It’s been a hectic last few weeks with various items of work and personal climbing made all the more challenging by unusual winter conditions. This has lead up to my “Mountain Instructor Certificate” (MIC) training. For those that don’t know the Mountain Instructor Certificate is the top level mountaineering award in the UK. It builds on previous mountaineering awards and gives you the skills to teach winter and ice climbing in Scotland. Part of the process for gaining this award is to undertake a five day training course which will assess your current abilities and give lots of input into improving your instruction.
It’s the end of day two and I’m working on digesting everything learned so far. Because of conditions we have strayed from the usual course schedule. The focus so far has been on mountaineering and how you look after people on varied terrain while moving efficiently. We covered lots of techniques and tips from ‘simple’ little details; like when it’s best to swap hands while using a technique called short roping, through to discussions on avalanche risk and planning a weekend of progressive learning for students. It’s a great process to be involved in and I’m really happy to be spending some time with other instructors. I’ve made some new friends and caught up with lots of old ones.
We’ve also been lucky enough to have winter arrive just in time for the course. This has allowed us to get some great mountain routes in. Yesterday we had a great mountain journey from Dinnertime Buttress (II) up onto Aonach Dubh and into Stob Coire Nan Lochan before heading up Dorsal Arete (II) then just as the clouds lifted we headed back down to the vans. Today has been a wild and windy day with snow being redistributed all over the mountains. We chose a safe route up Curved ridge and off Buachaille Etive Mor. This felt pretty full on with great “Scottish” conditions involving winds almost strong enough to blow you off the mountain and spindrift swirling from every direction. I was thankful for my goggles.
I’m very much looking forward to the next three days of climbing and learning while in the Scottish Highlands.
This winter has been unusual so far. We’ve had cold clear days with stunning views and then very warm wet days in between. This has stripped back the snowpack leaving bullet hard snow ice called Neve in patches all over the mountains and bare ground between. Typically this is the kind of conditions you’ll find on a late spring day!
Despite all this it’s been a busy winter with lots of people excited to get out into the Scottish hills. This week I’m working for the RAF looking at winter skills and helping some of their instructors work towards Winter Mountain Leaders Awards. Today we looked at using the boot to make a trail, cutting steps to support this and then switched to crampons and had a look at moving on a variety of terrain.
It’s been over a month since I’ve posted on here and what a month it’s been. Unfortunately I don’t have time to go into it all right now. I’ll save that for another post, for the time being though here’s a few pictures from today’s sunny climb at Creag Dhubh.
Today I met up with Mike Lates of Sky Guides for a day out in the Cuillin. We were treated to some spectacular views on the way up to the summit and then a ‘fine airy’ traverse on the ridge. Check out some photos below.
Today I was in Coire an T-Sneachda. We had planed on climbing Fingers Ridge but conditions made it look pretty lean so we opted for one of the gully lines instead.
Four teams were making their way up The Runnel so we nipped up Crotched Gully instead. Probably about III in current condition but really enjoyable. Jen had two good lead pitches at the start and I finished off up the steep and imposing cornice.
At the top we got compasses quickly to hand and did a few nav points on the way down as practice for Jen’s Winter ML.
Below are a few photos of the coire to give an idea of conditions.
After Christmas, January is always a month I look forward to. This is mainly because its time to enjoy winter; dust off the crampons and axes, don the waterproofs and head out into the wilds.
This year is no different. The start of January was stunning. We had decided to head over east and weren’t disappointed. The first day was spent climbing a Munro (Sgor Gaoith) I hadn’t been up before and enjoying wall to wall sunshine and skies. The rest of the week was much the same as high pressure stayed in control but with a few grey days. I spent the time doing lots of work on my Nav and successfully completed my winter ML. Jen had a couple friends up to visit who also got lucky and enjoyed their first time with crampons and axes.
Once this was done we decided for a change of scene and headed out west to Glen Coe. This also gave us a chance to catch up with some of the people we knew who had come up for the season. The weather definitely turned but we still managed to get out and bag a Munro (Sgurr Eilde Mor) before Jen had to head south for some work. I stayed up and spent the week doing some climbing with two other instructors and friends; Adam and Mo. They were keen to look at a few places with a view to potential assessments and work in the future so we headed off to the Zig Zags in possibly the wettest weather I’ve been out in. This was followed by a day out on Tower Ridge, Ben Nevis.
More wild weather stripped back the snow even further which was fine as I joined Jen down south for a wedding. A great way to see out the month. Congratulations Alix and James!
