Saturday, December 25, 2010

A White Christmas

I hope that you have been enjoying this fantastic start the winter as much as I have. I'm currently on family duty and won't be in the hills again till the 2nd and so should probably catch up with the blog.
Last year we had an amazing start to the winter and many people were reminded of "How It Used To Be" back in the day when we had "Real Winters". Well, it looks like we may be in for a run off them if the weakened North Atlantic Ossilation has anything to do with it. Hopefully the news reports are not just a combination of wishful thinking by the winter sports fraternity in conjunction with bored journalists looking to fill column inches with speculation. Time will tell.
We have however seen a slew of interesting repeats and new routes being done. For instance on Beinn Bhan near Applecross Both the Godfather and The God Delusion have seen repeat ascents within a couple of weeks of each other rather than the more usual 10+ years of waiting for a successful ascent of the wall. It is probable that the Internet and the ease of access to quality information helps massively with this but the amount of strong climbers around now has mushroomed in the this new millennium. Winter mountaineering is probably no longer the weird esoteric pastime it once was (however when I was just explaining to my in-laws about mixed climbing then I did have a sudden epiphany that it is pretty weird and bizare!). The best website to get the real inside track on the more interesting ascents that I will be contributing to also is that run by Simon Richardson
The weather continues to be sub freezing but there is talk of a thaw in the next few days. This will be worth paying attention to and keeping an eye on the sais avalanche websites as I think that this will cause a significant increase in the avalanche risk. As you may know there isn't a fore sat for the NW but it is still worth looking at the west coast, meggy etc forecasts then looking at the weather and wind direction and using it as a guide. Generally the snow cover is still fantastic in the NW and places such as Sgurr fidhler have been in condition for several weeks now. Quinag and Sullivan are in great condition to for those who dislike even the thought of sharing their mountain with another climbing party!
When I can get to a computer (I can't load images via the iPhone) I'll put some pictures up taken from a recent first on the North side of Stac Pollaidh. This crag has excellent climbing with an even shorter walkin that Sneachda in the Northern Corries of the Cairngorms.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Skiing and Climbing in the Cairngorms

The snow pack has melted and refrozen and greatly stabilised in the Cairngorms. Melt- freeze grains characterize much of the pack, but an icy crust has formed that will present a very nasty sliding layer when the new snow comes in the next few days. Keep an eye on the SAIS forecasts which are beginning tomorrow i believe.
The crags of the Northern Corries and the Loch Avon basin are extremely verglassed and the steeper sections of the crags were mostly black, but have begun to rime up a bit. The turf is excellent.
The ski touring was pretty hard work in that the very icy surface of the snow was a pain to skin on and required a lot of concentration to ski on (especially when your edges were needing sharpening!)
I have again been skiing into and out of routes and have really enjoyed the speed of access (and retreat!). It isn't too difficult to climb ice in ski boots, why i wonder do more folk not do this?
The picture shows the build up of ice on Hells Lum as of Tuesday afternoon.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

A thaw and the promise of a freeze

It is currently warmer in the Highlands of Scotland than in the South of England. The snow that has been a foot or more thick at sea level is finally melting and this melt should go all the way up the hill and help consolidate the pack and hopefully destroy some of the dangerous layers that have built up, particularly the new snow that fell / blew onto a weak surface hore layer on due west aspects.
The forecasters predict that the cold will come again possibly starting Sunday evening or Monday morning. This will be fantastic news and should give a solid base of snow for the rest of the season. All too often in the last 10 years we have had big snow fall events followed by a thaw and warm rain for a week or more which often took us back to square one.
I have been out again since my last post, however the wee boy enjoying the sledge ride in the photo has erased my memory card on my waterproof camera so i only have a few shots taken on the 'good weather' camera and have lost all the climbing shots.
The snow in the NW should easily last the thaw. I'll probably be in the Gorms this weekend but hope to go for a very long walk to a very good route on the winter solstice which is my preferred way of celebrating it.

