Monthly Archives: March 2015

March madness

The start of this month saw the completion of one of my long standing goals.  I am not really a goal setter by nature –  my main aspirations being to eat good food, drink good drink, spend time in beautiful places and not work too much but I had always had the Mountaineering Instructors Certificate in the back of my mind.  Getting to this point has taken a while though for me came pretty suddenly.  I decided at the end of last summer that I was just going to give all my time and focus to passing this qualification.  Its hard to sum up to people not involved in the outdoor industry the time and energy that goes into all of the outdoor qualifications and in the last couple of weeks I have found myself trying to sum this up.  The actual assessment for the MIC is just 4 days long but is in fact an assessment of the culmination of for me over 10 years working in the industry.  I actually really enjoyed the assessment and as I had been told by many friends it did just feel like going to work every day (which is always stressful on high avalanche days).  Looking back to the start of the year its been fairly intense preparing for the assessment but also a lot of fun –

  • 50 routes up to grade 6 (work and play)
  • approx 60 days “on the hill” (I think I only took about 7/8 rest days from the start of Jan till my assessment)
  • 120 snickers eaten (based on 2 snickers a day minimum)
  • Walked up the track to Ben Nevis over 20 times
  • approximately 150 glucosamine tablets swallowed
  • Lost 6kg while eating around 3500-4000 calories a day

Huge amounts of thanks have to go to any of my friends and colleagues who offered advice, to Hannah for putting up with kit drying everywhere around the house and my constantly knackered state and to some friends who suffered through my practising various things (short roping Alfie Tipler for a day was hilarious for me but I think his worst day in the hills ever!  “it reminds me of being a child”)

Since the assessment the winter has continued to be amazing though I have started to look for dry rock!

IMG_1885Rather appropriately my first day of work as a full MIC was in fairly disgusting conditions where I climbed Hadrians Wall direct with one client.  We were both pretty tired at the end of the day having had to pull frozen ropes through our belay devices so many times.  We took a day off and the next day turned out to be a stunner.  Above the view on the way down to Coire Leis
IMG_1899 I was out with Stephan one of the Geologists who is looking at glacial periods in Scotland.  Seen here after climbing one of routes on his “bucket list”, Point 5 gully.  On the left of the photo is one of the areas (Coire Leis) that is believe to have had a glacier in it as recently as the 1700’sIMG_1902 I was next out with Rob who was getting ready to add to his already impressive mountaineering CV.  Seen here about to start the Eastern Traverse on Tower Ridge.  IMG_1908 Spring is here!  After climbing Tower Ridge I nipped home to change ice axes for rock shoes and Hannah and I headed up Glen Nevis for some spring rock climbing.  Above – Hannah in the sun at the base of “Storm”IMG_1910 Hannah tiptoeing onto the first belay of StormIMG_1930 Next I headed up Observatory gully with Joe to tick off a couple of routes that I had wanted to do for years.  Above – Joe on the second pitch of “Smiths Route”IMG_1935 Two teams on Smiths route as we headed down for one more.  Pretty cool to watch Alan Kimber leading up this – I hope I’m still leading grade 5 in my 60’sIMG_1945 Graham, Donald and I left the upper car park at 645am and headed up to climb Orion face direct,  We were beaten to the base by 3 teams(!) and settled on “Minus 2 gully” instead.  This is now one of my favourite routes and not a bad plan C!  Above – Donald leading up to the big ice pitch.IMG_1955 One of the awesome pegs on Minus 2.  I wonder if this once belonged to Jimmy Marshall?IMG_1963 Graham making short work of the last pitchIMG_1964 Donald on the last pitch no longer worried about making it to parents evening on time!IMG_1968 Lastly I headed up the Ben (again!) with Mark to see what we could do on a busy Saturday.  Turns out quite a lot!  Climbing with Mark is always tough as he always seems to have such nice new kit!  We climbed the start of Glovers Chimney into the Gutter followed by the Cascade into Experts Choice.  Loads of great ice and no-one else about!  Above – Mark and his shiny gear starting up the crux of “The Gutter”IMG_1971 Mark “I’m no good at ice climbing” Chambers charging up the crux pitch with good styleIMG_1979At the 11th belay of the day!
IMG_3881 I spent a couple of days working with Scott and Jamie at UHI.  After deciding not to go outside one day we were met with an amazing day the next.  Above – stunning views at the CIC hutIMG_3894 2 Students probing for a snow hole siteIMG_3899 Scott and Jamie hard at work in tough conditionsIMG_3900 Amazing snow hole site under the Brenva face of Ben Nevis.  Shame we didnt stay there!P1020561

And lastly – I was somewhat horrified to see the above photo appear in my inbox.  A photo of me on the (in) famous crux pitch of point 5 gully.  The gear was less than amazing and this must have been taken by my client inbetween me being pounded by spindrift avalanches!

I had thought that my winter might be over by now but there’s a storm raging outside and theres plenty of ice on the Ben still.  Who wants to go ice climbing????

