Friday 29 June 2012

Licensing a change of heart from HSE. A chance for something better after all?

Letter released today:

Health and Safety Executive 
Redgrave Court 
Merton Road 
L20 7HS

29 June 2012 

Dear Provider
We have decided to pause the proposal to abolish the AALA while we consider further how we develop a regulatory regime that reflects the level of risk of taking part in adventure activities while ensuring that users are reassured about a provider’s safety management arrangements.
During the consultation last year on future arrangements, concerns were raised around how to reassure users of an activity provider's safety standards. The issue of inconsistency was also mentioned – some activities are licensed while other very similar activities are not.
We now plan to consult further on this issue later this year; you will of course have the opportunity to influence future arrangements.
As a provider of adventure activities, you should continue on the basis of it being 'business-as-usual' and ensure you have a valid licence to deliver the activities within scope of the current arrangements. Following the consultation and as any changes are implemented, we will keep you informed of any developments and any transitional arrangements that need to be put in place.
The legislation that gives licensing its legal base is devolved to Scotland and Wales and we understand that the devolved administrations have decided to retain licensing in its current form. We will work with them as we develop future arrangements.
Yours sincerely

So it seems that the fact that every other Home Nation decided that HSE in England's approach was a poor one may have resulted in a rethink. Good news!

Thursday 28 June 2012

Licensing, anchors and injury inspiration

So the debate about what to replace AALA with rumbles on.
So far Northern Ireland looks set to go Adventuremark. Wales wants a retention of something based on AALA and Scotland today has plumped for the same but it will be its own scheme. So to quote John Cousins "Things are about as bad as the could be". With each home nation effectively going its own way. There is a suggestion that one central register could be created under the auspices of AAIAC pulling together anyone with a third part accreditation but, shame to say it, it feels like an opportunity has been missed to create NATIONAL, 3rd PARTY ACCREDITTED, ALL ACTIVITY, ALL CLIENT, ALL SIZE of PROVIDER scheme. Oh well... lets see how complex things can get.
Sorry if that sounds cynical. I'm just a little negative about the whole thing.
Scotland to keep AALA
A National Register as a way ahead?

The UIAA have been doing further work on the corrosion of bolted anchors and have released a safety notice here. The BMC summary is here.

Finally a great wee video of injury not preventing training. Look out for gems at 02:16, 03:05 and 03:31. And some baaaad dancing at the end :-)

Broken Toe... from Tops Off 4POWER on Vimeo.

Tuesday 26 June 2012

Racing the rain, a loose block and a cool video

Alan and I were out today for a day's rock climbing. With plenty of experience of slabby rock recently we went to the east face of Aonach Dubh to remind him of a different rock type and some steeper ground. We started with Eve's Arete, only VDiff but the traverse on pitch two usually gets the heart going and didn't disappoint today.
We weren't alone at the crag today; there was an MIA training course from Glenmore Lodge on the crag too but we were still able to climb routes that Alan hadn't down before.
After Eve's, where Alan got the opportunity to place a little gear and build a some belays for himself, we headed to Quiver Rib. Again  although its only a Diff it really packs a punch at the grade with super situations, steep rock and greg big holds.
We had planned to abseil down using the block at the top of Arrow Wall that has been a longstanding anchor used for descent. This year it has got particularly rattly and i wasn't the only one to decide it was no longer justifiable to abseil from today. So we walked back down to the lower tier just as the rain started. We then dropped down to the trees at the top of Drainpipe Corner and used them to get back to our kit.
The rain was light as we reached the car and got serious as we headed for home... perfect timing!

Here is a great video trailer from Arc'teryx for a film of Ines Papert... her son and an expedition in Kyrgyzstan... itchy feet anyone?

TyndĂ˝k · Trailer from Franz Walter on Vimeo.

Thursday 21 June 2012

Dry weather, Skye Sculptures, Helmets, BDQC and the Adventure Show

Having a few days off with the family and it looks like the timing might be good given the weather forecast. We have however had a great summer so far; it has been particularly dry this year and crags, moors and lochs have all been showing it.

Spotted that the Skye Sculpture Group have started tweeting. These folks have been improving the view of Sgurr Nan Gillean at Sligachan and are raising money for a statue of the iconic Skye mountaineers John Mackenzie and Norman Collie. Good work.

If you haven't seen it this video from the BMC gives an open, balanced and informative view of why they think wearing helmets is a good idea:

Whilst you do hear the argument that studies of skiers show that people may take more risks when wearing a helmet I personally believe that the benefits of modern helmets outweigh any negatives and try to buy one that I don't even  notice I'm wearing. I'm all in favour of assessing whether you need to wear one or not and given the amount of climbing I do in the mountains or at busy crags I probably wear one about 95% of the time.