Friday, December 03, 2010

More ski touring and new routing

The stable cold weather continues. I have been combining the planks and the axes and ski toured into Choire Mor on Ben Wyvis and climbed a new route there. It wasn't too hard and was a good long mountaineering day. I chose to go in from the East as the East and NE wind has significantly loaded West facing slopes and we saw the debris from several spontaneous avalanches all on East facing slopes. The snow surface had significant surface (something to keep an eye on when the new snow comes) on it but the pack on East facing slopes was reasonay stable.
I will put some pictures on when I get near a computer this evening

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

New Routes and ski touring in the NW

Whilst there is less snow in the NW than in the Cairngorms (it has mostly come in on a NW -W wind) there is still snow down to the road and waist deep drifts in places.
I have been out and about ski touring on my local hills where i met a very friendly shire horse who seemed very curious as to what we were doing and followed us some distance up the hill! The snow was quite tricky to ski as the consitancy was quite variable as it has been blown around a lot. We avoided steep westerly aspect slopes as they had large areas of nasty windslab

With the low snow level and unuasal cold (-14c last night) some interesting places have come into condition. I was climbing with Roger (master of the mono) Webb on the South face of Stac Pollaidh where we made the first winter ascent of 'Enigma Variations' which was in turn very delicate and very hard and very fierce and very hard!

It looks like this weather will continue till at least the weekend and probably beyond.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Lots of Snow...

I can't get iphone 4 pictures onto the blog i'm afraid. Here is a picture taken at the bottom of the Shelter Stone on Wednesday; it was snowy then and i think that it will be snowier now. The roads in the NW and Cairngorms are still passable and the ski road was open today. A lot of new snow is falling now (on a strong due NE wind i think) and this will probably change the situation. There will be a higher avalanche risk this weekend as there is a lot of fresh snow falling and then being transported on this strong wind. Check the SAIS website as they are now doing weekend updates.
I'm not sure yet where i am heading i the next few days, probably west where walking will be easier but i may go and have a look at all the snow chaos for the fun of it! Interestingly i've already had several ski touring enquiries (even though slacker that i am i haven't fixed that section of the website yet). Here is hoping that it will be another snowy winter on the planks.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

NW and Caingorms

The bare hills of the NW are now sporting a lovely new snowy coat and good conditions have returned to many mixed venues. It is currently snowing lightly down to sea level up here. The cairngorms however are bearing the brunt of this new snow with large accumations coming in the next couple of days.
Yesterday I was in the Loch Avon basin and found travel and climbing very slow and laborious in the unconsolodated snow but noted that the ski touring was looking good (right place wrong kit!). On the walk out we met up with a friend who was attempting to walk across the cairngorm platea without a map and compass, he very nearly made it but after he sent me a txt saying "I don't know where I am we found him only 200m from the top of the goat track! So close and yet so far!
I am experimenting with a new iPhone at the moment and am trying to type this blog with it (I will try and add a photo later). The gps and a loaded section of an os map bought in iPhone apps made navigating in a White out in blizzard in the dark almost child's play. I was very impressed and so was my friend when we found him!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Winter 2010 / 2011

Ok, time to brush off the keyboards and start the blog back up. I'll aim this winter for about 2 posts a week giving general conditions reports mainly for the NW but as i climb all over the Highlands there will be reports from the Cairngorms and the West Coast also.
It looks like this is the real start to the winter now, rather than just a single snow fall followed by rain the next week. On the whole things have started well with much of the NW frozen before the snow fell. There have been regular top ups of snow every few days above about 700 ish m and rocky mixed crags that don't get the sunshine up high have had great early season conditions.
I have been out on Beinn Eighe and various 'secret' locations in the NW doing new mixed routes. It is a great time at the moment in the hills; the light is fantastic and with the echoing sound of the stags engaging in their courtship rituals make the whole place very atmospheric.
The temperature today has briefly gone up to the top of the hills but will come back down and thus consolidate what we have so far.
It looks like we will have good conditions for the next week at least and i hope to be taking full advantages of these this weekend.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

More (wet) Cullin Action

I fished out the oatcake from the camera and found a partially chewed battery that seemed to work so here are some damp pictures to look at from the confines of a warm armchair. It actually wasn't as bad as it was advertised in the weather forecast; the high winds were manageable if you stayed in the lee of the slope but great care was needed with areas of the lighter coloured fine grained rock and we were roped up on sections that we would usually saunter down 'hands in pockets' so to speak.

