A week of winter climbing on the West Coast of Scotland
Shake down day. Mountaineering

Shake down day. Mountaineering

After what has felt like a very ‘on-off’ Scottish winter, this week provided Sean and I with some good climbing. On Sean’s previous trip we did a day of winter skills on Buachaille Etive Beag, then climbed Ledge route and followed that with Curved Ridge. This week Sean was keen to introduce to mixed climbing and ice climbing so day one required a bit of a shake down. WIth plenty of snow around I opted for the East Ridge of Stob Ban. This is usually a grade II or III but I like the ‘sit-down’ start which warrants grade IV and requires some stiff pulls.

High up on North Buttress

High up on North Buttress

Day two we went and climbed North Buttress IV,4. Many teams only do a few pitches and abseil off but the upper section has some fantastic mountaineering terrain so we pushed onto the summit. Again we had great conditions and this 3 star route was in its prime.

Day three we went onto Ben Nevis and climbed the uber classic ‘The Curtain’ IV,5. As it was mid week we decided to call it a day after topping out on the route and as the weather was coming in, we didn’t see the point on pushing onto the summit on this occasion.

Sean on his first ever ice route!

Sean on his first ever ice route!

Day four we went to Beinn Udlaidh and climbed some chewy ice. A two route day with South Gully of the Black Wall IV,4 (brilliant by the way!) and Quartvein Scoop IV,4, also brilliant! This was Sean’s second day ice climbing and he was really getting the hang of it…and loving it!

Ice, ice baby!

Ice, ice baby!

Our final day was a no brainer. Into the Ice Factor for ice climbing in the freezer and dry tooling on the rock walls. A brilliant way to hone in some technique and get the forearms and core working really well…next time we will be stronger and we’re already planning some classic grade V routes.

Until next time Sean!

Skiing or climbing? Which one do you prefer?
Last year snow problems

Last year snow problems

Due to a client unable to drive in the deep drifting snow, we have postponed our days climbing today. It’s too late to find a partner so instead the kettle is on and I’ll be having a day at home! Maybe a good idea as it has been non-stop in the last wee while!

Fresh tracks on the Vallee Blanche last week

Fresh tracks on the Vallee Blanche last week

This time of year does beg the question, climbing or skiing. I have been fortunate to do both in the last month. Climbing in Scotland and skiing in the Alps.

It has been a slow start to the winter, it came, it went, it went cold, went warm. it thawed and froze…and so on. However, today, Tuesday 22nd January it feels like winter is here to stay for a while. Currently having substantial snowfall on the West Coast where the East is slightly nicer with less snow. The mixed climbing conditions are very good at the moment, the ice routes need a little more work.

Louisa keeping warm on Swan Song V,6, Cairngorms.

Louisa keeping warm on Swan Song V,6, Cairngorms.

Last week I was in Chamonix for 10 days skiing with friend and with clients. We had great conditions, I was fortunate as it snowed as I landed in Geneva and gave plenty of good powder skiing. As time went on, the snow was topped up almost every other day meaning we found great powder in the resorts and well away from the piste. We were fortunate to ski some amazing snow, some routes we had to skin up, such as the Glacier Mort and the uber classic Crochues-Berard Traverse but others we made use of the lifts. Saint Gervais, Combloux touring and tree skiing, 3 days on the Vallee Blanche, Off-piste at Le Tour, steep skiing off Brevent Hotel Face.

If you know where to go, you will be rewarded!

If you know where to go, you will be rewarded!

So back in Scotland for a while now so getting fully embraced into Scottish Winter which will mostly be climbing as well as a two week Ice climbing trip to Norway ice climbing. Yesterday I was out on Swan Song V,6 in the Cairngorms with Louisa and despite being a very windy day, we tucked in avoiding the worst of the gusts. I’m pretty excited as to what the rest of the season brings. Happy climbing everyone and stay safe!

Looking ahead, my Scottish winter is fully booked.

I have availability for Ski Touring and Off Piste skiing between 8th -17th April 2019

I also have availability for Rock Climbing and RIdges between 1st - 24th May 2019

Rock climbing and Ridges availability 4th - 6th June 2019 (Snowdonia based)

Alpine Climbing availability 14th - 17th June 2019 (Chamonix based)

Rock climbing and Ridges 8th - 13th September 2019

For more information and inspiration click on the boxes below or get in touch.

