Monday 28 February 2011

Spiral Gully Left hand

Day 1 of our Intro. To Winter Climbing at Glenmore Lodge and we were treated to a stunning day.... and I forgot my camera (dope). The Blackberry took some poor pics and showes Eoin and Tom enjoying Spiral Gully and it's left hand finish (delightful and icey III) for their first winter climb.
Over on the west Francis reports that Orion Direct was good and Dez and Mark had a great looking day on the ice on Meggy. What a grand day!

Sunday 27 February 2011

Gone East for the week

Well I took it easy today as I'm busy for the next 2 weeks working at Glenmore Lodge. This week it will be Introductory Winter climbing and the weather and conditions look fine for that.
Today I'm told the ice on Indicator Wall was reported as 'magnetic' and North Gully steep and icey at Grade II so the Ben will have repaid those who made the pilgrimage this weekend and that might bode well for late season ice action. If anyone is interested I have availability on the west on 15,16 and 17 March.
Oops sounds like a casualty in Sneachda being attended to by Lodge staff so looks like an evening walk for me to carry some food, drink and moral support in...
...and a few hours and a wee stretcher carry with the CMRT later I'm back at the Lodge and the bar is closed :-(

Saturday 26 February 2011

Winter returns (mostly)

Crowds heading into Observatory Gully
View into Coire na Ciste
Green Gully
Neil leading in Green Gully
Green Gully Left finish
Topping out from South Gully into the sun
Today Neil and I headed up onto Ben Nevis. Despite our early start there were hordes heading into Observatory Gully ahead of us so we turned right and were the first into Coire Na Ciste. Green Gully was there for the asking and despite dripping a bit it was fat. In fact, fatter than I've ever done it- the first pitch was banked out by avalanche debris from the last 2 days and offered about 6 feet of ice! The steeper ice pitches took mediocre screws but the ice was so friendly and stepped it didn't matter and we took the left hand finish at the top to hit the plateau at 1230. So it was off down No.3 (weaving a line through various ropes doing various things on the way up) and a sharp left into South Gully which was equally fat and friendly (bit of a cornice but outflanked on the left)! We had a the odd snow shower which generated some waves of spindrift but hit the plateau for a second time to bright sunshine.
Gill did No. 3 Gully Buttress, Kenny started up Wendigo's first ice pitch and then headed up Central LH or RH (not sure which) and Nick reported easy going on Ledge Route. The snow was soft and damp but there is firmer stuff beneath too.
I spoketo a team who had been on Indicator wall but reckoned that little else was in condition on that wall- they seemed to be uncoiling opes at the foot of Babylon. This face has wet snow and blobs of ice adhereing to it nicely and Thompsons would be fine. We also saw a party on Glover's Chimney.
We came down No. 4 which has a nice slot cut in the cornice and were down early for tea and medals.

Winter returns to Ben Nevis from Alan Halewood on Vimeo.

Friday 25 February 2011

Soggy and busy in Glencoe

A view into Coire nan Lochain
looking into the Lost Valley
Starting up the ZigZags
Today's team
A soggy Bill Strachan
Matt trusting Sally
Belaying and abseiling
Bill and I were out with another team of UHI West Highland College students today. We decided to ignore the whole winter thing given the tropical wet conditions and left the axes and crampons in the bus. Like many other teams (in fact like about 30 other people) we headed for the zigzags. Our aim was to look at managing people on steep ground so we looked at briefing, spotting placing ourselves in the position of most use as well as some simple ropework in ascent and descent. We were quite a large team so thanks for the forebearance of Clive and his students for waiting until we could move aside and let them through.
Off to Ben Nevis tomorrow to see what is still there!

