Sunday, 29 January 2012

28th and 29th January - Indoors and out!

Anna having a go after a long day of climbing

Connor demonstrating proper crampon placements

Anna on the long walk in

Corryhully bothy and Glenfinnan Lodge

Anna on the trudge up to Stob Coire nan Cearc

Approaching the first summit

The ridge begins to narrow...

Anna approaching Streap summit

Looking back up to where we had been

The light fails a long way from the car...
Yesterday Anna and I headed down to the Ice Factor for the day. I was scheduled to shadow some rock and ice sessions to get me ready for some freelance work which will hopefully come my way, while Anna was down to get back into the swing of indoor climbing. She knocked off some great 6a's and 6b's and spent some time catching up with friends. Meanwhile, I was in with a big group of lads on a stag weekend, it was great craic and they all took alot away from their time on the ice. I then did a spot of climbing with Anna on my lunch break, then joined Connor on a rock taster session, before heading into a Hit the Ice session with the same couple. It was great to see another angle on the session, cheers Connor!

Today, though, Anna and I were keen to get outdoors, and we have been eyeing up Streap, a lovely looking mountain north of Glenfinnan, for a while. So, keen to get as much winter experience as possible, we headed off for a bit of a late start (yes, yes ok I slept in!!!). We made good progress in the morning, climbing up a rather wet and slippy Stob Coire nan Cearc before progressing over the ridge, which narrows significantly, to the summit. Visibility was poor, so I made an effort to get some nav practice in, which always helps! The final 100m to the summit was a bit knarly due to the poor snow pack, but we overcame it easily enough. From the summit we struck off SW to hit the bealach of Streap Comhlaidh with the thought of striking northwards and gaining the good track back to Glenfinnan. However visibility was at a minimum, and after making sure we were in the right place we decided that Plan B was the best option, head south into Glean Dubh Lighe and pick up the main road back to the car. Our reasons for this were the avalanche forecast, along with poor snowpack stability at the bealach, lack of visibility and the inevitable lack of detail on the 1:50k map which seemed to omit plenty of crags and cliffs.

It was a long, slow slog down to the valley floor, down some wet and horribly slippy snow. Naturally, as we were about 200m down, the summits all cleared!!! We had a lovely walk through some pleasant woodland as it got dark, and then a long 2mile slog along the main road before spending some time admiring the superb night sky. Overall a solid 20k hillwalk, feels great after a good dinner and shower! Thanks Anna, a great end to my little winter holiday! Back to work tomorrow though :(

Thursday, 26 January 2012

26th January 2012 - A day on Aonach Mor

Freezing cold on the chair lift to the top!

Looking back towards the Gondola Station

Looking down the first pitch

Graham making a start on the ice pitch

Enjoying tea, cake and a chat at the Gondola Station
So today Graham and I had a leisurely start before taking the Gondola up Aonach Mor. It was looking white and snowy, and the temperature was pretty low so we were hopeful that conditions would be in. The plan was for Graham to lead White Shark (IV, 4***), and then I would have a go at a Grade III nearby. After getting the chair lift up to its highest point, I felt really sluggish on the final walk in, tired and sore. However, when we reached the top station and started kitting up, surrounded by other climbers and falling snow, my spirits rose and I felt much more up for some adventure. Guy was also up Aonach Mor, no doubt doing something ridiculously hard!!!

Our initial plan went a bit hay wire when Graham suddenly realised that he hadn't packed his helmet, so we had to change our plan with this in mind. We opted to ab over the cornice at Easy Gully (I) and check out Temperence Union Blues (III*), but it had a team on it already and we certainly didnt want to be climbing under anyone else!!! Moving along a bit we took a look at Pernille (III), and Graham decided it was in. We soloed up the first pitch and set up anchor. We were, however, off route already. With only a glance at the guide book we didnt really take in where the route went, but Graham made an excellent lead up this nameless route (we reckon it should be called 'Remember Yer Lid Next Time, Ya Fud!'). There was a brilliant pitch of ice, with a fast-melting ice curtain to lean off to get a good foot placement. Above this, a short snow section led to a horrible step of mixed climbing, which was awkward but not exposed, and the placements above were pretty solid. While Graham was leading, I was getting pelted with spindrift, loose ice and plenty of slabs of neve, but the worst came as he cut his way through the cornice, it was like being avalanched there was so much loose stuff coming down and I was in the direct line of fire.

