Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Alpine season part one

This is by far the longest I have been away from Scottish winter and despite there being very good conditions back home we are equally having great conditions here.  Yes, we have had Category 5 (very high) twice this season and the 'worst' conditions (in regards to avalanches) since 1991, and we have had fluctuating temperatures but there have still been countless days where we have had great snow and ice.

This season is (hopefully) the last winter season before I become a full IFMGA Mountain Guide.  So the aim is to observe as many guides as possible as well as build a great deal of experience and knowledge before I am let loose on my own.  So I have spent some brilliant days, skiing, ice climbing, observing guides and getting to know new areas.  Bring on a good season.

Skiing the ENSA couloir with Lou while she was out on holiday
Here I'm abseiling into the top of the ENSA.
Christmas day skiing with Lou and familiy
We thought we would try a day of snowboarding.  It has been 6 years since I last snowboarded, still great fun.
First bit of observation work, navigation for skiers
Some great ice in Cogne.  This was our 2nd trip to the Valley in Italy.
Another day skiing with some local friends.  Great to get their knowledge and enthusiasm on a blue sky day
Jack, Fat boy and I shared Rachel Kerr for the afternoon for some ski instruction to brush up our technique.  A well worth afternoon.

A great day on the Vallee Blanche.  We did two laps today with a good team of guides and friends.  A great way of absorbing their knowledge and having a great laugh.

A great week observing Graham Frost from Frost Guiding.  We went on some tours...

My home got buried...

...the group go instruction...

...we skied powder in the trees...

...with blue skies...


So, a great start to the season, Im looking forward to the next part.  I have just returned from an avalanche course ran by the legend Alain Duclos.  This week, I will be on a course run by the BMG on 'Off-piste guiding' so looking forward to learning all about it.

Thursday, 30 November 2017

Back on Ben Nevis

Does it get much better for mixed?

A quick hit on Ben Nevis this morning with Andy.  The main aim was to get down for 1300 for a coffee.  So with these time restrictions we opted for a quick route on or near the Douglas Boulder.
On arrival, we decided to pick a line which wasn't in the guide book.  Turns out it was called 'Watery Foul's' (V,7) which had an intense first pitch then cruisy for the following two pitches.
Andy of the first pitch

The mountain was looking stunning but reports of very slow/exhausting walking rendered the rest of the mountain unclimbed.  Teams climbed Gutless/Rutless and Cutlas on the Boulder.
Winter is getting off to a good start...Now a wee thaw to keep us on our toes.

Spot all the lines

Andy on the third pitch

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Early season kick start

Dorsal Grat
Typically, early season climbing can be higt and miss but if you don't try then you wont know.  Alan (71) was keen to get it off to an early start so we opted to dust off the crampons and hit the snow in Glencoe.  To my delight, Alan hadn't done Dorsal Arete (II) so I felt this would be a good start to the season.
Nothing forgotten...we're good to climb

 The snow was really soft but as always the climbing was good.  The turf underneath the snow was generally ok but if you pulled too hard on the axes then you may pull some soft turf out.  Good thing we have  70 years of climbing experience between us!  A team followed us up and they opted to not wear crampons.  They made it to my delight! 
Gently on the turf

Another bomber belay with good views 

Good amount of snow to clear

Soaking in the views
The 'no crampon' team.  

 At the fin, we opted to go around the right.  On the day, Alan wasnt up for the 'teetering across the top' moves which is a very good decision.  Know your limits and don't rush in.  Going around the right gave a nice tricky corner to climb and far more enjoyable.
Exposed belay at the fin

Alan happy in the right hand variation

What an amazing place to live and work

Monday, 27 November 2017

Some Like it Hot, Stob Coire an Laoigh

The crag!
After a good study of the forecast it looked like we were going to have to climb high.  As two became three, then three became four, we had a very sociable team with plenty of motivation to share around...which is exactly what you need for the walk into the North facing cliffs of Stob Coire an Laoigh.  I was super keen for the three star route 'Some like it hot'.  I have climbed the other classics of the crag such as 'Taliballen' (V,6) and Centrepoint (VI,7) and knew that, if I was too come back in here, I would climb 'Some like....'.  My friend Kenny and I have talked about this route pretty much every year for the last 8 years but never got round to doing it.

