Posts tagged Winter Skills
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

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.

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

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'.
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....
....
....
Chores!
(Should have stayed out longer)

Murdoch on the short traverse on pitch 2
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!
Final Scottish winter call
An interesting season has come to an end.  Many great days on the hill with brilliant people and made some great memories and friends.  I'm super pleased that my last day of work this winter was in fact very wintery.  It felt we finished on a high.  We had great weather on the Aonach Eagach and made a modest car to car trip in 7 hours of trench warfare.
Our last day out was on Curved Ridge and we didn't even touch snow and that was in late January!  So we got our quota today.  A fitting end to the season and now time for the next stage on my journey to becoming a IFMGA guide...Ski Touring Training.




3 weeks in the North West Highlands
70's club
Poacher's Fall, Salmon Leap, The Godfather, Blood, Sweat and Frozen Tears, West Buttress, Silver Tear, Mad Hatters, Penguin, Emerald, Resurrection.  Not this year, not even close.  Having just spent 3 week based in Lochcarron working for Moran Mountain I have come away to finally put my feet up.  An interesting 3 weeks for sure!
Week one I was out with Richard (71) and visiting American climber Terry (70).  With a knee strength threshold we managed to pack the week with trips to Skye, Torridon, Applecross and Glen Shiel.

Week two I was out with Julian and Nathan on the Technical Winter climber course.  With one climbing grade 4 and the other climbing E3 it was going to be a tough week of work.  Because the conditions were non existent.  Day one we climbed the Cioch Nose in the wet in big boots which was brilliant by the way.  Day two we had a technical skills day and dry tooling...it was hosing it down.  Day 3 we drove to the Cairngorms and Nathan Led Jacob Ladder (the only climbable route), day 4 we drove to Ben Nevis for Tower Ridge and Day 5 we climbed East Buttress on Beinn Eighe.  It was a great week and here is a fresh testimonial from Julian.
Julian and Nathan on Cioch Nose
Julian on Tower Ridge
East Buttress

This final week has been very different.  I was out with Abrar from Kuwait.  It was a 'spur of the moment' booking she said and I'm not sure it was what she had expected.  Having never walked up a hill or even do any sport I managed to give her a taste of as much as possible of her visit to Scotland.  I was working as a mountain guide and a tour guide.  We rock climbed, abseiled, bouldered, walked, scrambled, gully climbed and saw the sights.  Her main desire was to see Nessie but I knew we wouldn't get a sighting this year so instead we went to the Applecross in and ate locally caught langoustines.

Day trip to Skye
Climbing on Meall Gorm


Rock climbing and abseiling

Visit to Strome Castle ruin
Between these weeks I have been back in the Cairngorms practicing for my upcoming British Mountain Guides winter test which is approaching very rapidly.

 To be honest, my camera hasn't been out much due to the weather.  Winter is back so things are looking up!

North West Magic
Sam and Nick learning what Scottish climbing is all about
Nick and Sam on the LLG route
I have been really looking forward to getting back up to Torridon this winter season to work for Moran Mountain.  With a slightly promising forecast of snow I knew we would get some winter days in.  There was a little more pressure this week as my group had flown in from Singapore to experience Scottish winter climbing.  Gulp. Those that have been up here in Scotland this season will know what means.
A view to Am Bastier

Ross and his two clients
The day before our first day the was nothing more than the odd snow patch.  No gullies to climb...just rock.  Loose, slimey rock.  So we were pleased that we had some fresh.  Day one we headed for the Ling, Lawson and Glover Route on Sail Mor.  Crampons were needed and as I have done it in summer I avoided all the really loose rock.

Robin searching for the way down

Ross and his team questing up
Day 2 was a stunning day on Skye...it doesnt get much better.  The West ridge of Gillean provided great sport in the windy and snowy conditions.
Dry tooling

Sam and Nick enjoying the views after some dry tooling
Our 3rd day was full of lectures, technical ropework and then some dry tooling so we were rested for our 4th day hit to Tower Ridge on Ben Nevis!  Well worth the drive.
Our final, the team led themselfs up the Forcan Ridge, looking at efficiency and teamwork to make a safe and slick day.
A great week and I think they are sold on Scotland!  Hopefully we will see them back again.
Nick crushing Tower Ridge

Nick doing some kind of pose!?
British Mountain Guides Winter Training
Mountain Guide Paul Warnock and fellow trainee Jack Geldard on Tower Ridge


Just finished a great week of being a client.  It was brilliant to be on the receiving end of some experienced guides and to be taught more.  Part of the process of becoming a British Mountain Guide is a winter training course where we are taught how to look after folk in winter.  Even though I work alot in the winter it was great to learn some new tricks, receive some confirmation that I was doing the right thing and also give me some prep for the assessment which I will be doing in the Alps.  We had pretty good weather for the week with two days ice climbing on Ben Nevis, a day of mountaineering on the Buachaille and 2 more days of snow craft and mountaineering back on Ben Nevis...where most of the snow was.  I enjoyed taking a break from my camera this week so only have a couple of shots.

Todays trainer Paul Warnock.  Smith's Route behind

Descending Number 3 Gully