I seconded up the route, impressed at Grahams lead. I thoroughly enjoyed the nice ice section and made a good job of the mixed step, but the hot aches caught up with me as I topped out. Sheer agony, I was good for nothing for 10 minutes! We decided that, given the situation, we would call it a day at that, and walked down to the Gondola Station, where we enjoyed a well earned cup of tea and a bit of cake, lovely! Cheers Graham for another cracking day.

Things I learned today:

1. Get a lanyard for my axes, leashes are awkward, get in the way and I hate them
2. Look at the guidebook properly!
3. Shake out more while climbing!

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

24th January 2012 - Creag Meagaidh

The Wall to No Where

The Wall appears again, this time flanked with some cornice build up

Temperatures hadn't started to rise, no running water evident here at all

This was the visibility at the best of times

Graham builds his throne for lunch

A river crossing and a little Divine Intervention...

A well earned rest
So today Graham and I decided to get a winter hill day in. Due to the ridiculous lateness of our decision process last night, we opted for a route on Creag Meagaidh so that we could look at some nav and other winter skills. The SAIS forecast was poor, so we had to choose our route carefully, avoiding loaded slopes as much as possible.

We set off through some horrifically boggy ground, drenching my nice new boots - but they held up well! We waited until we had hit the snow line before we started some nav practice, just basic relocation and some pacing/timing looking at our natural walking speed on different slopes. When we hit the main ridge of Creag na Cailliche we started focussing more on where we were and methods of relocating in poor visibility. We did reasonably well, utilising techniques of following bearings accurately both on our own and making use of other people. It was a long slog though, neither of us were feeling particularly energetic, but the craic as always was top notch so the harder stuff passed by quickly enough.

The final kilometre to the summit was full on white out conditions in notoriously dodgy ground, the ridge narrows right down so there was the very real threat of cornices. However, our pacing and timing was good, and we followed our bearings pretty well, landing within about 10 metres of the summit cairn! Here we had a quick lunch (and Graham enjoyed a kingly chair which he created out of snow) before heading off into the whiteness. The snow build up on the summit was incredible, and its so easy to mistake shapes in the snow for other things. There was more than one occasion when we called a warning shout to each other thinking we were on a dodgy edge when in fact it was a shallow snow bank!

We managed to dog leg successfully on very little ground features, and hit our target bang on over a 1.5 km leg which we were both impressed with considering the zero visibility, poor terrain and our tired legs! Timing was about 5% off, but our catchment feature was large and obvious. We now put the compasses away as we were out of the cloud, and focussed on looking at the snow pack, shear tests, hasty pits and the effects of cross loading in the mountain environment. A few slippy river crossings (see the video for some divine intervention - Graham will never call me a pr*ck again!) and a lively trudge down the Moy soon saw us back on ugly boggy ground before making our way back to the car, still in good light. A cracking day with cracking company, with good nav practice making me feel ever so slightly more confident. Cheers for a great day Graham!

Monday, 23 January 2012

23rd January 2012 - Ice Wall Induction at the Ice Factor

Jamie B gives a demo on foot and crampon placements
The clients have a go at a low level traverse. Harder than you think!
Preparing to tackle the Big Wall...
Jamie advising on the ideal body position whilst ice climbing
Today after collecting the car from the garage (again...) I headed down to the Ice Factor to meet up with Jamie B so that I could shadow one of his indoor ice wall sessions. The idea is that I can then come in occasionally and pick up some freelance work in the centre, which is awesome.