The Black Diamond QC lab have more good advice on the lifetime of your climbing gear here.

The Adventure Show was back on BBC 2 Scotland last night. Definitely one of the best things on telly these days. Watch it on inlayer here. I especially enjoyed the bit where Cameron McNeish did the via ferratta on the Ponoch. I've done it a few times now and its a great value half day out. Here is a picture of a group I took up it a couple of years back:

And finally... some stunning images here from the Travel photographer of the year competition.

Tuesday 19 June 2012

A short walk in the west...

Glen Quoich
Camp 2
Walking along Loch Hourn
Golden ringed dragonfly
View from the Mam Barrisdale
Heath spotted orchid on the Mam Barrisdale
Group approaching the Mam Barrisdale
Boat home from Inverie
 I've spent the last few days walking from Laggan Lochs to Inverie on Knoydart assessing a Gold Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme group from The Glasgow Academy. I was looking forward to an opportunity to stretch my legs shadowing the group of 7 girls with a decent sized pack on.
The first night we were out was spent next to the River Garry after a mild day of constant drizzle. The dull weather and lack of wind brought out a veritable biblical plague of midges  that had us all diving into tents sooner rather than later. Sandy Paterson was camped with another team a short way away and I walked past his tent in the morning to find it literally caked in midges (shudder).
The team were glad their route took them away from the trees and onto higher ground in Glen Loy and Glen Quoich giving a more pleasant second night.
The third day saw us dropping to Kinloch Hourn (visiting the welcome Tea Room) in stunning sunshine before walking the rolling coastal path to Barrisdale.
The team did the maths and wanted to be certain of making their boat from Inverie so they were up at 0430(!) to start their walk. After seeing them at Mam Barrisdale I went for a walk up Luinnhe Bheinn before dropping down to the small town and a fine lunch of scallops at The Old Forge Inn.
A grand trip with deer, heron, buzzards, dragonflies and frogs, heath spotted and bog orchids galore, sunshine, rain and, of course culicoides impunctatus!
Just a few midges
What it should look like
What it looked like
Is my thermal thick enough?

Friday 15 June 2012

SPA Day 2 and BMC FUNdas video clip

Congratulations to the 3 candidates I had on Assessment for the last 2 days who all passed. We went to Duntelchaig today, a new crag for all of them, so we began the day with a little climbing before moving on to how we would use the crag with different types of groups of novices.

I saw this video from Katherine Schirmacher of a recent BMC Fundamentals of Climbing day she ran. I provide these course through the MCofS in Scotland. If you are interested in attending a course please contact: Kevin Howett
Also coming soon from the BMC will be the Rock Climbing Essentials video. Here is a clip from Jon Garside of the filming.

Thursday 14 June 2012

SPA Assessment, moderate moderation and a closed bridge.

Spent today on the first day of an SPA Assessment at Kingussie Crag. Despite it being busy (2 groups of 10, my 3 candidates, Bill and his 2 students from Glenmore Lodge) sensible working and discussion meant the day went well and no-one really noticed the other teams.
Today George McEwan the Executive Officer of Mountain Training Scotland was out to observe, or 'moderate' my Assessment to ensure that i'm delivering the syllabus and assessing candidates in an appropriate manner. Haven't had the written report yet but all the verbal feedback was good. It was a thouroughly non threatening experience too- much the way I try to pitch my Assessments- and George got to go climbing.
Finally if you are heading to Glencoe be aware that the bridge directly into the Lost Valley is to be shut for a while. News here on the MCofS website.
If any of you are single and looking for a job in outdoor education have a look at this advert. Not a huge salary but single food and accommodation included.

Wednesday 13 June 2012

I may be no oil painting but...

I took Bill up Tower ridge in 2010 and we've stayed in touch since then (plans are afoot for a good mountaineering day in his 70th year). I was gobsmacked when I got home from Glasgow to find he'd done an oil painting from a picture on the day for me. Thanks Bill... now where to put it....

Tuesday 12 June 2012

SPA Day 2 and changes at Auchinstarry

Day 2 of the SPA training and the guys were rigging different setups and looking at problem avoidance and solution and managing groups at Auchinstarry Quarry.
The Council have been 'stabilising' the rock (prying bits they assessed as loose off) here regularly for some years and recently completed a major landscaping job at the crag. They have removed most of the soil and the old dry stone walls at the top of the crag leaving a steeply angled bank (this will erode and become even more slippery when wet than at present). They've opened up a lot of the left hand side of the carpark area (a lot of loose rock here, abseil inspection may be wise before leading). They've added a new bolt to the top of the promontory area and removed all of the old stakes (watch your step getting down the other side to the trees, very loose exposed slide to get to them with a substantial drop beneath). There are quite a lot of small pieces of loose rock at the top of the routes Tar, Anarchist, Scream and the Access Diff (the tree is gone from the latter too).

