Friday, 31 May 2013

28th-31st May 2013 - Glencoe bound with Stramash!

Royal Navy SAR doing some training very close by!
A team heading up the snow field at the head of the glen


Stob Coire Sgreamhach (L) and the ridge to Bidean Nam Bian (R)

Our camp spot
This week I was based down in Glen Coe working for Stramash! which is an Oban based outdoor education company. We were working with a group of kids from the Tullochan Trust based in Dumbarton and Clydebank.

I started my week by running some team challenges, getting my group to communicate and co-operate in order to complete tasks and puzzles. They started off a bit rough round the edges, but soon got stuck in and did really well. In the evening we were off for a beach fire and explore, and headed on down to Loch Crenan where we were treated to a rapidly incoming tide and the joys of watching the other groups fires getting washed out twice... :P

On Wednesday into Thursday I was out on exped with my guys. We headed up into the Hidden Valley, nestled below Stob Coire Sgreamhach, and in the blistering midday heat we set ourselves up and took a bit of time to chill out and enjoy the sun. We were treated to an aerial display by the Navy rescue boys who were doing some winch training on the surrounding crags. The kids, who are all inner city, were really impressed and I even managed to convince them that I'd arranged for it to happen!! Afterwards, we headed on up with the intention of getting on Stob Coire Sgreamhach, but the snow patch blocking the Bealach was too extensive and so we made our target the snowling, just shy of 900. After much determined moaning we arrived, and some of us ventured onto the snow to have a wee poke around whilst the others chilled out below. Too steep to safely lead an under equipped group here, but we were all happy with our achievement.

Back down for some dinner, a camp fire and a bit of stargazing before bed! Next day we went over some geography, history and geology of the area which was interesting for some, but not so much for others. Back to base by mid afternoon for a tidy up, and then out on nightline that evening. More team challenges and a gorge walk saw us finish our week on a high. Great bunch of kids who hopefully gained a lot from their experience here, and hopefully this helps them in future!

Saturday, 25 May 2013

25th May 2013 - Team Base & Stob Ban North Ridge

Me scrambling on the Noth Ridge

Looking towards the summit

Me just before the final ascent

On the summit, glorious evening views
Today I was down at the LMRT Base to help out with some maintenance tasks around the site. I was a bit loath to go down at first as it was a really cracking day and I have been itching to get some climbing done, but just haven't found the time or good enough weather! Anyway, guilt overcame me and I went for a quick loop on the bike around Cow Hill on my way there, and actually had a cracing day painting outside, having a laugh with the other team members. Anna popped down once she finished work to give us a hand painting some window frames, and once we had done this, we headed off for an evening stroll up the North Ridge of Stob Ban, one of our favourite little 'quick' routes in the area.

The weather and views were superb and we had the whole mountain to ourselves in fantastic evening sunlight. Great to get back on the hill with Anna again as her new job saps a lot of her time these days!

Sunday, 19 May 2013

20th May 2013 - The Ballachulish Sandbag

Anna laundering some cash before we headed out...just thought I'd show it for evidence...

At the start of our route, soon to wave goodbye to the road

One of the few rideable sections

A well earned rest

Enjoying Loch Linnhe after the forest track
So today Anna and I were keen to get on the hill, but given the very low cloud level our plans of doing the Sron Na Larig and down Bhienn Fhada was shelved. We opted instead to have a go on the bikes around a loop Anna has had her eye on for ages - from Ballachulish around the Ballachulish Horseshoe to Duror and back up National Cycle Route 78 to the start of the trail again - around 24km all told.

We set off with high hopes, but soon found ourselves facing boggy, grassy slopes and extremely rutty tracks with no where to ride properly. We ended up spending most of our time pushing the bikes wondering why we had brought them with us... Regardless, we had a good laugh and it was nice sharing the outdoors with Anna since her new job restricts her time off so much. She is still fitter than me on the bike!!!

Eventually we came to the end of the boggy hell (stunning scenery though) and hit some nice but too short lived single track before going full throttle down several miles of forest track (a welcome relief!) and hitting ontot Route 78 which was incredibly quick. With only a few stops to admire the scenery and eat cake, we were back to the car in no time, and homeward bound after a milkshake and chocolate cake at the cafe in Glen Coe.

Great to be out on the bike doing some cross country stuff, but I think that route has served its purpose and wont be visited again on two wheels....Hoping to do my TCL soon so its all good training I'm sure!

Saturday, 18 May 2013

18th May 2013 - Ben Nevis in high winds!

