Monday 31 January 2011

Spiral Gully

Day one of an Introduction toe Winter Climbing course for Glenmore Lodge today and I'm teamed up with Tom and David. We were on Spiral Gully today (we did the LH finish- straight up the couloir from just beyond the bend- nice pitch of III). The freezing level was above the summits and there were strong gusts getting worse in the afternoon. Buttresses went black during the day but easier gullys are all still very full. the surface snow was softening but there was still firm stuff beneath and ice in places (Mirror Direct was fat and busy as usual).
We rescued a sleeping bag blowing across the coire and returned it to the clutch of bags it had blown from and watched at least 3 stuff sacks and various contents whirling around in different places.
The next few days look to be set to be quite wild with a series of rapid freezes and thaws with some precipitation. It will just be a matter of timing as to when it is mild and wild, when it is snowy and blowy and when it is bomber neve!

Spiral Gully LH from Alan Halewood on Vimeo.

Sunday 30 January 2011

Weekend off...

No work this weekend. It was the AMI AGM at Glenmore Lodge but I decided to skip the workshops to go climbing with friends. Ewen, Sal and I planned to head to Hell's Lum but we topped out at the head of the Goat Track in light rain to meet Gary heading in the opposite direction with the news that things over there were a bit slush puppy and busy.
So we're coming down the Goat Track and it's pretty busy in Sneachda (surprise, surprise) so I pulled a 'Plan Z' out of my back pocket and the other two enthusiastically (foolishly?) agreed to my cunning plan. Every time I've been around Fiacaill Couloir/Invernookie/The Seam I've wondered what the broad left hand side of the Couloir is like. Fiacaill Buttress IV,5 gets no stars and I haven't spoke to anyone who has done it. We started by soling the first pitch of Fiacaill Couloir before breaking out left on some interesting mixed ground. Funny word that... 'interesting'. Any time a climber uses it with emphasis alarm bells should start ringing. In this case a footless heave over a bulge on pretty good neve led to a number of innocuous looking but downright awkward high steps. Ewen took a pitch of good positive climbing alongside and over a chimney to the top of a thinly iced ramp descending left. I had a bash at climbing cracks half way down this but didn't want to commit to a big rockover without seeing what was over the lip above me (good job- more blank thinly rimed rock it turned out). So it was back to the guidebook description and into a thoroughly thrutchy chimney to finish.
Nick Bullock entertained us with tales of his climbing year after all of the AGM stuff was out of the way and I think the revelry continued for me until well after 2am. A late start today and a bit of a mountain bike around the forests blew the cobwebs away. Next week i'm at the Lodge working an Intro. to Winter Climbing Course. Weather looks wild!

Fiacaill Buttress from Alan Halewood on Vimeo.

Friday 28 January 2011

Winter ML Exped.

The Winter ML Training course at Glenmore Lodge wound up with the expedition phase. The weather was amazing- clear blue skies and a cloud inversion (but not to good for challenging night navigation). After some fairly easy digging near 'all the zeros' and a few hours night nav. we settled down in our holes before waking to a perfect sunrise above the cloud sea. We made the most of things with a trip out to Derry Cairngorm before making our way home to end the course.

Winter ML TYraining snowhole expedition from Alan Halewood on Vimeo.

Wednesday 26 January 2011

Day 4- the mountain journey.

Today we split the Glenmore Lodge Winter ML Trainees into 3 teams and took them on a journey to apply some of the skills we have been looking at in isolation. We looked at a number of scenarios ranging from simple leadership issues to more complex steep ground management problems. My team navigated in poor visibilty round the base of the Fiacaill of Sneachda into the wee sub coire just east of Coire an Lochain. here we moved onto steeper ground up onto the plateau. more navigation took us to the lip of the Goat Track for more ropework in descent and in a strong wind.
The snowpack has firmed up nicely with the drop in temperature, some ice has formed and the buttresses were well rimed. The open snow slopes are firm and unforgiving- a slip will result in a fast descent often onto boulders exposed below. Invernookie was reported as having good snow on it today but a very icey top pitch making gear hard to come by. I expect these conditions may be repeated on other routes as cracks have iced up.
Off out on our little mini-break tomorrow night so no blog. Nice forecast so I suspect i'll be looking forwards to plenty of night navigation from the snowhole.
Over in Glencoe tells me that Boomerang Gully was in good condition today, but the buttresses were pretty black and routes like SC and Twisting Gully were thin looking.

