Thursday 29 March 2012

67 days of 'winter'

Well it wasn't a great season this year, that's for sure. I normally get a good bit of personal climbing done in the early season but a family holiday in early December and a lack of conditions scuppered that. In the New Year work was as busy as ever but this year a series of 'winter awareness' courses for TV mast engineers and being involved with my first MIC trainings and assessments meant I had a very different feeling year to past seasons. Of course conditions (or a lack of) made it quite a challenge too. Variety is good though.
Here's hoping that the recent stunning weather is repeated plenty more times this summer. Hope you enjoy the video as much as I enjoyed getting the footage for it!

Wednesday 28 March 2012

CWA and away...

Today I was looking out of the window at the dry weather whilst directing the second day of a Climbing Wall Award training for WHC.
Now I'm just finishing up the electronic work before an early departure tomorrow to Greenland via Iceland. For the next 3 weeks I'm working for Tangent Expeditions guiding a ski traverse of the Liverpool Land mountains.
More snow in next 3 weeks I suspect than I've seen all winter!!!

Tuesday 27 March 2012

North East Buttress and sunburn

Looking good
Getting steeper
Looking down at the lower part of Observatory Gully
Above the 'mantrap'
The way down
Scotland has had record breaking temperatures for March for three days running and it felt like it today.
I was out with Ruraidh and Alan gain today and after a sweaty walk in we enjoyed the warmth of the sun (and every now and again the cool of the shade) as we made our way briskly up the route followed by Dave and his team. There is a little snow but nothing that can't be stepped over or around.
We lunched on the summit before making our way down to the end of the CMD Arete (we went on the snow but it is easily avoidable) and then onwards down Coire Leis on snow that was soft in the sun and firmer in the shade. Another grand day out.

Sunday 25 March 2012

Saturday 24 March 2012

Aaaaah Reiff

Warming up
In the zone aged 3 and 3/4
Dad's turn
Hi Brazil
Black Pig
Climbers on Tystie Slab
Some climbing venues just have an atomsphere....temenos I think the ancient Greeks called it. A 'sense of place'. Well for me Reiff is always associated with warm weather, great rock, sunshine and relaxing.
After arriving late last night Sandy was keen to do a little climbing and after warming up on a Diff managed his first Severe on a top rope and then climbed up the smeary slab in the middle of the main face on the pinnacle.
He and mum then went off to enjoy the strengthening sun leaving Isi and I to take in a few routes in the Pinnacle area and at Black Rocks and The Orange Walls. The rock in each of these areas is uniformly great to climb on and the weather only got better.
Then it was back to the Am Fhuaran Bar and their great campsite for dinner, beer and medals.
NOW it feels like spring has properly sprung.


A short video of yesterday on Ben Nevis:

