Friday 31 December 2010

Last day of the year

Happy days from 2010

I had the morning free and was keen to get out despite the warm temperatures so I caught an early lift up the hill with Kenny (who was off to NE Buttress). Walking in it was mild but the lower ice has continued to hang in just- although it is water polished and will be very firm after tonights freeze.
I headed into Coire na Ciste and was attracted by the ice of Garadh Gully. I used to think of myself as a mixed climber but must admit to being recently attracted to big sexy flows of blue ice. I had a pleasant time going as directly up Garadh as I could- wherever I was in footprints the snow was firm but outside of old tracks I might go up to my thigh. At the top I decided to investigate Broad Gully. I'd never been there before but it looked from the Guidebook to give easy access to Subsidiary Tower Ridge and soon I was traversing onto the main Ridge just where I wanted to be. I downclimbed the lower section of the ridge passing 3 teams and by 1130 was back at the CIC hut. Here I found 3 slightly dis-spirited climbers who I regaled with tales of fat easy ice in the mist- hope they found it!
Oh well so much for 2010... 114 days of summer and indoor work or climbing, a month in Afghanistan and 2 new peaks, 27 winter days and a dozen on the bike. Thanks to all those who have shared it with me and especially Jane and my wee boy Sandy- both are great!
Now for a busy winter season with AMI workshops, Rjukan, a week's work in Spain, Glenmore Lodge, a hopefully good week on the Ben all to come. Its a great life if you don't weaken!

My First Project from Alan Halewood on Vimeo.

Wednesday 29 December 2010

Testing the limits of Soft Shell!

Soloing up to Compression Crack's steep ice pitch
Dan on the ice pitch on Compression Crack
Me eyeing up the waterfall pitch
Note the stream of water flowing from my left boot!
The Water Fountain

Today Dan and I ignored the mild weather and headed for Ben Nevis- it was mild.... very mild.... As we walked in the ice in the Castle Coire was so obvious that we went to Compression Crack, soloing up to the steep pitch for Dan to lead. We traversed right as we had seen a line of white from below but when we got there it looked very thin and bits were falling off. So we abseiled off some in situ gear into South Castle Gully, and climbed this to the top. We dropped down No. 4 Gully into Coire na Ciste. Roger and his team were on No.3 Gully Buttress and another party were starting up Glover's Chimney. We dropped down into the gorge beneath the Garadh to the pitch of ice i saw 2 days ago. To say it was wet was an understatement... it was like being in a shower... wearing a softshell. The water passed my shoulders and headed via my shorts to my boots. At the top I started placing a screw but when it was half way in the water pressure behind it drove the core out into my face leaving a jet like a water fountain (Dan took a drink on the way past). It was fun in a perverse way but I have to apologise in advance for the swearing on the video!
One party summed things up nicely by saying they backed off Green Gully as the ice on the first pitch had the consistency of butter... and it was that wet all the way to the summit.
Oh well, although we have lost a lot lower down there is still a lot of snow in the Gullys and the Coires. Bring on the Hogmanay freeze!

Monday 27 December 2010

A short scramble on Ben Nevis

Today was my last day out with Oli and Gemma and we hoped to do Tower Ridge despite a less than inspiring forecast. After a brisk walk up a very icey path from Torlundy we were approaching the Douglas Boulder whn Gemma wisely let us know that she wasn't feeling great. With a route like Tower Ridge (and after fresh snow with no trail to follow) she sensibly didn't fancy it when feeling ill. We decided to stay together and have an easier day so we traversed beneath the Douglas Boulder, across the face of Coire na Ciste and over the top of Moonlight Gully Buttress. This let us cross No. 5 Gully at its narrowest point (which was also holding very little fresh snow at that point) to get onto Ledge Route. From the top of that we descended the Red Burn.
There hasn't been as much snow as the forecasts had led me to expect and on Ben Nevisthe localised winds have meant a deposition of windslab in isolated spots and often on unexpected aspects. Keep your wits about you folk and bear in mind even if the snow where you are seems ok you don't know what is going on in some of the basins higher above you.
Having said that higher mixed routes were well rimed and individual mid level ice pitches looked good (CIC Hut Cascades, first pitches of Waterfall Gully and Compression Cracks-beware the slopes above and below this, good ice in the gorges below Coire na Ciste (especially nice pillar below the Garadh although the ice in Garadh Gully itself looks a little buried)).
I've had a good 3 days out with Oli and Gemma despite them feeling a little off colour- if this is whatt they are capable of when they are sick I'd be quiote nervous of keeping up with them when they are fully fit! Cheers guys.

