Tuesday 31 January 2012

A little ice with that?

Wind transporting snow
On the ice
A white board in the Coire
Day 2 of the MIC Training at Glenmore Lodge and today was all about the ice. Plan A was to head over to the Feith Buidhe but when the bus was rocking on it's springs in the Cas car park we reassessed the situation and headed into Coire an t Sneachda in search of ice.
After beating up against the wind we crept round the corner into the area near the flat ice and began by looking at improving the students ability to coach the use of crampons in a walking context. We worked through progressions on easy snow, firmer ice and turfy rocky ground before heading up to some ice bulges above the flat ice. Here we put a bottom rope up and used a short ice fall for the team to observe and give feedbaack on each others' movement. We finished with a session on placing screws on the lead and use of abalakovs (see George's article).
A great deal of wind blown snow and plenty of people making good decisions avoiding gully lines with firm windslab building on the exits. There is a mitre high crown wall high in Coire Cas but Bill had a good day on the well scoured Creagan Cha No after a bit of a battle against the wind to get there.
lots of good articles on the BMC winter meet at the Lodge on UKC and the BMC website. Some superb climbers sending in the last week.
And DMMs new range of tools looks very interesting... although the Scottish Trad winter climber in me wishes there was a spike on the base of the Switch.

Monday 30 January 2012

Look well to each step...

Said Whymper. It was good advice as I almost found out today.
It's a busy week at Glenmore Lodge with Winter MLs, Intro. and Intermediate Ski Mountaineering, Winter Skills, Intro. Winter Climbing and Lead Climbing Courses all on the go. I'm working on an MIC Training course and the first day was spent refreshing and improving how we coach core winter skills and then moving on to how we introduce snow belays. I haven't cut many steps this year and its a skill I still find useful and important (people drop/break/forget crampons and even with them on a good step can give a great deal of confidence to someone who is tired, nervous or has a slight injury) so I was taking advantage of the practise time with those on the course on a steep slope. And then I looked up at the wrong moment.... and I was off. A poor step and not getting my foot quite right in it and I'm slipping and already thinking "self belay!!" And its not working... too hard... and I'm now starting to slide and i'm trying to go on autopilot: feet up, knees wide, bum up, shoulders rolled forwards, weight over the axe, elbows... look away from the adze.... don't apply too much pressure too soon and... it works.
I spend a lot of time talking about how much or how little time I spend teaching self arrest. If I have x hours to teach people to avoid becoming a casualty by falling whilst walking in winter I spend the vast bulk of that time focussing on the skill they should be able to use most effectively and practise lots.... walking. I'll spend some of the remaining time looking at preventing that initial slip becoming a slide.... a realistic self belay. I'll spend the least amount of time looking at the most complex skill that also takes the most time to practise and is therefore practised the least and is least (IMHO) likely to be effectively replicated in an emergency... self arrest. However I never ignore it. It looks like years of teaching it and therefore getting regular practise each winter season paid off today.

But I'd still rather i'd looked well to the step....

Quite apart from my incompetence there were some interesting things going on in the snow pack today (see the SAIS site and take a look at the temperature gradient in the snow profile). I heard 2 stories of people getting hit by debris from avalanches released most likely by others above them. You can see from the profile that there is some hard firm snow out there so being hit by that might not be as trivial as you might think. Stay aware and make good decisions....

Sunday 29 January 2012

Wind around the Nid

Investigating options
A wee bit blowy
Can we go home now
Day 2 of the AMI workshop today and the focus was on shortroping for UK mountaineering conditions. We were back on Aonach Mor and there was a sign at the ticket window warning us that there were high winds due after lunchtime and that the gondola might shut.
We went to the Nid area and looked at spacing students on the rope and different methods of ascent and descent. We spent a good deal of time discussing how comfortable we were moving people with hand coils on different angles of slope and with different conditions underfoot and transitions from shortroping into climbing situations.
The wind picked as as we had been warmed but we moved up to the top of the Nid Ridge looking at Abalakov/V Threads in some ice on the way. Finally we looked at getting 2 students down past a corniced edge. By now the wind was really quite strong and the snow was blowing straight down along the ridge. We finished our work and beat a retreat back to the top station to find the doors closed. :-( So it was wee walk down the hill for us.
Back East at Glenmore Lodge next week and finally might get a little climbing in!!
Big up to Greg Boswell for sending Don't Die of Ignorance on Ben Nevis today but climb of the season for me so far must be Nick Bullock, Guy Robertson and US visitor Bayard Russell's second ascent of Guerdon Grooves!