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50 words for snow

It seems to common to mention how many words for snow the Inuit people have due to living in a permanently wintery environment.  Having been living in semi permanent winter for the last couple of months I feel I could definitely come up with a few myself (especially when breaking trail).  The winter in the Highlands has continued to be brilliant with lots of good ice to be had at the start of the month and some massively changeable weather in the last couple of weeks.  While it is the shortest of the months February has seemed pretty long to me – probably due to how varied the month has been for work and play.  

IMG_1591On the first day of the month I was teaching winter skills in Glencoe – Above, a brilliant view of Bidean nam Bian from above the Devils Staircase.  IMG_1603I then spent a day working with the awesome Hot Aches Productions http://www.hotaches.com/ while they filmed Dave MacLeod and Natalie Berry in the Bridge of Orchy hills.  Above, Diff about to start some very cold filming.  Below – Dave on the final belay as the sun sets over Loch Tulla IMG_1625

10969091_10152693906377081_862478053_oNext up it was back to the ice.  Above – Al Halewoods photo of me on the crux pitch of “Stand and Deliver” on Aonach Beag.  This was certainly the steepest bit of ice I’ve lead – hard to climb but at least the ice screws were good!IMG_1652Al looking pleased after his first winter route of the season.IMG_1655Stunning views of the Ben from and interesting angle on the walk back to Aonach Mor.IMG_1669I spent a few days climbing with Helen Rennard.  Its great to get out climbing with someone stronger (and better!) than me and a good education watching Helen use her crampons on mixed routes.  Above – Helen approaching the belay on “Spectre” in Stob Coire nan Lochain”  Above – Helen leading the second pitch.IMG_1676
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The next day it was off up the Ben with Helen and Neil Adams.  We had hoped to climb Shield Direct (I was looking forward to a tight rope!) but it didnt look “in”.  Instead we climbed “Boomers Requiem” a classic ice line.  Above – Neil coming down the stunning South Castle Gully.  Below – me heading up the crux pitch of Boomers.  (photo by Neil Adams)11018122_10152801545507725_488646429_o
IMG_1696I had been aware of Mega Route X for years but had never really considered climbing it.  Wandering in with Ken we found ourselves at the base of this amazing line.  Below – Ken leading up the steep first moves of “Mega Route X”  Below – Ken seconding over the final steep bulge on the second pitch.IMG_1715IMG_1731

We then headed over to “The Chute” which started thin and technical and ended up being awesome climbing up huge ice flows.  Above – Ken leading the last pitch.IMG_1735A last minute call to Scott Brooks saw us climbing “Hadrians Wall” the next day.  We didnt see much but it suddenly cleared as we were coming down Number 4 gully with a great view up toward the Comb
IMG_17362 Days in the cairngorms for a wee study break for Hannah.  Above – Hannah and Claire on the way in to “Central Gully” on Lurchers Crag.  Below – Photo by Hannah.  Claire climbing the main pitch of Central Gully.  Awesome to climb ice in the sun!
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Last weekend I spent a couple of days working for Nadir Khan http://www.nadirkhan.co.uk/ who was up primarily to photograph Ines Papert.  We spent a day in Stob Coire Nan Lochain with a sponsored German climber Joeseph (I am still not sure exactly who he is!) climbing Crest route.  Below – Photo by Nadir Khan, Joeseph and I descending.
906411_956923930987040_7304503003702159906_oWe got back to the bags to find there had been an accident on another route.  After calling Mountain Rescue we went up to help the gentleman who had dislocated his knee.  Bit of a tough descision as he was obviously injured but was in an area that was quite obviously avalanche prone (he had been avalanched off his route) and in an area that I had not wanted to travel that day.  We put him on a group shelter and dragged him into the coire.  Below – Me lifting the casualties leg while Joseph looks on.10960346_956923937653706_3965481464652437892_oIMG_1794February is always busy in Fort William – we had some friends to stay and took them up their first winter route – the North Ridge of East Buttress of Stob Ban.  Great to finally do a route that I’ve wanted to do for a while and that you can see from our living room window.  Above – Hermione and Hannah coming along one of the crests.
IMG_1837Above – Teaching day on “Jacobs Ladder” in the cairngorms.  Great to teach on a route that was also one of my first winter climbs.IMG_1855To finish off the month I spent 2 days teaching Avalanche awareness at the University of Highlands and Islands.  Above – Tranceiver use and digging, One of the students offered to be buried in a snow bank – great education but dont try this unless your sure theres enough air getting in.  Even a foot of snow stops you moving at all!IMG_1865Rutschblock tests to look at shears in the snow pack.  Wild day on Aonach MorIMG_1239 I did also spend a couple of days taking a rest from mountaineering – so I went skiing.  A brilliant two days in the cairngorms with Jago.  Above – me wearing Jagos awesome glacier glasses.  Below  Jago skinning from glen feshie toward Braeriach.IMG_3863 IMG_3868

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