Here’s a few pictures from Scotland during January:
Jen and I this Jan
Kirsty still smiling despite being knee deep in snow!
View of the van
Sron na Larig – one of the classic routes I climbed this Jan
After a through soaking yesterday. I caught up with two aspirant MIC’s again today in the form of Mo Barclay and Adam Harmer. Today’s object with to check out the options for guiding Tower Ridge on Ben Nevis. One of the all time classic winter route.
Unfortunately I had to start a little later than Mo and Adam so the beginning of the day was a bit of a blur as I raced to catch them before they got to the ridge making it (just).
Initially there was only a dusting of snow on the lower sections of the north face but this was added to during the day. Check out some of the photos below to see:
Unfortunately work took priority on Saturday but with Sunday off I headed over to Reiff in the evening to catch Tim and co for some climbing at the Lochinver Climbing Festival. Reiff was the planned destination and high on my list of places to climb.
Reiff is one of the première climbing destinations in the North West Highlands and I hadn’t visited yet so what better way to be introduced to it then by Tim Hamlet who lives five minutes away and has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the crag.
Parking my van as considerately as I could I was toying around with some HDR photos of the view when I heard a familiar voice and Kirsty came running over. She was also up with another friend from Oban (Rob). We decided to head straight over to the crag for some climbing, psych levels being high.
A short walk and down scramble later we were enjoying some classic routes. A brace of VS climbs and a Severe left us all having led and thoroughly warmed up. It was Robs turn and he decided on the wonderful “Sip From The Wine Of Youth Again” (HVS 5a) with Alan Halewood having just led the climb and saying it was fantastic it would be rude not to. For those that don’t know this particular little climb it start with a traverse out over the see before finishing up a wonderful flake and Arete. All things that make climbers go ‘ooo’ and ‘aaahh’.
As we topped out Tim arrived and pointed us at another ‘must do’ for the crag – Channering Worm (E3 5c) – It was my turn to lead this “bold” and “steep” climb. A boulder problem of a start on some undercuts leads to a flake. From there its a case of keeping your head together and steadily making your way up it. Certainly one that gets the heart pumping and great fun.
A bite to eat later we were back down to do the classic VS – Hy Brasil. Climbing onto a prominent arete this has entertaining and airy moves. Then I led Westering Home (E1 5b) with thin moves at the top this is another to make you think and trust your feet. Good gear makes this a safe climb though so you can certainly go for it. We followed this with more stared routes; Midreiff (S 4a), Tystie Slab (VD) and Black Gold (HS 4b) before deciding that our fingers were sufficiently warm and we’d head for some grub at the pub in Ullapool.
Not bad for a day off…
Thanks to Alan Halewood for the abseil line use and Tim Hamlet for showing us around the crag. Also Thanks to Kirsty and Rob for a great days climbing and for use of their photos in this post.
If you’ve not visited Reiff and you like your climbing bouldery and balancy with a hint of atmosphere that being near the sea always brings then you should visit; especially if you find yourself in the far north and west.
So I’ve not posted for a while. It’s been a pretty busy time on the west coast of Scotland. Both Jen and I have been lucky enough to have some great friends visit. I’ve also been playing with more photography and trying to get round to learning a little about creating video. All this has left me with little time writing blog posts.
So we’ve now just over a month left working at The Torridon. It’s been an interesting season. Since my last post I’ve led guided walks over all of the main Torridon Munro’s; Beinn Alligin, Liathach and Beinn Eighe. The weather has varied; from verging on winter with sleet, to t-shirts on the tops. As well as mountain guiding I’ve run one to one climbing sessions where I’ve been able to take complete novices to experience the delights of climbing as a pair on multipitch routes. The gorge has gone from being dry to scary with alarming regularity. In between levels there’s been some great fun with guests where they’ve managed to jump into pools and swim behind waterfalls. Arrows have been shot into targets and the sea eagles, otters, seals have made the paddling a pleasure.
The evenings have sometimes involved running from the midges at others they’ve had spectacular sunsets. Visits have been made to Applecross, Kishorn and the Gille Brigdhe; sampling incredible seafood from the local coasts. Not to mention many many evenings enjoying the boulders at the celtic jumble.
My off days have been equally full. An Teallach provided stunning views to test my photography skills. Climbing and scrambling with Tim helped remind me of the process of becoming a Mountain Instructor as well as refreshing my skills. The Triple Butress of Beinn Eighe and the sports climbing around Gairloch have reminded me just why I love such a varied pass time as climbing and why I enjoy sharing it with others. Thanks to everyone who’s been able to visit.