Yesterday I was back out with the Nevis Landscape Partnership Trainee Volunteer Rangers. We had a day of two halves, looking at navigation in the morning and scrambling ropework in the afternoon. Recently I went on a workshop all about teaching navigation delivered by Nigel Williams at Glenmore Lodge and I learned loads. Two of these TVR's hold their Summer ML Award so they were interested in how to teach navigation and the other two were focusing more on learning navigation. We did a few exercises around cones in the swing park and learned how to use a compass to go in the right direction without taking a bearing.
Out at Torlundy we used an orienteering map to go over all sorts of features on a map and contour shapes, 3D navigation (Direction, Distance and Description), and lots of tactics to make it more accurate. In a very small area and in just an hour and a half we covered a huge range of things that will be directly applicable to navigating in the hills.
We spent the afternoon on Scimitar Ridge in Glen Nevis. Roping up together we scrambled up making each other secure by clipping the rope into anchors and choosing a route that kept everyone safe enough. We also did a wee abseil off the side of the ridge and dangled off The Scimitar itself. We seemed to fit in a huge amount of training in one day and the four TVR's were total sponges, soaking it all up. It stayed dry for us but still cold - winter climbing is going on high on Ben Nevis. In fact, Number Three Gully Buttress was described as being in the best condition it's been in all winter!
Nevis Landscape Partnership is currently managing 19 projects over five years to conserve and enhance the heritage of the Nevis area. Brilliant things are being done so that we can all enjoy this wonderful area and will continue to be able to for years to come. One of these projects is to train people who want to learn land management and conservation skills in order to further their own careers in this field. These Trainee Volunteer Rangers also give a huge amount of their time and effort into hard work in the area. Today it was my pleasure to spend a day with the latest TVR's; Eve, Rob, Louise and Sarah.
After getting a few things in place such as checking the weather forecast and putting together an activity sheet and late back procedure we went to walk through Steall Gorge. There are three paths on the Ben Nevis side of the gorge and we took the lowest which is really quite tricky and requires people to look after each other. This path joins the main path a short distance before Steall Meadows and we went there and then on to the scramble up the south side of Meall Cumhainn.
Working in broken and steep areas of mountain sides requires some simple rope skills and scrambling ability which is what we looked at on the cramble. By this time it was snowing and the rocks were wet. The mica schiest here is slippery at the best of times so today it was particularly testing! The team did very well looking after themselves with the rope for security. We went back down to Steall Meadow to get back to the van in heavy showers of snow and graupel even down at the meadow. However, sunshine in between the showers showed off the mountains beautifully. They really do look brilliant right now with snow on top.
For me it's all about mountains. Water sports are fun if they are done occasionally and when the weather is good. So it was a a real change to enjoy a day on the water with the very excellent guys at Rockhopper Sea Kayaking. To be fair we were surrounded by the lovely mountains surrounding Loch Ailort but we were very definitely on the water and a long way from land!
This was a trip with my family - Louise my lovely wife and our three energetic children Owen, Megan and Katie. We have all done a very little kayaking in the past but certainly not enough to launch out onto the open water by ourselves. So Ben from Rockhopper took us out for a long afternoon paddle along Loch Ailort with a wee stop at Peanmeanach Bothy to stretch the legs. I think we covered about 7km in all with a bit of tide and some wind to paddle against. The weather was cold and dry as it has been these last few days and the views up to An Stac and Roisbheinn were brilliant.
Once my knees finally give in to the relentless work of walking up and down mountains I'm sure I'll take up some sea kayaking. It is such a great way to see some wonderful parts of Scotland and really get in touch with nature. The birds and seals were very curious to see us today! If you ever want a break from climbing or even want to check out some sea cliffs for rock climbing potential I can certainly recommend Rockhopper Sea Kayaking.
Three Wise Monkeys Climbing has created a very enthusiastic, committed group of young climbers since the climbing wall opened in Fort William in May of last year. With my own children included, there is now a vibrant bunch of young climbers who are dedicated to progressing through the grades and the disciplines of climbing. So, working with Three Wise Monkeys, we have put on a few outdoor climbing days for the young guns of the climbing wall as well as for parents and for anyone else who wants to come along and make the move from inside climbing to outside climbing.
Yesterday we had the full range of outside conditions to deal with as well as the climbing! It was cold and showery with wet rock that dried out every hour in a little sunshine ready for the next shower to make it wet again. It was also quite breezy making it cold to be out all day let alone for keeping fingers and toes warm while climbing. Despite all this the team of Greg and Lara (on holiday from Glasgow) , Edwin, Donald and Ross (on a day trip from Skye), and Katie (a regular in the coaching sessions at 3WM) determinedly carried on with big smiles and determination to enjoy the day and learn what outdoor climbing is all about. Jenny, Hannah and I working with the team were very impressed with the resilience of the young people in particular. Well done!