Are you ready for winter?

I hope so because I think it is here. Dark at 4.30pm, scraping ice off your car, endless Christmas songs on the radio.

Kyle and Grandad Alan on Ledge Route during the first snows. This was Kyle’s (12 years old) first time in the snowy mountains.

Kyle and Grandad Alan on Ledge Route during the first snows. This was Kyle’s (12 years old) first time in the snowy mountains.

2 months has passed since I last wrote, I guess the ‘quite time’ sometimes becomes quite busy. On of the best things about living where I do, chosen for its proximity to the mountains, is that there are many others who share the same idea. This is great for climbing partners but also for work when the weather is good. I am fortunate to have clients who live locally and are able to get out as soon as a sun shows up on the Met Office forecast.

This time there was no snow but plenty of sun. Kyle first time climbing the Buachaille via Curved Ridge with Grandad Alan.

This time there was no snow but plenty of sun. Kyle first time climbing the Buachaille via Curved Ridge with Grandad Alan.

Who missed out on this day?

Who missed out on this day?

So over the last two months, I have had days in Glencoe and on Ben Nevis, some in the Cairngorms…plus a sneaky trip to Spain. We lucked out with the weather, we had 10 days of sunshine, unseasonable hot but it ticked every single box; warm, relaxing, tiring etc etc

Rock climbing at Logie Head with Lou in November (it was after this day that we decided Spain would be a good idea….brrrrrr!)

Rock climbing at Logie Head with Lou in November (it was after this day that we decided Spain would be a good idea….brrrrrr!)

Now I am back from this trip, attention is now firmly set on this winter. I’m looking forward to all the upcoming trips with new and old clients and friends. Keep an eye out for what happens with some celebrities that I am out with in January, check out how cold I’m going to be in Noway in February and hopefully I will be climbing some nice ice routes in Scotland in March.

First day out winter climbing for Lou and I. We set off on the Message IV,6 in the Cairngorms. We had to clear a lot of snow that day!

First day out winter climbing for Lou and I. We set off on the Message IV,6 in the Cairngorms. We had to clear a lot of snow that day!

First day of work in the Cairngorms. Here is Oli on the crux of Deep Throat V,6.

First day of work in the Cairngorms. Here is Oli on the crux of Deep Throat V,6.

So in two months, I have mixed up summer climbing and winter climbing…but surely now it is only going to be winter posts. Time will tell. Currently hiding inside on a sunny day but the winds on the mountains are well over 70mph!

Back to Ben Nevis. This time with Austin to climb Number 3 Gully Buttress. A good start to the season.

Back to Ben Nevis. This time with Austin to climb Number 3 Gully Buttress. A good start to the season.

Ben Nevis was feeling very wintery in Number 2 Gully with Alan

Ben Nevis was feeling very wintery in Number 2 Gully with Alan

Ahhh warm rock and sunshine…this felt like a shock to the system! But coming back was even harder! Lou cruising above El Chorro.

Ahhh warm rock and sunshine…this felt like a shock to the system! But coming back was even harder! Lou cruising above El Chorro.

Autumn in Scotland, remembering why I live here.
Rays of light on Rannoch Mor

Rays of light on Rannoch Mor

I’m still keeping my fingers crossed for an Indian Summer but despite the rainy days, we have still managed to get into the hills and stay dry. Since returning from the Alps there has been plenty of down time to readjust to being at home, catch up with various tasks and start planning for the upcoming winter.

Amongst all the ‘admin’ of life, I’ve managed a few days on the hills with clients as well on personal trips. Although I haven’t been out rock climbing personally, we have been walking some of the Munro’s (perfect for Lou’s ACL surgery rehab).

Very windy on Ben Vorlich above Loch Earn.  Happy to be in the hills despite a slight limp.

Very windy on Ben Vorlich above Loch Earn. Happy to be in the hills despite a slight limp.

I have been out with Alan and his son Austin on a few occasions since I have been home. Living locally, we are able to pic out the good days and make the most of them.

Given that Alan has done most 3*** mountaineering routes, we sought out the lesser travelled ones. We started off on the ‘Chasm to Crowberry Tower Traverse’ which traversed up through some amazing terrain and took us into some complex ground but most importantly, on that day, was tucked out of the high winds.

