanted a good workout for the legs as tomorrow I'm working in the morning, off to Kendal for the KMFF party at night and then off to El Chorro for a week on Sunday.
I got dropped off with my bike at Nevis Range and cycled (the gondola is closed until 18 Dec for annual maintenance) up to the dams on the Allt Daim at about 300m. From there it was a long trudge up the glen and to the base of the summit ribs at about 900m. The snow was soft and the rock either bare or patinaed by melting ice. I chose Daim Buttress because it gets a couple of stars and I've done Golden Oldy and Western Rib several times.
It gave a couple of hundred metres of rocky corners and grooves- enlivened by a short ice pitch in the watercourse to the left- past some tat and a krab that was well encased in a boss of ice. The crux wall is a steep rock slab climbed by grooves on its left edge. I had 'a moment' fishing over the top of a bulge hanging off an undercut. I wanted a bomber placement to pull up on as a fall from there would not have been pretty. I got one. At this point (about 1020m) the turf was mostly solid but the rock black although cracks were choked with ice. A little higher (1065m) and everything was rimed and that got thicker and the snow underfoot firmer up onto the plateau.
Heading along to the Ski Patrol hut started in a whiteout but the clouds cleared enough to let me see a snowy and well rimed Coire an Lochain (that side of the mountain seems to have been sheltered from the 'hair dryer' wind that had thawed the lower rocks on the west face.
On my way back down to the bike I played tag with an arctic hare who I stumbled upon 3 times (1 distinctive black ear). Then I dropped down the World Champ X Country course which was a bit strange in my Scarpa Phantoms!
Enjoy some snowy adventures whilst I'm in the land of sun, limestone, bolts and red wine!

Daim Buttress from Alan Halewood on Vimeo.

Tuesday 16 November 2010


After yesterday's great climb I went for a more mountaineery route with Jamie B today. We wanted to explore somewhere new so we walked into the back of Beinn Fhada in Kintail. It was breezey and mild and the snow was thawing gently at all levels but stayed dry with even a little sun. We swam up a wet snowy gully (about II) with a couple of rockier steps. Milder and windy for a couple of days but possibly cool again next week so things may consolidate.
News of great doings on the Ben last weekend on UKC.

And if you haven't seen it yet take a few minutes to marvel at Danny MacAskill's new video.

Monday 15 November 2010

Cutlass with Kenny

Pitch 1
Pitch 2
Hot Aches at top of Pitch 2
Pitch 3
Snow covered Sw Ridge of Douglas Boulder

There is nothing like breaking in gently to the winter with a few easy routes to warm up..... or so I'm told. Kenny was keen to jump in at the deep end today and we went to Cutlass VI,7 on the Douglas Boulder on Ben Nevis. It was a lovely morning with alpenglow visible on distant hillsides. There was plenty of snow around and ice to a low level. We saw evidence of powder snow sloughs below No. 2 Gully and both almost fell over on the ice from the frozen splashes from the standpipe outside the CIC hut.
There was a good trail broken right to Cutlass as someone else obviously did it at the weekend. This also meant that the steep corner had one wall 'hoovered' clean of snow (we discovered why as we too leant heavily on that side). We soloed up the first pitch and Kenny led me up the steep corner pitches on well iced hooks in the crack at the back of the corner. It got warmer as we went up. The steep walls were verglassed and the exposed turf was well frozen, however the stuff on the large ledges was well buried under a foot of powder . Having been better insulated it was also more suspect. We both had a hook rip on us on pitch 2 but held on to make the belay on the SW Ridge with no rests or falls.
From here I took us up the last 70 odd metres to the abseil tat atop the Boulder. The ridge was absolutely plastered and there was an awful lot of digging to get down to rock and find something to hook or stand on!
There was also a team making slow progress over on Slab Route but as we came off the hill the forecast was spot on as snow showers appeared behind us. Nick and Gill climbed Castle Ridge finding it hard and time consuming under very deep powder.
Over in the Cairngorms Jamie B was on a snowy Fingers Ridge and saw someone ride a small avalanche out of Goat Track Gully and to the base of the Coire without apparent serious injury. Plenty of snow out there and plenty more to come on strong winds take care folks.

Cutlass 15 Nov 2010 from Alan Halewood on Vimeo.

The weekend

I spent the weekend as a volunteer at the MCofS Student seminar working with other Mountaineering Instructors and Leaders providing sessions for University Mountaineering Club members. On Saturday I helped run a seminar on incident management before everyone worked on some navigation. On sunday despite a snowy start we went reock climbing and were rewarded with a sunny of slightly cool and greasey day at Duntelchaig.
More winter climbing tomorrow!

Mountaineering Council of Scotland Student Safety Seminar from Alan Halewood on Vimeo.

Friday 12 November 2010

Past 2 days

Yesterday was a productive meeting of the ABC discussing all things climbing walls and today I was outdoors with a group from Williamwood High School. The team were all from a Product nd Design Engineering Class and their teacher being a keen climber he had decided to examine the karabiner as part of the subject- what better day to do so than going climbing and looking at various types in action (well done to the group for cooing with cold and windy weather- at least it didn't rain) Laura definitely won the prize for the most stylish climbing footwear with her polka dot wellies!

Wednesday 10 November 2010

Pic from yesterday

Thanks to James for this pic of Mike and I climbing yesterday. Stunning day in Lochaber today. I'm on the road for a few days now with the ABC AGM at the BMC offices in Manchester tomorrow, a days work in Glasgow on Friday and 2 days based at Glenmore Lodge for the MCofS Student Safety and Good Practise seminar over the weekend. Hope the conditions are good next week!