Thursday 24 February 2011

Vanishing Vanished and Curtains for the Curtain

Still Ice on Compression Cracks lower pitches

Its curtains for the Curtain
Lots of snow melt today
Today I was working for West Highland College's Adventure Tourism Management Degree course today. It was wet, it was mild and it was fairly wild.
We went up on Ben Nevis to see if there was any ice left low in Coire na Ciste hoping to let the students get crampons on. We actually ended up talking about group management techniques, staying efficient in bad weather, games to illustrate the snowpack, river crossings and making good decisions about working and running away!
We also observed plenty of truely unpleasant human waste left by the receding snow just above the CIC hut (toilet paper and used female sanitary products) and somewhat bizarrely a deckchair in the Allt a Mhuillin (which we carried out).
The Curtain is gone, most of the snow below the level of the Ciste Lochan/base of No.5 has gone (looks to be plenty above that though). Vanishing Gully was only a waterfall, Tower Ridge was black as far as we could see and there is a large amount of avalanche debris visible below Observatory Gully.
What does remain higher up (and there is plenty in the major gully lines) should be very nice when it freezes again.

Wednesday 23 February 2011

Testing Testing!

The Crag Attack in use on Finnisg-aig Falls
As it is after a hard year
The adjustable 'rails' for chest straps. Current versions have stops on the end to prevent the strap sliding off
For most of the last year I've been using a Crag Attack 42 rucksack on test from Lowe Alpine. I hadn't used a Lowe pack for some years after seeing some of their back systems on expedition packs but I've been very pleasantly surprised by this sac. I've used it on Cuillin Ridge traverses, days out personal climbing and instructing in both summer and working and for mountaineering days like Tower Ridge it quickly became the first bag I reached for.
Here are the specs from Lowe:
"The Crag Attack has been revised for this year. It still offers fantastic value for money and is a great pack for all-round climbing.

Key Features and Benefits:
• Padded hipbelt with gear loops
• Adaptive Fit harness and top tensioners ensuring great fit for maximum carrying comfort

Additional Features:
Lid with external pocket and twin buckle closure; Chest strap with whistle; Haul loop; Front elastic cord; Wand pockets; Side compression with quick release buckle; system for carrying Skis; Twin ice axe/trekking pole fittings; Hydration compatible; Key clip.

Load zone:
11-16kg / 24-35lb
820 grams"
So what did I like/dislike? I'm a huge fan of simplicity in the mountains. I want a light tube which carries well with a lid on it and a couple of compression straps. Anything else in a climbing sac is extra weight and a gimmick. And that's what this bag delivers. I found the profile narrow but not too tall for the size, the hipbelt padded but slim with 2 gear loops that sit in the right place on my hips. The zip pocket on top of the lid was a good size and the second one underneath well sized for valuables. The compression straps were long enough for a thin mat for Cuillin traverses although the wand pockets are (as often seems to be the case) just a little too slim for an axe and a pole when the bag is full. The chest strap is on 'rails' so that it slides up and down easily when you want to adjust its height. I've had 2 packs with this system and a word of caution; if the manufacturer doesn't put 'stops' on the end of the rail the chest strap may slide right off and is then almost impossible to get back on. Fortunately the Crag Attack DOES come with stops to prevent the chest strap coming off the rails. In terms of durability the bag has had a serious beating but despite the fact that it is nice and light is showing no more than a little abrasion. Those of you who know me will attest that I'm not gentle on my kit but this pack has lasted well.
So a light, simple, well priced climbing sack for day use in summer and winter. I wish more manufacturers would ditch the gimmicks (sorry 'features') and make something like this.

Monday 21 February 2011

Back to work and winter

Rog, Cath and I had a great day on Ledge Route in December so they asked if I had any availability this week since they were coming back to Scotland and fancied something 'exciting'. Looking at the weather forecast I decided that Curved Ridge might make for a good day out and so it was. The route was well buried under snow but both in the basin at the top and in Coire na Tullaich on descent there was little evidence of worrying windslab. Dan was following us up the route with his own party and Olly was working with a large party of students at the lip of the Coire. On descent we experienced little wind but there was an obvious rise in temperature.

Curved Ridge 21 Feb 11 from Alan Halewood on Vimeo.

