Thursday, 31 March 2011

Winter Part 2 Video

'Asta la vista' Scottish Winter.... 'Ola Greenlandic Spring'. Spread out around the house are ski boots, crampons to fit the bodged out of 2 different pairs, snow stakes, sleeping bags, the biggest mug I own, my hipflask and various, gloves, jackets and thermals in various states of repair (dental floss, seam seal and tenacious tape I love you). Packing for Greenland is underway (and Sandy is trying to help)! Its -12 Deg C and breezy up there!
Meanwhile here is a wee video of the second half of my winter season to keep you thinking of how good it was....

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

CWA Trg Day 2

Second day for our 12 students on the CWA training Course. We visited both The Ice Factor and Bunkhouse Bouldering today and looked at ettiquette in walls, problem solving, bouldering, basic coaching of climbing movement and a number of games.
Packing tonight and tomorrow... Greenland on friday. It's a balmy -6 and the polar bears are awake!

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

CWA Training

There was a dusting of snow on Ben Nevis this morning but today i was directing a CWA Training. i was working alongside Bill at The Ice Factor for West Highland College. We had a busy day looking at warmups, bottom roping, equipment, lead climbing and peer belaying. Day 2 tomorrow.

Monday, 28 March 2011

My last day of the Scottish Winter?

Preparing for Plan B
Looks good!

Nice ice
And there's more!
End of the day and Al's winter??
I'm off to Greenland on Friday for 2 and a half weeks ski mountaineering on the little know Geikie Plateau of Volkaarts Boons Coast and as I'm directing a CWA Training for the next 2 days today may well have turned out to be the last day of the Scottish winter for me. Ian and I went to Ben Nevis with Comb Gully as plan A. Arriving in Coire na Ciste we spoke with another party with the same idea near the Lochan and when we headed up to the base of the route we found Ibrahim already there. Plan B seemed more attractive than following someone up an ice climb so we went toa route I'd never done before-Comb Gully Buttress. This turned out to be a good call as it gave me an opportunity to climb the nice steep curtain on the right of No. 2 Gully that I've often looked at as the first pitch. From the snowfield above the pleasant groove on the left of the Buttress was also fat with firm ice and led to a belay at the base of a steep pillar giving access to the upper gully for a fine long ice pitch. A grand route we both agreed. As we toped out the second team was just coming into sight at the top of Comb Gully so we checked there was no-one below them and rigged an abseil. Down we went to turn around and climb up Comb Gully to give our second route of the day. It was fat with snow ice and felt a good deal easier than Comb Gully Buttress. There was a steady trickle of thawing rime falling around us all day and a little water trickling round the edge of the ice but it had obviously frozen last night.
A perfect bum slide down the chute in the Red Burn (perfect design- it weaved around all of the holes over the stream) made an end to a great day!

Saturday, 26 March 2011

A family day out...Sandy's first climb

Sandy did his first rock climb today- the ever popular Gutter in Glen Nevis. We did it in 3 pitches up to the tree. He climbed just in front of his mum and then I abseiled down with him. He's 2 years and 8 months old and seemed to love it... 'more climbing!' was all we heard all the way back to the van. We went via a small cave that was thoroughly inspected for resident bears and the he had a wee shot on my bike before I rode it home.
Friends out on Ben Nevis climbed Tower Scoop with a number of other parties around and said the snow was soft and knee deep coming down No.4 Gully. Water running behind and over ice but parties on Point 5, Hadrians, Smiths and Indicator Wall. Sounds of rock fall and plenty of ice on the move too.

Friday, 25 March 2011

More coaching at the climbing wall

Today Tristan and I were working with students from UHI at the Ice Factor. The idea of the performance clinic was to let students sign up to a day purely about improving their performance in one of a number of activities. We were looking at climbing and after an active agility based warm up the group began a more sport specific warm up climbing easily but focussing on climbing as well as possible. This gave Tristan and I the time to get around the group to start gathering information about their own climbing experiences and to help them form some goals for the session. These varied from working on a trepidation of heights interfering with performance, to route reading and building a performance towards a successful redpoint and even a little SPA ropework refresher for on student. As these are to be the first of a number of such days we spent a good while individually with students helping them formulate short and long term goals to help them carry things forwards over the next term and the summer beyond.
Cooler feeling today and there is still ice up high on the Ben. An early start is advised and be careful who and what you stand under! Thinking outside of the box and climbing the ice you can see rather than queuing for thin crowded classics may be a good idea.