Tuesday 9 November 2010

My first proper route of the season

Looking down pitch 2
Handfuls of manky old tat
Mike starting out on pitch 3
Looking down pitch 3
A great route
Mike texted me last night looking for a partner and dangled Crest Route in front of me as an objective. I've had this route recommended to me by various friends over the years and despite formerly having been graded IV it has a reputation amongst some as being no pushover at V,6.
It felt a bit warm at 7am this morning but Glencoe still looked white as we drove into the car park. After the usual sweaty haul into Coire Nan Lochan we were pleasantly surprised to come round the last corner to see a perfectly rimed crag (see Mike's blog for a good pic of the crags).
We wandered up the easy first pitch which provided nicely frozen turf and I got to grips with remembering how to climb with spikey things on leading the second. Mike took over for the mostly positive but superbly exposed third pitch and a short easy lead from me saw us on top with big grins on our faces.
We stripped half a dozen old lengths of pretty manky tat off of the route- some from behind lose blocks as well as the odd old krab. Call it a Spring clean but in late Autumn!
We only saw one other person today but the weather was kind and the freezing level stayed at just the right height. It had also begun to feel even colder again as we came down.
More days like this one please!

Crest Route 9 November 2010 from Alan Halewood on Vimeo.

Monday 8 November 2010

A bit of training on a foul day.

The weather was pretty vile today so Rich, Gill and I went to The Ice Factor. After a warm up and some climbing we had a clip-drop session in preparation for an upcoming El Choro trip. After that we got the tools out and did some training (Rich and Gill have been competeing in the STS and Rich is routesetting for the Ice Factor round.
Hopefully out on the real stuff tomorrow.

Training at the wall from Alan Halewood on Vimeo.

Sunday 7 November 2010

Keeping abreast....

Today I was at an MLTS workshop for SPA, CWA and CWLA providers. I really value opportunities like this since I'm a sole provider and although I work at Glenmore Lodge much of the winter it would be easy to spend much of the rest of the time in isolation from other instructors. After a morning discussing issues raised by various providers and future changes in Mountain Leader Training the afternoon consisted of practical sessions. Meanwhile the sun shone on the Cairngorms which were displaying a good dusting of snow.

Saturday 6 November 2010

Good winter vibrations?

Looking down the side of the Great Tower

Looking back down Tower Ridge from the top

On the plateau of Ben Nevis

Routefinding Cairns rimed up

Orange peel fungus

The dusting of snow that was sitting on the Ben all of last week looked severely depleted by yesterday's warmer rain by this morning. Nonetheless I packed crampons and an axe this morning before heading to Tower Ridge. The north face was quiet as I made my way up from Torlundy and other than deer I saw only a single walker filling up at the stand pipe at the CIC Hut. There was ice on the puddles from the carpark all the way to the hut and verglas in evidence from the base of the ridge. All of the seeps and weeps caused by yesterdays rain and thaw had frozen last night leaving a lot of thin water ice on steeper surfaces or in hollows. Above the chimney on the ridge it was ovious that there had been a little precipitation after it coolled down last night as a very fine dusting of snow crystals rounded things out to make sure that just about every surface was slippery and insecure. Half way up the Little Tower the ledges were covered in much thicker snow (2 or 3 inches). This stuff has been through a good thaw and refreeze and was good for kicking steps in but a little higher and there was grey ice underneath it so the crmpons went on. The snow was firm enough to take a swing or two of the axe and deep enough to reduce a couple of what are usually high steps to much easier ones. By the eastern traverse there were thick icicles amongst the frozen weeps and a foot of firm refozen snow on the path. The climb up onto the side of the Great Tower was particularily slick and delicate and the step down into Tower Gap no better. However it was only a little higher, on the last 50m to the plateau that the rocks were properly rimed up.
Otherwise Carn Dearg was predictably less wintery in nature. No. 2 and 3 Gullys were remarkably complete looking above the coire (if you could be bothered flogging up the loose slippery screes below), as was Tower Gully.
I was feeling good vibrations for the coming winter!

Tower Ridge November 7th 2010 from Alan Halewood on Vimeo.

Thursday 4 November 2010

CWA Assessment

Today I was directing a Climbing Wall Award Assessment at the Ice Factor for 2 candidates. Both passed successfully well done Chris and Mike.

Wednesday 3 November 2010


Autumn MTB in Lochaber from Alan Halewood on Vimeo.

Cold and damp again today with a dusting of snow on the tops. I cycled out to Nevis Range and round the Cour Loop to Spean Bridge (via a wee tumble- see video and chuckle). Then on up to the Commando Memorial which gives one of the finest roadside views in Scotland on a clear day. Today was a bit grey for views though and the ride back down the canal was made at a good speed in cold heavy rain. The best bit of the video short is the 'little accident' around 02:16.

Tuesday 2 November 2010


Every year I seem to have one day's climbing work that beats all others for how wet and vile the weather is.... Today was that day for 2010! I was working for Lochaber College running a rock climbing assessment at Kingussie crag and it heaved it down all day. Well done to Louise, Heather and Alistair for persevering despite the weather. Tonight I went to a very busy Ice Factor to climb whilst my kit was in their drying room! Back at home there is even a little thunder at lightning outside just now.