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

Friday, 15 December 2017

Ski touring Strathfarrar

We've had a great start to winter this season, with lots of snow. I was keen to make the most of the low snowline today and get out on the skis. We plumped for the shapely hill of Beinn a' Bha'ach Ard. This hill lies at the foot of Strathfarrar, in the NW Highlands. We were able to put skins on from the road and had a lovely day weaving our way round the hills. There was the usual mix of Scottish snow conditions, some great, some not (!). The Scottish Avalanche Information Service started issuing forecasts as of today so make sure to include it in your planning process.

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Altitude Medicine

Last weekend I attended the AGM and Conference of the British Association of International Mountain Leaders (BAIML). It was good to meet up with old friends and new, and see a large collection of experienced, professional fellow International Mountain Leaders. Lots of Continuing Professional Development workshops were on offer, and I was pleased to assist Dr Jon Dallimore  (also an IML and doctor!) with a workshop on high altitude medicine and cold injuries. We had a real mixture of experience in the group, from those who had never been higher than the European Alps (fair enough, they are amazing!), to IMLs that had summited 8000m peaks. We had a good division of practical and theoretical sessions, including how to use a Gamow bag---these are increasingly taken by groups trekking and mountaineering to high altitiudes, and provide an extra tool for temporary emergency treatment of the serious forms of high altitude disease in particular: High Altitude Cerebral Oedema (HACE) and High Altitude Pulmonary Oedema (HAPE).

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Last boost of summer

With the clocks changing, and winter approaching, it was nice to escape recently for some warm, sunny rock-climbing in the Costa Blanca, Spain. There is a huge variety of terrain here....lots of sport climbing obviously but also scrambles and long traditionally-protected routes. Returning home to overnight temperarures of -6 deg C and snow on the hills came as something as shock! It's turned a bit milder now, but more snow forecast over the next few days..........

Saturday, 21 October 2017

Introduction to climbing

Earlier in the week I had the pleasure of introducing Paul to rock-climbing. Although he had done some indoor climbing before, this was to be his first experience on real rock--a totally different kettle of fish! Due to showers being forecast for the Inverness area we headed for the cliffs at Cummingston on the Moray coast, well known as often being the driest place in the whole area! We top-roped some climbs to ease Paul in, and recapped principles of safe belaying. Next I had him commit to his first abseil (with a safety rope), which he accomplished really well. Then we looked at lead-belaying and I led some climbs with Paul seconding. This gave more of the "real" climbing experience, and allowed Paul to have a go at using nuts, cams and other trad gear. We finished off with an ascent of the free-standing pinnacle/stack, with an airy abseil to descend. Lovely to think back to my own first experiences climbing twenty years ago, and remember how much I loved it. I still do!

Friday, 29 September 2017


Sherri and Barbara had set themselves the target of climbing Schiehallion on Wednesday as part of their My Peak Challenge. Schiehallion is a Munro (mountain over 3000ft in the Scottish Highlands) in the Perthshire Highlands, and is a popular objective. Although we didn't quite make the summit in very difficult conditions, they should both be really proud of themselves. If the weather had been kinder they would have cruised it without a problem. Well done both, and thanks for a fun day out. The short video clip shows what the ladies were up against, as they hid inside a bothy bag whilst taking a breather. Well done both of you, really impressed with all you have achieved.

Friday, 8 September 2017

Briefly blue

After what has seemed like a very wet August in the Scottish Highlands, the first few days of September brought a warm, dry interlude. Keen to make the most of this I teamed up with Henry for a few days of rock climbing. The highlight was a warm bluebird day on the great little mountain of Stac Pollaidh in the NW Highlands. More please!

Stunning view from the summit of Stac Pollaidh

A belay with a view!

Enjoying the initial pitch of Party on the Patio Direct VS 5a

Final pitch of Western Buttress V Diff

Time to head home........

Last view of Stac Pollaidh

Monday, 17 July 2017

A day for Cairngorms Connoiseurs

Heidi's last day out with me today, and the weather played ball, with lots of sunshine on offer. We climbed the Munro Mullach Clach a Blair from Glen Feshie, with great views down into Coire Garbhlach. This was followed by an interesting descent down to the rarely visited Lochan nam Bo; tucked out of the wind this was a suntrap and a perfect second lunch stop! We then had to work hard to find traces of the amazing stalker's path that zig-zags down the heather-cladded slopes down to the Glen. This is a fantastic feat of engineering, now sadly almost totally overgrown; just about follow-able, but not for much longer unfortunately. These kind of rarely visited places and old paths with history can be found throughout the Highlands, if you know where to look! Thanks Heidi for a great few days.
These Munros require some walking uphill!
Beautiful Glen Feshie
Soaking up the sun at Lochan nam Bo

Enjoying her day!

Simply stunning--Glen Feshie

And again!

Warm, vibrant path next to the River Feshie

Were we all the way up there today?!

View down into Coire Garbhlach

Roseroot growing on the schist soils at the top of Coire Garbhlach

There should be a path down here somewhere......

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Argyll stone

For our third day out together today I took Heidi off the beaten track a bit. Despite not being too far from the tourist honeypots Coire Follais is a gem of a place with a magical, remote feeling quality. It leads up to the ridge of Creag Dhubh and the Argyll Stone, which offer great view points. We descended via the rarely travelled Cadha Mor and Cadha Beag to make our way back through the pines of Inshriach to late afternoon tea at the Potting Shed Tea Room. Lovely!
Gorgeous views from the path up Coire Follais

Hard work!

Big views over Rothiemurchus

Saturday, 15 July 2017


With weary legs from yesterday on Braeriach, plus a less than optimistic weather forecast, Heidi and I agreed on a short day today. Starting in the pines of Glenmore we climbed to the Kincardine hills and traversed the ridge back to Glenmore. Very strong winds even at this level, though not as much rain as forecast. On the way down the sun came out to warm us up, and we finished off with afternoon tea in the Glen. A contrast to yesterday's big day, but contrast is always fun!
Coping well with the gales

Out of the wind and into the sun. Lovely.

Go on, you deserve it.....