Back to the car…the Buachaille behind us and the weather was kind

Back to the car…the Buachaille behind us and the weather was kind

Up next was North East Buttress on Ben Nevis. Alan and I have climbed this before and Alan had also do it many years previous also, however Austin had never been up. This marked the completion of all the ‘Classic Ben Nevis Ridges’ for Austin. As we made good time in slightly sub-optimal conditions (ice in the 40ft corner), we descended ledge route which was below the cloud.

Low down on North East Buttress, Ben Nevis

Low down on North East Buttress, Ben Nevis

Happily at the top of the 40ft Corner, North East Buttress, Ben Nevis

Happily at the top of the 40ft Corner, North East Buttress, Ben Nevis

Most recently we were back onto Buachaille Etive Mor. This time our objective was climbed by myself and Alan only back in May but we enjoyed it so much that we thought it would be a good option for Austin and also we were relatively sheltered from the strong westerlies. So we made a start up Curved Ridge before breaking off to the base of Crowberry ridge. The strong gusts were only slightly off putting, they were strong but fortunately infrequent so we pressed on to find that the ridge remained relatively sheltered and made for an incredibly dry ascent.

Airy moves on Crowberry Ridge, Buachaille Etive Mor, Glencoe

Airy moves on Crowberry Ridge, Buachaille Etive Mor, Glencoe

From Scotland to Alpine Guide

This is what it was all about

First day out as a guide, however, I wasn't guiding, just a nice day climbing with Lou who is recovering from ACL reconstruction surgery!   

The summer has flown by.  Last thing I remember from Scotland seemed only a couple of weeks ago but the last 3 months has been crammed full with so much.  The main highlight was that last week I passed my final guides exam.  Yeeehaaaaw!!... as they would say across the pond! Three and a half years of training and assessments has brought me here and 10 years of holidays in the Alps has allowed me to get too where I am.  God know's how much has been spent on the process but every penny, bead of sweat, drip of blood, alpine knee and Poco Loco's has been worth it!  What a relief to get awarded the badge. 

Guiding the Rochefort Arete with fellow guide Andy Nelson

Huge thanks go out to so many people.  My parents for agreeing that this is better for me than university, all off my climbing partners along the way, far too many to name but Kenny Grant was there from the start, we had epics but so many more successes and most of the routes in my application form were with him.  Thanks to everyone who put me up, let me sleep on their sofas or use their showers, sleep and smelling good are two things I like.  Also I would like to thank everyone who has helped me financially throughout this process, without this help, I probably would have had to delay a year and draw the process out for longer.

Guiding the Dent du Geant.  Well cool!!

Most of all though, thank you to the gorgeous Louisa Reynolds who has stood by me throughout this process.  I have been away from home so much in the last couple of years and I'm so glad you stuck with me and came to celebrate with me when I passed and share this experience.  You are the best!

Bernese Oberland

Also to the lads and lass.  My school buddies.  Jack, Ally, Tamsin, Ross, Calum, James and Max.  It's been great fun and emotional but looking forward to working in the Alps with you all!

Happy Guiding!

Practice day with Ross Hewitt on Petit Charmoz

By the way, it wasn't all mountains.  We enjoyed some of the other beauties of the Alps.  Biking and swimming at Lake Annecy is recommended!

Duff(y) the Munro Slayer

Now Grahame is no Sarah Michelle Gellar but he certainly can get his way through several mythical beasts in one week.

Slioch NW buttress with Loch Maree in the background

Our plan way hatched a while ago to spend some time in the North West to climb some of the munro's he is yet to climb.  We didn't want the easy options so when the weather forecast was perfect it was game on.

Grahame trying to see the island on the loch which is on the island which is on Loch Maree ... We could just make it out...one of a kind in Scotland.

A loch with an island, which has a wee lochain which has an island on!

First up was Slioch via the NW Buttress  - A great route with a long and scenic approach.  The ground was dry but I suspect it is really boggy after the usual rainfall.  This week it was so easy to walk in.  The route itself is worth seeking out.  The crux is the first wall and then its nice scrambling over a combination of solid and loose rock at around grade 3.  From the summit we descended the regular route to make a really nice 7 hour round trip.

