Friday, 28 February 2014

28th February 2014 - ATM Workshops Winter Skills Day Two

Today i was back working with the degree students at West Highland college on their winter practical workshops. Following on from yesterday's skills sessions we opted to go for a bit of a journey to explore the mountains and look at leadership and decision making in real winter conditions. We also wanted to consolidate some of the skills we picked up yesterday.

Starting for blar a' choarainn we headed north along the West Highland way for a short while, looking at timing and pacing briefly, before striking east onto the ridge of meall nan choarainn,during which we looked at group management, walking speeds and ascending tactics to save energy.

Once on the ridge proper we did a little bit of relocating before heading south higher up the ridge in search of a good snow patch. Once we found one, we recapped on our self arrests, practiced some boot work and discussed group safety and decision making.

We then went on a journey, with each of the team leading sections. Conditions deteriorated noticibly,with visibility coming and going. We saw huge debris on the eastern slopes, clearly from a sizable cornice collapse. We also saw some hefty cornices still standing, and discussed tactics of avoiding coming too close to the edge.

Once we located the summit it was time for a quick photo before heading back down the way we had come. Whilst i was deep in discussion with John who was out with us again today, one of the lads led us a bit too far north West, leaving us on the wrong slopes. Typically the cloud rolled in leaving us in all but total white out, so i navved us back on to the ridge and let the guys take over again. Hopefully it was a lesson to them on how easily and quickly you can lose your way!!
Back down to the bus safely just after 4. A great day out on the hill, Kit now all soaking wet!! Well done guys for a fun, educational two days!!

Thursday, 27 February 2014

27th February 2014 - ATM Winter Workshops

Today i was working for West Highland college, running a basic winter skills day. I had john from outward bound shadowing me as he prepares for his winter ml, and two of the students have recently done a winter skills course with me so i used this opportunity to allow peer to peer learning by getting these guys to teach the others throughout the day. We based ourselves around the nid ridge on Aonach Mor, looking at snow pack analysis, testing and techniques. The wind really picked up and several inches of snow was deposited on us within a very short time frame. This additional soft snow also made self arrests near impossible, so we chased mike's helmet back down to a lower level and discussed basic avalanche awareness, and practiced some snow probe techniques. As the weather really turned fierce we headed for some lunch and a bit of a dry, after which we headed out and John ran a session on emergency shelters. We discussed the building of the shelters, dug some of our own and then discussed the pros, cons and application of emergency snow shelters, finishing off with a cracking buried bag snow shelter.we were then joined by dave and his team, and wrapped things up for the day with a debrief back at the college. A great day with John and the students, well done guys!!

Thursday, 20 February 2014

19th February 2014 - Winter ML refresher & the Fort William Mountain Festival MRT fundraiser night

Today i headed up to Aonach Mor with Graham, John and Lawrence to refresh some winter ml rope work skills in preparation for their upcoming assessments. We headed up towards the Nid ridge, and found a suitable site to go over some sliding, before looking more in depth at winter anchors. The guys built snow bollards, buried axe anchors, practiced stomper belays and dug loads of bucket seats. Hopefully the day was good for them and gave some good pointers for the assessment. I have no doubt they will all pass no problem.

After tea and cake I heard home to prepare for the evening. I was the compere for the Lochaber Mountain Rescue fundraiser night at the Ben Nevis Inn as part of the fort William mountain festival. It was a great night, with some inspirational films bring shown, a fun raffle and a superb presentation by Joe Beaumont who has come from a serious climbing accident to take on some serious challenges that even fully able bodied people would seriously struggle to complete. We look forward to seeing Joe again later in the year as he completes one of these challenges. Read more of Joe's story here.

It was a really nice evening and great to see people turning up to support the team!! Check out the Lochaber Mountain Rescue Teams new revamped website for more information on what we do, where we do it and why!

The next few nights we will be at the festival in the Nevis Centre promoting the Carpe Diem zone which is offering people the chance to get free guiding on a number of routes to the top of Ben nevis with a qualified guide. In return, all wet ask is that at the top we spend some time picking up rubbish to leave a cleaner mountain for future visitors. The guiding day is on the 20th September 2014 and is in association with Friends of Nevis and the John Muir Trust, so why not come along to the exhibition area and get involved!!

Self arrest practice
John building a snow bollard
Furious digging to create a bucket seat
Beginning to build a buried axe belay
Joe Beaumont giving his presentation

Monday, 17 February 2014

17th February 2014 - An attempt on Ben Nevis

Today i was out working on the Ben track taking a group of three from Hull to make an attempt on the summit. I was joined by Paul who is in his third year at West Highland college studying adventure tourism management, and he was taking the opportunity to shadow me in winter ML terrain. We met Matt, Michelle and Craig at 8, and after a thorough kit check we headed in convoy to Achintee to begin our ascent.

The guys were great craic from the word go and we were soon enjoying the ascent with lots of banter and some interesting facts thrown in! We hit the snow just below windy corner, where we were also met by the wind. Cracking on, we made steady progress past the half way lochan, but began to slow down as we approached the red burn. As the guys had no experience in winter conditions, i opted to don crampons to try and give them a bit of added support on the coming challenging terrain.

We watched a pair attempt and fail to master the step, but went in for a shot anyway. I decided to go up first, making nice big steps for the team, and i dropped a sling down for a bit of added support. They all made it up with no problems, but as we started to zig zag our way up, using the red burn as a hand rail, it became apparent that the physical exertion was going to be too much for the team, and just shy of corner two we opted to go back down.

We quickly negotiated the tricky step, and battered on down to the half way lochan for a lunch stop. After this, we opted to ascend Meall an-t to try and get some views, but in the end only Matt and i made it, leaving the others in Pauls capable hands half way up. With a few photos taken, we rejoined the others and made our merry way back to the car.