Friday 23 March 2012

Last Scoop

The big ridges
Coire na Ciste
Observatory Gully
Tower Scoop
A belay with some shelter from the ice from above
The 'U bend' in Gardyloo
Sally on the lead
Today I was out with Sally who is one of the students from UHI West Highland College where I work on a regular basis. The objective of the day was to get some winter climbing in and a little leading for her if possible. Ben was out with 2 other students too.
I suggested we head up towards the top of Observatory Gully in the hopes of finding some remains of winter for us to enjoy- especially after a cold night last night. So after a stunning sunny start to the day we were all soon sweating as we set a scorching pace on the walk in.
As we came into Observatory there was a team well up on Tower Scoop and no-one else in sight. The route looked very thin at one point but it looked worth a shot so I took Sal up that first.
I honestly can't recommend it any more. The narrows turned out to be a short break which now has a very thin tongue of ice with a good gap behind leading to it. A gingerly tiptoed over this and took a belay offering maximum protection from the ice skittering down from above where I guessed, correctly as it turned out, that the team we had seen were now on the Tower Gully Cascade.
Sally followed confidently and soon arrived at my belay before I lead the short, steeper but fatter last section. We then shed the rope to traverse across to the base of Gardyloo.
I lead the first 2 pitches quickly which are little more than grade 1. By now it was warming up and we were getting nervous about the thawing ice overhanging the left of the gully in particular. As it turned out the bits that did come down came from high on the right but passed us safely. I let Sally lead the fun bit. The 'u bend' tube is still there and gives off a great ice blue colour as you peer under the chockstone. When I reached her screw belay I let her take us out the top too so that we'd had 2 pitches each.
There was a mild breeze on top blowing a cap of cloud over the summit plateau. We had momentary whiteout and clear sunshine and 1 second brocken spectre back in the gully where the last of Ben's team was emerging- his students having swung leads up Gardyloo. On the way down the biggest indication of spring was perhaps the 2 Eastern European ladies Ben saw in skin tight jeans with huge leather handbags. One had the smoothes of soled trainers on whilst the other had leather shoes with half inch platform heels!!
I reckon that is pretty much it for winter now. The continuing thaw is slowly but surely stripping the ice and whilst there might be a route or 2 to be done at the weekend I'd be almost as worried about the approaches or the possibility of someone else above me as the condition of the ice now.
And I'm off to Reiff to hit the rock :-)

Wednesday 21 March 2012

Long days but unfortunately not on the hill

Yesterday I made a flying day visit to discuss future directions for NICAS. The hugely popular scheme for introcducing young people to indoor climbing is continuing to move forwards and develop. It did mean an early start and a late finish followed by another early start to get from Glasgow in time to run the first day of a CWA training with Julie for a large group at The Ice Factor. All go!

Sunday 18 March 2012

Interesting video...

... no, not one of mine but...

...and if you are into thinking about 'education' and didn't see this one before:

Saturday 17 March 2012

Round the bend

Simon going round the bend
Aaron (a former client of mine) leading up behind
Last pitch
Coiling up in Tower Gully
Well what winter there is wont die. Today i was running a 1 day workshop for The Association of Mountaineering Instructors. Simon and Scott, 2 Trainee MICs working towards assessment were down for a day looking at parallel ropework. We discussed where we might go, knowing that the limited number of options available would all be busy, and opted for Gardyloo Gully as a route neither of them had done.
Ben Nevis's dusting of snow was making it look the part on the way in and looking up Observatory Gully we could see teams already hard at play. We kitted up and began the long walk up the Gully. There were teams on Observatory Ridge, Tower Scoop, Smiths Route and Good Friday Climb. No-one was braving the very thin looking Indicator wall...
...but people were definitely missing a trick by not getting onto the fat cascade to the right of Tower Gully.
We slotted into the queue on Gardyloo wanting a good few pitches and soon the guys were into the swing of things. It got a little busy at the chockstone where some parties were taking the thin ice on the right. We opted to worm under the stone and up the tunnel that someone has put a great deal of energy into digging up behind it- a great wee pitch :-) Then Scott popped us out the top of the Gully in one more pitch.
We'd had some short, sharp snow showers that had led to a little sloughing but there had also been the odd glimpse of blue sky through the murk overhead.
We decided to look at some options for getting students down Tower Gully and constructed a snow bollard. Then Scott belayed me and Simon down before abseiling down to join us. Simon took over using another snow anchor to belay Scott and I down another pitch.
As we dropped down the cloud broke and we got a little blue sky and some great views of folk out on Smiths and Tower Scoop.

Again some bizarre ropework going on. What benefit is there to staying roped up to traverse with no gear and 50-60m of rope out across the steep snow from the top of Tower Scoop to Good Friday?? If one slips they pull the other off.... and then even if they recover they'll get pulled off as no. 2 yanks on them and so on until they end in a heap at the bottom of Observatory Gully. And worse they'll cheesewire anyone else below them off very effectively. It takes seconds to untie and take coils / stow the rope in a rucksack and then you'll probably make up the time by not having to manage that great long length of rope between you as you traverse??? I just don't get it? If someone does need the protection of the rope as they can't cope with that snow slope then giving them false confidence like that is not a great option?
Finally as we walked out it was interesting to look up into Coire na Ciste where North Gully (a waterfall yesterday) was a clearly complete line of white today. Ok its probably really soft where the gap was but it looks very different from yesterday.

