Sunday, 31 January 2010

Using Different Muscles...

On an absolutely stunning day and in an effort to give the body a rest from walking we headed out on the road bikes over Honister Pass and along the Buttermere Valley. First time back on the bike since the Ironman in August but it all felt good and lunch at the Kirkstile Inn was a just reward!

Ticking Wainwrights

A quick blast back to the Lakes and we were out on the hills again on Saturday ticking a few more Wainwrights with friends. Despite having walked in the Lakes for many years I realised I'd only summited approximately 50 of the Wainwright summits. Over the past couple of years I've been exploring a few of the quieter areas during evening runs and easy days out and my tally now stands at 180 and has shown me a whole new side to the Lake District.

Saturday, 30 January 2010

Traffic Jam on Ledge Route

Yesterday for the final day of the Adventure Peaks Mountaineering course we joined the masses on Ledge Route in glorious conditions. We quickly got ahead of a couple of larger groups and made good time to the plateau moving together alpine style.

Number 4 gully contained some patches of soft windslab but these were easily avoided and once through the narrows we made good time back down to the van.

It was a pleasure to meet Erik Weihenmayer on the way down. The first and only blind person to summit Mt Everest and also to complete the 7 Summits. He'd just made an ascent of Point 5 Gully and the CIC Cascade over the previous couple of days

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Cheesey Summit Photo Competition!

With a high avalanche risk today we opted for the classic Curved Ridge on the Buachaille. We had the mountain to ourselves and were almost totally sheltered from the strong north westerlies. The route was in pretty good nick with the pitch of ice below Crowberry Basin still climbable with care at grade III. We took the interesting gully to the right of the ridge proper to half height before heading up on to the rock. The snow was wet but we were getting good placements where it mattered. The crux corner was pretty bare but the turf was still frozen. Kirsten's twisted ankle was slowing her down but she battled through and we topped out just as the cloud cleared for a couple of minutes giving some great views across Rannoch Mor. A quick slide down Coire na Tulaich and we were back at the van just before dark. Today I was working for Adventure Peaks.

The freezing level was just below the summit but we didn't get anything like the amount of snow forecasted. We could hear the wind whistling over Crowberry Tower but we were very sheltered on the route. There was a some new snow on the summit snow slopes but overall the snow pack was well bonded but very wet. From the summit the slopes to the south east looked like they had a reasonable amount of new windslab lying on them but Coire na Tulaich didn't pose any problems.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Long day in Glencoe

With the wind and rain hammering on the van and a temperature of 9 oC outside we made the decision to head up high into Stob Coire Nan Lochan in Glencoe. The weather improved rapidly and with the freezing level dropping to 900m as forecasted the day was far better than initial impressions would have suggested. Due to an ankle injury to one of the team we made a leisurely ascent to the corrie where we looked at winter navigation, rock anchors and finished by making an ascent of a steep gully well to the right of Central Buttress. As we topped out the clouds parted giving us a spectacular view down to Loch Leven, the Ben and the Aonach Eagach. Today I was working for Adventure Peaks on a Winter Mountaineering course.

The snow pack was saturated from the two day thaw but very stable. There were teams on Broad Gully, Dorsal Arete, Twisting Gully and Ordinary Route which were all a bit soggy but climbable with care. The colder temperatures this afternoon were starting to firm things up as we left the floor of the corrie. Just the one big gist of wind today but that did blow me off the path!

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Tying Ourselves in Knots

After the cold and blue skies of yesterday we woke to a general thaw and strong south easterly winds. Along with a large number of other groups under instruction we headed up on to Aonach Mor and over to the Nid. As the snow pack got wetter and wetter we looked at the basic building blocks of rope work in winter including bucket seats, buried axe belays, snow bollards and stompers. Today I've been working for Adventure Peaks.

The wind slab that was laid down yesterday had thawed slightly and was incredibly sticky, bonding together well. Beneath this the existing snow pack is icy and well consolidated. We found a slight icy crust on the surface this morning but this soon dissipated as the thaw set in in earnest. The avalanche hazard was lower than predicted and with the temperature dropping in the next few days we should get a very stable snow pack.

Blue Sky Ben Day

This week I'm running a Mountaineering course for Adventure Peaks. With blue skies and cold temperatures we headed up to the CIC hut to look at the various skills required to move safely in the mountains in winter. We had some stunning views up in to the various gullies but didn't have to walk far to find plenty of snow and ice to chop steps in and slide around on.

