Tuesday 28 February 2012

Ledge Route and more thaw

Thin snow on the slab
Thread belay
Patchy cover below
Direct belay on a block
Ledge Route popular today- gorillas in the mist
Topping out with a heavy wet rope!
Looks like rain deer (sorry)
So today Kieran took Nicky up Ledge Route with me offering advice. The thaw continues and the All a Mhuillin is still deep and wide. We opted to go up No. 5 Gully but not hang around aware of the possibility of rock and ice fall from above. Then Kieran put in a wee pitch up the slab which was just snow covered but may not be tomorrow after today's traffic. We got to build a couple of creative belays using the snow and use a thread and some spike for more direct belays as we headed onto the crest above. We saw a couple of teams from JSMTW Ballachullish and overtook a pair of lads moving together and were pleasantly surprised that most of the route is still snow covered. We went to have a look down No.4 and although there are slumping cornices around the Gully rim they are not overhung and seem stable. The snow in the Gully itself was quite firm. Not a place to hang around though as there is evidence of extensive stonefall and large blocks of ice lying on the snow all around Coire na Ciste.
We saw plenty of visiting Euros with very technical tools- poor things. Those pastel shades don't look so good stained with peat and all soggy. I also chatted to Chris who had done No. 3 Gully Buttress nut the top couple of pitches were reported as very rocky. A team from The Ice Factor had been to look at Tower Scoop and said it was hard to see the ice for the amount of water flowing over it- they popped up the Douglas Gully East, down West and up No. 2 which was straightforward with a small avoidable cornice.
Geoff's site speaks of a slightly cooler week ahead. It would make a nice change. I had my blue rubber gloves on again today!

Monday 27 February 2012

Quack quack

It was nice weather for ducks today as Nicky, Kieran and I headed for Buachaille Etive Mor on the first day of their mountaineering course. The guys are after a reminder of some ropework and the opportunity to get some further training on what tools to use when in a mountaineering environment.
With continuing mild, wet and windy weather we went to look at some rocky skills today making our way up Curved Ridge past the polished corner and then turning around and abseiling and lowering back down the route. Despite the lack of much snow I even managed to get a stomper in Easy Gully.
The rock was very slimy today. And it was wet- again. And more to come. Sigh. Could be worse. I could drive a desk..... (you reading this George ;-)

Friday 24 February 2012

End of the week but all is not lost...

"Uh-oh, I think they can see us!"
At least it feels like winter today
A little snow left in Coire an t Sneachda
Nearing the top
End of the day, end of the week, hopefully not end of the season!!
Well we reached the end of a long week at Glenmore Lodge. The thaw has hit the east worse than the west and there were no lines left properly intact in the Northern Coires as of today. It would be possible to join the dots of ice and snow in Jacob's Ladder and The Runnel (and there are some big blobs of ice that will take screws) but there is also a lot of very loose rock around as there is no build up remaining in any of the main gully lines. I certainly wouldn't want to follow anyone up a gully in these conditions.
Today we returned to Sneachda to see what there was to be seen and a sorry sight it was. Even the 'flat ice' was terribly diminished. I had a discussion with the guys. Their priority today was to put the last 4 days into practise and especially to do some more ropework for themselves. We debated on the Twin Ribs but could see that the ground between The Goat Track and 'Point 5' to its right looked to offer some snow, ice and frozen turf so that became our destination in the interests of making things a bit more wintery.
By coming into our line diagonally we made a route of 6 long pitches up and the guys were able to place rock gearm use spikes and threads, place screws a bulldog and a warthog as they led themself up some climbing at up to II whilst I soloed alongside. Topping out on the col beside the Goat Track we were being thrown around by today's strong wind but it was sunny and at least it was cold and dry.
I'm back west for a week's mountaineering after a weekend off. looks like another wild one but at least it seems there is some nice ice in the West as: Max, Mike, Ben, Adam and The SAIS in Glencoe and Lochaber could see.
A quick video of today:
and Rocio found this- it's great :-)