Super pace to climb - East Buttress with  Loch Coire Mhic Fhearchair behind

Day two we walked into Coire Mhic Fhearchair and climbed the brilliant East Buttress (VDiff).  Totally amazing route and one on my favourite on the mountain.  With stunning weather and Grahame keen to tick Ruadh-stac Mor and Spidean Cnc, we pressed on and traversed the mountain.

Super climbing

Day 3 we opted for a slightly shorted day and climber the A'Chioch Ridge on Beinn Bhan.  It weighs in as a Corbett but the scrambling is great and as its only a 5.5 hour day we were ready for another giant tomorrow!

Grahame's unique smile...or is it fear?  A'Chioch Ridge providing some cooler conditions

The top of the A'Chioch Ridge

Day 4 was one of the best.  A traverse of Liathach via the Northern Pinnacle's.  Just superb.  Two hour walk into the base and we had brilliant scrambling, again with the difficult section near the start.  With everything being bone dry we didn't experience any 'greasyness' as mentioned in the guidebook and just had pristine rock.  Some looseness in the upper parts of the Northern Pinnacles though.

Start of the Northern Pinnacles

Just fun!

Nobody else

On the main traverse

Final munro of the day

Day 5 we were due some different weather (no photo's today).  The cloud came in, the rain fell but that didn't stop us.  We drove down to Glen Shiel and finished our week on the two munro's by the Forcan Ridge which brings Graham's munro count down to the final 50!  I'm sure these will fly by and best of luck with finishing them off.

A week I won't forget in a while, truly brilliant routes and weather.  Thanks Grahame.

The traverse ledge to get into the start of East Buttress

Dude!

Glad I had my ice screw on my harness

The whopper I caught on Loch Maree on evening

Strength and conditioning in the mountains

Alan wrapped up warm on a very cold day

Unfortunately no scientific research has gone on here, just the classic 'the best way to train for the mountains is to go to the mountains'.  That's the approach I take and also the approach Alan takes and at 72...it seems to be working ok. 

So we have had a good couple of days.  The aim is to get a bit of practice and fitness in for an upcoming Cuillin Ridge traverse attempt.  Possibly a 'one dayer' but with recent illness Alan has lost a wee bit of stamina.  Still a few weeks to go so we shall see.

Best way to tackle this in the winds we were experiencing

Balancy climbing on Crowberry Ridge

A welcome ledge in prep for some airy climbing

So we headed up North Buttress on Stob Ban (Grade III) for a bit of shelter from the very cold wind.  With fresh snow on the tops it was a bit of a 'hoods up and go'.  Wind was howling over the tops and as it was Alan first day out for a while, and not wanting to over do it, we headed down the North ridge.

Focused

After the weekend we teamed up again and the sun was shining and the breeze was light.  We basked in the sun on Crowberry Ridge, surmounted the Tower and during our lunch break we opted for a descent of Curved Ridge to get used to scrambling down again.  Alan certainly is capable of a moving well over the Cuillin Ridge so looking forward to making an attempt with him.

Great exposure on a brilliant route

South West Climbing

So I was meant to be working this week in Scotland with Sean but we had a drastic change of plan.

Not Scotland...but felt cold

Unfortunately Lou has bust her ACL and has gone home to rest and repair in Devon.  So a long story short, Sean was happy to relocate to Devon for some climbing and everyone was happy.  Turns out his elderly mother only live 20 minutes away from Lou's mother so we all had somewhere to stay!  Love it when a plan comes together!

Amazing granite to climb on

So Sean and I headed out into a pretty unsavory forecast to Torbay.  For our first day and managed 2.5 routes before heading off to the local climbing wall to hide from the rain.

A big boot/rucksack to exit the crag

The next few days looked much nicer by Lands End so we opted for 3 days climbing down there.  We booked a B&B and Lou came along to get some fresh air whilst resting her leg for 3 days.

We had a brilliant day climbing some classic at Bosigran in a very strong wind.  The sun was out and the rock was superb.

What a place this is

Our third day we climbed at Chair Ladder which was pretty exciting getting onto our first route with the fast approaching tide.  Again it was sunny and super windy.  This kind of weather that you notice when you get home....zzzzzzz

Happy to be a pitch above the sea

Day four was a write off... I couldn't persuade Sean to go climbing in the rain so we drove back to our homes ready for a day on the Moors for our final day.