There is still plenty of ice left low down on the Ben and the snow pack was well bonded and stable. The strong south easterly was developing plenty of small pockets of windslab which were fracturing pretty spectacularly but there were no signs of any big slides. There were teams on the CIC Cascade and Ledge Route.

Snow Bunting

Friday, 22 January 2010

Good end to the week...

With a high avalanche risk we headed up to Aonach Mor and the Nid area for Andy & Clare to put everything they'd learnt in to practice. We found a rocky spur with plenty of ice which gave them four full rope lengths of easy grade II to practice leading and climbing as a team of two. They then soloed the final easy slopes to the Nid summit before a quick descent to the gondala and back to the hotel for tea and medals. This week I have been working for Adventure Peaks.

The existing snowpack was well consolidated with an icy crust due a slight thaw and refreeze. However there was plenty of new soft windslab lying on this surface on north westerly slopes. We avoided one or two suspect slopes on the approach and the Nid Bowl was well loaded. There is still plenty of ice around and conditions were great for climbing with first time placements. The freezing level was around 700m but dropped steadily throughout the day.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

More Ice on the Ben

A brisk walk up to the CIC Hut beneath the Ben bought plenty of ice into view. There were some big sheets in the gully below the normal approach to Coire Na Ciste which were busy with climbers sheltering from the strong south easterly which was sweeping down the glen. We opted to head to the slabs below the main fall of the CIC Cascade. This gave us plenty of ice at around II/III and even a short mixed pitch of III which contained plenty of turf & ice which succumbed to a variety of hooks, torques and even a can opener.

The wind increased throughout the day laying down some significant wind slab in the hollows and behind boulders. One strong gust even picked up my half full rucksack and deposited it 60m down the crag! Today I was working for Adventure Peaks

The Ben track is clear and drivable in ordinary cars with just one icy corner to negotiate. On the mountain the existing snow pack is now very stable but the strong south easterly has bought in plenty of new windslab on northerly aspects. There were plenty of teams on the icy bulges low down plus teams on Fawlty Towers (II), Raeburn's Buttress (IV, 4) and the CIC Cascade (V) which is heavily featured and steep at the bottom.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Ice in Stob Coire Nam Beith

After our successful ascent of Dorsal Arete yesterday we headed up into Coire nam Beith looking for ice. There was plenty to be found and Elliott's Downfall was still touching down - just! There were also huge sheets covering the slabs to the left hand side of the north face of Stob Coire Nam Beith. We found a nice boss of ice at the right angle and had a good session looking at technique and ropework.

As we left the van great sheets of rain were blowing down the glen on the strong south easterly winds. However we soon reached the freezing level at around 500m and gained some shelter behind Stob Coire Nan Lochan. The snow is now well consolidated and stable but there was approximately 6' of newly formed windslab at around 800m on a sheltered northerly slope.
There were teams on West Chimney Route (V, 6) which is in excellent condition and Deep Cut Chimney (IV, 4) which had good but limited ice.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Digging on Dorsal Arete

With an overnight forecast for the freezing level to rise to 1800m we were genuinely pleased to wake up this morning to a temperature of 5 oC at sea level. We headed back up into Glencoe and up into Coire nan Lochan. Despite a warm walk in there was still plenty of ice hanging on particularly on the path. Our aim was the classic Dorsal Arete to introduce Andy & Clare to grade II ground. We had the route to ourselves although an early rising team had already made an ascent. The rocks were well iced and we had to do plenty of digging to find the gear but we made good ascent descending by the north ridge of Stob Coire nan Lochan. Today I was working for Adventure Peaks.

The freezing level was around the level of the coire floor at 750m and just below the cloud base. This cloud was building a good amount of rime ice on the crag from about mid height. The snow pack has gone through a couple of freeze thaw cycles and although still soft was well frozen and stable. The majority of the loose blocks on Dorsal Arete were well iced into position and there's a good track up the ridge. There were teams on Scabbard Chimney, Broad Gully and NC Gully plus many others judging by the voices in the gloom. NC Gully looked like a bit of a swim fest.

Monday, 18 January 2010

White Corries, Glencoe

This week I'm working on an Introduction to Climbing course for Adventure Peaks on the west coast of Scotland. With the thaw still in process after a night of heavy rain we decided to use the White Corries ski area lifts to get us up to 675m with the minimum of effort. In the end the day turned out fine and we had stunning views to the Ben and across Rannoch Mor.