New Project from Alan Halewood on Vimeo.

Tuesday 25 January 2011

Another post

Take a look at Di's website for details of the Great Britain women's ski mountaineering team. These ladies are representing their country but because of the nature of sport funding in the UK (i.e. because they aren't a community enterprise or an Olympic squad) aren't eligible for a penny of funding. So they are digging deep into their own pockets to take part in the World champinonships in February this year. Be great if you could help them out with a donation- no matter how small.

Winter Mountain Leader day 3

Today was a ropework day for the Glenmore Lodge Winter ML Trainees. It was a damp and mild (ok it was soaking and mild) all day as we looked at bucket seats, buried axes, stompers, confidence roping, snow bollards, lowers and abseils. Fingers crossed for the predicted lowering of the freezing level!

Glenmore Lodge Winter ML Days 2 and 3 24 25 Jan 2011 from Alan Halewood on Vimeo.

Monday 24 January 2011

Winter Mountain Leader day 2

Today we walked in to Coire an t Sneachda as a big team looking at navigation and observing the weather and snowpack as we went. Once in the coire it was initially all about crampons, teaching the use of them and personal skills on them. There were many teams about on the easy gully lines as well as winter skills and mountaineering teams (many of whom were making good use of ice and rock bulges below Stirling Bomber).
We looked at snow profiles, walking rustchblocks and quick pits and how appropriate they are as methods of assessing the snowpack. From here we headed up the steeper ground to the col on the Fiacaill Ridge. We crossed it and dropped down the east side to navigate our way out back to the bus.
Saving the video for tomorrow as I'm giving evening talks on Winter Hazards and Avalanche Avoidance tonight.

Sunday 23 January 2011

Winter Mountain Leader day 1

New Project from Alan Halewood on Vimeo.

Back home in the UK and I'm at Glenmore Lodge this week working with Giles on a Winter ML Training. Today we took the students to Coire Laoigh Mor to look at their personal movement skills using their boots and the axe. A mild claggy day but the snowpack isn't going anywhere fast so gullies are full and there has been some pleasant easier climbing to be had.
Sandy was pleased to see his dad yesterday.

Saturday 22 January 2011

Back in Scotland

Back in Scotland seeing Sandy and Jane for a day. But before we left to tackle the horrible traffic around Oslo Heather, Mark and I tried to grab a quick ascent of Vermorkbrufoss West at dawn. Unfortunately as Mark was about a third of the way up there was a release of water above and he got a soaking. He was drilling an abalakov to retreat but it filled with slush and water as fast as he could drill it! Oh well.
Tonight I have to be back at Glenmore Lodge to start work on a Winter Mountain Leader Training Course for the next week.

Rjukan 21 Jan 2011 from Alan Halewood on Vimeo.

Thursday 20 January 2011


My final day with Emma and Morag and we went to the classic WI4 which is floodlit above Rjukan. Mo wanted another lead so she got the first pitch which was very brittle and awkward. After that we had 3 good pitches of ice, including a nice steep corner. The girls have bladders of steel and don't seem to need to pee... I on the other hand was bursting 10m up the third pitch and had to perform a kneeling wee on the lead with the girls politely admiring the iew in the opposite direction.
The third pitch was the crux and really pleasant and the 4th and final pitch bent up around a hanging curtain of icicles on better ice.
The first ab was from a tree, the second a hole in an ice curtain, the third an abolokov threaded with a twig and a sling to pull the cord through and the final abolokov was achieved using only the cord to thread it... yes, I forgot my threader... (naturally I found it in my pocket when I got to the bottom- don't think the girls bought my explanation that I was just creating another 'learning opportunity' :-)

Tjonnstadtbergfossen from Alan Halewood on Vimeo.

end of the week, back to Scotland tomorrow!

Wednesday 19 January 2011

Girls on the sharp end... Rjukan Day 4

Today was the day for Mo and Emma to get on the sharp end and lead some routes. We went back to Ozzimossis and they each led 3 pitches. Emma had a wee slip on her last pitch so rather than finish on a negative note she did the right thing and got straight back on and had another lead. They were both climbing well by the end of the day as well as coping with being on the lead. Nice work ladies!