Saturday 28 January 2012

Aonach Mor

Today I was running a the first day of an AMI weekend workshop for MIC Trainees. We went to Aonach Mor and after a brief chat about what people wanted to get out of the weekend took the gondola up the mountain. We headed around to the west face and looked at issues involved in teaching climbing. We worked on both series and parallel ropework and the transition between the two as well as discussing progressions and 'winterising' student's climbing.
Nice calm weather without too much cloud and with the snow cover lasting more than a day or two now it's beginning to feel like winter has arrived properly at last.

Friday 27 January 2012

CWA Training and BMC article

A couple of recovery days for the legs running a Climbing Wall Award Training in Lochaber. The snow looks great today... lovely Lochaber weather.... more like this please!
Glad this article seems to have gone down down well... it was probably at least in part due to the BMCs editing! Thanks for the feedback folks.

Wednesday 25 January 2012

Wet rock

A bit of a thaw going on today and gales forecast. So Steve, Will and i headed to Polldubh to spend the bulk of the day looking at ropework, gear placements and belay building skills they will be able to use in their winter mountaineering. In between the rain we could see that whilst the ridges were progressively stripping the high east facing coires of the Mamores were still holding lots of snow.

Tuesday 24 January 2012

Damp on Ledge route

Out for a mountaineering skills day on Ben Nevis today. Steve, Will and I headed for Ledge Route seeing both Mike and Kenny heading off with clients to look for ice.
We kept well to the right on the wall of No.5 Gully to access our line. This kept us out of the deep porridge like snow in the bed of the gully. Then we used the route to look at various different rope techniques that can be used on mountaineering ground in winter. Steady claggy rain and soft snow all day but beware the Red Burn was still very firm under the soft couple of inches of fresh snow.
A wild one tomorrow... Plan B I think.

Monday 23 January 2012

A new twist on an old route

I was out with a group of 3 today on Ben Nevis. We plumped for 1934 Route as Kenny (who did Crest Route in Glencoe today) had reported it as quite good the other day and as the guys haven't done that much walking this year (its a bit lower down the mountain). We walked in spotting teams finding Fawlty Towers quite tough going and saw Max on the SW Ridge of the Douglas Boulder. We headed up a long first pitch to the in situ anchor before taking the groove that leads right into the basin above Vanishing Gully (another long pitch, in situ anchor and some good thin climbing about III). Instead of taking this right it is easier to head straight up onto Tower Ridge but I fancied a bit more climbing. From the end of the groove the view across the easy basin beyond looked... interesting.... The usual exit looked very thin and uninviting. I ran out another long pitch to a belay at the base of a more promising looking groove. I got only 10 m up this when I hit an unhelpful hanging slab covered in powder. I made a sharp step left onto a pinnacle that formed my last runner and round the corner into the next gully to the left. Another couple of runners just where needed and a short steep wall was climbed by a good pull on frozen turf. The remainder of the 55m pitch had a couple of steps and continued to trend left onto Tower Ridge (at the very end of the long rightwards traverse after the arete above the chimney out of the Douglas Gap).... maybe III,4?
All 3 of the guys experienced pretty grim hot aches making the steep pull (a variety of colourful language but no vomiting). These took a few minutes to pass before we could descend the lower part of Tower Ridge and drop easily into Observatory Gully. Well done guys!
On the walk out we were passed by Tim and Keith of PYB who had climbed Cornucopia and spoke to another pair who reported good ice on Tower Scoop and a team on Smiths. We also saw a team around Slingsby's chimney and Hadrians Direct looked like it might be worth a look by the right team. There was a stream of people headed up to the CIC hut... looks like it will be busy on the Ben for a couple of days but not great weather on Wednesday.