Thursday 23 February 2012

Trading places

Warming up the team
Team Lodge in the ice wall
Placing a screw
BD Express
Axes? Who needs 'em
Today we traded places with the Adventure Peaks team. We headed West to The Ice Factor and passed their bus heading east to the Cairngorms.
We had time for a little revision of yesterday's ropework and looked at the using a french prussik to back up a personal abseil before heading into the ice wall for 2 hours of technique work in the big fridge.
Things were brightening up enough for us to be shocked by the spring like conditions we could see in the Cairngorms as we headed back to Glenmore Lodge. I've seen more snow in May!

Wednesday 22 February 2012

Tools for winter.... when it comes back... if.....

And v threads (ok...I ran out of 'p's)
Day 3 of our Winter Climbing Into. at Glenmore Lodge and things are not looking great. Rain all night and forecast for the morning and more mild gales. Still, never say die.
We began with couple of hours on the granite towers at the Lodge looking at simple climbing movement on off vertical ground. First in boots, then with crampons and finally with axes too.
Then we made a flying visit to a very sorry looking Coire an t Sneachda. There is not a single line complete in the coire and even the ice patches were looking smaller today. Also a lot of rock and ice fall due to the heavy thaw conditions- take care anywhere beneath the crags, let alone in the Gullies.
We used one of the remaining tongues of snow too look at bucket seats and buried axes- pitching up to a rock wall where we could learn to place pegs. Next to that was a convenient ice boss for the lads to use to create a couple of v threads. We linked these and abseiled down the snow slope to make a snow bollard for a second abseil before running for home.
A good look at a range of tools for winter. Now.... if only it would pay use a visit. I have a funny feeling that we might get a cold March.....

Tuesday 21 February 2012

Take 20 seconds for LMRT...

Please spare a 'Like' (or better still a few quid) for Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team's facebook page. Some good images, interesting video clips and you'll keep up to date with what's going on with the Team.
The hard working volunteers are there for us if we need them. They put in a great deal of time and effort to train for unfortunate incidents like sunday's tragic accident on Ben Nevis and then may be out in all weathers on any day of the year on one of the busiest, serious and unforgiving patches in the UK.
To visit their website click on the logo above. To make a donation (no matter how small or large) go here.

LEAN in Sneachda

Lean and Green
But there's still a wee bit of nice ice
Jacob's Ladder
Waiting patiently
We(s)t Coast glove technology
Day 2 of my Intro to Winter Climbing Course for Glenmore Lodge and it was back to Coire an t Sneachda in slightly drier (but no cooler) conditions than yesterday. Our focus today was on getting an opportunity for Eamon and Mark to place some gear and build some belays for themselves and walking in I could see snow reaching pretty much the whole way up Jacob's Ladder.
Derek had the same idea and we were happy to keep to our respective sides of the gully and avoid the crowds in Aladdin's Couloir and the Trident Gullys (and the rockfall we could hear).
I seem to have an awful lot of grass on my axes and crampons for a winter climbing course though.......

Monday 20 February 2012

No other word for it but..... wet

Day 1 of a climbing course at Glenmore Lodge today....
Forecast? Far from inspiring. Look out the window at breakfast? Whitish. Look out of the window at staff meeting? Hmm, sure its looking blacker. Looking into the Coire on the walk in? Ok now I can actually see the snow stripping in front of me!!
We jumped onto Spiral Gully which was thin ice/wet snow/frozen turf. It also got a lot thinner as most of the snow and ice changed to water and flowed down or blew up the gully as the day went on. Still 6 and a bit pitches of II/III today and I got to place an ice screw and the guys got to use their tools and a route under their belts.
Tomorrow we'll slow the pace and do a bit of teaching on some of what's left and wintery looking.
The picture is of a member of the Irish team ahead of us. Bit different from the weekend.