From the basics of crampon and ice axe use we swiftly moved on to pitching from snow anchors and abseiling from snow bollards. The brisk westerly eased as the day progressed and there were plenty of ptarmigan around to keep us entertained.

The temperature at 800m was below freezing which gave us a reasonable snow pack to play with. On a north easterly slope there was an icy crust which sometimes held body weight. We found plenty of patches of soft windslab in sheltered hollows and it looked like there had been some small sloughs on some steep slopes further around to the east. However all seemed stable on our slopes (NE). Other groups reported a cornice collapse close to the summit of Meall a' Bhuiridh.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Winter Skills on the Cairngorms

With a far better forecast we headed back up into Coire na Ciste to look at some more winter skills. We journeyed around the corrie rim covering everything from ice axe arrest to use of crampons and navigation to avalanche avoidance. Today I've been working for Glenmore Lodge. In an unusual incident one of the other groups had a close encounter with a reindeer that wanted a cup of coffee!

The thaw yesterday and a good freeze overnight had really stabilised the snow pack. We found good neve on wind scoured slopes and there was no sign of any avalanche activity. Despite the heavy snowpack there was plenty of snow being moved around up high by a strong south westerly and this was forming areas of soft windslab in sheltered gullies and on lee slopes. Looking over into the Norries they were still looking very white but there was some rocky definition on the lower half of the crags.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Beating the Weather...

This weekend I'm working for Glenmore Lodge. With a terrible forecast of gale force winds from the south and a freezing level way above the summits this was always going to be a challenging Winter Skills course for the MCoS. However things improved far more than forecasted and we were able to get up into Coire na Ciste to look at winter navigation, avalanche avoidance and emergency shelters.

The snow pack was well saturated with the warm temperatures and there was a high possibility of wet snow avalanches. There were reports of a reasonable slide in the gully of the Alt Creag an Leth-Choin just above the tree line at 550m which also contained some layers of windslab. At around 500m we found a heavy but stable snowpack with a definite icy layer well buried which didn't cause us any concern. Further up the coire things looked a lot more unstable and despite the wet snowpack there was plenty of snow still being moved around by the wind further loading the slopes with a west through north aspect.

Despite the huge amount of snow that has fallen in the past month there is a surprising amount of heather showing through the wind scoured slopes and on the ridges. The snow pack is starting to consolidate and freezing conditions will produce a very stable snow pack.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Glenmore Training Course

I'm spending the next couple of days at Glenmore Lodge, for some 'continued professional development'. We were confined to the center as the ski area road is still shut due to the heavy snow. They've had 3 diggers working overnight forcing their way through 3 meter drifts.

With the strong south easterly winds there is now a high avalanche risk in the Cairngorms with reports of a large crown wall high in Coire Cas. The Norries are still buried but folk have been getting out on skies or snow shoes.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

New Route in the Lost Valley

With a strong south easterly moving the snow around we headed up into the Lost Valley in Glencoe. Making our way up through the gorge there was huge amounts of ice on the slabs on the true right bank. However the cliffs around Rev Ted's Gully looked surprisingly bare.

On closer acquaintance there were some significant streaks of ice but none of the high ice routes looked in condition. We climbed a direct start to Rev Ted's Gully which isn't in the SMC guidebook but must have been climbed before? This gave a 25 m icefall at around IV/V, some easy ground with a couple of awkward steps (35m) and a second 10m ice fall (IV) to reach the bottom of the gully proper.

Once established in the gully we got the full spindrift experience. We swam up the deep snow linking some interesting icy steps. The left hand chimney variation finish was climbed on frozen turf at grade IV. We descended down the Zig Zags which are in good winter condition.

There was plenty of snow being moved on to north & west facing slopes but we also found plenty of pockets of soft windslab in the gully (east facing). The snow is still very unconsolidated but with warmer temperatures on the way things should start to stabilise after some freeze thaw cycles.Photo; 1st pitch of Rev Ted's Gully (Direct Start) IV+, 4, (c) John Pickles

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Run away....

We paid a visit to Oui, Oui on Creag Dubh today. It has featured heavily in the press over the last few days and has received a huge number of ascents. However with temperatures of 6 oC at the base and with the sun full on the ice we decided that discretion was the best option and rapidly retreated. The ice was running with water and there were a number of fragile looking icicles threatening the whole route. The was one team making an attempt, minus the final pillar, but we were happy with our decision that the level of objective risk was just too high.