Sunday 22 January 2012

Early ice protection, the thin, the fat and the weird...
A peck peg and an early nut
Salewa Ascender
Grivel's first crampons with frontpoints
Early Clog nut with just a tiny bit of taper
I was working indoors at Glasgow Climbing Centre today (cheeks still tingling after yesterdays exfoliation by wind).
Whilst there I had a chat with Willie Gorman a retired teacher who instructs climbing part time at the wall. Another instructor is making some works of art out of old climbing gear and Willie brought in some old pieces of kit he has.....
Little pieces of climbing history here....
To see Willie in action check out this video of him climbing with a few other well known faces on the Cobbler.

Saturday 21 January 2012

Wild weather in the Cairngorms with Moffat MRT

Windy at 1141
Wild in Sneachda
Using the rope to give someone confidence
Well it was a bit breezy in the Cairngorms today. I was working with Guy and Richard for Mountain Motion today with Moffat Mountain Rescue Team. Whilst Guy took the probationers for some intor. winter skills Rich and I each took a team for some mountaineering training. Cairngorm Mountain are keen to support the work of Mountain Rescue Teams and allowed us to use the funicular for uplift to the Ptarmigan Restaurant. From here Guy headed for Ciste Mhearad whilst Rich and I took our teams on a route to look at their navigation and footwork to .1141m at the top of the Fiacaill of Coire Cas. We then all dropped into Coire an t Sneachda by windy col and crossed to the area on the far side of the coire beneath Fiacaill Buttress.
We'd been experiencing strong winds and snow flurries all day and these got worse as we kitted up. The team responded well and we were able to look at a little confidence roping before 2 of them led a pitch up 'point five' the small gully to the left of the Goat Track. Now the weather was getting quite unpleasant and we had difficulty standing let alone talking and learning. So we dug a snow bollard and abseiled off to flee the coire and the screaming banshee of a wind howling around the crags.
The rock was black and the snow mushy but as we arrived at the car park it was putting down some much needed wet snow. Guy and his team soon arrived too after a baptism of fire (or perhaps that should be ice) for their introductory winter skills. Well done Moffat MRT for holding together in the face of some pretty appalling weather.

Thursday 19 January 2012

Fresh snow in the Cairngorms

View this morning
Dave after a short walk around the Lodge at lunchtime
Plenty of fresh snow blowing around
A plume off of the Fiacaill of Sneachda
Woke to a dusting of snow at Glenmore Lodge today and then the forecast was spot on with sudden snowfall at lunchtime. Before we new it we had 5cm down at the lodge and plenty blowing around on the hill. Compare today's pictures with yesterday and its obvious that winter was back at least for today!

Arqiva 4 and Cairngorm conditions from Alan Halewood on Vimeo.

Wednesday 18 January 2012

Back East and SAIS texts

A bare looking Coire an Lochain
More Arqiva action
I'm back at Glenmore Lodge working my last Arqiva winter awareness course of the year. The Coires looked black and bare today but hopefully that will all change with the arrival of some SNOW.
Also if you haven't seen it already then get your phone registered to receive text forecasts from SAIS : http://www.sais.gov.uk/newsarticle.asp?id=6031

Monday 16 January 2012

Sunshine and ice

Guy on Pitch 1
Kenny on Pitch 3
My Pitch
Climbers topping out on Tower Ridge
Kenny having a look down Smiths
A rimed up Guy waiting to abseil into No.3

