Monday 30 September 2013


A few years ago I headed up to Creag Ghlas in Strathconon with Jamie B. It was grey, humid and the sweat, cleds and midges made the approach a misery. A broken hold as he led the first pitch of some VS and we were both keen to retreat but the return to the crag has long been on my mind.
Today I persuaded Scott it would be a good idea and we headed north in sunny weather. Its a quick bike ride from the car park to below the crags but the walk in hasn't got any less steep. 250m of sweaty ascent (and a few ticks on Scotts trousers- he went first) and we were at the base of Salamander HVS/VS 4c,4c,5a/5b,4c,4b (SMC Northern Highlands Central Guide pitches).
Although the crag is broken by heather ledges the pitches in between are of mostly immaculate schist (just watch out for the odd loose flake). A long first pitch of well protected climbing leads to a wee ledge before the next pitch takes a wall with a slightly run out upper section. If you take the 5a variation as we did the crux is very short and well protected before pitch 4 which led me by way of blank slab and an undercut flake into a great corner. The finish is out of keeping with the rest of the climb appearing much steeper from below but it turns out to be pretty juggy the whole way out coming in at 4b the easiest pitch on the route.
It was windy but sunny all day and the climbing was great and typical of highland schist with ripples, edges, quartz knobbles and the odd bigger ledge to use. I was glad I'd taken a double set of cams as they were all used along with a few wires. Great climbing and great weather- stunning views to Ben Eighe and Torridon.
After a knee busting descent we were back on the bikes less than half an hour from the base of the crag. Top day!
 Swift ride in
 Spot the ticks
 Starting pitch 1
 Looking down as I start pitch 2
 Above the run out wall
 End of pitch 2
 Scott just through the crux on pitch 3
 looking doon the Glen
 Past the undercut flake and into the corner on pitch 4
 Scott on pitch 4
 That was mint!
 Pitch 5
 A bit steeper
Walking off with views west

Sunday 29 September 2013

Happy days, sunny Polldubh problem solving CPD

Today was a second day of running a CPD session for AMI members on improvised rescue and problem solving in Glen Nevis. Today I was working with Alex and Iain (who I haven't seen since we shared a Glasgow bedsit in 1992!).
It was another day to remind you why Scotland is one of the best places in the world to live. Sunny and warm out of the midge blasting breeze. We climbed up and down 3 multi pitch routes discussing good practise and situations when we would use assisted and unassisted hoists, lowering and abseiling past knots, escaping the system, retreating from a route, use of guide plates including tangle free climbing as a three and how to release them under load. We were also discussing how we could build a progression to make novices skilful in applying these techniques.
There was even time to look at self lining set ups. It was great to see lots of people in the Glen including colleagues rom UHI with their family, Scott, Davie and Willie Gorman (click on the link to see the video of him climbing with John Cunningham on the Cobbler- he's still going strong and instructing at Glasgow Climbing Centre in his retirement from teaching).
 In the sun
 Complete faith...
 in The Alp
 'Over there?'
 Now get out of that!
 Not a bad day...
 Happy CPDers
Even met the family at Lower Falls after work (yes, thats my gillet)

Saturday 28 September 2013

AMI Improvised Rescues Workshop

Today I was working with 4 full members of AMI on a CPD workshop based around what to do if it all goes pear shaped on the crag. The aim of the day was to refresh and revisit personal skills but also to share idea and experiences of how we would teach these skills to both recreational climbers and those moving through the instructional awards. It was was warm and sunny in Glen Nevis and the handful of early midges were soon sent to ground by the bright sun.
We discussed our personal aims for the day and then looked at our own experiences of using various techniques to deal with climbing problems. Then at the crag we climbed a few pitches looking at common problems and what the building blocks would be to teach others to enable them to solve them. We examined various shiny bits of kit during the day but always came back to what you could do with the ever versatile 6mm prusik loop!
Nice to feel warm sun on my back and hot rock under my hands today and thanks to Hannah, Mungo, Simon and Matt for their contributions. I was so busy that the camera remained on the ground all day but more of the same tomorrow... and more sunshine!

Friday 27 September 2013

A long time coming... Coaching Awards in Climbing. What's not to like?

