With apologies for the lack of updates recently, this reflects being too busy rather than being quiet, so I can't complain. Remember that you can keep updated with us via Facebook (On High Hills) and Instagram (@onhighhills_jontymills). Blogging will resume soon!
Tuesday, 5 February 2019
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.....|
|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!
Friday, 25 January 2019
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
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
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.
Thursday, 6 December 2018
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|
|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
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|
|Just below the summit|
|Going down--South African abseil technique|