Monday, 29 February 2016

Mid winter catch up. Weddings, tests, training, sunshine, Gemini and Skye

Dramatic day in Glencoe
With a busy few weeks out of the way and another couple starting, I have just about managed to sit down and write about my last few days out.  Since I was last up in Torridon I attended the lovely wedding of Jamie and Claire in Glencoe.  Before the drinks started I dashed off and arrived in Aviemore for the briefing of my final induction course for the British Mountain Guides.  This was the third and final induction for me.  Now that I have completed they are happy for me to precede into the training.  So I am now a Trainee British Mountain Guide.  Happy Days!  Only 3 more years until I become an Alpine Guide.  Day one I had to prove I could climb Scottish Grade 5 so I sealed the deal by climbing a Grade 6, Shark Fin Soup on Mess of Pottage.  I was totally sandbagged by my assessor, it was harder than that!  So pleased that went well, the following two days we did some training as a group, looking at how the guides operate which was very interesting and informative.  
Ledge Route

Great conditions shaping up on Ben Nevis
After the induction I was straight back to Fort William to meet Sean, who I was climbing with for 3 days and introducing him to Scottish winter.  We have 8 days planned in the summer so it was a great opportunity to test out the hill legs.  We started off in Glencoe on Buachaille Etive Beag for some skills and two Munro's in Stunning weather.  Then came Ledge Route followed by Curved Ridge, again in stunning weather.  Sean totally lucked out...3 days...wall to wall sunshine!  You can come again!  A great 3 days with great company.  If you are reading this Sean, unfortunately I have caught your cold, nothing substantial yet but will hit me if I have a rest day!
Ledge Route

Chopper searching the NW Face
Curved Ridge
So I had a day off on Saturday so I organised with Andy and Will to head to the Ben for some ice.  I was so psyched for Gemini (VI,6) that I persuaded them to meet at 4.30am so we could be first on the route!  Grrrr we were beaten by 3 minutes!!  Must get up earlier next time!  Anyway, we climbed it anyway and had a nice sociable day with plenty of teams on the route and the rest of the mountain.  That was my 4th route this season in my own time...unreal!  Usually Im up to 30+ by March!
Me heading up the crux pitch

Andy leading after the hard pitch 
Will 'off the couch' loving the steep ice
We had to get down in good time as I had to head up to Torridon for staff briefing and then meet the clients for their briefing and kit check.  With a stunning forecast, we opted for a day on the Cuillin Ridge.  Not the whole thing but a great section.  A brilliant day out.  I'll do a round up of this week at the end.  

The mountains and winter conditions are shaping up great and I'm looking forward to some great ice climbing conditions on Ben Nevis when I'm home in March.
Skye generally being amazing!

Regulars Katya and Aide on their final summit of the day

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Next generation winter mountaineers

Day 1 team
Just finished up with the Intro Mountaineering Course for Moran Mountain based up from Loch Carron and this week wraps up a 4 week stint in the North West.  Now back home for a few days.  I took a group of 5 out on our first day for some winter skills before we split the group up and made the most of the smaller rations.  I was with young brothers Orlando and Charlie and Mike, a school teacher (sorry for the bus man's holiday) for the whole week which we finished off with a snow hole at the top of the Forcan Ridge.  The highlight of the week was doing the Liathach traverse on day two.  It was the first time I had done the traverse, I have done the two Munro's several times but never linked them, it was the second day in crampons for Orlando and Charlie and Mike was just loving cruising along on the end of the rope.  I guess it has been a while since I worked with youngsters in the winter mountains especially on technical routes and it adds a whole new dimension of care required.  It was a very rewarding week and hopefully I have inspired and enthused the youngsters to seek a lifetime of adventure in the mountains.

Heading onto Liathach

Time to get started

Group heading down to the Pinnacles

Strong image on a steep ridge


Nearly there


Forcan Ridge

The Big O and Charlie

Ridge to oursleves

Snow hole scenes

Friday, 12 February 2016

Pale Rider

Plan a had a black mid section (and it was windier)
As I have been taking a 'working holiday' up in the North West for the last few weeks with the intention of getting out climbing on my days off.  The last two weekend were either a wash out or I just couldnt face another day in grim weather.  Instead I spent my days off in the comfort of a warm bouldering wall, a friends make-shift gym or hanging out in Inverness with friends.
Murdoch killing time by counting spikes and wondering how grippy Iain's knees are!?