Dave Anderson - cool, calm and collected in his natural environment

Looking crowded at the Red Burn - I've seen it busier though!

Ken, Kate and Dave making good head way

Ken and Kate - almost there. Note Ken's stylish headwear, much slagged by Kate!!

Team photo above Corner 8 on the way back down. Far windier than it looks!
This morning I was heading up Ben nevis as one of three guides leading a group of 23. I met Dave and Willie at the Glen Nevis Visitor Centre at 9am shortly before meeting the group who were raring to go. After a brief safety chat and a description of the route ahead, we headed off. Willia took the lead, Dave hovered in the middle and I brought up the rear.

It was a nice temperature for walking on the Ben, not too hot and not too cold, and it was interesting chatting to the clients and learning their backgrounds and previous experiences. Before long it was apparent that some members of the group were moving slower than others, and we began to form seperate groups. My guys at the back did well to keep motivated and press on even though the track was extremely busy. Before long we were at the Red Burn where the rest of the team had waited for us. We decided that I would form my own little group at the back, working semi-independently of the others, and this allowed me to really focus my attention on encouraging Ken and his wife Kate to keep going. Ken was ex-army, but had suffered a heart attack in 2008 and was lacking confidence in his ability coming into the day, and at times in the first half of the ascent seemed to almost give up. From Corner 4 onwards the wind started to pick up alarmingly, but Ken, Kate and Dave kept pressing on, determined to give it their best shot. By corner 6 the gusts were getting quite serious, and a number of other guides heading down were telling tales of summits unreachable. By now, however, Ken was unstoppable - such was his determination that he was now the one cajolling Kate and Dave on to success.

The last of the reasonable visibility evaporated by the final corner, and after Dave had a fumble with his trouser arrangement (!?) we set off on the final, arduous, stage of our journey. The guys fought on bravely, overcoming their fears through good team moral and management, and we were within a stones throw of the summit when the rest of the group honed into sight on their way back down; only three had made the summit as the wind at the top of Gardyloo Gully proved too much for most of them. At this we turned back also - but it was a tremendous achievement for Ken who was physically and mentally boosted by his performance - beaten back only by the weather and not his fitness - well done Ken and to everyone else in the team who worked so hard to make it so far! The mountain remains a challenge for another day!

The trip back down was rather uneventful, but overall the group did well for time, finishing just after 5pm. Back home for some Mediterranean chicken and a well earned beer :)

Today I was working for Seren Ventures.

Friday, 17 May 2013

17th May 2013 - Kinlochleven to Fort William

All smiles as we set off. Note the guns on these guys. If I did a poor job I'd had it!

Trooping along nicely

Half way house - not serving tea and cakes though!!

Stob Ban and General Wades' Road

Surprisingly still smiling 5 hours later!
Today I was out with a group of Level 5 Child, Health & Social Care students from West Highland College who were raising money for childrens charity, CHAS. The plan was to meet at the college at 7.30 am, travel down to Kinlochleven and complete the final section of the West Highland Way. The students had a target of 6 hours.

After reaching Kinlochleven, we had a brief safety chat and a quick round up of kit, food and water before heading on our merry way. The students made good progress climbing up and out of the glen towards the Lairig Mor, joining Wades military road. They made a great job of keeping each others moral up, and I never heard them complain once even though this was the first time many of them had undertaken something of this scale.

The weather was super kind to us, with bright sunshine all day long keeping us very warm. A few of us could have done with some sun cream...

The girls kept pushing on at a tremendous rate, but were thankful of a rest at the head of the Lundavra Road for a spot of lunch and an unlikely coffee. From here the girls had opted to head along the tarmac for the final few kilometres and descend en masse to the new Wetherspoons for a well earned drink after a superbly quick 5 hours. I joined them for a celebration drink and a bit of an unwind before going to meet Anna and helping with some of her deliveries :)

A great day and a great achievement for everyone involved - plenty of money raised for a worthy cause!

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

15th May 2013 - Lake District 10 Peak Challenge

It was much windier than it looks!

Terrific view to Buttermere and beyond

Beasting up the Haystacks

Tough going up to Green Gable

A well earned rest before the final descent into Borrowdale - well done lads!
Last night I headed down to the very quiant Buttermere in the Lake District in order to help guide on a 10 peak challenge for Big Walks. I had never done any work down here before, so was looking forward to a bit of a challenge and a pleasant change of scenery, and I wasn't left disappointed.

