Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Late climbing course availability...

Smith's Route (V 5) on Ben Nevis

Due to a late cancellation I now have one space on a Scottish winter climbing course for all or part of 28th Jan - 1st Feb. An opportunity to follow climbs up to grade V or to improve your own leading at grades III - V. We hope to follow the conditions so could be climbing on the Ben, Creag Meagaidh or in the Cairngorms.

I also have space on a weeks guided climbing, (Gr III-V) on the 5th - 9th March based on the West Coast. Please get in touch if you'd like more details - info@mountain-zac.co.uk

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Cairngorm conditions improving...

Searching for our avalanche victim!

This was the second day of a Glenmore Lodge MCoS Student Winter Skills program. After the battle with the wind and spindrift yesterday, things had settled down as we navigated our way in to Coire An t-Sneachda. We headed up to the area below the Mess of Pottage looking for snow and finding plenty behind the moraine ridge. Following on from yesterdays introduction to avalanches we were able to identify a number of layers in the soft windslab but nothing wanted to shear without a lot of effort. Even the group jumping on the cornice failed to trigger a slide. With perfect snow for digging we then focused on emergency snow shelters with everyone managing to get themselves tucked away within 30 minutes.
Up on the crags there was a lot more rime and plenty of folk on the mixed lines. Pot of Gold (V 6), The Haston Line (III 4), Hidden Chimney Direct (IV 5), The Hybrid (IV 5), Original Route (IV 5), Fingers Ridge (IV 4), The Runnel (II) and Stirling Bomber (V 7) were all climbed while over in Coire an Lochain Deep Throat (V 6), Savage Slit(V 6) and The Vicar (VII 8) all saw ascents.

Digging emergency snow shelters

A rather snug entrance to a snow hole.

The dream team!

Walking out of the Corries at the end of the day

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Wild & Woolly in the Cairngorms.

Classic Scottish winter mountaineering!

This weekend I'm working for Glenmore Lodge on a MCoS Student Winter Skills program. This is a great initiative which offers subsidised training to those who have historically been a high risk group. The weather forecast was pretty grim with 100mph gusts forecast for the plateau so we headed up in to Coire Cas to have a look at the basics. The walk in was very pleasant with bursts of sunshine but above us we could see plenty of snow being moved around on very strong westerlies. There is still very little snow in general so we and a number of other teams were all heading for the old neve in the lee of the ridge. The winds significantly increased as we geared up quickly reducing visability to a few meters but the group persevered and through the medium of sign language we were able to look at footwork, step cutting, using crampons, self belay and ice axe arrest. The ski area reported 60mph winds with gusts of 90 and quickly shut for the day. However our biggest challenge was walking back to the carpark, directly into the driving snow. I suspect most of the group will be shopping for goggles tonight! Back at the Lodge for tea and cake we were able to chat through everything that had gone on and assess the effectiveness of their systems and equipment. Tomorrow's looking a wee bit calmer but should still be pretty challenging.

Having a look at the snowpack prior to this evenings avalanche lecture

Friday, 20 January 2012

Cairngorms update

An almost complete 'Runnel' in Coire An t-Sneachda

Despite yesterdays heavy snow the Cairngorms were still looking fairly bare today with the strong winds probably to blame. The skiing was much improved from the last few days but the Northern Corries were still predominantly black and didn't offer many options. The Mess of Pottage had rimed up in the westerly winds and there were teams on Droidless, Hidden Chimney and a Hybrid / Melting Pot combo.

A black looking Coire An t-Sneachda

A whiter looking Coire Nan Lochain with a couple of folk on the plateau

Friday night film - Nanga Parbat

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Loch Einich

The crags of Gleann Einich on Sgor Gaoith

Today I've been working for Climb 365 on a winter mountaineering course. With three big days in his legs already Robert opted for an exploratory walk through Rothiemurchus forest and up towards Loch Einich. This wild and remote corrie is rarely visited and we didn't see a soul all day. The strong westerlies were blowing plenty of snow around on the higher ground and large cornices were forming along Sgor Gaoith but we were sheltered from the worst of the weather until after lunch. There were plenty of red deer and grouse in evidence highlighted by plenty of sunshine. However as we turned for home at the head of the loch the wind got up and heavy snow began to fall reducing the visability to 40m. Our footsteps from earlier in the day were soon covered but the good path is easy to follow. Back in Aviemore it continued to snow on and off for the rest of the evening, a good sign for the next few days.

A beach walk! - circumnavigating Loch Einich

Loch Einich

The view from the head of Loch Einich

Monday, 16 January 2012

Trail Runner photoshoot!

Amazing light on Skiddaw just before sunset

The stunning weather continued back in the Lakes where I spent the day with Trail Runner magazine and photographer Stuart Holmes on Latrigg getting some shots for forthcoming issues. Not my normal Monday but a very interesting day (and good interval training with plenty of short sprints for the camera!)

Epicentre's Steve Ashworth has also made good use of this weekends weather with a quick winter Bob Graham Round.

Trail Runners's Claire Maxted and I enjoying perfect running conditions

Sunday, 15 January 2012

An Intro to Ice & Mixed

Enjoying a wee pitch of grade III ice

For the final morning of their 3 day course the students and I headed back in to Coire An t-Sneachda armed with climbing tools. The area above the Flat Ice lends itself to top roping a number of short lines on ice and rock at around III-IV. The weather was perfect again giving my group a very false idea of what Scottish winter mountaineering is like but it did allow us to experiment with winter climbing with plenty of opportunity for feedback and development. Today I was working for the University of Cumbria.

Cranking a few layback moves on solid axe torques

Good footwork on a steep bulge of ice

Saturday, 14 January 2012

An alpine Cairngorm plateau...

Climbing an icy 0.5 Gully with Cairngorm in the background

With a strong team we carried on where we left off with a solo ascent of 0.5 Gully in icy conditions. Having shown the students footage of Ueli Steck on his record Eiger Norwand speed solo the night before it proved to be a very quick ascent! The weather was absolutely stunning on the plateau and we spent a few hours enjoying the sun as we looked at bucket seats, buried axe belays, dynamic belaying and all the other fundamental building blocks for winter climbing. With a spectacular sunset in store we finished by paying a quick visit to the summit of Cairngorm. Today I was working for the University of Cumbria.

A wee rest before the rocky exit slopes

Topping out into the sunshine on 0.5 Gully

Building a buried axe belay

An ungainly top tip to get the length of your anchor rope right first time!

Traditional mountaineering skills and a solid foundation for winter climbing

A well rimed weather station on the top of Cairngorm

The Cairngorm weather instruments which come out every 30 minutes

Sunset from the summit of Cairngorm