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........

Saturday, 13 October 2018

Upcoming open course dates

Most of what we do at On High Hills is private, bespoke days out, to fit in with exactly when and what you want to experience or learn. However, I have had a number of requests to also have some "open" courses on set dates, so I'm please to share our first few Open Course dates with you, covering the rest of 2018.......these courses are guaranteed to run when just two people book, so what are you waiting for?!

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Searching for the pot of gold...............

After more than two weeks away in the (admittedly lovely!) European Alps, today reminded me of how special the Scottish Highlands are. I took new clients Doug and Jennifer to the Cairngorms today. The forecast was inauspicious......wet and windy. The drive to the Cairngorms was equally inauspicious, with windscreen wipers at full pelt. Once there, however, we had a lovely day. Sure, there was some rain, some wind and some wet feet. But the reward was an afternoon of real beauty, with that magical light that I've only seen in the Highlands, as rain clouds came and went, fighting with the sun for supremacy. We all enjoyed our circular walk, starting in the Rothiemurchus pines, heading past Loch an Eilein to Drakes' Bothy, then up to The Argyll Stone and the summit of Creag Dubh, before dropping back down into Gleann Eanaich and thus Rothiemurchus to complete a lovely loop. Thank you Doug and Jennifer for a great day out.

Pesky river got my boot wet.......

Enjoying the climb

A bit blowy


We never did find that pot of gold........

Monday, 17 September 2018

Alpine Wanderings

The last couple of weeks I have been over in the Alps. I was due to work leading a Tour du Mont Blanc trek, unfortunately this was cancelled so I took the opportunity of being "on site" to have a spot of different fun. With my good friend Alex we had a grand tour, starting with the Ecrins Alps of southern France, before moving to Chamonix (briefly) and on to the Swiss Alps. We finished in one of our favourite Alpine areas, the Bregaglia (Bergell) Alps, right on the border of southern Switzerland and northern Italy. With it being late in the season, and thus snow/ice and glacial conditions likely to be poor, we decided to just concentrate on long rock routes. This turned out to be a good decision, and we climbed some fantastic routes, helped by the generally great weather. So, a fun time, but lovely to be back in the Scottish Highlands, where it is definitely starting to feel like Autumn. Looking forward to some hiking work starting tomorrow.

View of the Albina cirque, Bregaglia Alps
Punta d'Albigna
NW Ridge, Punta Albigna
Excellent climbing on the Via Meuli, Punta d'Albigna
Beautiful wee church in La Berarde, Ecrins
Alpine ridge scrambling
Standing on the tiny summit, Aiguille de Soreillier

Gorgeous granite climbing on the 12-pitch Palavar des Flots, Ailefroide, Ecrins

Descending from the Soreillier/Dibona cirque, Ecrins

The crux pitch of the South Ridge of Piz Balzet, Bregaglia. First ascent 1922, by local legend Walter Risch---solo!

Almost there.............

Crux pitch, Aiguille de Soreillier, easy but great climbing up cracked granite slabs

Dawn starts mean careful scrambling up verglassed (icy) granite slabs......

Sunday, 26 August 2018

Glen Affric

Yesterday I had the pleasure of guiding new client Mary Ellen. She is a fit and capable hiker, and wanted a good hike on decent tracks, with the opportunity to see some of the remnant native Caledonian woodlands. We chose to go to the incomparably beautiful Glen Affric, and enjoyed an 11-mile hike with around 1000ft of ascent, around Loch Affric itself. We had no rain, and only a few midges were seen whilst booting up in the car park. By mid-afternoon the sun was breaking through and feeling really warm, highlighting the wonderful arrays of colour on the hills; the first golden fronds of autumn bracken, the rich greens and reds of the mosses, and the swathes of purple Ling heather so characteristic of this time of year in the Highlands. Glen Affric has seen some enlightened conservation work over recent decades, with an attempt to regenerate the woodland and allow natural afforestation to take place. This has been done partly by using fences to keep the deer away......the difference is really remarkable, on one side of the fence not a sapling or young tree in site, on the other lots of Scots pine taking hold and creeping their way up the hillside---marvellous. I have linked below to a short film highlighting some of this work........worth a watch for the beauty alone! Thanks Mary Ellen for a lovely day.

Welcome to the Glen

Beautiful burn
Enjoying the views

The forest is regenerating

A warm afternoon

Trees for Life Glen Affric Video

Sunday, 19 August 2018

Finding your way.........

Today I was down in the incomparable surroundings of Royal Deeside with new client Simone. Stimulated by an upcoming move to the Pyrenees, Simone wanted to learn to navigate "properly", and not just have to rely on mobile phones and similar technology. Very wise! Navigation teaching has changed a lot in the mountaineering world over the last few years. The "modern" approach is to make use of large-scale (in our case 1: 7,500) orienteering maps to help maximise learning in the early stages. This is certainly the method that the NNAS awards (of which I am a provider) advocate. With this in mind, we spent the morning at the new Permanent Orienteering Course at the Linn of Dee, completing 20 navigation legs of increasing difficulty by lunchtime! We covered setting the map, the 3 Ds (Direction, Distance, Description), estimating how far you have travelled using pacing/timing, handrails, catching features, as well as using "quick" bearings to ensure you're on the right path. Towards the end of the morning Simone, who hadn't used a compass before, was managing to navigate across open country using a "quick" compass bearing. After lunch we put these skills into practise with a journey using the more usual (for hillwalking) map scale of 1:25,000, moving around the complicated topography of the slopes and birkwoods of Morrone above Braemar.
A really enjoyable day out, and Simone worked very hard to make brilliant progress.

Get the right tools for the job

Handrailing the fence line

Found it!
The hills are full of crowberries just now

Heading out across open country to hit another linear feature
Heading home