Tuesday, 5 February 2019

Classic Mountaineering




Over the last couple of weeks I have had the luck to have three days of classic Scottish winter mountaineering on some fantastic ridges in the West and North-West Highlands. Never too technical, and not requiring too much gear, this kind of mountaineering is so rewarding. Efficiency with route-finding and rope-work is repaid by a fluid, efficient traverse, mountaineering at its simplest and finest.

First up was the A Chioch Traverse, on Beinn Bhan, in Applecross (NW Highlands) with Calum. A stunning ridge surrounded by deep, imposing corries leads to an intimidating headwall. From a distance it looks impregnable, but an amenable way leads up tricky rocky steps and natural grooves to the summit plateau. Very tricky for its traditional grade of II, one or two of the steps are more like III, and definitely pitched climbing terrain for most people.

Looking at the headwall, A Chioch traverse

Approaching the summit plateau of Beinn Bhan

Second was the Queen of mainland ridges; the Aonach Eagach, Glen Coe, and a chance to catch up with Dave. This is a long day out even in summer; in winter, with deep, unconsolidated snow it was a tiring day. The effort was worth it though, as we enjoyed some fabulous weather, and a stunning sunrise. Most of the ridge is often done unroped, but the descent from Am Bodach, and the Pinnacles section demand care, and a rope adds security. Due to the unconsolidated snow, we made a couple of quick abseils to avoid the sketchy, slabby descents. The guidebook grade of II/III seemed spot on; never harder than II technically, but a committing undertaking with no escape possible once into the meat of the traverse.

A great day in store.....

Great weather

Great mountaineering

Sunrise on the Aonach Eagach

The steep descent of Am Bodach, we down climbed then made a short abseil

Worth getting up for......

Lastly in this recent trio was an East-West traverse of Stac Pollaidh with Toby and Calum. This stunning "mini-mountain", in the far NW Highlands, is not often in winter condition due to its low height and coastal location. Thus just adds to the appeal of a winter traverse! It is well described in summer, but the traverse is not mentioned in the winter climbing guidebooks. It gave us a great day out, with some interesting steps and a couple of abseils, and all sorts of weather from blue skies and sun to horizontal sleet and snow! It felt like II/III again.....trickier steps than then Aonach Eagach, but much less of it!

Stac Pollaidh--wow!

Tricky step

Stac Pollaidh

Friday, 25 January 2019

Winter is back


Finally, winter seems to have started properly in the last couple of weeks, with sustained low temperatures and snowfall. Cover is still thin in many places, making it feel more like December than late January, but it's great to have winter firmly in place. Conditions for climbing have been very good, and I have been out making the most of it. Ski-touring hasn't really started for me yet, the cover is just not there yet, but hopefully it won't be long.

Pinnacle Ridge, Lurcher's Crag, Cairngorms (III)

Sidewinder, Coire an Lochain, Cairngorms (III,4)

The Black Carls of Beinn Eighe, Torridon (I/II)

The Hybrid, Coire an t Sneachda, Cairngorms (IV,4)

Saturday, 15 December 2018

Wild for winter intro

Delighted to take Dimitar out today for an Intro to Winter day. Over a coffee we did some of the important work for the day: looking at the weather and avalanche forecasts. The weather forecast was "challenging" for today, with 50-80mph winds forecast for the level of the Cairngorm ski car park, with >100mph winds on top of Cairngorm, as well as heavy snow forecast for later in the day. The avalanche forecast was generally Low (1/5), but with increased danger forecast on certain aspects later in the day.  We planned to try and find some shelter from the wind in the Ciste Gully, which worked pretty well, giving us just enough respite from the wind to look at some of the core skills needed to journey around the mountains in winter: use of the winter boot as a tool to kick steps; using the ice axe for balance, support and to stop a little slip becoming slide (self-belay); walking safely in crampons up, down and across slopes. It was just starting to snow lightly back in Aviemore, with some heavy snow forecast overnight.  Thanks Dimitar for working hard today in difficult conditions, our next day out will feel much easier I'm sure!...........

Footwork skills without crampons........

....and with crampons!

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Cold & sunny

On Monday I was out in the Northern Corries of Cairngorm. Conditions were excellent in Coire an Lochain, with firm snow and frozen turf giving reliable placements. We climbed Ewen Buttress III,4 then topped out into sunshine, light winds and a snow-covered Cairngorm plateau.Lots of teams out making the most of the lovely weather, climbing, walking and ski-touring.
Ewen Buttress

Cairngorm Plateau

Fiacall Ridge

Good conditions



Thursday, 6 December 2018

A good start......


Without wanting to jinx it (!) winter has got off to a great start up here in the Highlands, with plenty of folk out making the most of early season walking, climbing and ski-touring conditions. I have been lucky enough to have had three days of play out on the hills recently, climbing at the Cairngorm crags of Creagan Cha No and the ever-popular Coire an t Sneachda. Bit of a thaw going on tonight and tomorrow but then cold again next week.

Given the good start I've scheduled in some Open Courses looking at winter hill-walking skills, have a look at the links below, and get in touch ASAP if you're interested in booking on.....

Saturday 15th December: One day Winter Taster/Intro

Saturday 29th/Sunday 30th December: Two-day Winter Hill-walking Course 

Strath Nethy from Cairngorm
Winter Light


Climbing: Duke's Rib, Creagan Cha No II
Climbing: Top of Ziggy Grooves III

Climbing: The Haston Line crux III, 4
Climbing: Between Hidden Chimney & Jacob's Edge, Mess of Potage



Wednesday, 7 November 2018

Variety is the spice....

With the usual changeable conditions we get at this time of year my work has been really varied recently. Last week I had a great day out in Glen Coe guiding Greg up the Zig Zags scramble on Gearr Aonach, followed by a wintery walk up to to Stob Coire nan Lochan. This was working for Lochaber Guides.  At the weekend I was based out of Glenmore Lodge as a volunteer instructor for the Mountaineering Scotland SMART (student safety) weekend, with both days spent working on the Rock Improvers courses. Today I was out with Matt and Laurence in the Cairngorms. The plan had been to go for a good scramble, but with high winds and rain forecast we decided to stay low and look at developing and polishing their mountaineering skills, including using the rope alone, to increase safety if needed.
Enjoying the Zig Zags.....

Glen Coe looking stunning

Proper winter

Just below the summit

Going up

Going down--South African abseil technique

Monday, 29 October 2018

End of British Summer Time


It seems that even the weather knows the clocks have gone back, and British Summer Time is at an end! Over the last few days we have had some bitterly cold winds coming down from the Arctic bringing snow and icy temperatures to the Scottish mountains. The photos are from some playtime today in Coire an-t Sneachda in the Cairngorms. It definitely felt like winter up there today, but it remains to be seen how long it will last----these Autumn cold snaps are usually short lived........