Saturday 19 February 2011

Home again

Today we took The Glasgow Academy team for a last morning at the closest crag to our villa near Bolulla. This is a fairy new crag and there was some loose rock and vegetation to deal with. Everyone got to do another climb or two and we went through some climbing movement exercises to improve their technique. Back at the villa there was a quick tidy up and team lunch before we headed off to Alicante Airport. Pictures include a shot of the remains of our leg of cured pork.... why don't we get food like that in the supermarkets here? Particular thanks due to Alison who as well as minding her boisterous 8 month old also created a truely sumptuous feast every night (rabbit, salmon, bar-b-cued lamb, chicken and pork kebabs, pork ribs, bread and butter pudding, chocolate mousse, poached pears.... the list goes on- as would my waistline if there had been any more).
Top week, great team of staff and students. Now a day or so off before I return to face the wrath of the Scottish winter!

Bernia Ridge and Sella

Day 6 of The Glasgow Academy's Costa Blanca trip and Sal was off to Sella with a team of 3 whilst Neal and I took Gavin and 9 students to the Bernia Ridge. This is like a limestone mini Cuillin with bolted anchors and one short section of Grade 4. It was warm and sunny and the team all worked on their tans as we made swift progress along the ridge. Getting off it was harder though- those in shorts lost the battle with the gorse bushes!

TGA Costa Blanca Days 5 and 6 from Alan Halewood on Vimeo.

Thursday 17 February 2011

Via Ferrata

Neal Gwynne- looking 'heroic'
Will Leading his first 6a at Toix
Alison taking a break from feeding us all
My team high on the Ponoch Via Ferrata
I did the Ponoch Via Ferrata twice today. This morning I had 3 pupils from The Glasgow Academy and this afternoon I took Alison (our chef for the trip) up the same route. Meanwhile Sal had a team cranking out new hardest leads at Toix and Neal was exploring another canyon.
To all of my friends who have sent snide comments about this week- I know you are just jealous!

Wednesday 16 February 2011

Espolon Central, Gandia and the Ponoch

Day 4 in Costa Blanca with staff and pupils from The Glasgow Academy. It was an early start for Gavin, Will, Bobby and I as we went to the Puig de Campana to climb Espolon Central. This Costa Blanca classic gives 13 pitches (by the shortest line) of climbing up to 4 on trad gear with the odd bolt and bolted belay. It was very cold and windy (rather like Glencoe in the Autumn) and there were numb fingers for more than half the route. Fortunately we moved quickly but we were still very pleased when the wind eased and we began descending on the sheltered side of the arete.
Meanwhile Sally took a team on a good quick ascent of the Via Ferrata on the Ponoch and Neal's team were cragging hard at Gandia (or playing in the Tube and other holes and sunbathing if you believe the rumours).

TGA Sport days 3 and 4 from Alan Halewood on Vimeo.

Tuesday 15 February 2011

Canyon D'Infierno

Day 3 of The Glasgow Academy's Costa Blanca trip and with rain forecast Sal and I took a team to the (mostly) dry Canyon D'Infierno. The rain made things quite slippery but we made good time for a team of 11 past various lowers, abseils, fixed lines and handrails. Gavin and I also ran a piggy back taxi service across the only unavoidable pool!
Neil was on the Ponoch Via Ferrata with a team of 4. This excellent wee route is good and steep- a grand wee outing.

Monday 14 February 2011

Day 2 in Spain

Sunny but a very strong wind today on The Glasgow Academy's Costa Blanca sport climbing trip. We took a team to Salen for some easy sheltered sunny lead climbing (also a good deal of sunbathing and post climb paddling and ice cream eating on the beach). Meanwhile Neal was in the Canyon D'Inferno tackling the marmites and piggy backing his team over the only deep pool (he didn't drop any of them- he resisted the temptation)

TGA Costa Blanca Sport Climbing trip from Alan Halewood on Vimeo.

Sunday 13 February 2011

First day in Spain.