At last the stars aligned...just.  I spoke to my friend Murdoch a while ago, hatching a vauge plan to go climbing but my only problem was that I had to drop clients off at 6.30am...meaning I couldnt meet until 7am.  A late start...a late finish.  Maybe not the most desirable prospect for Murdoch who like to get back in good time.  But Murdoch already had a plan with Iain but mentioned that I was keen and they were both happy for me to tag along.  These two usually end up dong really hard routes and finishing in the dark so surely with a walk in starting at 7.45am they would settle on something easy and we can get up and down and back in time for dinner.  Obviously it was their barbecue, and it smelt good, so I was happy to tag along and go with the flow.  Feeling pretty fit from the last few weeks work I sent a pace to try and tire them out then we could go and have a nice 'gentlemans' day out.  Something I have not been able to do this winter on my days off.
We were both hoping he didn't fall off here, neither of us wanted new air vents in out clothes.
We arrived at the bottom of Pale Rider on Beinn Eighe's Eastern Ramparts.  I have climbed this route in summer and knew it would be a hard line.  What did I expect from a day out with these two.  The first pitch looked pretty straight forward and before I could say 'I'll do it', Iain was on his way.  It looked about grade VI but as Iain took a wee while on it, it became apparent it wasn't.  Pretty glad I had a top rope on it.  Murdoch dispatched the steep and relatively positive second pitch leaving me overheated and pumped after I seconded it and as Iain was already at the belay it would be much quicker if he led the third.  Again I was happy.  It was their barbecue after all and I don't feel fit for leading hard routes this season.  We topped out into a blizzard but it was still light, we managed to find our rucksacks sans map and made our way halfway down the hill before putting our kit away.  Making a return to the van with only flattening the batteries in our head torches for 15 minutes.  So a nice relaxed start, a speedy approach, 3 pitches of wild climbing and back in time for a nice relaxed evening.  Perfect day off.  Thanks Murdoch and Iain for letting me come out and having a late start.
Iain doing what he does best
Murdoch rested on my leg, then farted on my leg at this point, I was not impressed.

Thursday, 11 February 2016

More North West exploring

A new week dawned, a new set of clients and a new course started.  This week I was working on the Technical Winter Climber course for Moran Mountain and I was blessed with two brilliant and psyched clients Jon and Davy.  They both brought their own levels of experience and back grounds and worked very well together.  A pleasure to work with them both.  And what a week we had.  Day one we went up to the local hill behind our lodge and climbed Right End Buttress (III,4), Fuar Tholl to get the week started.  The guys led a couple of snow pitches to get back in the zone before I took over and led the difficulties.  Again it ticked all the boxes for our first day and great for me as it was more on-sight guiding. Pretty windy and wild but still good fun.
Davy found ice on George
Jon leading the home pitch
Day two I went back to the local favourite of George (III,4) where Jon and Davy did the leading whilst I climbed next to them.  I led the crux pitches as they were a little thin giving us all two pitches of leading each before they led themselves down the knee busting descent.

Jon showing Davy that it only take 2 attempts to climb! ;)
After looking at the forecast, we knew that our last two days would be big so we opted for a crag training day where we did some improvised rescues and a good couple of hours of dry tooling.  Great for resting the legs and frazzling the brain with knots, ropes and carabiners.  It was a worth while rest.
Myself and Davy pretending we know what the mountains are called
Team red gears up
Big Wednesday dawned at 04.45.  Porridge, toast, tea and bacon butties in the van.  Drive for 1.10 hours.  Walk. Keep walking.  A beautiful day dawned and we were all excited to climb The Resurrection (III,4)****.  A Cold Climbs classic, a 3 hour walk in, a 350m face, a mini Alpine North Face, a route that finishes on the highest mountain in the NW Highlands, a summit cairn belay and perfect weather.  And a route none of us have done before, perfect!  A wise climber would bring a guidebook for an area they have never been before.  In the insomniac state I was in at 5am I picked up the wrong guidebook and brought it with me leaving us with no description.  Fortunately we worked out the line and had a great days climbing finishing on the summit of Sgurr Mor (1110m).  The route had everything we could hoped for.  The best part is that it never looked that hard but it certainly did pack a punch.  From the summit it was a long walk out and we opted to leave the neighbouring Munro for another time and returned to the van just as it got dark.  A fantastic 11 hour day, the perfect winter day out.