Lou heading up to the base of 'Some like it hot'
A quartzite wall!  Some of the best climbing in Scotland is on quartzite!
So Lou, Steve, Andy and myself left Spean Bridge at 0645 and drove up the track past Corriechoille Farm (beware of pot holes) to set off walking just after 7.  The walk felt like it went on for hours but on arrival to the corrie, a mere 2 hours had passed.  Just after nine, we were presented with a perfect looking crag! 
Looking up the corner from the top of P1. (tilt head to left ;)

We split in our teams.  Lou and I headed for 'Some like it hot' and Steve and Andy headed for 'Centrepoint'.  We wondered what we would find.  The ground was sodden on the walk in which allowed some doubt about conditions to creep in.  The first swing of my ice axe confirmed that we were on!  It was only going to get better and the turf was good! 
Lou heading up P1
Lou remembering how to winter climb, didn't take her long!
As this was Lou's first trip out this winter, I led both pitches which were quite contrasting but equally brilliant.  P1 (VI,6).  Pitch 2 (VII,7). 
Lou approaching P1 belay
With only two pitches to climb we topped out in pretty good time.  We wandered over to see Steve and Andy in action, just as Steve was leading off on the 3rd and final pitch.
Top of the 2nd pitch...2 massive ledges after 40m of amazing climbing

I was over the moon with how good the conditions were and do I need to go back in?  Course I do!  Still several really good looking lines there (Blue Rinse, Cobra Corner) and it would be great to guide in there too...if only I could persuade a client to walk in that far...
A two hour walk out which required head torches for the last 20 minutes concluded a great day and a good early season route.  Right back to work tomorrow in Glencoe!

Steve and Andy are there somewhere on the steep 'Centrepoint'.

Saturday, 25 November 2017

Winter begins

The early starts are worth it

For me, the Scottish winter season will come to an end very quickly.  I am due to be in the Alps from mid December until April.  So my intention is to cram a seasons worth of climbing into one month!  Is it possible?  Doubtful!  However, if last year is anything to go by, I only have to do 6 more routes then I will beat that tally!
Nice morning for a long walk

So, two routes have got me underway.  Last year on the 25th November, Chadders and I climbed on Carn Etchican.  This year, on the same date we did exactly the same.  We only realised when we were home as it popped up on Mark's Facebook feed.  The photo's are not identical but very similar.  Check them out in the link above.  We had a few route's in mind, one objective was black so we needed to stick to something that was holding the snow, a groove or gully line.  So we ended up on Pagans Slit (V,6) which gave some brilliant, balancy, turfy climbing.  Everything was frozen and we weren't wading through too much snow.  It's was bitterly cold though...I just wonder if I haven't adjusted to it yet after my sport climbing trip or if I am just being a bit soft!?
Chadders enjoying the snowy chimney on the 1st of 2 main pitches

It was a tough day in terms of braking trail, wandering through boulder fields with some snow, falling down holes and getting battered by the wind.  Im glad the following day was due to be a short one.
Best part of the day, Murdoch with his foot stuck.  Had to remove his boot to get free.  I did help after I took some photos

So day two with Murdoch was just spot on.  Originally we had talked about some desperate test pieces in the 'Lochain' but fortunately the weather was minging so it had to be a quickie.  No long belay shifts and back for 12.30.  It's great going winter climbing and having an afternoon to do 'normal' things.  We went in and climbed 'Pot of Gold' (V,6) as we thought it would go quickly.  After the initial faff we grovelled our way up as the wind picked up and we both started moaning about how cold it was.  It was fun climbing, I had done it before but it was much better conditions this time.  We topped out and swiftly got back to the van for a whole afternoon....of....
(Should have stayed out longer)

Murdoch on the short traverse on pitch 2

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

A return to winter

The Grey Corries

Before I could go climbing for myself, I was out working with Grahame who has some gift vouchers to redeem.  Great present idea from his brother!  We had planned for 3 days but unfortunately the weather didn't play ball so we just had two.  Great fun as always.

Cruach Inness
Day one we did a couple of corbett's Grahame hadn't done, Cruach Innse and Sgurr Innse, after an aborted effort to get to the Forcan Ridge, due to road closure.  The Grey Corries are great hills on the doorstep and it was great to get a view of them from a new angle. 

It was even freezing at 857m

Happy as Larry in crampons
Our final day it looked like winter was arriving by midday.  So armed with full mountaineering equipment, we headed into the Cairngorms for a link up of scrambling and winter mountaineering.  Grahame hasn't done much in the way of winter mountaineering so it was a nice gentle introduction up the Fiacaill Ridge

Not long until this buttress is covered in climbers
I think he might have a taste for winter!

Unsure of ideas for Christmas presents for friends and family?  Get in touch so they can open a day of adventure in the mountains!