Awesome day in Lochaber today. Kenny, Guy and I headed up Ben Nevis for my first day's recreational climbing in what feels like ages. There were crowds ahead of us streaming into Coire Na Ciste and Observatory Gully but we had it in mind to take a peak at the Little Brenva face as none of us had climbed there before and we were expecting a good build up of ice on it... and we weren't wrong. We mixed and matched pitches to give us a steep ice climb of 5 long pitches and a little moving together at top end IV (at least that's what it felt like to my early season out of shape calves and forearms). The ice was fat and often bullet hard, the neve firm and the views stunning. Guy and Kenny each took two pitches and a little moving together saw us beneath what I think is the last pitch of Cresta Direct which gave me a 60m pitch on rope stretch to a belay on the crest of the ridge.
In a strong breeze we headed over the summit and down to No. 3 Gully seeing teams topping out on Smiths, Tower Ridge and something on No. 2 Gully Buttress. There were also parties on Comb and Green and Indicator Wall and The Cascade both still look icey. We gave a little assistance to some mountaineers tackling the cornice at the top of No.3 before abseiling down. As we descended we could see ice on South, Thompsons (thin), Central L and R, North, The White Line and Green. I know 2 Step has seen plenty of attention but it looked quite thin above the half way point.
Overall there was a lot of very firm (quite unforgiving in the event of a slip) snow around in the easy gullys and the usual mid grde suspects are holding ice. However none of them are fat yet and where screws normally provide gear those pushing their grade might not find a 'comforting' amount yet. The harder mixed routes were all very black.
Great day out climbing with mates... that's what its all about!

The video shows plenty of coire views to show the build up on routes.

Saturday 14 January 2012

Mountaineering Skills with Herriot Watt

Team St Andrews impersonating snowflakes
A solid bollard
Over the edge
Coming back up
Today was a winter mountaineering day with Herriot Watt University Mountaineering Club. The theme of the day was due to be avalanche awareness but conditions aren't ideal for that with firm refrozen snow everywhere at the moment. We started the day with a lecture at the excellent Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team base before getting the gondola at Nevis Range up onto the hill. We headed to the foot of the Nid Ridge where we reviewed basic movement skills and looked at slope angle and aspect. Making our way onto the ridge we passed tiny deposits of windblown snow on a base of solid firm snow. We used this snow to look at some simple ropework to descend past a cornice.
Plenty of folk out today in Lochaber, friends reported Green Gully as great fun and I hear Left Twin was giving first time placements and good screws for runners.

Thursday 12 January 2012

Snow in the East and news from the west

Well we had a pleasant heavy dusting of snow in the Cairngorms today (about a cm on the path at 750 this afternoon) as Ian, James and I took our latest Arqiva group up the path towards Coire an t Sneachda to find a little snow.
Teams have been playing on ice bulges in Coire Lochain (a little damp today) and Esacalator was climbed yesterday (much more snow and a little ice on Hells Lum).
A quick video of it snowing and us hard at work:

Over on the west today Tower Scoop was climbed with some ice screw runners but was 'wet and fragile', Good Friday saw a couple of ascents (looks nice Max) as did Smiths although this was apparently very wet in places. Sounds like a similar situation on Indicator Wall.... wet and thin at the base. Green was climbed and described as 'climbable'... so not fat I take it, and I know it wasn't providing many runners earlier in the week.
No ice at the base of Orions and Point 5 is broken.
So not just stellar conditions on the Ben from the point of view of mid grade routes. Good pics from James here to give a better idea of snow in the easier gullys.

Blir Fyffe.... snow geek par excellance has put up an interesting note on snow cover in Lochaber this year as compared to other recent years on his blog which is worth a read here.

Tuesday 10 January 2012

More 'winter awareness' for Arqiva and lack of snow

More nav, emergency scenarios and some snowshoeing and sledging.... sorry... pulking on the snow patches on the path in to Coire an t Sneachda. Scott and Ken reported the snow in the Coire to be sparse and variable in consistency.
Windy but springlike in the Cairngorms today and friends reported hopping rom snow patch to snowpatch on Creag Meaghaidh... winter WILL arrive... eventually.... because I said so.... please!

Monday 9 January 2012

Another week in the east and Aonach Mor beta

Map setting
Northern Corries snow from Glenmore
Night nav.
Back at Glenmore Lodge doing winter awareness courses for Arqiva engineers this week. I've attached a photo of the remaining snows vivsible from Glenmore today. I'm told that what is there in major gully lines is good, but not fat.
Good beta from Guy and Kenny on Aonach Mor today on their blogs.