Mountaineering on Ben Nevis from Alan Halewood on Vimeo.

Friday 24 December 2010

Twas the night before Christmas...

... and I really wanted Oli and Gemma to get an experience of some good water ice before the weather changes. So it was back to Aonach Mor and Finnisg-Aig Falls. It had frozen a little more than when I climbed it 3 days ago and we were able to 'put in' a little lower. After 20m of easy soloing I led the first 2 pitches before handing over to Oli and then Gemma to let them get a taste of leading and placing ice screws on the sharp end. They had no problems and gained plenty of experience of the differing types of ice and what was easier to penetrate with a pick and what was good for a screw. I took over for the last pitch (much drier than 3 days ago) and we topped out to a lovely alpenglow in the sky to the north. After a pause to look at making a v thread with ice scres (and give it a good test) we wandered over to the gondola to head down.

Now for a couple of days of Christmas cheer before one last day with Oli an Gemma. From the looks of the weather it could be a wild one.

Merry Christmas to you and yours - see you on the hill!

Finnisg-Aig Falls 24 Dec 10 from Alan Halewood on Vimeo.

Thursday 23 December 2010

Twisting Gully

First day of 3 with Oli and Gemma today and we decided to go to Glencoe. Hitting the coire (which was very quiet, a team coming down Broad Gully- early start boys? And Guy on Dorsal and that was it) Gemma revealed a desire to go to the classic Twisting Gully so that set our objective for the day. Conditions were good with some great snow ice and another blue sky day. As I topped out the Sea King from HMS Gannet was playing around Glencoe and it came over to hover close on the summit of Stob Coire nan Lochan. On the way down we stopped to look at some of the large surface hoar crystals that have been forming in sheltered areas. Should these be buried by windslab in the future they will form a weak layer in the snowpack that will need bearing in mind when making safe travel decisions.

Twisting Gully from Alan Halewood on Vimeo.

Tuesday 21 December 2010

Nick and I were out again today and decided to go to see what sort of condition Finnisg-Aig Falls was in. I knew Bill was going there for a look too and after a false start or two their snow chains got him and Matt to the route ahead of us.
That made for a nice sociable day's climbing as we came up behind them. The lower sections that are often soloable were wet and too thin for us but we got 4x60m pitches of ice out of the route. It was sometimes wet, sometimes brittle and had some great cauliflower like formations- this all meant the climbing was quite friendly but the screws were a bit variable lower down.
All day long we were distracted by the blue skies and the mist trapped by the temperature inversion in the Glen below.
Even better as we walked down beside the route (you can get down the diagonal ramp 100m left of the route easily) I literally stumbled across the flask I lost 2 weeks ago buried in the snow- complete with icey ribena inside!
Shortest day of the year today- and one of the most lovely!
On a seperate note Petzl have information on their website on the problems that some users have reported with the grip rest on the new Nomics and Quark Ergos. They have a temporary fix and will replace tools affected next year. See here for information.

Finnisg-Aig Falls from Alan Halewood on Vimeo.

Monday 20 December 2010


Today Nick and I went to the cascades near the CIC Hut. There is plenty of ice there with several lines to go at. Nick is recovering from a bad cold so between that and the short daylight a long walk wasn't on the cards. As it was we got 400ft of pure water ice at III and IV with a couple of abseils (off of ice threads and a big block) at the cost of the short walk up from Torlundy. Chuck and his party from Outward Bound reported good conditions on Ledge Route and a team on a very thin looking Central Right Hand- other wise a very quiet Coire na Ciste. I know Comb Gully was climbed yesterday on thin but continuous ice too. We had a little light snow in the afternoon but otherwise a still and clear day out. In general the cold weather has meant that there is still no water on the move up high and therefore no ice is forming- this means you either go for mid level/easier snowy routes. There is also a bit of patchy windslab about- avoidable if you keep your eyes open and wits about you (Chucks team came safely down No.4 today but patches were visible in Coire na Ciste).

CIC Cascades 20 Dec 2010 from Alan Halewood on Vimeo.

