Saturday, 24 February 2018

Best spell of the winter?

After last year's disappointingly wet, mild and windy winter, this winter has been really making up for it. At the moment we're enjoying a lengthy spell of settled, calm, sunny conditions in the Scottish Highlands. By this stage in the winter the sun is starting to have some real strength, meaning clear nights, very cold frosty starts, followed by warm afternoon sunshine. Lovely! Glen Affric is definitely one of the most beautiful glens in the Highlands, and I have had many special days there. However, I have never managed to ski up any of the hills there; yesterday I put that right with a great, short tour around Toll Creagach, one of the Affric Munros. A late start due to other commitments for once didn't work against us, as this gave time for the sun to break through the morning mists and soften the top layer of the snow, giving brilliant, easy skiing down long open slopes. The views north across Mullardoch and beyond were also incredible.Very windy and cold right on the summit, but hot and sunny down in the glen. A sun-cream day!

Looking up Gleann nam Fiadh to Tom a Choinich

Great skinning conditions

Sun starting to soften the snow

View N from the summit

The reward: fast, easy open skiing on great Spring snow.

Monday, 29 January 2018

Moroccan Adventure

A change from winter, snow and ice for me over the last week, having been in the Anti-Atlas mountains in Morocco. These are a lower, drier range compared with the more famous High Atlas, and over the last twenty years have attracted an increasing number of rock climbers keen to escape the cold, wet European winters and climb dry rock in the sunshine. The majority of the exploration has been by British climbers, thus the predominating ethic is of traditionally-protected climbs, in contrast to the majority of "winter sun" destinations which are bolt protected sport climbs. This suits me just fine! We were based in the oasis town of Tafraout, which is a low-key, friendly, relaxed sort of place. During the week we had uninterrupted blue skies, with daytime temperatures of 15-20 degrees Centigrade.......perfect! We climbed on both the large mountain crags composed of quartzite, as well as the smaller granite crags closer to Tafroaut. Some highlights were the superb flake climbing on High Sierra VS 4c ***, a mountain adventure on the aptly-named Wild Country V Diff ***, and climbing a possible new route on slabs, cracks, chimneys and off-widths which we tentatively named "Wide Sierra" HS 4b. It's fair to say that we only scratched the very surface of what the area was offer. By the second day of the trip we were already discussing when we could come next----the sign of a great place!!

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Italian Alps

I have recently returned from an excellent, challenging holiday to the Italian Alps. Despite the largest snow-storm in 10 years, which disrupted travel and plans to begin with, we enjoyed some excellent snowshoeing, ice-climbing and ski-touring. Based near historic Aosta, we were able to visit many of the local areas, including the classic ice-climbing venue of Cogne, the lesser known icefalls of Valsaravenche and Valtournenche, as well as enjoying lovely snow at Pila and on the local classic snowshoe/ski Pointe de la Pierre. I have been visiting the Aosta Valley for over a decade know, and enjoy finding new places to explore. As a fully-qualified UIMLA International Mountain Leader (IML) I am well-placed to help you enjoy this and other areas of the Alps safely, whether trekking in summer, or snowshoeing in winter.

Climbing Pointe de la Pierre.....Mont Blanc in the background

Alpine avalanches can have a huge scale, this one almost reached the road!

Cascade de Lillaz, Cogne WI3

...and again

A beautiful afternoon on the snowshoes

When in Rome...........

The Church in Cogne, a beautiful high Alpine village

Friday, 29 December 2017

A wild winter's day-Winter Hillwalking skills day 3

For Emily's last day out with me we planned to look again at some specific skills. After yesterday's efforts a shorter day was called for, and we headed into Coire an t Sneachda. We looked at building emergency snow shelters, and had a go with the Bothy Bag---these can be lifesavers in winter.  The weather was wilder than forecast with strong SE winds funnelling over the Cairngorm plateau; lots of new snow being deposited, with windslab forming readily. Plenty of spooky "shooting cracks" too, so check the avalanche forecast carefully and remain aware of which aspect and what gradient of slope you're heading onto!

Poor visibility requires careful navigation

Windslab and shooting cracks

Thursday, 28 December 2017

Glorious in Glen Feshie--Day 2 Winter Hillwalking Skills

For Day 2 of 3 with Emily, we went for a bit more of a journey, doing a lovely circuit of Sgorr Gaoith, a Munro above Glen Feshie, on the western side of the Cairngorms. Today we focussed on navigation whilst we were journeying, with Emily taking us from point to point using map and compass. We looked particularly at the importance of having a system to use for each and every leg, so you can be confident of how far  you have come on your compass bearing, and what to expect from the ground underfoot. On the way down from the cloudy summits we were treated to some of what Scotland does best, that magical winter light that is simply breathtaking. A brilliant day out!


A holiday snap for Emily

Hard work but fun

Looking across Gleann Einich to Braeriach

Cornices---not a place to get your navigation wrong!

Starting the descent

Summit selfie

Beautiful light

Heading down

Last of the day's light--a great day

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Winter Hillwalking Skills-Day One

Emily was out with me today for the first of three days, aiming to learn and consolidate winter skills. She is over from Australia for a short holiday and keen to make the most of her time. Winter has made a welcome return to the Highlands with plenty of snow. We started with a discussion of how to interpret weather forecasts and avalanche forecasts then it was straight onto the hill. We covered footwork and use of the winter boot, kicking steps etc before looking at the ice axe as a tool for security and to stop a slip. We found some hard snow on the side of the Fiacall a Choire Chais which allowed us to do some crampon work up onto the ridge. We finished the day with a look at how to use avalanche safety equipment; transceiver, shovel and probe to effect a companion rescue. With just 30 minutes of training Emily was already looking competent----being also keen on backcountry/off-piste skiing these will be really important skills for her.

First time on crampons--great fun

Friday, 22 December 2017

A good start to winter

The first three weeks of December brought some very cold and very snowy weather. Following on from my day out ski touring I have managed two further days out, one climbing and one on skis, but both in the Northern Cairngroms. Both days of contrast, the climbing day was bitterly cold as we climbed Hidden Chimney (III), the skiing day brought spring like weather and snow that was a real joy. Unfortunately we have had a major thaw since then, and whilst there is some snow hanging on, it is a tiny fraction of what we had just a week ago. Oh well, it's early days in the winter yet.........

A COLD day on Hidden Chimney
Short days mean early starts in December, but worth it.

The snow just starting to soften.... us some great turns