We had three clients, a father and son team and a lad from the Guardian who is doing a piece on the Ice Factor amongst other things. Jamie started by showing me the lie of the land, where things were and what to prep before the clients come in. With this done, we went through introductions and kitted up before heading into the freezer...After a brief from Jamie on safety, he got the guys into using their crampons and feet properly and effectively, with demos on how to front point properly, the science behind the techniques and overcoming the psychological barrier which makes using crampons properly feel so alien.

After the lads had got the hang of moving on ice with only their front points, we introduced ice axes to the equation, and as Jamie promised, everything that the guys had learnt regarding footwork disappeared as hey directed all of their focus on bashing the ice to pieces to get the ultimate hold...Jamie got them all back on track easily, and gave a good demo on how to swing the axe, why to swing it this way, and tell-take signs that your swinging the axe wrongly for future reference.

It was then time to rope up and put all of the skills together to climb one of the many varied routes in the freezer. I belayed one of the clients, and then Jamie gave me a belay while I tried out my new boots on the hard stuff, and they felt amazing, much more supportive than my old ones (which you would hope for nigh on £400!). After coming to terms on the short practice wall, we let the guys have a bash at the 13 metre wall, and they all did really well considering how sustained and steep the climbing is, and for first time goers!

I had a great session, it was awesome shadowing Jamie and getting a bit of feedback along with insightful hints and tips about running the session. Hoping to get back in on Saturday to shadow another session with the view of hopefully running my own sessions there in the near future! Big thanks to Jamie for the opportunity and support :)

21st-22nd January - Level 2 Avalanche Course Cont.

Looking at methods of finding multiple burials
Ian demonstrating efficient digging techniques
Looking at the snow pack
The live training exercise
All members being recalled for instructions
A huge operation for teams from throughout Scotland
An incredible demo by Tom and Tara (SARDA)
I have now completed the MRC of S Level 2 Avalanche course, based in Lochaber. On Saturday, the initial plan of venturing onto Aonoch Mor to practice all the required skills was cancelled due to high winds, so we opted to use the base to go through practical skills such as probe lines, tracker searches, Recco searches, multiple victim searches and casualty care. It was amazing having so much experience in one place, adding valuable input. It was a long day, however, with alot of information to take in. Luckily, Stu informed us that within a month or so a new MRC of S website should be going live, full of informtation, techniques and protocols. We were also shown an amazing video of an avalanche on Buichaille Etive Mor last January taken by Mike Pescod. You can see it here - not what you would usually expect an avalanche to look like!

On Sunday the weather improved somewhat, and we were able to get up the gondola to begin the days lectures. However, there was a shout on Ben Nevis so our numbers were sorely depleted as a lot of the more experienced members from various teams went to help two climbers who had lost their way on the summit, and had spent the night there. They were found safe and sound, and apart from a little hunger, were able to walk off.

Our first lecture was a fascinating talk by Tom Gilchrist of the Search and Rescue Dog Association. It provided insight into how the dogs are trained, their range of use, how they catch and hold a scent, tracking, and deployment. We were then given a demonstration of Tara (the SARDA dog) doing her thing, which was incredible. After this demo, we were split into teams and headed off to find a suitable snow patch to practice efficient digging and probing techniques, with Ian from the Oban MRT. Following a well earned lunch, we had a real-time exercise with multiple burials and huge numbers to manage. It was excellent training, well set up and provided numerous key training points for everyone. I was involved in casualty recovery and, although we did well, there is always room for improvement. We also got a chance to see the dog discover a real live burial victim in less than 2 minutes of arriving on the scene, emphasising the need to call the dogs out as soon as an avalanche call comes in.

An excellent, insightful weekend full of well organised training exercises and useful advice and techniques, Thanks to all involved.

