Posts tagged Navigation
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 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

3 day Mountaineering course

Avalanche education and hopefully a shelter
Over the last 3 days I was out working with the KMC on a mountaineering course for their newer members.  Unfortunately one was ill so a team of 3 joined me for the first day.
Hold on to your hats!
Wild, windy, whiteout.  Teaching was a struggle but we found some sheltered terrain with some snow in.  Enough for us to carry out snow skills and craft.  The three days consisted of one cold day and two mild days where everything started to melt.  We ended up having two days that were relatively static, using the limited snow patches to develop skills.  Our final day we had a journey up the Fiacaill the rain and didn't even need crampons.  We resorted to summer tactics and the team led themselves up the ridge as I gave input and instruction along the way.  The topsy turvy winter continues keeping me on my toes!
A break in the cloud, spot all the climbers

Home time!
 3 day Scottish Winter Mountaineering course - See Here
Limerick University
It's the 8th of January and it would be fair to say that the winter season so far has been a little frustrating.  Just a little too warm.  I have just finished 3 days with 2 Limerick University students who, with me shared enthusiasm for the remaining snow.
Eoghan and Ashlynn were 2 of a group of about 20 students from Limerick University Mountaineering Club.  Most of the group were out for 2 days doing some introductory winter skills with two instructors, 2 were out with Dave Barker and three were self-sufficient.
Eoghan and Ashlynn were keen to winterise their rock climbing experience.  With Alpine trips under their belt as well as plenty of rock climbing in Ireland they were keen to get their crampons stuck in here in Scotland.

With very little snow, we headed into Coire an t-Sneachda and looked for the 'whitest' line for the team to lead up.  With a check of skills they armed themselves with the rack and pitched up 0.5 gully.  A nice easy route but ample terrain to pack in 5 pitches and winterise their skills.
An avalanche training course!

Day 2 we suffered a thaw and headed into Coire an Lochain and climbed The Couloir with plenty of drips and rime ice falling off.  We hoped to climb a different route but a team was already there and there was no way we were going to climb below someone.  With poor visibility on the tops, we practiced some navigation over the plateau before making our way down.
Our final day, warm temperatures and limited snow pack.  We opted for a summer day.  An alpine training day looking at efficiency and a few little tricks to develop their current climbing techniques.  They led up the Twin RIbs and continued onto Fiacaill Ridge before coming down the Goat Track for a de-brief back at base.

A fun 3 days with 2 very motivated future alpinists and winter climbers.  Good luck with the journey.
Scottish winter Jan 7th 2017
Excellent summer or luck of the draw?
The start of another successful Cuillin Ridge Traverse
Two is the magic number. In this occasion, two is the amount of times I have put on my waterproofs whilst at work since April.  And I have been working in Scotland and Wales.  First time was half a day in Snowdonia and the second was for half an hour on the ascent to the start of the Aonach Eagach.  Now this is not to say it hasn't been raining, it has, I have managed to avoid it.  Being at the right place at the right time. Unfortunately, this next week should see my waterproof usage double if not treble!

Father and son James and John put in a great performance...
...and provided some great whiskey
 To kick off I had a successful traverse with John and James, the hardest part was finding water for our bivi.  I ended having to drop off 300m and carry 10 litres back up hill.  The weather turned the following day from clear and humid to cloudy and humid but we still made it.  James was keen for a third day so we went and made a quick ascent of the Cioch.
Highlander moment coming soon
Is a cow a suitable navigation feature?
 Between other spells of work and days off, I have been working with SSE.  Their request was some navigation training which included evening theory sessions and practical hill days.  Over the course I worked with 20 folk with different roles within the company, all with the common likely hood that they may have to walk over the lowland hills in Scotland.
A nice change from the big hills
Usual Scottish conditions on the Great Ridge
 As the weather has been quite good it was nice to go out with regular Grahame.  He is keen for adventurous hills and happy to move away from his usual munro bagging routes.  So with his two gift vouchers he needed to redeem, we took the short ride over the Corran ferry over to Ardgour to climb the Great Ridge on Gars Bheinn.  It was a fantastic climb on beautiful Gneiss, a must for any who haven't ventured here.  The rock climbing here is amazing.  We then ventured down into Glenfinnan, more rain dodging and more fantastic scrambling in a very peaceful location, only the noise of the steam train broke the tranquility