Thursday, 24 March 2011


Isi on Flying Dutchman's Direct Finish (VS 4c)
Isi below the crux on Damnation (VS 5a)
Pulling on to the slab on Damnation
Climber on The Gutter (Diff)
Isi on Resurrection (VS4c)
It was relief to don rock shoes and climb just in a thermal and a tshirt today. Sun, warm rock, no pack, protection, rock that didn't fall off the crag when you gave it a hard stare.... bliss.
Isi and I went for a quick trip up to Polldubh. We climbed 3 Pines, Flying Dutchman Direct, Damnation, Resurrection, soloed Pinnacle Ridge and something on Upper Pinnacle and bouldered around on the wall of Hodad. Then I hopped on the bike for a good cycle home. Nice change and lots of people out climbing in Glen Nevis.
Sounds like things were a little cooler and firmer on Ben Nevis today but still a little moist with things still on the move- hopefully a couple more days freeze will help a lot. : and

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Green Gully in the gloom

Nick and I went out for his first outdoor climb today. It was grey, gloomy, mild and breezey this morning as we walked in at a fast pace. we met a team coming out from Observatory Gully "It's sh@*!e" was the verdict. After seeing Gary's pictures from yesterday I was interested to go into Coire na Ciste to take a look at Green Gully as it didn't seem to be threatened by cornicing unlike many of the routes in the coire. Walking up past the Lochain we followed old footprints but these didn't stop my foot punching through knee to thigh deep in the uniform layer of soggy snow. By the time we had reached the base of Green Gully we had passed several large pieces of cornice and some evidence of wet snow slides but heard no evidence of things on the move (unlike yesterday) except a few small pieces of ice- so we decided to go for it.
The route is fairly broad but there is water running out of it and spouting out of it in places- plenty of ice left but it's pretty wet. Also, and more worryingly, there is a huge amount of loose rock around. One of the belays (base of the 4th pitch) has finally lost a loose block that has often been used as it formed one side of a crack worn by repeated nut placements when frozen. There were plenty of loose blocks perched on rock ledges, evidence of fresh frost shattering with rocks teetering or sometimes held in place by thin slivers of ice. I found 3 head sized blocks sitting above the 3rd ice pitch on the lip of the steepening and moved them one at a time to a rock ledge higher up.
I was happy when we had reached the 5th pitch and could see no cornice above and a clear run at the plateau. Well done Nick who made things look easy!
We heard little falling in the coire today other than water but it would take more than a freeze to make things much safer (snowfall and a freeze thaw might do it) on many routes. Even with cold weather at the weekend I'd think hard about following someone up one of the few routes left in condition lest I get showered in loose rock. Take care.
I did see that North, Central RH, Glovers and No. 3 Gully Buttress all looked to be holding ice.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Turbo thaw and Indoor coaching.

Amazing coming back from Wales to see the level of thaw that we have had in the Highlands. All the low level snow has disappeared although high up there is still a good deal in the coires. The pics above show The Cobbler yesterday and the Ben today. Adam Hughes was up there to day and they walked away from Hadrians after watching the water being blown back straight up it. Although both Hadrians and Point 5 were like waterfalls today they are both intact. There is a lot of stuff (rock, ice and cornices) on the move in the present thaw so take care what you stand under. There are some good photos from Gary's site showing conditions in the Coire na Ciste today.
Today I was working for West Highland College at The Ice Factor. We were looking at psychological issues effecting performance in adventure sports. The team looked at techniques such as visualisation, relaxation and positive self talk whilst climbing routes on the walls. We also used some video coaching to reinforce messages.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

BMC Symposium day 2

Another great day at the BMC Coaching Symposium. today Squawk talked us though preparation for competitors, the nutritionist for the British Squad did an excellent job of dispelling some myths, we heard about Psychologically dealing with the stress of comps and Steve Long from MLT outlined the proposals for a multi level UK Climbing Wall based Coaching Award to stand alongside the existing 'Technical/Safety' based awards (CWA/SPA/MIA/MIC/BMG). We heard a lot about the progress that has been made in helping stakeholders understand and get over a scepticism of coaching in climbing at all levels- its about giving people the ability to fulfil THEIR potential to a level that THEY want to whilst enjoying themselves- its not all about creating Olympic athletes. Productive day with some possible exciting developments for me too...
Great job done by Jon Garside in putting the weekend together and Plas Y Brenin for hosting it too

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Symposium day 1

A great first day at the BMC Coaching Symposium at Plas y Brenin, case studies on elite performance climbers and boulderers from the likes of Steve McLure, Training programs and practical exercises for them from Squawk Dunn and the science behind it all from Dave Binney. My hands are too used to axes and not to plastic- after today my arms AND my head hurts.

