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

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.

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

Mint

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

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!
Winter is near...go sport climbing
A crag with a view to Telendos

Over the last 11 seasons of winter climbing I realise that it is far more enjoyable after a good trip sport climbing or even rock climbing to round off the summer season.  As I spend most of the season trad climbing, I find it quite enjoyable to go sport climbing, fall off lots of routes and hopefully get up something harder than previous years (it happened this year!).

Most days ended like this
Lou and I blasted off for a wee while to soak up the sun then hide in the shade when it was too hot.  We decided early on to go for 2 days on and one day off giving us time to try hard and time to relax and enjoy the islands we were visiting.
Busy traffic on the water

Im sure most of you will recognise where we were climbing, if not, i'll give you a clue.  Somewhere in Europe and it wasnt the UK.  So I'll not bore you with lots of words but here are some pictures.
The storm ame on our rest day.  So we went plastic bottle collecting
Bagged the local hill
Busy day at Telendos
Lou diving in to protect our lunch
Lou's first go...scariest part of the trip for me!  She bossed it!
Lou cruising another 3 star route.  Just her style...techy wall climbing
1st crag, first day, a 40m route and we then had to deal with a head injury from a fallen climbing.  Glad I did my first aid a week ago!
Climbing is full of bum shots

Snatching another route before the sun causes problems
Back to Scotland
Alan preparing for the unexpected
After a short stop off in the Lake District to see the family, I was itching to get back onto the hill.  I had secretly missed Ben Nevis and the great climbs there.  My regular client Alan has been recovering from a broken ankle and hand so has had very little time on the hill but we teamed up for both of us to blow away the cobwebs.  Only a top shelf route would do.  Something we hadn't done but something which wouldn't be horrendous...Ben Nevis is a great winter venue.  To be off the well trodden routes can be quite 'memorable'!

Going well for 70 years old! 
So I decided we should climb the 'Crossing of Tower Ridge' which is in the scrambles guide.  Given grade 3...aye right.  So anyway...we started up The Garradh which was 7 pitches of hard, unprotected VD climbing.  A bit of a shock to both of us as we were expecting a grade 3 scramble but it was still fun.  We topped out on the Garradh and decided to call it lunch and gave us some time to do a spot of litter picking below some of the routes...we had quite a haul.
Every footstep had to be placed with great accuracy

Our haul!
I also had a day working on Liathach with a group of 5 clients.  I was working for Torridon Adventure's and had one of their instructors along to shadow and help out which was great fun.  He did a great job.

The team on the 'easy' traverse
Since then I have been away working on a friends boat which we are converting into a passenger boat...it's a fishing trawler so it's pretty big and had some days climbing at the local crags and walls.

Great light and views
The 'youth' leading the way
Im away for the next month for some Sport climbing in Greece and Italy and will be back in mid November for, hopefully some early season mixed climbing and good winter conditions.