Big smiles down Glenfinnan
I have also managed to squeeze in some personal rock climbing into this time with a couple of hits down in Glen Nevis, a day climbing with the legend John Lyall at Creag Dubh and a Tunnel Wall session with Blair.  With many damp evenings I have also made use of the brilliant new climbing wall in Fort William, The 3 Wise Monkeys.
Andy enjoying some great after work conditions
Brain and Martin trying to decide if this was a good idea!
 Ossian's Cave.  If you have ever driven through Glencoe you will have seen it, high on the hillside, a tall, dark, damp slot carved out of the North Face of Aonach Dubh.  Martin had this idea bubbling over the fire for years and we organised a day out to put it to bed.  Martin brought Brian along and between them, did a great job where they both dug deep.  Given that neither of them have a great deal of experiance in the hills it was always gonig to be a tough objective and initially we saw it as a training day rather than to get into the cave.  But with plenty of coaching we all made it to the base of the cave and I made it right inside but climbing into the cave was a few moves too far for them.  We already have plans in place for a rematch next year so I hope we have some more nice weather.  It felt great to climb the first ever recorded route in Glencoe

In the cave!!

Realisation that the hills in Glencoe are not a walk in the park!
The following day I was straight out for another Glencoe classic.  The Aonach Eagach.  This was with some members from the Connersville Walking Club.  With 8 signed up for the ridge I enrolled Andy Hogarth, to help guide them along.  We were also assisted by Andy Hauge, a MIA-trainee looking for some experience, who helped out making our life a lot easier.
Cloudy but dry
Andy organising a wee descent
 After the Aonach Eagach, only 3 were keen for the final day on Curved Ridge.  Again we were lucky and made a really nice ascent to meet the rest of the club on the summit.  It was nice to see a few other teams out and about.  Shame about the ropes hanging off Rannoch Wall.  Looks a bit of a mess!

Andrew, Alan and Sean
Getting to grips with it all now
So after a great few weeks in the hills I can look forward to more adventures.  A week on Skye, a two week boat trip out to the Western Isles and St. Kilda, 23 days in India then off to Snowdonia to prepare for one of the many assessments I have to pass to become a British Mountain Guide.  Eeek it will be winter soon!?
Weekend warriors

Dave, Mara, Jose and Ben
Ice time

This weekend I was out with Jose, Mara and Dave for a couple of days of introduction's to the winter mountains.  They wanted a bit of everything so they could get a little taste of what winter is all about and then they could go away and decide what they want to focus their time on.  We started off with basic skills at Stob Coire Nan Lochan, introducing them to the multiple spikes that we carry, how to 'faff' with gloves, how to dig in the snow and much much more.  We finished the day with a traverse of the mountain and a descent of Broard Gully before heading back to the Clachaig for beers and dinner.  
Mara making winter climbing look glamorous
Day two we opted for Ben Nevis to continue where we left off and cover some aspect we hadn't got round too.  Starting off with a bit of ice craft, then followed an ascent of ledge route looking at rope work and rock protection followed by the summit via white out navigation.  Followed by an abseil descent into number 4 gully and finished off the weekend with some ice axe arresting.
Team London on Ledge Route

Down time

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

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
Another brilliant week in the North West
Ice axe arrest practice
I always look forward to winter and when it arrives I always look forward to working and climbing in the North West.  Why, because of its vast variety, lack of people and sheer beauty of the mountains.  I have been blessed with two healthy clients, one is an iron man competitor and the other is just young so a pretty good combination.  I have also had Mike shadowing for 4 days as he prepares for his Winter Mountain Leader award.  Day one was our skills day where we headed up to Fuar Tholl and did much slipping and sliding, digging and assessing, burying and tieing and then finished the day by climbing a grade II gully called Access Gully.
Martin's team heading up Access Gully ahead of us.
Windy but nice day
Wild topping out of Access Gully
Our second day was the nicest of the week so we thought we would get up high, put some of the skills into practice and grab some great views.  We headed up on to the Liathach Ridge with our high point of the day being Spidean.  A great Munro with stunning views.  We didnt traverse the ridge as this was the teams second day in crampons but it gave them a few things to aim for in the future.