I'll be in North Wales till midweek next week and then i'm back home to the growing chill of Autumn. This is usually a quieter guiding time and a good time to catch up on the filing cabinet full of admin that has built up. I'm aiming to design a logo and re vamp the website but don't hold your breath; the technological wheels turn slowly in my household.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Skye peaks and thunder!

No pictures i'm afraid as whilst my camera is weather proof it isn't 3 year old proof. He and i have both learned that half an oatcake, whilst it fits nicely into the battery compartment isn't a real substitute for a battery.
The weather has been biblical on Skye this week with a few shifty looking animals lining up two by two... Today we were on the Northern End of the ridge and took it nice and steady on the wet slippy rock. The day had very nasty squally showers come through off the sea and in one hailstone shower a lightening strike struck the North end of the ridge. No where near us fortunately as we were timing our ascents in between the squalls.
We're at the Glen Brittle end tomorrow and hopefully things will be a little calmer. We will see.
I wonder if he preferred the taste of the battery rather than the oatcake? Hmmm, i better ring home and check.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

North Wales

I'm currently hiding in Pete's Eats in Llanberiss watching the cars sail passed as the rain lashes down. The person oposite me is wearing a damp t-shirt which declares "Better a wet day on the hill than a sunny one in the office". However he does look thankfull to be drinking his tea in the warm fug of the busy cafe.

The weather in the pass has been very wet and showery for the last few days but as my mandate isn't extreme rock ticking on this trip so it hasn't been much of an issue (other than running out of dry footwear). We've been making use of the bad weather looking at scrambling, bad weather navigation and night navigation techniques big book climbing and crag rescues and rope tricks.

It looks like there is a break in the showers so back out we go....

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Cullin ridge Traverse

Finally it has stopped raining and we made a successful traverse this week. The hills were very very quiet; we only met one other traverse party and 2 or 3 other people on the ridge.
We made very quick time on the second day and i was very impressed with Gordon's unflinching ascent of Naismith's route on the Basteir Tooth. This is usually my plan A to get up to the summit; it is the quickest and purest line to take but it is fantastically intimidating to a tired ridge traverser. I haven't made an ascent of it this year on my traverses but Gordon was made of sterner stuff and cruised it with ease.
I'm off to North Wales for a few days before coming back next week.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Lead Coaching and Ardverikie Wall

We were supposed to be doing the Skye Cullin ridge traverse this weekend, but as the weekend approached the forecast got progressively worse and finally promised gales and snow on the tops (is it really August?).
So we make an executive decision and decamped to the Mainland and gambled on the Roy Bridge area.
On Saturday with a poor forecast we stayed low and looked at multy pitch climbing organisation and multypitch absailing and covered lead coaching and belay construction and management. We finished the day (which was mostly in the rain top roping some dryish rock which was blooming hard (polished and damp) but apparently written up as vs 4b!
On Sunday with a slightly better forecast the four of us went into Binnein Shuas and climbed the 6 pitch route Ardverikie Wall. This was a guiding day and the team were quite relieved i think that i was the one leading. The new guidebook discourages the climb in the wet. I have climbed it several times and have once (before the new guide came out) previously climbed it in the rain. As it turned out we had a few showers but most of the pitches were dry, if a little cold, and only the top two 'easier' pitches were wet. We finished the day with a walk up to the windy top of Binnein Shuas where Paul amazed me with his iphone on which he has loaded multymap and using the in built gps showed us exactly where we were. I am feeling the need to get one, but at the rate i seem to break handsets i'm wondering how long it would last.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Skye Ridge Update and Improvised rescues

Well it has been wet! I've uploaded a couple of pictures from my previous post and a sample of the other days out that i have been having; see if you can spot the difference! I have also been down south delivering improvised crag rescue practice. This looks as solving simple problems on the crag such as a second can't do a move to more complexed ones such as a climber on a traverse has fallen unconscious and is dangling in space. Hopefully we all will never have to use these skills for real and problem AVOIDANCE pays a major part in many days out but it is a good idea to know how to do it all.
I'm back over to the Skye ridge this weekend and into next week. I'll blog next week (hopefully reporting dry rock and a chance meeting with the the Swedish Bikini Abseiling Team which are rumored to be training on Skye next week ;)

Sunday, August 15, 2010

No place like home...