Although we did not make the summit, we had a brilliant day, with very enjoyable company, challenging conditions and plenty of learning points. We made the right decisions and the team will definitely need to come back up and conquer the Ben next year!!  Well done team, and a massive thank you to Paul for all his efforts and encouragement - it was a cracking day!

Today i was working for abacus mountain guides.

Friday, 14 February 2014

14th February 2014 - winter skills up at Aonach Mor

Today was day two of the winter skills course with the first year students from the ATM course at West Highland college. I headed out with three of the students from yesterday to consolidate and expand upon the techniques we looked at yesterday. Due to the experience of the team i opted to focus our time on learning and discussing skills and strategies rather than going on a long journey. We headed up the gondola quite early,and i was keen to get the guys thinking about suitable venues, along with potential hazards and other considerations with forecasts in mind.

We spent the day looking further at kit, in particular boots and crampons. We practiced using the boots as tools on varying slopes, and looked at reserving energy and moving efficiently. We then dug hasty pits and explored the snow pack,getting the guys to consider what might be changing in the pack considering current conditions. We then found a good slope to practice self arrests, and the lads had a great session developing their techniques. We practiced on our backs, fronts, upside down, out of control and with no axe. All of which the guys had plenty of practice of.

We then looked at cutting steps both up and down slopes, managing a group and using snow proves before heading east to find a good vantage point from which we could look safely at the east face of the nid ridge and is substantial cornice and scarp slope, discussing features to look out for on a loaded slope.

Then it was back to the gondola station, beside which we found a cracking little spot to dig some emergency shelters, which the lads really enjoyed. A great end to a great day thanks guys for your banter and input over the two days!!

Thursday, 13 February 2014

13th February 2014 - winter skills with ATM 1

Today i was out with 6 students from the ATM 1 course at West Highland college looking at winter skills with a particular emphasis on the decision making that a leader or instructor goes through through out the day. The students had very little experience of the winter hills, so the first item to cover was clothing, equipment and how to pack our bags. Then we looked at the avalanche and weather forecasts to help us decide on a suitable route and venue for us to go to.

With this done we joined dave and his group in the bus and headed for the upper north Face car park. We only made it half way up before we came across several vehicles kind of parked by the track. We negotiated our way past with a bit of difficulty and finally got parked up. Groups split, we headed on foot to the cic path. I stopped with the group every time i was making a decision or judgement in my head, and used these opportunities to discuss these judgments along with a few other skills that may come in handy. It was getting increasingly windy, with plenty of snow being scoured and deposited about the place. It wasn't the best learning environment but it was good to get the guys operating in tough conditions. We got behind a boulder and put crampons, goggles and helmets on before going past daves team digging snow holes. We chose a good slope to look at hasty pits, trench tests and snow pack analysis before performing basic self arrests under an increasing bombardment of depositing snow.

With time against us we cracked on back to the bus, only to spend the next hour struggling to get it turned and dug out in the snow. A sterling effort from all involved, and plenty of digging practice!!

Today was a good example of transferred learning for the students, as well as exciting conditions in which i had to change and adapt my intentions through out the day. A similar follow on session planned tomorrow.

Saw a few interesting decisions being made by teams out today, given the snow pack, and with much of the same forecast for tomorrow please stay safe!!

Saturday, 1 February 2014

1st February 2014 - Ben Nevis in poor conditions

Stunning views this morning down the Glen towards Stob Ban

The low level of snow made everything very pretty. The wind made things a little different...

Things began to deteriorate from the Half way Lochan on-wards

Goggles on and a mix of spin drift and fresh snow met us on the upper half of the mountain

Avalanche debris and a wall of wind slab (complete with cornice) at the Red Burn

On the retreat: Our knee deep footprints were covered over in less than 20 minutes...

It has been a while since I updated this blog unfortunately, but I have been pretty busy working at Outward Bound and Kilbowie, as well as plenty of guiding in the months leading up to Christmas. Since then, it's been pretty quiet. Which is no bad thing considering the horrific weather and snow pack conditions we have been experiencing.

Today, however, I was out making an attempt on the Ben with a strong team from Leeds. They drove up yesterday having planned this trip well in advance, so were pretty keen to get up there and claim their prize. However, conditions were pretty horrendous, with High Risk avalanche warnings on the SAIS forecast from West to North East slopes above 750m - precisely on our path up the zig-zags. Add to this high winds (increasing through the day) and a rising temperature and it was definitely a day for gut feeling judgements and correct decisions.

We made excellent time up from Achintee, moving fast and enjoying the stunning views of the winter wonderland that had appeared over night. As we got round to Windy Corner, however, the winds started picking up and along by Halfway Lochan we decided to goggle up. Conditions were really starting to look grim, visibility was deteriorating and the wind was increasing rapidly but we decided to go and have a gander up to the Red Burn. We crossed some worryingly unstable patches of snow on the footpath, and had a wee look at the snow pack to see what was going on. As we approached the Red Burn visibility was almost zero, and I was alarmed to see what appeared to be some serious avalanche debris in the gully. Suddenly the cloud cleared and a wall of windslab topped with a rather large cornice loomed out of the cloud. I had a quick look at it but decided it was too unstable to risk climbing up or skirting round, and so we decided to head back down, defeated by the mountain. Our footprints (often knee deep and in places thigh deep) from twenty minutes previous were now completely covered over, an indication of how much snow was falling or being deposited in the area at that time.

On the way down we met some other teams heading up, some well equipped some not so well equipped but for the most part some good decisions were made by the people who were out in the area.

All in all it was a great day out regardless of how far we got, it was good craic and the lads seemed to enjoy their day - hopefully they can make it up again this winter for a more successful attempt! Thanks guys.

Today I was working for the Highland Mountain Company.