Many years ago I did a BMC FUNdamentals of Climbing Course at Alien Rock in Edinburgh. At the time I was working as an instructor at Glasgow Climbing Centre and the day was a little epiphany for me. People were there to talk about WHAT we could to help people climb better... not just safer as was the focus of all the Mountain Training Awards at the time.
The next epiphany was at a Coaching Processes Course for Climbers at Plas Y Brenin where my mind was blown by the discovery that there was a whole body of knowledge on HOW to help people progress. There was so much to take in that I went and did the similar course at Glenmore Lodge later on as a reminder and another look at this enormous topic.
Fast forwards a few years and I'm a CWA provider, the first MT Award to really refer directly to the importance of an understanding of climbing movement at a basic level, a CWLA provider and we can't teach leading without understanding the movement involved and the positioning of the body to make clips and find rest effectively, a Staff Member on MIA trainings running entire days on coaching as a Mountain Instructor and an MCofS FUNdamentals 1 and 2 provider helping other think about that 'what' to coach in beginner and intermediate climbing movement. Coaching in walls is now a mainstream activity and the Symposiums, Academies, Results of Squads at all levels and climbs outdoors by 'wall bred' climbers are showing how beneficial it can be.
Now MT have finally created an Award for those who want to explore more about the 'how' to Coach. After years of development involving a cast of many (including over the years but not certainly not limited to Scott Muir, Neil Gresham, Dave Macleod, Mark Reeves, Kev Howett, Graeme Morrison, Ian 'Squawk' Dunn, Jon Garside, other members of the Coaching Management and Technical Groups, Steve Long, Tom Greenall and finally Martin Chester to bring it all together) we have the first 2 of a 3 part Award scheme almost ready to go.
For the last 2 days a group of the first providers (including talented Coaches, Trainers and Climbers all with their own strengths to bring to the table) have been learning about the Awards at Manchester Climbing Centre and working through the Foundation and Development Stages of the Award looking at how we will deliver and Assess it.
Its pretty exciting to be part of and looking around the room I was asking what am I doing at the tables with UK Squad Coaches like Ian Dunn and Tom Greenall, James McHaffie, Chris Forrest (Mountain Guide and Level 5 Paddlesports Coach who ran my MIA Training many years ago and is head coach of the N Wales Climbing Academy), Guy Jarvis (the man who created NICAS), Paul Smith (he of 'Climbing Games' authorship), Katherine Schirrmacher, Andy Swann (30 years of climbing experience and one of the first British Lead Squad members) and Professional Coaches like John Kettle and Robbie Phillips. The amazing thing is many of this team was looking around wondering the same thing, all perceiving the strengths of others in the room.
There is a good deal of cynicism about the 'C word' in the climbing world. But bear in mind that you have some of the most experienced coaches in the UK asking other providers if they can undergo the Assessment of these Awards themselves to learn from the experience. There are many experienced 'instructors' who don't see what they will gain from such knowledge. Open your mind. None of us ever knows it all. If I ever stopped learning I'd give up instructing/coaching/teaching and that's something that wont happen because there will always be something new to explore. That's one of the reasons I love it. As someone said to me of learning more about coaching 'which part of learning to do your job better don't you like?.
Its not all about competitions and the top end. Every person introduced to climbing deserves a chance to fulfil their potential as a climber, to go as far as they want to and are capable of going with it. I believe that if the person introducing them (and these days, like it or not, the first experience of most is at the wall- often under instruction) has a good grounding in what and how to coach beginners there is a much greater chance of the novice having a happy, healthy, successful (whatever that means to them) lifelong climbing career. That solid coaching foundation is going to feed up the way beyond those who stay in the wall, to those pushing sport and trad climbing outdoors and those competing at the highest levels.
Lots of work to do. The format of the Awards is quite different from the existing Awards and running the Coaching Foundation and Development Courses is going to present a raft of challenges and learning experiences for the provider team.
Bring it on!

No apologies if this all sounds a bit 'gushing'. I'm psyched that's all!

Thursday 26 September 2013

Climbing Coaching Awards

Spending 2 days at Manchester Climbing Centre with the team from Mountain Training and BMC and over a dozen talented coaches for our induction to provide the new Coaching Climbing Awards. Lots of top chat on what and how to deliver these Awards from all present led and facilitated by Martin Chester. If the FUNdamentals courses are about WHAT to coach these Awards will be HOW to coach. Its been a loooong time coming but climbing coaching for the mainstream coach has arrived! Now there  are new courses for me to work hard at getting good at delivering.
Really excited to have been chosen as 1 of only 3 Scottish providers in round 1 along with Jon Jones of Glenmore Lodge and Robbie Phillips.

Tuesday 24 September 2013

Indoor leading training for Abernethy Trust

Had a grand day at Abernethy Trust in Ardgour (who have a great wee climbing wall- fabulous use of space) teaching a group of their junior staff to lead indoors. James and Cameron who were on the CWLA Training I ran last week came along to help and gain some some hands on experience (thankyou guys).
We looked at a variety of drills to help them develop their climbing movement to a point where everyone could achieve rests and clipping competently and also played games to introduce lead belaying, looked at taking falls etc.
A great enthusiastic bunch of Trainee Instructors. Well done to them entering the world of climbing on the sharp end!

Monday 23 September 2013

The early bird...

... gets some dry rock for Dave's SPA Reassessment. Congratulations. There were a few midges around but we got enough dry rock to assess his personal climbing which he was unable to do previously owing to illness.
More article writing this afternoon...

Sunday 22 September 2013

Warm and wet scrambling in Glencoe

Second day out with the Hebridean Pursuits team and we started up the Zigzags in Glencoe in that moist, damp air that makes you sweat in just about any clothing. The route is still showing the rock scar clearly from the rock fall over a year or so back and there is still plenty of loose stuff on a short section early in the route. We carried on along the ridge and the team were psyched despite poor weather so we took in Stob Coire Nan Lochan too. Well done to them and cheers to Andy for the work!

 (Nostoc cyanobacteria swollen up after the rains)

Saturday 21 September 2013

Escaping the rain on Buachaille Etive Mor

Working with a school group and Andy and Adrian from Hebridean Pursuits today. We were lucky with the weather taking them up Lagangarbh Buttress on the Buachaille and getting down before the rain came on.
A sociable day then as we bumped into Bill at the Clachaig (important part of group's mountaineering education) and then I was at a wee get together for Alan at the Lime Tree tonight.