Friday 28 February 2014

A day about not getting avalanched and what to do if someone else is!

Ben Nevis today. Pretty wild and wintery. On the hill practical element of the Avalanche Course for UHI students today. Trams on NE Buttress, Castle Ridge, SW Ridge of the Douglas Boulder, Curtain Rail, Waterfall Gully, someone headed to the Minus Face but came back down. Snow still deep and unconsolidated.
 What are these
 Here they are again
 The 'Pit Boss' shovel
 Digging a hole to bury someone in
 Check that snow out!
Boy in a hole
 Girl buried in a hole
 Probe strike
 Digging at the second site
 First casualty found
Digging them out
 14 minutes for probing around clues and digging 2 casualties out from 1.5m down in hard debris… guys are gasping with reason!

 The ribena test shows the icey layer clearly
 …and the graupel layer above too
 Ben Nevis still buried
But a successful day for us!

Thursday 27 February 2014

Avalanche awareness theory

Delivering some theory sessions on Avalanche Awareness at UHI today prior to a day on the hill tomorrow.
We based everything on the AAP and looked at weather forecast options, the SAIS site, terrain issues and human factors. We had human avalanches down the stairs, some scary videos and some Oscar winning dramatic sketches to illustrate heuristic traps.
This afternoon we discussed and looked at some videos of different stability and propagation tests and some 'what if scenarios' before planning a good route based on a forecast.
Team are raring to go do it for real tomorrow now!
 Dramatic scenes illustrating heuristic traps
Checking the slope angle with the scale on the AAP Leaflet

Wednesday 26 February 2014

A day on the wall

A mixed bag of things to cover for students from UHI at The Ice Factor. For  change it looked grim outside.
 Fast paced warmup
 A bit slower… and dafter
 A sailor goes climbing
Learning about leading
A rarity… trad leading indoors!

Tuesday 25 February 2014

Day trip to Torridon

12 hours door to door… 6 and a half hours car to car… less than 2 hours climbing… Might not seem a very good ratio but it was worth it.
Rich and I had a rare thing in common today. A day free to go climbing in February! A quick forecast check said 'Torridon' to us. Not the shortest drive and a shrinking weather window meant we needed a quick route. Neither of us had done George before so at 0 dark o'clock we left Corpach for the sunny NW.
Lots of impressive full depth avalanche stains/scars passing through Glen Shiel and then the promised sunshine in Torridon. We had a chat with Gary in the car park who described great snow conditions in Coire an t Sneachda yesterday then headed off.
Glen Shiel avalanches
High above though the wind was howling and as we hit the watershed below our Coire we were knocked down by gusts sounding like express trains as they approached. Then there was the snow… soft and deep through the boulder fields until we hit footprints refrozen in the Coire floor (yours from yesterday PJ? Cheers).
A good start
Looking great
What's not to like?
Heading into George
The sun was still shining as we soloed our way up to a belay below the new chockstone and although there was not a lot of gear I was just happy to be leading a winter climb again! (Soloing II or following others up routes is never the same)
Our first belay after a wee solo
The new chockstone pitch- not much gear but enough ice to climb today
Rich dwarfed by the view
Pulling over the steepening
The snow was still a little soft and occasional spindrift avalanches had swept away any trace of previous passage but there was plenty enough reasonable ice today. Rich set off on the regular Crux pitch just as the weather turned. By the time it was time for me to climb I was waist deep in spindrift and unable to look upwards- a nice contrast to my pitch! I made sure every zip and tab was closed and climbed. After  spluttering out a few mouthfuls of snow and spending most of my time looking down at my feet and feeling blindly with axes I emerged just below the top at a belay.
Rich's pitch before the weather turned
Great climbing
A shot taken between spindrift waves following Rich's pitch
Belay just below the top, weather improving again
Snowy Rich
Soon we were coiling ropes and hustling down the N Ridge to wade out of the Coire.
Is that a deep bit Rich?
Soggy thrash back to the car

I made my date for dinner and a bed time story for Sandy!

Monday 24 February 2014

Masses of debris, mentoring and LMRT busy again

Today I was up Ben Nevis giving a friend some advice on his work with students whilst working towards his MIC Assessment. There is no formal mentoring scheme in place for MIC Trainees and many find themselves working for businesses before they have passed to gain experience. I used to try to just give friends advice but have now formalised things a bit as the only way I can guarantee that I can create time to really focus attention on any 'mentees' is to make it a professional relationship where I'm paid for my time and expertise and book days out with them like other work in my diary.
Today we took Tim and Giles round to the west side of the Douglas Boulder where Tim led the West Gully with Jamie close by and Giles got to grips with seconding. We then abseiled down the east side of the Gap.
Davie was there checking out Fawlty Towers (hollow and very cruddy) so he swam up the SW Ridge of the Douglas Boulder instead. We saw or spoke to parties heading for Waterfall Gully, Observatory Ridge, The Curtain, Tower Ridge, Boomer's Requiem and Ledge Route. But its all pretty soft and horrid guys… still well buried all over Ben Nevis. And the debris!
The number and sizes of avalanches that have kicked off over the weekend is frighteningly impressive. There are enormous trails of debris below Observatory Gully, No.2 Gully, No. 4 Gully, No. 5 Gully and the Castle Coire and Ridge. As well as many small sloughs we saw more substantial avalanche activity today on the Trident Buttress and the east and west flanks of Tower Ridge and of course a party got avalanched in Coire Leis going a very long way and resulting in serious head injuries for an unfortunate lady- best of luck and good wishes to those involved. Again Lochaber MRT were on the case handling this and a simultaneous job. We saw Rescue 177 drop them off and the team streaming up to the rescue. Well done all involved.
Feel free to support them… whether its your change in a local pub in a collection box, the webpage: or by buying some merchandise to show your support . As you may have seen on some of the online news sources at the weekend Rescue Team funding compares unfavourably with the weekly salary of some sporting 'stars'- beggars belief really...
Debris below Observatory Gully
Digging out a runner
Davie off for a swim
Tim on the sharp end
Is that butterfly stroke Davie?
SW Ridge under deep snow
 Giles topping out
 Debris everywhere
 Tim heading down
Debris under Observatory Gully LMRT on the way in in the background