A front coming in from the West.  Beinn Alligan looking great.
Team on the summit of Spidean
The day
Heading down, we turned left here and went the long way down as it was such a nice day.

 Day 3 turned out a wee bit poor so as a wee rest day we went to a local training crag for some more skills before getting back to plan and pack for a overnight snow hole expedition.  The weather was ideal.  Super cold and with plenty of snow there were sure to be some good snow hole sites.  We climbed the Forcan Ridge, which was in stellar conditions.  We summited at 3ish and started digging just after.  We had a palace by 6pm and ate and drank all evening.  It was a great night, snow holing conditions were great.  Digging was easy so we made a comfy hole and made a nice large cold sump for the cold air to sit in whilst the warm air stayed tight.  The second day we exited early to get onto a nearby Munro at sunrise.  It would have been spectacular but unfortunately the clouds were rolling in but was still stunning non the less.

Plenty of Navigation
Plenty of mountaineering

A spot of abseiling

Alot of eating and drinking
Lovely morning views
The the cloud came in
Back onto Skye
Our first summit

Taking a breather as the cloud clears and the exposure creeps in

Looking back to where we have been
After a good 3 months break away from Skye I was back and this time working for Moran Mountain.  Driving to Skye for a day trip is only usually done by me if I have a day off and want to go climbing, but this was different.  Despite climbing and skiing in the Alps and sport climbing in the south of France for over two months, I missed Skye, I had to go up.  Whilst on the Summit of Am Bastier, with Grant and Graham, the clouds opened, exposing the magic the Cuillin holds.  I was almost lost for words up there, gazing into a misty abyss, rocky peaks emerging like ice bergs in the sea.  Our first summit, Bruach na Frithe, was negotiated through thick cloud and drizzle.  There was no weather that would dampen our enthusiasm today!  Doing this peak first gave Grant and Graham, experienced hill walkers, a gentle start.  From here Am Bastier was their second objection.  Fortunately the rain was subsiding and the rock was drying, as the clouds cleared the exposure was obvious.  For Grant, the excitement brought him to his knees.  Cursing, crawling.  We waited to regain composure before making our way to the summit.  Our approach to Sgurr nan Gillian went like clockwork.  The summit views over to the Red Cuillin were spectacular but the Black Cuillin was cloaked by a heavy duvet.  The elation (exposure) brought Grant to he knees once more, he crawled off the summit to the start of the South East ridge where we made our descent.  Very impressed with both Grant and Grahams determination to keep going and pushing hard when their legs turned to jelly, well done chaps!   Being back on Skye was bringing back all my fondest memories of the Island; my first ever traverse, the one day winter traverse , new winter route , climbing at Elgol, Kilt Rock and Neist .  Plus many more fun memories with clients both new and old.  Looking forward to spending more time here this summer.

Eerie atmosphere

Threading the needle
Six track Mono Blues
Today we opted for a shorter day as the team was exhausted from our wee mini break so Meall Gorm was the sensible option.  We took the 7 minute traverse to the base of Six Track Mono Blue (II) which is a brilliant 200+m route cutting through the cliffs.  I led the team up in short pitches where we were focussing on technique on steeper ground and introducing the concepts of belays, their uses and limitations.  Unfortunately we came across a fatality on the route, a small mouse was partially buried in the gully so we excavated it out and sent it down to the bottom.  A real eye opener for the guys that winter climbing can be dangerous without the correct equipment!  After topping out we navigated over the plateau before looking at descent techniques down the descent gully.