The group of 21 were from a large pub/restaurant chain and were raising money for a childrens charity (so far having raised £50,000 through various efforts - great job guys!) and were a range of managers, chefs and general staff. This morning I met Geoff, who operates Big Walks, and Mike and Steve who were also guiding today, at the Buttermere Youth Hostel where the group were staying. After last minute preparations and a few words about safety, we split the group into three and took each of our guys for a more personal brief on the day and sort out any issues.

In no time we were off, walking through pleasant countryside through the picturesque Buttermere and on towards the first peak of the day: Red Pike. The walk up to the tarn which nestles high on Red's shoulder was challenging enough for a few guys from all three teams, and we had a few drop outs here. I was with the middle team, and due to different walking paces we decided to stop at the tarn and wait on the last group in order to sort the groups out into more appropriate speeds. I took 8 slightly quicker folk, and we quickly ascended Red Pike before regrouping in the mist and heading for High Stile. The wind really picked up here, and some of the group really struggled walking at times, but we managed to persevere at a good pace onto the final peak of this stretch, High Crag. Here we met Geoff who was working in a support role, gathering folk who wished to call it a day in the Scarth Gap below. My group got into the Gap and had lunch, where 4 of the group decided they had done enough and opted to head back down with Geoff. So with only 4 left in my group, we ploughed onto the Haystacks in much improved weather, and enjoyed good craic as we picked our way amongst the crag and heather. There were a few interesting scrambling sections for the guys to enjoy on the way to the top.

After the Haystacks we made our way over broken ground towards the 5th peak, Brandreth. A rather non-descript summit, it compensated with superb views in every direction. From here the lads pressed on to Green Gable, nestled quietly under its bigger brother Great Gable which would have been our next peak had the team decided that enough was enough, and opted to head down to Borrowdale and a rest!

Just as we turned away, the cloud cover came rolling in, and it began to rain quite heavily. Waterproofs on, we plooded for home, and after a rather and strenuous descent into Borrowdale the guys could finally relax and massage their tired legs.

All in all it was a tremendous effort; everyone pushed themselves hard and found some pleasure in being in the mountains; 4 members of the team in front made the full 10 peaks; and they raised a hell of a lot of money for a worthy cause. Beers all round back at the hostel - and rightly so!

Thanks to Geoff at Big Walks for the opportunity - I look forward to my next visit to the Lakes!


Sunday, 12 May 2013

11th May 2013 - Castle Ridge with the BBC


Carn Dearg Buttress looking eerie
Nick taking some shots down towards Torlundy
Castle Ridge swathed in cloud
Nick filming the passing clouds on the ridge
Still plenty of snow on the CMD and NE Buttress

This evening I was out with Nick from the BBC who was wanting some good atmospheric shots looking up Castle Ridge for a programme Keeping Britain Safe which will be broadcast in October.

We set off from the top car park towards the north face with some very expensive and top notch gear. I had been really worried that the weather would be too cloudy to see anything, and as we walked in it didn't look as though it was going to play ball. However, as we drew level with the foot of the ridge the cloud started to break, and so we headed over to get some more dramatic shots looking up the rock faces. After Nick set up his kit he went through some of the technology and tricks of the trade which was really interesting.

We moved around a bit to get various shots, before packing up and making our way back to the car, stopping now and again to get some additional shots from different angles. The clouds and remaining snow made the rock look more threatening and the fading light gave it a real Tolkienesque feel.
It was an interesting evenings work and we enjoyed some good craic and interesting conversations along the way.

Keep your eyes peeled for keeping Britain Safe, BBC 1 @ 9 pm sometime in October!

Thursday, 9 May 2013

9th May 2013 - Ben Nevis 3 Peaks

Panorama of Glen Nevis

Looking down the Glen towards Stob Ban

The weather remained fair all day

Trooping up beyond the half way Lochan

The Red Burn: Trully half way

Half the team on the summit, the other half have just left - very cold but well done!

A break in the clouds as we approach Corner 6
Today I was working on the Ben Tourist track leading a group of 8 who were attempting the 3 Peaks Challenge. The guys were from an airline catering company, GateGourmet, that provides the meals and beverages on flights all over the world.

I met them at the Glen Nevis Youth Hostel just after midday, and after a spot of lunch and a quick brief we were on our way up Heart Attack hill. Some of the group members were real fitness fanatics, and it showed as they trooped on up ahead. Others, however, were taking things at more of a steady pace and it was great to see the company President, Andy, taking one of the guys bags all the way up and back down.

