Sunday 31 December 2017

3 minutes of the best of 2017

Winter, summer and winter again... indoor walls and trips to northern Namibia and Eastern Greenland. Another great year. Here is a 3 minute video of some of my favourite images and clips from the last year. Have a cracking 2018 folks... see you on a crag or a hill!

Tuesday 28 November 2017

Day 2 in the big white wonderland

Today I'd inveigled Jon into another esoteric (don't you love some words- let the 2nd half of it flip off of your tongue... no?) venue and we made the hike up to Mullach nan Coirean's easternmost coire. There are some steep routes on the main buttress and many years ago Jamie and I scraped up the only thing in nick that day a IV,4 called Kid Gloves. There is a very short Grade 3 scramble in the coire noted in Lochaber Scrambles and a couple of other ridges that Mike Pescod mentions in the Cicerone Guide might give sport. That's what I fancied today, pinning my hopes on an accurate freezing level.
Its a bit of a flog up the path cutting the zigzags next to the Allt a Choire Dheirg as forestry work has left lots of brashings and churned ground in the area but nonetheless just over 2 hours from the car and we had chosen the crest of the northern main buttress as our objective.
The rubble and flat turf wasn't great as we started so I suggested a steep groove full of thin flakes for some snowed up rock left of the crest (easy for me to suggest, Jon was leading). This of course turned out to be less positive than it looked from below but there was protection and Jon's incredible 'go-go' gadget leg levered him up onto a ledge 20m above me for him to endure an epic bout of hot aches as the rocks rimed in front of me. Not one to hog the glory he brought me up to get some climbing (and clearing) in up the last of the steeper ground. I headed on another 30m over a few small walls to where the angle really eased back enjoying plenty of better frozen turf and rimed rocks. We dropped the rope here and the last 80-100m of Grade II were very reminiscent of Golden Oldy's easier bits.
We topped out onto the ridge joining Mullach Nan Coirean to Stob Ban and were soon wading along its crest cursing as we stumbled on buried granite blocks. Finally rather than head up to descend Stob Ban's N ridge via its Grade I step we dropped into its NW coire, past the headwaters of the stream to traverse onto the ridge lower down pleased to be on more scoured ground now.
Has the ridge been climbed before? Quite possibly. The right hand side of the crest had an easier powder filled gully but our left hand start gave us some good sport and the feeling of the unknown that is what its all about-so I don't mind one way or the other.
 Walking in... better than expected
 Our route started at the toe of the closer buttress and climbed rocky grooves this side of the crest
 Jon sets off
 "Climb over there Jon, it looks good!"
 Following at exactly the same point as the last shot
 Above the fun bit Jon left for me
Weather socking in a bit, Jon just below where last shot was taken from, rime building
 Easier ground
 Rope away
 Tower at the top
 Stepping down
Our line on the crest of the closer buttress seen from Glen Nevis

Monday 27 November 2017

An interrupted journey and the whitehouse.