On the Sharp End from Alan Halewood on Vimeo.

Tuesday 18 January 2011

Rjukan day 3

Ice climbing at Rjukan from Alan Halewood on Vimeo.

Today we were in the Upper Gorge. We started with climbing Bakveien (WI4) in 3 pitches and abseiled down the line of Vemorkbrufoss Vest. Then we went to Nedre Svingfoss which we climbed in series to simulate the girls leading, they built some more belays for themseves and after 2 pitches drilled an abalakov thread to abseil off.
Conditions so far this week...
Krokan: Unknown (WI2), Kjokentrappa (WI4), Gaustaspokelse (WI4), Bullen (WI3) and Jomfrua (WI4) are all seeing many ascents.
Upper Gorge: Trapfoss (WI4), Bakveien (WI4), Sabotorfossen (WI5), Nye Vemorkfoss (WI5) and Nedre Svingfoss (WI3) are all also popular. Tracey's eyes is buried under snow (and this has been sloughing off). Blindtarmen hasn't been climbed in a while but is complete. Vemorkbrufoss Vest looks great but Ost is much thinner. Host and at least 1 other route nearby are also climbeable.
Lower Gorge: Camillafoss and Pentium (both WI3) are seeing ascents but there is a lot of snow down there.
Centre: Fabrikfossen is buried (has seen an ascent of the first few pitches until they ground to a halt under heavy snow) but Tjonstadtbergfossen is apparently good.
Ozzimossis: plenty of ice and numerous ascents have cleared the snow off this week.

Monday 17 January 2011

Rjukan day 2

Today we went to Krokan for some more single pitch ice- a little steeper today with a couple of good WI4s and some easier stuff with 1 and no axes to help the guys work on their footwork. Sunshine today with us whilst the bottom of the valley was full of mist. Upper Gorge tomorrow for some multi-pitch stuff.

Sunday 16 January 2011

Rjukan first day of climbing

Mo, Emma and I went to Ozzimossis today with Heather, Mark and their teams. We did half a dozen routes and the guys worked on their footwork, tool placement and placing and removing screws. It started quiet but by lunchtime was very busy with Aussies, Spaniards, locals (including wee kiddies) and us. Plenty of ice but much of the easier angled stuff was quite buried. Back in the the huts I cooked fish and now everything the Instructor team owns has a unique fishy odour..... oops..... still its better than Mark's socks or George's farts!
That's the straight blog... for the inside story see Di's blog!

Rjukan 15 Jan 11 from Alan Halewood on Vimeo.

Saturday 15 January 2011

Wakey wakey....

A fairly sleepy MCofS Rjukan team woke up round lunchtime after a 1am to 6am snowy drive from Oslo last night. Since then we have shopped, taken the mickey out of Di, had a team meeeting, slagged Di off, been for a quick recce and insulted Di.
There is ice, there is also a lot of snow, some areas are fatter than usual and some thinner... Mo, Emma and I will get on it tomorrow.

Friday 14 January 2011

Last Arqiva day and off to Rjukan

Like it says on the title today was my last day with Arqiva team 2 and we went to a nearby hilltop mast to test their safety procedures.
Last night Jane and Sandy came over to see me as I'm off to Rjukan for the next week teaching ice climbing for the MCofS so conditions reports will be from there!

Thursday 13 January 2011

Arqiva and the thaw

Much milder in the Cairngorms today as my second Arqiva group played with some new toys (pulks, poles, snowshoes, goggles, maps, compasses, big orange bags, bothy bags and blizzard bags). We discussed weather and cold injuries and how to avoid them and after a bit of time in the Lodge grounds Jules and I took them up to the Ciste car park to use some travel techniques in anger.
Other teams were today in Sneachda and Derek made his way carefully into Goat Track Gully. You have to take real care in the area around here, Red Gully and indeed anywhere from Fluted Buttress Direct rightwards owing to the amount of loose rock around. In a thaw like the present one rock and ice fall is common and injuries and fatalities have occurred even to experienced mountaineers in this area. Take care folks.