Friday, 18 March 2011

In the deep south...

... i.e. Wales. I travelled down from Scotland with 2 friends representing the MCofS at the BMC Coaching Symposium at Plas Y Brenin for the next 2 days. We took the opportunity to go to Coed Y Brenin and got the bikes out for a sunny day's riding in the forest.
Sorry, no winter reports for a couple of days.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Change of plans

My poor client for today had to cancel owing to a daughter with chickenpox but I was able to answer a last minute request for help from West Highland College for an instructor to do some winter skills work instead.
Knowing there was deep soft snow we decided to head to the CIC hut on ben Nevis making use of the deep trench that has been put in by climbers over the last few days. As we came out of the trees above Torlundy we stopped to make a huge pile of snow for later...
At the CIC we could see Mike heading for SW Ridge of the Douglas Boulder and Gaz on Waterfall Gully. We fed the snow buntings and put on the crampons to move around on patches of ice above the hut. On the walk out the team took the opportunity to dig in various snow drifts and when we reached our snow mound they built a shovel up shelter by tunnelling in to it and hollowing it out.
As we came off of the hill the sun was shining and the temperature mild.
No hill reports from me this weekend as I and my mountainbike are off to Wales for a bit of biking on the way to the BMC Climbing Coaching Conference at Plas Y Brenin.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Glencoe sunshine

What a cracking day! Adam and Alexis were hoping to push their grade a little (one lead of a Grade IV ice route previously) today. We'd hoped to go to Ben Nevis but having seen the amount of snow yesterday and knowing that trails were pushed up into the Coire yesterday I suggested a trip to Glencoe. Their mixed experience not matching their ice I reckoned conditions were ripe for a good buttress route and after a sweaty sunny push up the trench (thanks to all those who have broken trail this week) we hit the floor of Stob Coire nan Lochan ahead of the crowds. There was a team near the foot of Scabbard Chimney/Ordinary Route (Summit Buttress) and we followed their trail until below Twisting Gully where we branched off hard right on a drifted in track. This we cleared and postholed our way along to the base of Pinnacle Buttress Grooves. A short traverse took us into the base of NC Gully which we used to get onto Raeburn's Ordinary below the chimney behind the tower. This misses out the crux pitch of the normal grade IV route but we'd done enough trailbreaking and had our eyes on the Pedestal variation higher up to give a route of IV,5. There was a good deal of loose unconsolidated snow but someone has been up the normal route recently making it slightly easier for us to follow the chimney and groove above. From here I was clearing a foot or so of fresh snow from ledges to attain a standing position on the pedestal. A short heart pounding swing left across a bottom less corner and its all over and some more digging and clearing put us back on a belay on the main route 1 pitch from the top. Alexis and Adam both enjoyed all 3 main pitches on the route- relishing the interest afforded by mixed climbing as opposed to the ice they have been more used to. We topped out into a moderate wind which was depositing snow over the lip of the crags. As we packed up Dave and a team from a Plas Y Brenin assessment arrived on the ledge behind us and he and I nipped off to the other side of NC to get some pics of his team topping out. Lower down at least 2 more teams were also on the normal route.
A bit of a wade and a slither and we were descending back to the trench- past teams on Pinnacle Buttress Grooves and North Face (the Grade III line just right of Crest Route- I shudder at this route as the only time i've tried it my partner struggled to find any rock that actually seemed attached to the mountain- looked good today though).
The sun was stripping anything to the left, the shade preserving anything to the right of a wall/buttress. Stunning day.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Trench warfare and intelligence gathering

Ben recce from Alan Halewood on Vimeo.