I'm back in the UK now. The remainder of my time in the alps was generally wet; there was no danger of sunstroke.
I've moved over to Skye for a spell of work now and the weather was fantastic today. We made an ascent of the Northern end munros on the Skye ridge. We only met one other party on the top of Am Bastier who were heading for the tooth none of whom, including the child, were wearing helmets and the best course of action for my team was to stop dead whilst they wandered about underneath us seeminly oblivious to the small stones that my party were inevitably dislodging. You do what you can but there is nowt as queer as folk sometimes.
It is suprisingly quiet over here at the moment and whilst the campsites seem busy, the hills are quiet.
Pictures tommorow when the internest conection is faster.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


It is quite cold out in the alps at the moment and the weather has been quite mixed with snow lying down to 2000m and staying on the ridges. It is clearing better from steep southern facing routes. I'm staying in Austria for the next few days but we may move if the temperatures don't go up. It could be an interesting time to do a big mixed face... but that's not on the agenda for this trip!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Skye Ridge, Munros, Rock and Sport Climbing and teaching leading

I have had the computers packed up in dust proof covers this past couple of weeks as i have been sanding and varnishing the floors in between work. A bit of a chore but worth doing in the end (I'm told).
Thus blog catch up time...
I have been guiding rock and sport climbing and teaching leading. I have been in the Cullin a lot recently and have just got back from doing a Munros course in very mixed weather.
I'm off to the Alps for a few weeks at the weekend and then North Wales before going back to Skye. I'll try and keep up the blog up to date but it will be intermittent.
It's tipping it down again outside so it's quite nice to be varnishing inside!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Success on the Skye Ridge

Saturday on the Cullin Ridge of Skye was very windy and cold. However the sun was out and it was often possible to stay out of the worst of the wind on the Glen Brittle side. David, Mark and I made good steady progress and only experienced a slight delay at the Inaccessible Pinnacle. The team opted to take in all the difficult variations and we enjoyed dry rock and great views.
We stopped to bivi early as many of the usual springs were dry (on the whole it has been unusually dry so far this season) and i descended off the ridge and trudged (slowly) back with 14l in my pack and we spent a fine evening in the sunshine eating and drinking like Kings.
Sunday morning greeted us with thick cloud and drizzle. The visibility was only 20m for most of the day and we didn't see (or hear) anyone until we got to Am Basteir where we tried to locate the owner of a mobile phone, camera and a pair of glasses that we had found on Bruach na Frithe. The weather cleared just in time for our ascent of Sgurr nan Gillean and our long walk out to the Sligachan Pub. We finally reunited the owner with their belongings but by the time they turned up last orders had been called at the bar and we weren't able to take them up on the offer of a round of drinks.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Inaccessible Pinnacle (In Pinn) and Munros

Back from Skye now. I'm still wondering where the crowds are; it still seems strangely quiet if you stay away from the Inaccessible Pinnacle area. Am i just going to the right places at the right times?
Saturday was a great day; the cloud burnt off in mid morning and the Southern end caught the sun first. The picture above taken on Saturday evening shows the first signs of the new weather front which caused heavy rain throughout Skye.
Fingers crossed for the weather at the end of the week and the coming weekend as i'm doing a traverse.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

The Skye good weather continues

I'm just back from Skye and can report that the good weather has continued and is set to for several more days. The ground in the Cullins and in Glen brittle is very dry which is great for ascents of routes that usually have wet weeps on them but not good for finding water from springs for a ridge traverse.
I'm back over on Friday but currently have Sunday, Monday and Tuesday free for private guiding up Munros, rock climbing or an attempt at the ridge traverse if anyone would like a last minute break on Skye.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Skye Ridge and Munros

The weather on Skye has been mostly very good, with the odd morning of rain such as yesterday. The In Pinn has been very busy (it is the English school half term) but each of my 3 ascents were queue free by dint of luck and getting up early. Some mornings the ridge was damp but the breeze and some warmth from the day soon dried it off. We had the whole of the North end of the ridge to ourselves yesterday and didn't see another soul all day, which was amazing as the camp sites and the huts are all teeming with folk. I'm having a couple of days at home before i go over again at the weekend for another stint; hopefully the weather will remain kind.