We discovered the differences between climbing indoors and outdoors (the holds are not as obvious outdoors!) and we worked out that belaying at the top of the crag is basically the same as belaying at the bottom but it feels really quite different. We chose and used trees and blocks as anchors for belaying with to set up top ropes and we abseiled down the crag too.
Do you know your French from your classic from your Klemheist? Do you know how to abseil down ropes after they have been damaged by rockfall or escape your belay system to go and get help for your climbing partner? Climbing in pairs as we normally do presents us with a difficult situation to sort out if one of the two people gets hurt during a climb. Thankfully it rarely happens but this was what we were training for with 3rd year degree students at West Highland College UHI last week; how to meal with accidents and situations on a crag and escape to safety as part of their Risk and Incident Management module.
We based ourselves in Glen Nevis, amongst the crags at Poldubh. First up we looked at the characteristics of the three main prussic knots and how we could use these to our advantage in various situations. We prussiced up and down a rope, prussiced up and transferred to abseil and abseiled down and transferred to prussic. All of this gave us a clear understanding of how prussic knots work! If you damage a rope by rock fall you can isolate the damaged bit of rope with an overhand knot. This presents a problem of course when you come to abseil down the rope. There is a pretty simple solution using a french prussic but it is certainly worth practising before you need to do it for real.
In amongst all our rescue training we also looked at how to make things run super smoothly as well. Stance management and how not to get your ropes twisted, especially when climbing as a three, requires a bit of thought but is actually simpler than is described in some articles. Abseiling is also a simple thing that often goes wrong so we looked at several ways of making sure it runs as smoothly as you'd like it to. We also went through some other situations such as lowering past a know and escaping a belay system leaving your climbing dangling so you can go and have a cup of tea while you consider what to do next.
We've had pretty good weather for the last few days and rock climbing in Glen Nevis has been a treat with warm sunshine, no vegetation making it simple to find the crag and no midges. Up on Ben Nevis the temperature dropped yesterday and we had a little fresh snow and sub-zero temperatures. There is old snow cover from 1200m to the summit and if you are walking up you will need to know how to follow a compass bearing to find the right direction especially in descent from the summit. Three guys did not quite manage this yesterday and required some help from Lochaber MRT to get out of steep and dangerous ground at the top of Coire Eoghainn. More cold weather with snow showers is forecast this week so the old snowpack will be hard frozen. Spring is here but winter conditions remain on the summits.
With the winter snow cover being so slight it was fortunate that we scheduled in a Summer Mountain Leader Assessment in the last week of March. This is really quite early for a course like this that requires summer conditions under foot on hills of a reasonable height, and also summer weather conditions. This group of candidates tried to do the assessment back in November but we had a week of freezing weather and snow cover down to sea level so it was very clear we could not run the course. This time we got another fall of snow just before the start of the course but warm weather melted it all away very quickly and we had a week of very summery conditions.
Our first day was on Doire Ban above Lundavra. I was assessing with Stuart Lade and we covered all sorts of leadership scenarios and emergencies as well as improvised rescue and dealing with water hazards in a nice day walk. Doire Ban is a lovely hill that requires a couple of stream crossings and we navigated to some small features which was tricky even with 100 mile visibility! The view to the islands was breathtaking and with snow on the high tops still it was a brilliant day to be out in the hills.
We went to Meall an t'Suidhe for the steep ground day which includes lots of group management and leadership as well as safeguarding people on broken terrain with and without a rope. In the context of a Summer ML Award, the rope is only used in emergencies. You never plan on using it. This results in using it in quite a different way to how we do in climbing.
The main event of the assessment is a three day expedition, camping in a remote and wild location for the two nights. It started out dry but turned wet and stayed wet at lunchtime on the first day and stayed wet for the rest of the expedition. We went over Froach Bheinn, a brilliant and rocky peak just west of Glen Finnan before camping and night navigating in the col to the south of the peak.
With the snow cover retreating still further we went up to the Munro Sgurr an Coireachan. This is one of the two Munros on the Glen Finnan horseshoe but approaching from the west and returning around this way meant we stayed off the beaten path all the way. In fact it was a wild and rugged expedition route which was full of the most amazing mica I have ever seen. The biggest bit was 15cm across and stuck out of a rock full of clean white quartz.
It was a strong team of candidates and I'm delighted to say they all passed. Well done to Rob, Ian, Rachel, Susie and Mark, you all did a brilliant job and worked hard all week. It's brilliant to see another crop of mountain leaders ready to go out and inspire and lead more people in the mountains.
Self reliance is a fundamental principle of mountaineering. By participating we accept this and take responsibility for the decisions we make. These blog posts and conditions reports are intended to help you make good decisions. They do not remove the need for you to make your own judgements when out in the hills.