The weather was much better than forecast, and we only suffered a few short showers but enjoyed superb views out over the Glen. It was great to chat to the guys and find out about their backrounds and roles within the company. The main objective of the challenge was to improve the guys team dynamics, and seeing how each individual reacted to the challenge really showed how they operated as a team.

From about corner 4 upwards the snow became more and more of an issue, but it was soft and easily manageable. From corner 7 visibility began to deteriorate rapidly, and we had to focus on following the cairns to the summit. MacLeans Steep was quite a struggle for some of the guys at the back, but with encouragement from me and the other guys in the team they trooped on to the plateaux. Here the wind really picked up, cutting through us like a knife. The quicker 4 team members had went on ahead, and as we finally reached the summit they passed us on the other way having spent no time at all on the summit due to the cold. We followed suit, only stopping for a few photos before turning back to escape the freezing conditions.

On the way down, the guys put in a sterling effort to keep a good pace. It took us 3 hours to reach the summit and the guys were keen for a sub 5 hour time. We took our time crossing the snow fields, and once we had dropped beneath them the cloud cleared and we were treated to some stunning panoramic views, allowing us to pick up the pace a bit. From the half way Lochan downwards one of the guys was really struggling and the pace slowed down abit, but we kept going steadily, getting back to the bus in a total of 5 hours 25 minutes, which is a fantastic time. I hope they manage to complete their 3 Peak challenge within 24 hours and continue to participate in this type of challenge to futher improve their team bonding!! Well done guys!

Today I was working for Mountain Challenge.

Friday, 3 May 2013

3rd - 4th May 2013 - Aborted Exped in the Fisherfields

A Panoramic shot on the walk in

The team full of beans and enthusiasm

Our camp spot

The clouds are coming in. Lovely camp spot
Today (3rd) I met Steven Fallon and his team of five clients who were looking to knock off An Teallach and the 5 Fisherfield Munros over a 4 day expedition. Many of the guys are returning clients of Stevens and so we knew that these guys were up to the task.

Setting off at 9.30am, the weather was very fair - much better than the forecast had predicted, and we had a pleasant walk in to some of Scotlands most remote landscape. The mountains were capped in snow, but not worryingly so, and the wind was non existant: so far so good!

After passing a large team from Venture Trust, we carried on in to our camp spot, which is a terrific little area on the track towards Shenevall Bothy, sitting on a bend of the river Abhainn Loch an Nid and nestled in some lovely woodland. Before setting up, I took the opportunity to talk the guys through packing their bags a little more effectively, which they all found quite useful (some of the guys haven't camped in many years; it was one of the groups first time!!). Having covered any aspects the guys wanted to go over, we set up our tents, had a quick spot of lunch and then 4 of us headed off towards Shenevall to attempt An Teallach, leaving the two brothers behind at the camp.

No sooner had we set off than the heavens opened, relentlessly pounding us as we ventured up into Coire Ghamhna, following the deer fence and getting a glimpse of the superb hidden waterfall and gorge which nestles therein. The guys were slipping and sliding, holding onto the deer fence for dear life as the heavy precipitation turned from rain to heavy snow, and given the time it took us to reach the corner of the deer fence, and the deteriorating conditions and light, I chose to get us back down again.

The small burns we had crossed on the long walk in were now torrents, and we had some difficulty crossing them. After a brief respite in the shelter of the bothy, we cracked on for 'home', soaked to the bone. Finally, on our last crossing, one of the party lost his balance and fell side long into the river, getting soaked instantly. We managed to pluck him out, and even recovered the pole he dropped which had been flushed away towards the river.

Back at camp we hurried to get some food cooked, and after making sure everyone was alright (especially the chap who had taken an early bath! I was then able to get into my own tent, and sort out my soaking wet kit in an attempt to help it dry.

After a reasonable night sleep, I got up to find the snow level was no higher than 100m above our camp, which meant there was a lot of fresh snow on top of the previous snow pack which didn't bode well. The team got up and had some breakfast, and with the weather report on the radio forecasting more persistent rain and high winds, I left the team to discuss what they wanted to do. They unanimously opted to pull out of the venture, and so we packed up and walked back out.

On the walk out we say some hefty snow scouring and dumping, some fresh avalanche debris and a team of 5 reach 500 metres on An Teallach before being beaten back down - we had definately made the right decision! Unfortunate for the guys and certainly dissapointing but safety is always a priority, and it is so much better if everyone enjoys their hard work!

I was working for Steven Fallon Mountain Guides.