Thursday, 31 January 2013

CWA Day 2 and a few conditions

Day 2 of this week's CWA Training for the Higher Outdoor Learning course from West Highland College and today we hit the Ice Factor to look at various items from the syllabus. I was working with fellow MIC and Paddlesports Coach Andy Spink. We had the centre almost to ourselves for much of the day but I noticed some heavy precipitation and increasing winds outside and even some sea level wet snow for a while.
Andy demonstrates how we get from here... here... in one move statically and dynamically?
 Students on the sharp end
So it was no surprise when Adele and Sam from Jagged Globe turned up to tell us about how unpleasant it hat turned on Ben Nevis today with tales of snow building rapidly and big sloughs. Other friends also fled the Ben empty-handed and a party climbed part of Aquafresh on good ice on Aonach Mor until the ice ran out. Abseiling back to the apron they had an unpleasant time of it finding that the scoured firm slopes in the morning were covering rapidly with snow that was inclined to slide with very little additional loading. Sounds like there was a bit of ice climbed on Creag Meaghaidh today too.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Talented team at the Clachaig Winter Lectures

Every tuesday at the Clachaig in February there is a FREE winter safety lecture. The line up of speakers boasts a great deal of experience, talent and a great range of sense of humours! Get yourself along to see one or more.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Time off, CWAs and good reading. Welsh action and Scottish looking ice in the US

Well yesterday was a CWA Training at Climb Caledonia in Inverness with Pt 2 on thursday for HOL students from UHI WHC. Today and tomorrow owing to a cancellation I have free with the family but with the wind trying to do a big bad wolf on our house today I've no regrets about that one!
Saw that Dane had posted a short modern piece by Mark Twight on his blog. Ethics to aspire to or pie in the sky? I climb when I can and how I want. Oxygen would be cheating for me. If I couldn't do it it without It would be better to try something else (and more interesting and adventurous for me).
Alex Roddie's love affair with the birth of British Mountaineering is fascinating to follow. If you want a good read try his book but his blog throws up interesting historical gems. Did you know that the modern use of crampons is actually a resurgence in their popularity rather than their first appearance? Read on on Alex's blog and this article from Alpinist on Oscar Eckenstein.
Bullock has been reminding himself of what it means to be a winter climber again after a lecture tour: and spotted this wee vid of what looks mucky, peaty, loose and vegetated enough to be a fine Scottish winter route - but its in New Hampshire!

Sunday, 27 January 2013

End of week and the weekend

So the weather was poor and we decided it was too mild to risk Oui-Oui on friday so Paul and I spent the last day of his Glenmore Lodge Winter Lead Climbing week revising and practising some of the rope work and other skills he had picked up over the week and looking in more detail at the movement involved in Scottish mixed winter climbing in the lower to mid grades. Unfortunately it turned out our decision was a wise one as a climber was badly injured when part of the route collapsed that day. All the best for a speedy recovery.
 Paul throwing shapes with the tools on the towers
Phil getting dangerous with the haggis
Since then I've stayed on at the Lodge for the AMI AGM weekend. Our chance for a social, some CPD and to discuss how the Association is doing. The continual steps to professionalise the world of British Mountain Instruction are really heartening and I'm always impressed by the steps that many of my peers go to to provide the most professional service the can. AMIs development as a true professional organisation will help ensure those standards will be applied across the board.
In between the socials (the bar finally wound down at 0330 with certain senior members of Mountain Training having only a couple of hours before being due to head climbing to the NorthWest- leading by example!) I was working with Nic from EICA and Nate of Crookes Climbing Services to come to some consensus on the interesting issue of Routesetting ropework in climbing walls (if you are interested take a look at the RSA).
Back west today and CWA Training tomorrow...

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Not quite plan A in Fiacaill Couloir

Day 4 of our Glenmore Lodge Winter Lead Climbing course. Plan A today was Fiacaill Couloir. Coming round the corner into Coire an t Sneachda and there was a big stream of people stretched out below Fiacaill Buttress so things didn't look promising. We headed onwards with Plan's B and C in mind but kitting up below the buttress I realised only one other team was still in the Couloir as the others had all gone right to Invernookie except for a pair who were trying Bellhaven. This left one team ahead of us and I found out is was Stuart from Climb 365. Soloing next to my students is not something I want to do with just anyone above me but I was happy enough with Stuart at the same sort of game.
Unfortunately once we got in there with him on the right hand side we were on the left things were a lot thinner than I'd hoped. The left side and has been well beaten up both in the past and recently meaning less snow, ice or turf than I wanted for my team to lead on. I gave them a rope on the first 2 pitches and by now the team from Bellhaven had bailed and were climbing around our two teams. We asked them not to lead amongst our ropes and they ended up belayed just above me so we had to wait half an hour for them to sort themselves out and tackle the chockstone. I got Paul to give me a quick belay over it and asked him if he felt like leading it- he was well up for it! He had no problems and was soon bringing Anne up who made it look easier than either of us had. She then led through one quick pitch up the shelves on the right above the col.
We had a little time to make up to make our transport so it was a brisk descent of Fiacaill Ridge to end the day. Not quite plan A as i'd rather there had been enough snow/ice for me to leave the guys to it on the first couple of pitches but there was no way to know that until I got in there. And I didn't want to sandbag them on Paul's second lead- though he cruised the chockstone!
There were teams making good and questionable decisions today. Fiacaill Buttress area was busy because it was obvious that the approach was well scoured except for a few patches of obvious snow to avoid and another team was approaching the Wavelength/Fluted Buttress area carefully sticking to scoured snow. The teams making a beeline straight up through the slab to the base of Fingers Ridge or the folk traversing the snow beneath the Mess of Pottage on the other hand....