Today was our first full day's climbing in Spain with The Glasgow Academy. Sally and I took a team to Montesa, possibly the busiest crag in Spain on a Sunday! We also had quite a job getting the people carriers through town as the normal access route is closed. There was a lot of dodging and weaving and Sally was up and down routes arranging ropes so that the group could get plenty of climbing in on topropes, and leading too. A fine sunny day and another one forecast for tomorrow.

Thursday 10 February 2011

Away to Spain for the week

Well the crutches are gone and I'm walking around again. Off on a week's work to Spain from tomorrow and back round Fort William sunday the 20th. That week and the weekend of the 25th and 26th I've availability for work. Then its 2 more weeks at Glenmore Lodge. In the meantime here is a quick film of images from the first part of this winter.

The first half of winter 2010-11 from Alan Halewood on Vimeo.

Enjoy what has been and what is to come....
And many thanks for everyone who voted for us on the Berghaus Adventure Challenge- looks like we won some money and equipment towwards our Greenland Expedition in April!
Finally enjoy the Fort William Mountain Festival whilst I'm away.

Monday 7 February 2011


All sympathy gratefully received!

Sunday 6 February 2011

Laid up and more votes required!

I'm not very good at being injured but it could have been worse... When I turned up in casualty in Inverness on friday morning they were talking about hip to foot casts for 8 weeks. As it is I hopped out on crutches with orders to rest for a week or two. Achilles feels stronger already but I'm still hopping around. Still its an opportunity to catch up on admin. that never seems to get done in winter and I'll get to see Jane and Sandy when they get back from a week in the Lakes.
More votes required for The Berghaus Adventure Challenge please. Vote for my geeky adventure! 4 of us are going on an exploratory ski mountaineering trip to the Geikie Plateau of Volkaarts Boons coast (gotta be worth a trip just for that name). PLEASE take 2 minutes to vote for us on the Berghaus Adventure Challenge website- tell your friends. We'll be taking a skidoo across Scoresbysund (if its frozen enough) to a camp on the coast before climbing up onto the plateau to try to bag some new peaks. I promise to put up a video of me on planks falling over lots!

Friday 4 February 2011

Yesterday's video

As promised... take a look at the weather as we top out... and that's before it got really bad!

Jacobs Left Edge from Alan Halewood on Vimeo.

Thursday 3 February 2011


Day 4 of the Glenmore Lodge Intro. to Winter Climbing Course and the weather began sunny with high winds higher up and lots of obvious blown snow streaming off of the Fiacaill Ridge and whirling 'snow devils' visible.
We headed for the scoured side of the Coire to the Mess of Pottage. We watched a team ascending Jacob's Ladder, out onto the Slant and to the base of Hidden Chimney with about 15ft of rope between them and no runners. On the hard snow there today the rope seemed pretty pointless. This isn't 'moving together' or 'simul climbing' - both of which involve runners. It's not short roping where the rope is used to prevent a slip turning into anything more serious on mountaineering ground (involving the use of appropriate defensive movement, braced stances and quick belays of various types). This has sometimes been dubbed 'death roping'- 2 or more people climbing simultaneously on ground where a slip could result in a fall and where one person falling would pull other attached to them off. IF climbers feel the need to move that quickly then they should either solo or place runners on serious ground. Rant over.
The guys led me up Jacob's Left Edge in 4 pitches and it was only on the last pitch that the weather turned. On the plateau we were staggering around in a whiteout so we quickly located 'windy col' and I lowered the guys over the edge. Lower down it was a bit calmer so we dug a bollard and made an abseil. On the coire floor we headed to a convenient and oft used boulder to look at placing pegs.
Now the wind and snow was getting pretty serious so we turned and headed out with all speed. It was a good job too as the weather turned 'biblical in proportion. A Lodge team coming out assisted a large group in the car park when their minibus door was torn off!
Been a bit busy around here tonight and I've sprained my ankle pretty badly in a snow covered drain on the walkout. Video of conditions tomorrow.