The 1st pitch of The Resurrection (photo:Jon)
High up on the route (Photo:Jon)
Team Red
Davy being a tool
Me looking for gear before i pull over the sugary cornice

Highest summit in the NW Highlands
Big Thurday dawned at 5am.  Porridge, eggs, tea.  Unfortunately Jon was feeling pretty tired after The Resurrection so opted for a day with his wife Anne, who was here for the week biking around the coast and mountains.  So myself and the legend that is Davy took our armoury of gear and a lightweight rope and went to Skye.  We had seen pictures of the Cuillin and they looked stunning.  We had to visit.  The icing on the cake was that Davy had never been to Skye before.  I wanted to give him a taste of this amazing playground, plant the seed, open his door to a lifetime of fantastic climbing and mountaineering.  I opted for the Clach-Glas Blabhein Traverse (IV,4) for 3 reason.  Firstly it is probably one of the best single days of mountaineering in the UK, secondly it provides the best view of the whole Cuillin Ridge, (ready for a winter traverse, I did it 3 years ago, go and do it) every peak, every 'nook and cranny' especially with its winter coat on.  And finally, it has been high up on my guiding 'to-do list' for a long time.  I have done it many times in summer, it was a pleasure to guide in winter.  A complex and serious ridge.  The best part, we put down fresh tracks all the way.  From the summit, the cloud rolled in so we made our way down which wrapped up a great and varied week of technical winter climbing.  A real pleasure to be out with Jon and Davy and I wish them all the best in their future adventures.  See you in the mountains.
The objective

The dream
Davy loving the route

Top of Clach Glas

Techy descent, stunning views

Thursday, 4 February 2016

One of 'those' weeks

1st gearing up of the season for the team
Looking at this weeks forecast I knew it was going to be 'one of those weeks'.  Blowing a hoolie, temperatures up and down like yoyo, I was going to have to dig deep to make the week work for my group.  I have wrapped up the Introductory Winter Climber course for Moran Mountain where I was working with two John's and Matt.  Our first day, Sunday, the outlook was positive.  We knew we had to make the most of this day.  Instead of having a shorter skills based introduction, we had a good sized day on the brilliant A'Chioch Ridge on Beinn Bhan (II***).  With a mix of easy mountaineering followed by a brilliant grade two headwall it got the guys into the zone and we were able to make great progress and onto the summit.
High up on the final headwall on A'chioch
Summit team on Beinn Bhan
Unfortunately the weather had almost turned tropical by the time we returned to the car.  Winds on the summits were to be in excess of 90mph and raining at all levels.  The very little snow we did have would very quickly reduce to just enough for a snowball fight.  Day two we had to make use of the training crag on the Applecross peninsular.

Day 3, urghh!  Rain beating off the wind rocking mini bus as we drove down Glen Torridon, I mustered up some enthusiasm and coaxed everyone out the bus and we started the 2 hour walk along the Allt a' Choire Dhuibh Mhoir up into Coireag Dubh Mor.  Might I add, in 60 mph head winds driving rain through every opening and stitching leaving us all utterly soaked by the time we reached the corrie.  Again I dug deep and found some more enthusiasm as the rain slowly turned to stinging graupel.  We opted for the Way up (I) gully.  And for Matt and John to do the leading.  A great performance from them in these horrendous conditions but after half way it was getting a bit much, especially as Matt was getting very cold and his lips were changing colour.  From here I took over and we whizzed up to the top, still been blasted by constant graupel, so powerful that it would sting the back of my legs.  We all belly flopped over the gully rim like soldiers who have just completed the toughest assault course.  We rejoiced as we were out of the worst of the winds.  Today was no summit day.  No chance.  We got 'outta there'!  So grim but what everyone agreed as type two fun (fun afterwards, not so much during).
Walking round Beinn Eighe
Low on West Buttress
With a desire to climb a little harder, I took the team into the mind blowing Coire Mhic Fhearchair, on Beinn Eighe, a pleasant 3 hour walking before you start climbing.  After yesterdays suffering, today seemed very benign, it was cold, crisp and the mountains had a winter coat on.  To surge up some drained enthusiasm from the last couple of days we opted for West Buttress (IV,4****), a hard mountaineering route with plenty of interest throughout.  For me, this was perfect as I hadn't climbed the route and its days like this, on-sight guiding, which makes up for the tough days this week.  And what a route, very sustained, I think we did 12 pitches up the route which I think I had underestimated but we all worked hard and got up and down the south side before it got dark.  A top effort from the guys!  I was super pleased to complete the trilogy of the triple buttresses (East, Central and now West).
Dont worry lads, there is only a couple of tricky pitches...oops!

Our final day dawned and again we just about had good conditions.  We never touched freezing level, it was always one pitch above our head.  With this forecast we took the walk back into Coireag Dubh Mor and climbed George (III,4) which goes in pretty much any condition fortunately.  We made pretty swift progress up the route and this time went over the summit of Spidean a' Choire Leith before making our final descent off Liathach, our final knee destroying descent of the week.  All in all, it was one of those weeks, a week that looks suboptimal but actually it proved to be very productive and very enjoyable, albeit a little tiring.  Thanks to my clients for putting in all the hard work and the very generous tips at the end.  Hopefully see you all again soon.
Leaving the cave pitch on West Buttress