The first route of winter is always an occasion. Today i was treated to a grand day out with 2 good mates, Jamie and Iain and some great snowy winter conditions. I enjoy the classics when in good condition but scratching around on Cairngorm Granite before the buildup or Ben ice routes with no ice are something I no longer look forwards to early season- and I don't climb hard enough to jump on to harder mixed routes as my first of the season- so I often go looking for a good mountaineering route or a little esoterica.
I've had my eye on the routes on the climbers right of the East Ridge of Carn Dearg Mheadhonach for a couple of years but conditions didn't coincide with time and partners. Having mentioned it to friends I noted that Scott and dave had been through a similar thought process a few days ago. I had little difficulty in persuading my pair of partners for today that it might be worth a punt.
The walk in was cold and the snow mid calf deep, occasionally worse and crusty and it wasn't until 1130 that we were in position to abseil down from the notch at the top of the ridge. From here we floundered and swam round to the base of "Perilous Journey" and Jamie led us up and awkward pitch to the base of a stunning slabby corner that Iain had expressed interest in. This interest waned markedly as we found the well sheltered and buried turf was both limited and distinctly 'pully'. A short investigation and a fruitless check for an alternative line and we were soon heading down again- feeling like we'd done more abseiling than climbing today. A discussion of limited daylight versus another pitch ensued and we were soon soling the way (I/II) first pitch of Casablanca. This is what Dave and Scott did recently reporting some loose rock... so it was with a little trepidation that I hauled on the hooks amongst stacked older on the knife edge. Everything held and I changed gear to push on a full rope length of good climbing (turf less sheltered here and better frozen although lots of digging still required) to the crest of the ridge before dark.
Much banter and craic *aka bullying Iain over various things- he enjoys it) and a long walk down by head torchin calm conditions. A good first day of the season! Cheers to Jamie for the pics of me climbing.
 Jamie eyeing Iain's idea of 'substantial tat'.... well he does only weigh about half as much as each of us!
 Jamie beginning our "Perilous Journey" questing for a route and gear.
 Iain setting out on the crux pitch of Perilous Journey. It apparently traverse right out of the corner higher up on "small ledges' and with "thin moves".
Discretion and all that. The gear and the turf together made the decision for us. None of us wanted this pitch so we interrupted the journey.
 Discretion and all that. The gear and the turf together made the decision for us. None of us wanted this pitch so we interrupted the journey.
Heading down again
 On the knife edge of Casablanca (The White House) wondering what's holding all these blocks in place.
Higher and a little happier
Last bit to the ridge crest and a glimpse of blue skies.

Saturday 25 November 2017

Catching up again

October is traditionally when I take some family time during the half term holidays. This year we decided to take the kids to Morocco to give them a first taste of somewhere a little more exotic than Mallorca and as adventurous as last year's canoe trip in Canada.
It was a roaring success. We spent 3 days camel trekking with our own guide and 3 camels (Sandy rode one, Jane and I had one each and Kaye rode with one of us). Then we transferred to the Atlas based in Amizmiz where an expat IML guided us in the mountains for 3 days. Kaye rode a mule this time (above some big drops- very brave) whilst the rest of us trotted along to keep up! Finally we went to Essaouira where Sandy learnt to surf from his mum whilst Kaye made it clear how she needed no help from me body boarding. We had a great trip experiencing only kindness from the Moroccans and roads that made the A82 look like a joke!
Since then I had a last little mountain work before hitting the climbing walls both personally and for a round of courses. 2 CWA trainings, a CWA Assessment, FUNdas 1,2 and 3 (and another 1 and 2 to come this week), a CWLA Training and a CWLA Assessment, a day's staff training on floor walking, 2 Foundation Coach trainings and a challenging, fascinating Development Coach Training moderated by Martin from MT. I also made my annual trip to volunteer at Mountaineering Scotland's SMART weekend for students and attended 2 Mountain Training Scotland seminars (1 on the future changes in the Climbing Awards and 1 more general one that I presented a couple of afternoon sessions at). In between I've taken every opportunity to get back in the bouldering wall at Three Wise Monkeys in Fort William for some personal fun.
Now the snow has arrived I've been waiting for sa day off to coincide with a cold spell rather than a thaw.... after the Adventure Sports Coaching Conference at Glenmore Lodge tomorrow I'll be getting my crampons back on for the first time since July in Greenland- whoopee!
 Kids at Erg Chebbi
 Not our camels
 the only one crazy enough to share it with me
 Kaye on trek
 Steep ground
 Sandy at Sidi Khaoki
 Sandy can surf
 Kaye on the body board
 CWLA Assessment
 CWLA training
 Curved Ridge
 Teaching Leading
 SMART Weekend
 FUNdas 1
 FUNdas 2
 Development Coach Training
 Foundation Coach Training
 CWA Training
 MTS Providers Seminar
 FUNdas 3
Brain dump from another Foundation Coach