Sean found the wrap-around jug

Dewerstone.  I'd quite fancied going here.  There were some brilliant routes, right up Sean's street and they were totally dry.  We did 4 routes there and they were all ace.  

Happy to tick a classic of the crag

Again, I was pretty inspired by the climbing down there and super keen to go back down to Devon for some more climbing in the future.  I think I will arrange some trips soon so let me know if you are keen.

Mega VD scenes

This had a spicy top pitch...good ol' Patey route. 

Mega VS...very good route

Back home in Scotland now.  Found a bird in the chimney so needed to get up there to cover it up with wire...all good fun!

Winter is over, spring has begun, the end is nigh!

After 4 months away, I am finally back home.  The house is still intact and only a few jobs to do while I acclimitiese to living at sea level again. 

Finding fresh snow on a hut to hut trip

I finished on a high in the Alps, I passed my exams for the ski test, so when I say the 'end is nigh', I mean for me completing the Guide's scheme, not the end of the world!  In 4 months time, I will carry out my final test, which will be in the Alps and then I am done!  Wish me luck!

In the meantime I will be back home for a wee while.  Looks like a busy spring coming up with several requests to do one day Cuillin Ridge traverses so I'm hoping the weather plays ball and we have a successful season.

The last part of my Alpine ski season was mostly spent hut to hut touring with various different guides.  We generally had nice weather but some plans weren't carried out due to the constant changes we were experiencing.  It wasn't until my final week (The Test!) where the weather was settled and we could enjoy the summits and cols.  It was a total relief to 'finally' get the word 'pass' and I could come home knowing I had learnt enough to pass what I thought would be the hardest test for me.

I came away pretty inspired about ski guiding.  It is something relatively new to me and I'm looking forward to spending more time guiding folk either freeriding or ski touring. 

So...lets see how the climbing has been affected by taking 4 months off...!

Goodbye Mont Blanc.  See you in the summer

Alpine part 2 (and 3 - 6)...when will the season end?

This winter, what a season!  April has started and here in the Alps, it doesn't look like it's slowing down...or warming up as we would expect or hope for.  Even back at home it is looking to be a superb season and with no signs of slowing down either.

Since my last post there has been quite a lot going on.  In February I jetted off to Aurland in Norway working for Moran Mountain.  I had some of my regular clients along and working alongside some great friends made for a brilliant trip.  Ice climbing is always good fun.

Skiing in the Alps has been close to non stop.  Im just back from two hut to hut tours where we found some great snow but some rotten weather sometimes.  Before that, I was observing guides with their clients, helping out and trying to learn as much as possible from them.

Rock climbing season doesn't seem that far away so I have managed to squeeze in a couple of cragging sessions in after skiing...to hopefully remind myself of how to do it!

The winter season is very close to the end for me.  My final winter challenge is to pass my ski test.  This is a 6 day assessment based in the Alps.  Hopefully, the next time I post, I will be back in the UK with a big smile on my face.  Results on the 20th April.

After that I will be back in the UK working my socks off before I go into the final stage of becoming a fully certified IFMGA Mountain Guide.

Here are a few pictures...but in no particular order!

Tom topping out on a brilliant WI4

Day off with Donald.  Always an adventure.  Unfortunately we DNF this route.

Katya making her way up to join me on the first ascent of this route

Natcho bring some colour to yet another first ascent

A super WI5 with the strong Irish youth Neil

The WI5, mega route

A spot of leading for Neil (the youth)

Natcho and Neil organising themselves whilst leading Dambusters WI3

Natcho on the sharp end

Dream team from Alpine Guides.  Just before we set of on the Silvretta tour

The hut is this way....honest

More like it...

Good snow, good skiers, good times

Lori contemplating where to go next

Deserted ski resort in Val Stura in Italy

Neil pausing to take it all in

The team join me ready for the freshies on descent

Another day, another blank canvass

Great snow

Freshies, an overused but relevant word this season.

We found a hidden bunker...took some digging to get in

Filling the gaps

They were arguing about who gets to go next...there was plenty for everyone

a snowpack evaluation session

When the bed bugs hit!

Powder in Italy

More powder in the 'magic woods'

Vallee Blanche team

Skiing down to Italy with my mentor Andy Nelson

The client get to lead