Tag Archives: Scottish Winter Climbing

Return to the Norm

My first month back in Scotland in 16months.  I got back to Scotland and the usual round of people endlessly discussing conditions and weather, a fair amount of rain and some less than wintery hills.  This has not been too much of a burden really as there have been loads of friends and family to catch up with amongst remembering how to deal with banks etc.  It is awesome to be back.  I have spent a large amount of my adult years in different places in the world and the one thing that really makes you do is appreciate home.  As I mentioned in my last post, a lot has happened since I left and it has been great to catch up with friends old and new and of course revisit some places that I love.IMG_8757One of the first things I did on return home was go up to the place where my good friend Joe passed away a year ago.  This might seem morbid to some but I wanted to go up the path and try and put myself in Joe and Simons minds as they headed off that day.  I have walked that path many times with many people but I will always now think of those two headed of on another adventure as I wander into the high coire of Stob Coire nam Beith.  Above – a very damp Stob Coire nam Beith.  The hills had no snow on when I first got back.931A2171Spending time in the hills with friends is always the best way to catch up.  Ruaridh came over for the weekend and we headed out in the hills in some very wintery (and windy weather).  We headed west both days to try and avoid the worst of the wind but I still got picked off my feet at one point.  Above – Ruaridh heading up the long ridge of Garbh Bheinn (Ardgour).  931A2182Ruaridh giving his “its so windy” face.931A2184View from Garbh Bheinn back towards Fort William.  Winter has returned!

931A2193On the Sunday we were joined by Jago, Sarah and Gemma and headed off towards Streap.  Streap is only 15 mins drive from my house but I had never been up it.  We didnt really expect to be able to go all the way to the summit but actually the wind was not too bad on the top or the final grade 1 ridge and we were treated to spectacular views out to the Cuillin and back towards Ben Nevis.931A2205Looking South West.931A2218Final summit ridge as the weather changes.

IMG_8793I have been doing a few days of work as well.  Someone said to me recently that as a Freelancer you basically do the jobs the someone else doesn’t want.  If thats the case I’m fine with it.  I spent valentines day with a lovely couple climbing a grade two ridge in the sun as they planned their honeymoon on Skye.  IMG_8805There has been a fair bit of bad weather days this month.  Some days you just have to find a bothy, make hot chocolate and eat loads of brownies.  Linda and Miles chilling!931A2227In between bouts of work and play I have also been sorting out a new van.  Wee Katie Tayler looks on as I start to drill holes!IMG_8762 I have managed to get a little bit of climbing done – Caspar leading up behind the flake of “Flake Route Right Hand” on Church door buttress.IMG_8775 Caspar leading the pitch above the arch just before he did a bit of a slither back down the way he’d came!IMG_8809 Stu and I headed up the Ben with various plans.  We should have known the day wouldn’t go well when we had to dig numerous vehicles out of the snow, were late setting off and had to wade through thigh deep snow to get to the base of the routes.  Above – a happy Stu trying to work out where we are.IMG_8821 Turns out that we didnt know were we were (not bad for two MIC’s!) but climbed something about the right grade.  Stu coming up the initial pitch somewhere on the middle tier of Trident Buttress.IMG_8827 My friends Jago and Sarah are living with me just now seeing what the highlands have to offer for a winter season.  I insisted they join me for some mountaineering  a couple of days ago and we got one of those special days climbing in the sun with amazing views and finished it off in the Nevis range cafe!IMG_8836Jago and Sarah on one of the last sections of “Golden Oldy”  on Aonach Mor.
IMG_8839I can see my house from here!  Its tough living in Fort William but someones got to do it.

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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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Good sandwich making skills and frozen water