It will all bed down after a bit of use and some weathering. Then being dolerite which seems to be layered like onion skin the surface rock will loosen again and the Council will have another go at it!

SPA training Day 1 and the new MT CMS

Down in Glasgow directing an SPA Training at the moment. Day 1 was at a damp and midgey Neilston Quarry.
The all new Mountain Training Candidate Management System is now live! If you are registered for any of the Awards then register by accessing as an 'Existing Candidate'. You will then fill in the fields to create a profile. You need you Registration Number.

Sunday 10 June 2012

Soggy sunday

The 'view' at the CIC Hut
A very different day today. David and I had planned to do Tower Ridge but after a very misty walk in to the CIC and drizzle and driechness building we opted for a good chat and a walk around the north face and Coire na Ciste instead.

Saturday 9 June 2012

Tower Ridge and Ledge Route

Today Gareth and I went to Ben Nevis for a mountaineering day. He was keen to see some mountaineering rope work tools he had read about in action on Tower Ridge, one of the routes on his hit list.
With fine weather we had a good day out ahead of the crowds on our route. As we climbed up the side of the Great Tower we were even treated to a piper on the summit. The top was busy and with almost no wind at all there were a few midges on the summit plateau.
To make the fullest use of the day we came down Ledge Route abseiling the gritty slab and kicking steps down the remaining snow in No. 5 Gully.

Friday 8 June 2012

CWLA today

Today I was working at Glasgow Climbing Centre directing a Climbing Wall Leading Award training course. A good interesting and fun course to work. Back on Ben Nevis tomorrow.

Thursday 7 June 2012

Grand old Duke of York on Tower Ridge

Tower Ridge today working for West Coast Mountain Guides. Bruce and Ian aspire to doing the Cuillin Ridge themselves so today was a training day looking at protecting themselves with good mountaineering work whilst ascending and descending. So we went up the Ridge to the plateau... then came back down it again too (hitting the CIC hut just as the first shower came through).

Tuesday 5 June 2012

Walking in the Cairngorms, summer snow and Crystal Ridge

 Looking back down Crystal Ridge and over to Derry Cairngorm
 Name that plant...
Team at the top
After my day's work at Glenmore Lodge the next morning I headed from the Cairngorm car park in to Coire an t Sneachda and up the Goat Track. After the warm spell it was a shock to see the fresh snow on the tops and even more to be snowed on... in June...! I saw several ptarmigan, still partially in their winter garb and 3 dotterel who sat still as I passed nearby.
I was heading over to meet a party from The Ice Factor. One of the leaders of the group is a trainee instructor there and as part of my role as Technical Advisor I was to observe him at work to help with his development. 
I dropped down into the Loch Avon basin in cold weather passing a pair of slightly forlorn climbers staring up at a very wet Hells Lum (never the fastest drying card and positively dripping today). Then it was on and up to Loch Etchachan to catch up with the group. 
After walking in as a large team the day before over Ben Macdhui the 2 teams I was meeting had each done 1 of Beinn Mheadhoin or Derry Cairngorm from their camp that morning. No they were swapping over and not wanting to crown Andy I listened to him briefing the team and after following them to the lip of Coire Sputan Dearg I dropped into the Coire to solo Crystal Ridge as they submitted the peak. 
Crystal Ridge is a grand wee Diff I last climbed on a damp day about 15 years ago. Today it was cold but fairly dry and pleasant up until the last pitch which is loose and requires care. Historically the route was one of the first times early Cairngorm climbers abandoned gully and chimney lines and took to the more exposed buttresses as they realised there was good rock climbing to be had.
We linked up again and the group struck camp and we made our way down to the head of Loch Avon via the Shelter Stone. Then it was along the north side of the Loch, below the Saddle, to the Fords of Avon. The refuge there is in great condition after its rebuild last year. The last mile of the path is boggy and unpleasant but the shores of Loch avon were a riot of colour with trailing azalea, wild strawberries and butterwort all in flower.
After a comfortable camp one part of the team headed over Bynack Mor whilst Andy's group headed for the saddle before following the path from there up onto the flanks of Cairngorm and then to the summit. More fresh snow on the tops and showers this morning. A good job from Andy, he helped the group lead themselves down off the hill and we caught a bus to meet the others in the sun at the excellent cafe Mor@Glenmore. Well done to him on a good job and the scouts we were out with for a good trip taking in a number of the Cairngorms' finest peaks.