 Busy buttress
Lean start

 Stuart supervising his team and Anne following pitch 2
 Arriving at the belay
 Chockstone antics
 Paul nailing it
 Good work
 Anne making it look even easier
'That's how its done guys'
Last pitch
Last belay

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Less wind... more climbing. Creagan Cha No.

A better forecast today but the SAIS were still warning of hazardous conditions. We decided to run with the safest aspect we could and go to Creagan Cha No. It helped that I knew that Heather and Fran were 45 minutes ahead of us breaking trail through the drifts on the ridge above the Ciste car park (the beers are in the post guys)!
We abseiled into a well scoured recovery gully and traversed to Duke's Rib (II) the left hand side gives some nice, sustained but very well protected climbing and Paul lapped up the first pitch. Anne has joined us for two days and after seconding pitch 1 she took over the lead to take us out of the top of the crag.
A bite to eat and drink (less wind than on the walk in and just the odd snowflake in the air) and another abseil saw me leading us out of Anvil Gully which I hadn't done before but which gave really good fun  (and again very well protected) climbing at IV,4. Interesting to note that the popularity and accessibility of this route are already showing in the damage to the turf. I wonder if it was still seeing attention in the last thaw? When well frozen like today the turf in that upper corner is firm and compact but tearing it out when soft isn't really playing the game: .

Despite the easterly aspect there was a little 'spooky' slab at the lip of the basin between Duke's Rib and Jenga Buttress and I managed to release a slab about a metre by a metre with little effort. Watch out for windslab on unexpected aspects. It was still there today.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

A day on the ice

Cairngorm Mountain was snow bound today so Paul and I joined Andy and his team in search of some low lying ice. Oui-Oui looked thin and very busy (minibus and cars) so we headed elsewhere on a tip from George Mac.

With one main fall in good condition and a number of easier, smaller and damper 8-10m pitches available We looked at placing and removing screws, front-pointing on the ice, efficient use of tools and making ice screw threads. Paul even led a short step of Grade II ice. We then headed to the main fall where Andy had a bottom rope in situ to look at movement and placing gear on steeper ground. The fall was about 20m of IV,4 and Paul did very well to climb it with one axe!

Monday, 21 January 2013

Snowy and blowy at the Ciste crag

CWA Training at the weekend at The Ice Factor 
 The nice wee gully/groove at the left end of the crag   
 Paul building a belay at the end of a short pitch
 Snow squall
 Mixing it up
Not a bad day really
Friday I did the tax return, saturday and sunday I directed a CWA Training in Lochaber and like just about every other Instructor I know fielded enquiries from the media looking for people to comment on the tragic avalanche that robbed 4 keen outdoors people of their lives on Bidean na Bian. Davy Gunn has an excellent simple explanation of why an avalanche occurred on this day here.

This week I'm back at Glenmore Lodge climbing with Paul. It was forecast to be pretty wild today and in order to give him a chance to climb something a little harder than he has before and for me to check out his gear placement, stance management etc. in the wild weather we went to the Ciste Crag. It was a bit snowy and blowy but could have been a lot worse and we jumped on to the short, steep, turfy Gully at the left end of the crag (III, IV? a lot of clearing required today). After a second easier pitch Paul led us t the top placing some gear and building a belay before we nipped back to the base of the crag for a another 3 pitches through the slabby ground and then the steep wall above and finally, carefully, through the loose upper gully. Not a bad use of a pretty wild day!

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Coire an t Sneachda again and what a great week

What a great 4 days. It got cold, the snow returned, the wind put in appearance and so did the sun. I was working with 3 students from different courses at UHI's School of Adventure Studies the objective  being to introduce them to winter climbing. There were other teams out skiing, boarding, doing winter skills and climbing and mountaineering independently.
Here is a short video of us from the day before yesterday:

Coire an t Sneachda with UHI from Alan Halewood on Vimeo.

Nathan, Callum and Cameron came out with me in pairs and worked hard with unaccustomed big packs, crampons and axes and of course the joys of doing fiddly things in big gloves!
They climbed pitches up to Grade IV and led rocky turfy snowy Grade II today (we were on Jacob's Left Edge- they led it with 1 axe each- which was boney but great fun- the guys were raving about how good the situations and views were as well as the climbing). It was another breezey walk in but the sun came out and it was a stunning day. Some of the steeper routes are a bit black but equally some aspects were being plastered. Digger from the SAIS told me of their discovery layer of faceted crystal beneath the new harder slab which won't do anything for stability though- watch where you go this weekend.

So a great week... just don't ask about the Fondue that Matt, Scott and I made for the staff last night :-(
Now for a day off and my tax return...