Friday, 20 January 2012

20th January 2012 - Evening of MRCofS Lectures

This evening I attended the first evening of the Mountain Rescue Council of Scotland Level 2 Avalanche course, which will run for the duration of this weekend. This evening we were privileged to have two lectures, the first by Graham Moss of the Scottish Avalanche Information Service, which was an excellent look at current thoughts on how and when to be assessing snow pack conditions, with more focus now being on assessment from your base and on the move throughout your mountain journey, and less so on relying on hasty pits and rutchblock tests. Would be ace to get the chance to head out with the guys who compile the forecasts, who are no doubt a wealth of information and no doubt have some handy hints and tips on what to be looking for.

The second lecture was a rather lively yet morose look at avalanche rescue, likely survival and a summary of real events and tragedies from Davey Gunn, formerly of the Glencoe Mountain Rescue Team. It was rather sobering, but also an interesting insight into the thought processes of a team leader, and how in the heat of the moment the right decision, in order to safeguard the team, might not be the one taken, often due to the heuristic nature of man. More on that tomorrow hopefully!

The plan is to get out on Aonoch Mor, split into teams and spend the day in some horrendously windy conditions and get to grips with the ins and outs of the unique Scottish snow pack...roll on 6.30 tomorrow....ciao!

Thursday, 19 January 2012

19th January 2012 - Poor conditions on the Ben

Today I had a late start and decided to take a plod up the Ben in full kit for fitness sake. In the late morning the wind was quite low, and until around 400 m any precipitation was rain. Above this point, however, there was plenty of white stuff falling though in the form of grauppel which is a bit minging! At the path junction I spied a reasonable looking patch of snow to the left of Red Burn which I stomped up to in order to practice some snow anchors again, putting to practice some handy hints which Stu Johnston passed on to me.

I am still amazed at the variety of people you get up the Ben in all conditions. On my descent, the wind picked up considerably and drove hail straight into my face, and yet there were still droves of folk heading up in jeans and sandals. Please do not underestimate the Scottish hills, as the weather can change dramatically and most weather forecasts are for built up areas, not mountainous areas, where conditions can be much different. Refer to MWIS for more accurate forecasts.

Hoping to get out on Creag Meagaidh tomorrow for some nav practice and possibly look at emergency shelters and choosing a suitable snow hole location. If anyone is free and fancies coming along please get in touch.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

14th - 15th January - Winter ML Practice

I have managed to get 2 weeks holiday from work, so Anna and I decided to head up to the Cairngorms and make the most of the glorious weather we were due. We stayed at Cairngorm Lodge, where Caroline and Dave made us feel very welcome. If your ever in the area I recommend it as a good base. We spent Saturday looking at timing and pacing on various terrains and slope angles, judging how much impact soft or hard snow would have on the number of steps required to cover 100 metres, and how difficult terrain impacted upon timings. Having travelled up to the 1083m point by Cairn Lochan, we found a good patch of snow above Feith Buidhe to practice building anchors. I taught Anna how to contruct Snow Bollards in different types of snow depending on hardness, how to build good bucket seats and methods of belaying climbers from below and above. We then looked at the Buried Axe anchor and went over construction, load considerations and reinforcement. The snow was not really ideal for doing either the boot-axe belay or stomper delay as the snow was too shallow.
We then navigated (hardly difficult considering the tremendous visibility) over to Coire Domhain, and then to the summit of Cairngorm before descending in the dark. All in all a very productive day, but the conditions were too good to make navigation practice testing enough.
On Sunday we planned a long trip up Braeriach via the Chalamain Gap. Another early start saw us beat everyone else from the car park, and until half way up Braeriach we never met another soul. I used the Gap as a good place to look at travelling over difficult terrain, highlighting methods to safeguard group members and give a bit of confidence. The rest of the journey was spent interpreting contours and trying to relocate at random places. The weather was again superb, but quite windy and very cold. My new boots were playing merry hell with my heels and shins - they need worn in fast!!! We made the summit and descended to the Gap before darkness over took us. Another great day in the bag, and I've got another few trips planned so if anyone is free and fancies getting some winter experience/helping me out then give me a shout and we can arrange something :) Big thanks to Anna for being such a patient Guinnea was bitterly cold....