Good sandwich skills are essential to a good winter day out.  I know there’s people out there who just throw a lump of Soreen or some cereal bars in their bag but for me that just doesn’t cut it.  Theres been rather a lot of sandwich making recently as I decided a while ago to take some time to focus on winter mountaineering and climbing.  For the most part this just involves getting out every day to climb with different people, heading out on my own to look at different venues / solo easy routes or the odd days work in the mountains.  Evenings are then spent desperately trying to get kit dry and staring at weather forecasts, blogs and the Avalanche information website.  Eventually something comes up which means you cant go out – such as winds gusting over 100mph or like today, a bed being delivered.  Its been a pretty awesome January with some amazing days of good ice and blue skies but being out every day you definitely see some of the worst of it as well.  So heres my photos from January – a few blues sky days and then the rest.IMG_1414crpGraham trying to find the tunnel on “West Chimney” of Church door buttress.  Helen and I stood on the  belay getting showered with snow and then gravel before Graham declared the tunnel blocked – turns out it has been for 2 years.  Turns out the routes a bit harder now.
IMG_1430Graham looking very happy on “Pinnacle Face” on the West face of Aonach Dubh – its been amazing to see so much snow down at the road in Glen Coe – we went to the West face twice that week with the approach taking twice as long as normal.IMG_1476Darkness and snow – Heading home after another day on the hillIMG_1481A blue sky day and a Saturday!  We opted for North East Buttress on the Ben as it was rather busy. IMG_1490IMG_1523A couple of photos of Graham on the curtain – a quick morning blast on one of the nicest days of Jan.IMG_1524I can see my house from here.  Walking back to the car, its not every day it looks like this!IMG_1533I spent a day being observed/mentored by Mike Pescod from Abacus Mountain Guides and dragged Georgia along as my “client” for the day.  Georgia topping out of the first pitch of  “Shelf Route” on Buachille Etive MorIMG_1535Mike setting off up the crux pitch of Shelf Route.  The route was rather buried in loose snow making for a fairly wallowy day for Georgia, Myself and Mikes client Tommy.  I wonder what it was like for out in front>IMG_1540 Mike and Tommy heading for Crowberry towerIMG_1546Georgia high above the clouds in Glen Etive.  IMG_1554Mike and Tommy heading for home towards Coire an TuillachIMG_0611
Finally headed up to “Crypt Route” with Scott.  Things were looking pretty marginal for winter climbing when we got there with water pouring down the crag but the gamble had paid off with it being very wintery inside the buttress.  Above – Scott getting  to the first belay.  Below – Scott leading off into the depths of the buttress.IMG_0610 IMG_1568Ed leading up the first pitch of “Vanishing Gully”.  Ed, Craig and I headed in with a fairly poor forecast and were met with fairly poor conditions – what a surprise!
IMG_1570 Ed belaying outside while I hide in the cave.  If you have any beliefs that winter climbing is fun this day would have dispelled them (check out the water pouring from the icicles)IMG_1578 Trying to stay warm in the cave before the next pitch.IMG_1581 Beautiful but rather brittle water ice on the second pitch of VanishingIMG_3827 Its not often Scotland looks like this.  IMG_3830 Or this.  I drove over to the Bridge of Orchy hills to meet Bob for some winter skills practice – the drive over was absolutely stunning.IMG_3832 Bob practicing his “Stomper” belay below the cragsIMG_0614And finally – yesterday Scott and I headed up to the west face of Aonach Mor.  Couldnt resist getting a photo of a stuck VW T5 as we crusied past heading up the road to Nevis RangeIMG_3837Scott looking stoic approaching “Western Rib”IMG_3838 Beautiful views of Carn Mor DeargIMG_3851 Getting to the first belayIMG_3857Scott leading up one of the more technical pitches on Western Rib.  I really like the routes on this face of Aonach Mor – They dont look like much but are awesome fun for a long easy day out – and they have cable car access

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Making good descisions

I climbed a lot with one friend a couple of years ago and still hear his mantra ringing through my head a lot of the time.  Not the coolest of Mantras but “make good decisions” is certainly not a bad thing to hear as you leave a belay on a climb.  Nowhere is this more true than in avalanche terrain.  Making good decisions in Avalanche terrain has been on my mind a lot recently – high risk in the Scottish mountains,  a lot of media attention on Avalanches and  the memories of some of the best people I knew lost to the mountains.  Success for me when the risks are high equates to coming home again and still being friends with the person you went out there with.  I feel in some ways that the last few weeks have not seen much “standing on the top of things celebrating” types of success but I have still had a lot of fun.



Definitely a good descision – two of the funniest people you could ever go into the mountains with.  Alfie “who needs crampons or a jacket” Tipler and Miles “legs of a horse, body of a child” McConville.  Great day on the Ballachullish Horseshoe with the Schoolhouse ridge start.


Coming round the first technical section of Schoolhouse ridge.  This is a great grade 1-2 ridge and easily escapeable.  Great news as Alfie didnt have his crampons!IMG_0016

Coming onto the first summit.IMG_0051 Stunning conditions on the main ridge.IMG_0056 Always a good day when you finish with a good glissade!IMG_0058 Except when you hit the only tree on the slope!IMG_0062 Next up I headed to Buachille Etive Mor with Scott.  Theres lots of good ridges on the Buachille but some of the approaches are a bit avalanche prone.  Above – Looking at Buachille Etive Beag on the Walk in.IMG_0068 Avalanche debris below Great Gully.  This had got as far as the main path in!IMG_0070Scott leading off up the first pitch of West Route, North Buttress.  A great choice when the avalanche danger is high.