Monday 2 October 2017

Mountain Hardwear Scrambler 30 Review

MH Scrambler 30 on a dry day on Buachaille Etive Mor
Over the past 2 months I’ve been testing a Mountain Hardwear Scrambler 30 Rucksack from Nevisport. It arrived just in time to accompany me as my daysack on a 4 week trip to Greenland where it was in constant use. Since then its done 17 graded scrambles in Lochaber and a navigation day in the Cairngorms. Its been tossed in planes, trains, boats, buses and cars, had a rifle strapped to it for a couple of weeks (bear protection in Greenland) and seen everything from baking sun to West Highland rain that penetrated 2 layers of waterproof jackets…. So what is the verdict?
Out of the packet:
Its bright and colourful (a colleague told me I was easy to spot in the mist the other day), simple (a minimum of gimmicks and fiddly straps) and the material feels tougher than most other waterproof bags I’ve used, especially on the lid. Although not a lightweight pack it doesn’t feel particularly heavy when empty.
 Nordvestfjord, Scoresbysund, East Greenland-1000m straight down
Tower Gap, Ben Nevis
Load carrying:
Its small for my needs. Guiding and Instructing I’ve often got food, drink, personal clothing, a group shelter, a comprehensive first aid kit, other emergency kit, map and compass, headtorch, a harness, some climbing rack and a helmet to fit inside the bag (helmets on the outside get lost or damaged too easily for me). I’m used to putting my rope inside too. So the first thing I did was start carrying my rope across my body in alpine coils and was surprised to find that, albeit with careful packing, everything else went inside with the lid closing right over. This is an important point as the rucksack is not a roll-top design so if the lid doesn’t cover the top its waterproofness will be compromised. There are side pockets on the sac but, in particular when mountaineering I prefer to keep everything inside the bag so nothing can be lost. I would only use the open side pockets when the rest of the bag was full and when it was stuffed the side pockets are too tight to fit much more than a map in. They did however take my z walking poles when being transported on the bag on the way to the start of hill days. There is a rope carrying strap on top too but similarly when the bag is full the lid is a bit too tight to fit a rope under and maintain a weatherproof seal. 
The Scrambler 30 is a lot more stable than this rock!
In use walking and scrambling it sits well on the back and I’ve never felt any discomfort when it was heavily loaded. The pack conforms well to the body and shows no inclination to swing around affecting your balance. It comes with a sleeve for a water bladder but I don’t use one (perfect for my laptop when travelling however).
Hand luggage
Descending Ledge Route on Ben Nevis
Greenland Boat Journey
Waterpoofness and durability:
The bag was initially used as hand baggage from Scotland to Iceland and beyond to East Greenalnd and it’s a perfect size for this. Then it was used on a choppy 2 day boat journey frequently splashed with salt water. It was used for about 16 days walking in Greenland including on the first ascent of a new 2200m peak. It was dropped, sat upon, scraped against gneiss crags and generally abused but always in sunny weather. At the end of this the padding on the back showed a small nick from the foresight of a rifle but the Outdry shell material looked pristine. Back in the UK its done 17 scrambles in Lochaber and had 5 days complete soaking. The contents have been completely dry until I’ve put wet kit into it late in the day.
West Highland wetness? No problem for this bag!
If you are looking for a reasonably priced, tough and durable waterproof sack in the 30l range then look no further. It would suit a day walker/solo scrambler perfectly. If you want to carry climbing gear or a rack and rope too I’d go directly to one of its slightly larger Outdry cousins such as the Mountain Hardwear Scrambler RT 40 (which has both a rollmop closure and a lid) which I popped in to Nevisport to check out. These look just as well put together.

My own Scrambler 30 is going to be a mainstay of my rucksack selection through this winter.
 Hard use in Lochaber
First Ascent of .2201m Hinks Land East Greenland