Sunday 19 December 2010

Mountaineering in Glencoe

Today I was out with staff and pupils from The Glasgow Academy on Stob Coire nan Lochan. We were after a resonably short day given the amount of daylight available so we climbed Dorsal Arete as 2 parties of 3. Conditions were good with firm snow and even ice on the crest of the ridge although there were a few patches of windslab to be avoided in the gullys nearby. There were 2 other parties on Dorsal Arete but other than a team on Twisting Grooves and winter skills group from Outward Bound the coire was quite quiet. Stunning weather too.

Friday 17 December 2010

CWA Assessment

Today I've been in Glasgow for a Climbing Wall Award Assessment based at the Glasgow Climbing Centre. Congratulations to the 4 candidates who were all successful.
Now I've got to try to get home-it sounds like Lochaber is getting a good dump of snow at the moment.

Wednesday 15 December 2010

Compression Crack

Rich, Dot (hope I don't catch your rotten cold) and I went to Ben Nevis today and although it was by turns, dreich and misty and mild we got a few good pitches of climbing in. We went to the lower part of Compression Cracks, the obvious icefall on the left of the Castle Coire seen well on the walk up to the CIC Hut. The ground was for the most part still frozen above above 700m, the snow varied from very firm to quite hollow (usually at the edge of snow patches or near rocks) and there was plenty of water ice about. The CIC Hut cascades are quite thin but would have offered some sport- we headed up nearer Castle Ridge and a short steep step brought us to the big obvious ice pitch visible from below.
Rich's turn to lead and he chose a steep pillar on the left of the fall. Much of the ice here was quite dry and brittle and there was a dusting of snow on it from the night before. After a good long pitch he belayed and brought Dot and I up. By this stage I was nursing an egg sized lump on my forearm from a piece of ice (my fault, poor choice of stance) and was grinning inanely whenever I tried to grip my right axe- it felt like my funny bone had been hit with a mallet!
The guys sorted the ropes whilst I rigged an ice screw thread anchor to abseil from (there are a couple of pegs further right but we wanted more climbing).
Back down and I led a good sustained pitch of climbing on the right of the fall (some wetter and much more hollow ice here but still good climbing and plenty of opportunity for good screws) back to the threads. Then it was time to make 2 abseils down to the foot of the route so that we could make it back to the car before dark.
Friends did a steep, thin and wet Quartzvein Scoop at Beinn Udhlaidh yesterday. Today there was a good deal of new rimeing above about 850m on Ben Nevis today but its all academic as we are due more freezing temperatures and snow on strong winds. Remember SAIS forecasts start tomorrow so read both the avalanche and weather forecasts before making a plan and be prepared to change everything based on what you see happening on the hill.

Compression Crack from Alan Halewood on Vimeo.

Tuesday 14 December 2010

A quick look around Glencoe

Jane and Helen went for a walk up the ZigZags in Glencoe today. The snow has stripped back to near the Lochains in Stob Coire nan Lochan but there are some smears of ice lower down. The buttresses were pretty black today but the ground was largely frozen to low down and this will be buried by fresh snow due at the end of the week. The Gullys have some good snow in but aren't exactly full and the only climbers they saw today had had a pleasant time on Dorsal Arete.

A quick look around Glencoe 14 Dec 2010 from Alan Halewood on Vimeo.

I was on a (fortunately for both of us rare)daddy daycare day and you can see the outcome of our chocolate brownie baking!

Monday 13 December 2010

Staff Training at Glenmore Lodge

Today I was over at Glenmore Lodge on a training day for staff who will be working a winter contract there. We got straight out on the hill to enjoy the weather finding the snow on the walk in mostly well frozen (a bit of breakable crust though). We chatted through the various Courses we may be working on, common venues, emergency procedure, options in different conditions, radio procedure, various aspects of teaching specific skills and a host of other things. All the time a (slightly jealous) eye was kept on climbers on Alladins Mirror Direct (looking steep and a good deal longer than in last year's banked out conditions), Patey's, Damnation, The Runnel, The Seam, Central and Crotched Gullys. Then all that remained was a small mountain of paperwork and trying on the excellent staff clothing provided by Marmot!
Although I am working for Glenmore Lodge for a lot of the winter I do still have some availaiblity left for private courses. If I'm not available I can still recommend some other great Instructors/Guides.

Meanwhile my wife Jane and friend Helen went up the North Ridge of Stob Ban today having a stunning day with good snow underfoot from 800m upwards.