Scott looking pleased after the main difficulties.  Just a long uphill and even longer downhill to get off.  Great day!IMG_0085Photo from Scott – me sitting in my garden after a good day on the hill – The first sunshine I’ve seen since buying the house!
IMG_0098 Definitely a good descision.  Scott and I got pretty excited about making Haggis Chinese Dumplings.  Probably the best decision of the week though disappointing when we found that its been done beforeIMG_0116 Next up Scott and I headed to Garbh Bheinn, possibly my favourite Scottish Mountain.  We were going for the great ridge which was low enough to be out of the high avalanche risk but it also turned out to be rather out of condition!  Scott above on the first technical step which felt hard!!IMG_0118 Scott trying to get us out of trouble – a lot of traversing happened after we realised that we were not going to be successful.IMG_0132 Next up I spent some days with Bob to help him get ready for his Winter Mountain Leader assessment.  The WML is all about making good decisions in the winter environment. The days we had were not ideal but certainly posed some challenges.  Above – Bob toughing it out in a bucket seat belayIMG_0136 We dug some emergency snowholes for practice – On assessment you classically get 20-30mins to dig one of these with just an axe and be comfortable enough tospend the night.  If you have never done this its a great thing to practice in case your good decisions turn out to be not so good.

IMG_0150And finally – Bob and I planned to spend a night snowholing and practicing night navigation up on Creag Meagidh.  We dug in for just over an hour and stopped to have a bite to eat and a drink.  In this time the doorway filled with spindrift (blown snow) which took a further hour to dig out.  The doorway filled again and we decided to bail.  The above photo is courtesy of Bob – me taking some bearings before exiting the snowhole for the long walk back to the van.  When we saw the next days avalanche forecast I was in no doubt that this was the right decision.

Its been a rather hectic few weeks, lots of work, lots of courses and lots of wading through deep powder.  None of that is about to stop any time soon but I cant help but hope that the Avalanche risk drops in the next week or so to allow people to head for the winter routes they want to.

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Winter Ridges



January has been busy already and its only half way through!  The celebrations didn’t stop after new year – we came back to Fort William for Pete and Kag’s house warming party, to meet our new lodgers and throw a house warming party or our own (the next night!).  The weather was looking great but the avalanche conditions not so great on the day of the house warming so Gile, Adam and I decided on a quick romp along the wonderful Aonach Eagach ridge.  The conditions have stayed largely the same with only the very brave or the very stupid climbing anything other than ridges on the west coast just now.  Things have now calmed down a bit on the avalanche front and the winter climbing season is definitely here.

The house warming party was great with lots of food and drink and music and it has been non-stop since then…..

1Adam and Giles on the Aonach Eagach with Stob coire an Lochain behind
2Coming along the ridge
3Adams first day in crampons – Quality equipment!
4House warming – Ninian and Lettie providing some tunes
5Adam struggling on the second big night and a day in the mountains
6The end of the night.
7 A few days later Hannah and I headed out with our new lodgers Georgia and Luis to climb “Golden Oldy” and easy (grd II) ridge on the west face of Aonach Mor – Hannah enjoying herself on the upper part of the ridge.

Luis and Georgia on Golden Oldy – A great route for a short day as you can get the Aonach Mor Gondola to and from the snow line making the walk in pretty short!9

Georgia, Luis and Hannah on the summit
10The next day it was off to Ben Nevis with Alfie – The avalanche forecast was “considerable” so we were going to be pretty limited on what we could climb.  The view as you walk into the North face of the Ben never fails to inspire.

We decided on “SW ridge” (IV,5) of the Douglas boulder.  This is a great route when everything else is to risky to get to. – Alfie on the upper section 12 Alfie getting to the last belay.

Then the weather looked good enough again to tempt me out on the Aonach Eagach with Luis and Georgia for another round.  We left the house at 5am to get the best weather.

13Luis coming onto the first summit just before dawn
14View to Stob coire an Lochain in the first light.15

Sunrise over Bidean Nan Bian16

Scottish winter always looks like this – really.17

Georgia climbing one of the technical sections on the Aonach Eagach

And finally – I headed out with Charlie and Sue to take some photo for Charlies new business venture – Clay pigeon shooting on the side of Loch Leven.

IMG_1215 IMG_1228duo

Next week its off to Glenmore lodge so will probably have too much stuff in my bag to justify carrying a camera and then hopefully more winter climbing and maybe even some skiing.

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