Friday 16 March 2012

Just a dusting...

Compare with last weekend's picture....
Susie in a hole with just a dusting of snow around
Direct Belay
Topping out
Cracks around the top of No. 5
Cornices and cracks around the top of No.4
Today I was out with 3 students from West Highland College's School of Adventure Studies looking at mountaineering skills. I'd wondered about going up a gully but last nights torrential rain and this morning's showers just didn't make me want to stand around all day with cornices and steep rock above me so we went to Ledge Route instead. We caught a very light snow shower that put down a very cosmetic dusting of snow- exactly as forecast- but overall the snow has continued to recede over the last week. Topping out we followed the fracture lines around the cornices on No. 5 and headed to top of No. 4 which we descended briskly.
People were off to have a look at Tower Scoop but there were a lot of stream running over the rock today. The promised cooler conditions at the weekend will only briefly stave off the inevitable end that it is nigh for winter... good luck to the pilgrims heading for the CIC today and those booked in next week.

Wednesday 14 March 2012

More filming... a tiny bit more winter to come???

Jake protecting the camera from the wind
Well i'm no Greg Boswell but I spent the last day of my 'winter' season at Glenmore Lodge I was again at Kingussie with Jake getting some footage for the Lodge website.
I hate seeing myself on film so I was cringing watching and listening to myself to check what he had already edited from yesterday.
An unexpected bonus day off tomorrow and then out on Ben Nevis friday and saturday.... on more shot at winter??

Tuesday 13 March 2012

Spring sprung...?

Yesterday 2 of the non instructional staff at Glenmore Lodge climbed Magic Crack (HVS) as a rock route in Coire an t Sneachda. They reported it cold but dry.... Today Tower Ridge was being climbed on rock and a little spring snow...
Meanwhile I was filming some rock climbing tips for the Lodge website at Kingussie Crag...
Is it all over? Maybe? Certainly I'm starting to turn my attention to a spring of SPA, CWA, Guiding in Greenland, Skye Cuillin trips and... oh yes... a new baby at the end of May.... mustn'tremember that.
The picture below is from the great Movement Workshop I did with Johnny Dawes at TCA Glasgow before Christmas. it was taken by talented photographer Jen Randall and shows us attempting some of the 'stone monkey's' problems.

Monday 12 March 2012


"If we will be quiet and ready enough, we shall find compensation in every disappointment" Henry David Thoreau
Easy to say but harder to believe for the candidates on the Winter Mountain Leader Assessment course at Glenmore Lodge that we were forced to cancel this morning. Looking up at the hill it had become obvious that there are insufficient winter conditions to run a full winter assessment so the decision was taken. Although it is for the good of the candidates and the Award it doesn't make it any easier to swallow for those who have worked hard this winter to prepare for it.
They were offered a free training day on the hill today and so I ended up walking into Coire an Lochain with 4 students today. we talked about a progression in walking skills using snow patches on the walk in before using the twin burns area to look at some security on steep ground skills in ascent and descent.
A fine spring day.

Saturday 10 March 2012

Mountaineering in the ming

James on the slab
Kenny and the Italian hitch
Kenny running it out on easy ground
And another direct belay
Topping out
Mountaineering ropework skills today for Kenny and James. We went to Ben Nevis where it was mild with a little very light drizzle. We climbed Ledge Route (snow is broken on the slab but there is more than I expected) and descended No.4 Guuly looking at a variety of strategies for looking after each other on the route.
There was plenty of evidence of big wet snow avalanches in both No.4 and No.5 from the last day or so. Mild and springlike again :-(