I'm working the next couple of days and today I felt I really needed to get a handle on exactly how things 'felt' on the hill since all this snow has fallen. How much has it settled? Where exactly has the freezing level been? Where is the snow sitting? Is there any ice visible? Are there any trails broken.
So today I cycled to Torlundy and began the walk up to the CIC hut. God news there is a trench all the way. This well stepped trail does meander a bit but means you don't have to wade at all until above the hut. It was drizzling low down and this translated to snow from just below the CIC. It was also at this level that I first felt a moderate wind- enough that the tracks of those who had gone before me to the Douglas Boulder had begun to drift over. I followed the trail that remained to see who was on what. First up a team starting up Gutless (I've had this route recommended to me by a few people now), then a little round the corner and I can see Mike Pescod on the second pitch of Jacknife (which he looked to have accessed from the right- from the the of the SW Ridge). Then there was a team at the very toe of the SW Ridge- doing what many have done before them- bailing off. The regular start to the ridge actually begins 20-30m up the West Gully where a ramp leaves a bay to emerge on a flattening of the ridge. The direct start is substantially harder but this is indicated in the guidebook. Across the West Gully and a team were on Fawlty Towers. As I passed beneath them a slough came down the icey groove to its right and another down 1934 Route. At the right hand side of the bay a team were on Vanishing Gully- I was surprised at how much ice there was on it despite the damage from the last thaw- far from fat but there were screws in it. I had a chat with the belayer and then sheltered behind him as another monster wave of spindrift came down. As I scuttled away I turned back to watch several more pelt the poor chap. The bay that all of these routes come out of is full of soft slab that appears to be adhering to whatever is beneath it in the present temperatures but everyone has- wisely- been really hugging the edges of it. The 'Vanishing belayer' (he did indeed Vanish beneath those waves of spindrift) told me that 2 teams tried to get up Observatory Gully today to get to Orion Direct and Point 5- both turned back. It may have been them who were on the Curtain. Surprisingly the white on it must have been at least partially ice as I watched 4 people ascend it. I wasn't alone in wondering if the swift ascent of the leaders was due in part to the lack of sufficient ice for screws? :-)
I could have soloed F Towers but didn't want to annoy the team of 3 on it and there will be plenty of climbing in the next 2 days. So I headed back down the trench to Torlundy and my bike via a chat with Tom and Dave who were off to do something on the Boulder and a Tollymore team at the hut.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Snowy saturday

Its been snowing non stop for 10 hours in Fort William now- we have a snowman in the garden and spontaneous avalanches releasing from the roof!

Final day of Winter Skills course

GLWS Day 5 from Alan Halewood on Vimeo.

strong winds and heavy snow when we woke for the last day of the Glenmore Lodge winter skills course yesterday morning. We were able to get the vans as far as the Ciste Car park so we walked from there round to Coire Cas. Then we carried on into Sneachda in deep drifting snow. We went as far as the moraines and it was obvious from the walk in that there were deep patches of windslab around. With care we released the cornice on a small slope and several avalanches of large blocks of slab. After that we each built a small emergency shelter but had some food together in the group shelter we have been carrying all week. The weather had brightened by now- still gusty winds but less snow so we headed up to windy col to the left of The Mess of Pottage and on to 1141 before descending the Cas ridge. That just left us with the short walk back round to the Ciste to finish the week. It's been a full on week for the team- many of whom were out in winter conditions for the first time- but they've coped well with the skills to be learnt (both hard skills and things like the personal organisation needed to avoid faff in the winter) and should be able to go away for some of their own adventures now. Back west now for next week!

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Let it snow.

Glenmore Lodge Winter Skills days 3 and 4 from Alan Halewood on Vimeo.

Heavy rain and gales at Glenmore Lodge last night translated to deep windblown snow on the hill this morning. We decided to use the morning looking at issues of weather and avalanche when planning a hill day and then my team and I looked at some slightly more advanced navigation techniques. After lunch we went out to face the weather... just as it abated a little. This let us finish our self arrest session begun yesterday and review our stepping, slipping, sliding and stopping. As we came out of the Ciste the weather picked up s little again so we took shelter in a well made igloo until the other team arrived again. Last day of the course tomorrow and then I'm back home to the hills of Lochaber for the remainder of the season.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Day 3; A return to winter!

Windy (but not as bad as yesterday) with snow down at Glenmore Lodge this morning. I took the team into Sneachda. There was evidence of windslab on a variety of aspects, especially to the right of the Goat Track. We headed to the 'flat ice' beneath Fiacaill Buttress to build on the groups skills on crampons in a bit more of a structured way and looked at self belay techniques with an axe. We made a snow profile and on the strength of that picked a careful line up to the col on the Fiacaill Ridge and down the other side. Coming back round the base of the ridge we found a spot to look at self arrest for a short period.
Snow and wind throughout the day with more forecast. More snow at Glenmore tonight too.