Saturday 18 February 2012

A WINTER weekend

Digging in
Home is a hole in the snow
Night nav in wild weather
Buried..... again....
Help from without
Winter returns!
Exploring the snowpack
Just spent the last 2 days on the Winter Mountain Leader Training minibreak in the Cairngorms. We had a good dusting of snow and a cold wind yesterday as we headed up the west ridge of Coire nan Lochain then toured the rim of the coires to finish by popping around the back of Cairngorm to Ciste Mhearaidh.
Here the team dug snowholes whilst Karl and I, ahem, adopted a nice in situ one. Digging, dinner and then time to go out for some poor vis nav. Cairngorm weather station recorded a gust of 102mph around the time we were staggering around in the rain. Its all done to good purpose as the team picked up a lot of tips on what does and doesn't work trying to navigate in foul weather and poor visibility.
Karl grunted at some point early this morning and then let his language slip. The doorway was gone. The temperature had dropped and the rain turned to snow which had buried us completely. We dressed and dug ourselves out before following the rope we had left leading into each (now invisible) doorway to excavate the 3 group snowholes. After that we all took it in turns to keep entrances clear- they were filling in every 30-40 minutes.
Up and packed we decided to make use of the fresh snow to compare a number of different practical tests to use (or maybe not use) when assessing snow conditions for safe travel. There were at least 3 clear layers in the snowpack and shears were easily observed on hand shear tests, trenching and tap testing. I approached the top of a walking rutschblock and the slope around it failed before I got anywhere near it.
Then a final bit of navigation to get out before the weather went ballistic on cue and as forecast. We reviewed our experience and the course and said farewell to our students as the snow fell heavily at Glenmore Lodge this afternoon.

Thursday 16 February 2012

A spring day??

It started a bit murky in the Cairngorms today but was fine and pleasant by the end of the day. The clear vis gave me a chance to see how sorry for themselves the climbing and ski areas are looking (although to be fair the easier gully lines in Sneachda look pretty complete if thin and icey). We could do with some cold and some snow.
Day 4 of the Glenmore Lodge Winter ML Training was a mountain journey to put all the tools looked at yesterday into context and look at decision making. My group navigated into the little 'hidden' coire between Fiacaill a Coire an t Sneachda and Coire an Lochain. Here we looked at confidence roping and put a couple of pitches in to get out up the coire head wall.
Then it was over to the top of 'point 5' the wee gully left of the Goat Track to look at preparing the edge where there was a bit of a wind lip and descent by stomper and snow bollard.
We were joined by some brave folk who had decided to wander down the gully all tied onto one rope.... rather them than me!
Off on the mini break tomorrow.... now where shall we go snow holing?

Wednesday 15 February 2012

Day 3 and 4th Coire

First it was Lochain, then Cas and Sneachda and today it was Coire Laoigh Mor for our Winter ML Trainees at Glenmore Lodge. It was what I think of as a 'nuts and bolts' day today. We were looking at various winter ropework tools such as: bucket seats, buried horizontal axes, stompers and snow bollards. The snow pack was pretty wet so I was particularly glad to have a thick long pair of rubber gloves to dig with!

Tuesday 14 February 2012

Rime on day 2

There's a horizon up there somewhere
Rime time
Second day with the Winter ML Trainees at Glenmore Lodge today and we headed for Coire Cas. On the way up we looked at contour features (important in winter as they may be the only information you get- even in poor vis you can feel changes in angle with your feet) and when we hit the snow we put crampons on early as part of discussing a learning progression for beginners.
On the side of the Ficaill a Coire Chais we carried on our cramponing and spoke to Mark Diggins of SAIS about his work and what he'd discovered today.
Up to 1141 and a little navigation on the plateau (lots of rime about but it was dripping wet by early afternoon at that height) before dropping down windy col to the moraines. Here the team did a great impression of moles disappearing into the snow in 20 minutes digging the first 15 with an axe and the last 5 with a shovel for comparison.