Today I was hanging around at Poldubh crags in Glen Nevis with Matt and Hannah. These guys are good rock climbers who want to know more about how they can sort out any situation that might crop up in their climbing. Situations such as a climber falling off a traverse, someone being hit by falling rock and is unable to abseil down by themselves, damaged ropes, stuck boot in a crack or needing a bit of help to climb an overhang are all quite simple things to sort out if you know a few techniques and you're used toi using prussic knots. It is all improvised with normal climbing hardware instead of carrying any fancy clampy things too!
We started out looking at characteristics of prussic loops and knots, ascending a rope with prussics and descending, then prussicing up and abseiling down. If you fall off an overhang and are dangling out of reach of the rock you might need to prussic back up the rope to get to the rock to carry on. If you abseil down a sea cliff you might decide you don't want to climb out so you might need to prussic back up the rope. It's a simple technique but there is a lot to learn about the details to make it work well.
If you damage a rope you will need to abseil past a knot you tie in the rope to isolate the damaged bit, or you might need to lower someone to the bottom past a knot. We also looked at hoisting someone up a section of a climb with a pully system and escaping a belay system to effect a rescue. Matt and Hannah were like sponges today, soaking up every last detail and putting it into practice straight away. It was cold and a bit wet with wintry showers falling on the top of Ben Nevis, a proper autumn day and a really good use of a damp day on the crag.
Mountain guiding, leading and instruction of climbing and mountaineering are becoming much better recognised as professional careers. The profession of mountain guiding has of course been around for many decades but it was seen for a long time to be not quite like a real job. The degree courses now available at West Highland College UHI are further proof that working in the outdoors is a career choice and it should be seen as a profession. So today I was with some more first year degree students on their Introduction to Professional Adventure Practice walking up Stob Ban in the Mamores.
It turned out to be a much better day than expected. It was windy on top but not quite the 50mph we were forecast. The rain came on later and stayed light and patchy rather than the constant rain we thought we would have to put up with. So we had a great time climbing the North Ridge of Stob and going down the coire to the east on the good path. Autumn colours in the landscape are showing themselves and are getting to be as bright as our jackets!
What a wonderful day it was on the Cuillin Ridge on Skye today. High pressure settled directly over the west coast bringing a cold start but sunshine warming the rocks and no wind at all on the summits. There was a little light cloud swirling around the summits just to add to the atmosphere and show off the shapes of the rocky ridges perfectly. Fiona and I have been trying to get a good day to enjoy a few summits for a few months and today it worked out brilliantly.
We walked up to Sgurr Dearg first to climb the Inaccessible Pinnacle straight off. There was nobody else there and the sun was shining on the rocks making it pretty much perfect. A smooth quick ascent was followed by a stylish abseil back down and before we knew it, we'd climbed the most challenging of all the Munros. Walking north away from Sgurr Dearg we went over Sgurr Banachdichd and Sgurr Thormaid to the col next to the Three Teeth. Here we met the first people of the day - it was not a busy day on the ridge.
Sgurr a Greadaidh is probably my favourite peak on the Cuillin ridge. The ridge is narrow, solid and involves brilliant scrambling with breathtaking exposure. With the conditions being so good we tip toed gracefully right along the crest, soaking up the scale and sence of space all around us. All too quickly we got to Sgurr a'Mhadaidh having completed the four Munros we aimed to climb. Well done Fiona, it was lovely spending such a good day with you on the ridge. Good luck with the remaining six!
West Highland College UHI has a range of adventure degree courses available now. The Adventure Tourism Management course has been going for many years now. In addition we have Adventure Performance and Coaching and a new course this year Adventure Education. We have a group of new students starting out on these courses and they all need to get some fundamental skills and experience. This is what we can an Introduction to Professional Adventure Practice and it was my job yesterday and today to go through mountain skills with some of the students.
We started out discussing clothing and equipment before obtaining some weather forecasts and considering what the effect of the weather would be on us. The rest of the day was spent practicing all sorts of navigation skills using an orienteering map for a location next to Torlundy. Today we went up a Munro, Stob Ban in the Mamores by its North Ridge. This is a great walk with some steep sections requiring the use of the hands a few times. We discussed all sorts of things including the traditions of hill walking in the UK, environmental topics, emergency response and how to look after yourself to stay warm and dry. IUt was cold on top and we had a couple of snow showers on the top of Ben Nevis. We also had a little rime on the summit rocks yesterday. Feels like winter is coming!
Lochaber and Lorn Ramblers is a very active group of walkers that have walks for all levels of ability led by experienced volunteer club members. It's a fantastic way to get into walking, whether it is a short flat walk around a loch or a big walk in winter over some Munros. Some of the members enjoy a bit of scrambling and this is what we were doing today. With four experienced walkers and scramblers we chose Curved Ridge on Buachaille Etive Mor as a route that would stretch the comfort zone and give us a great opportunity to practice some simple ropework to make it safe enough. The sunshine was a deciding factor too!
In the dry, Curved Ridge offers excellent scrambling at grade 2/3 on mostly very good rock. It is a popular route that sees plenty of people so the rock is clean and most of the loose rock has been kicked away over the years. We looked at some movement skills well before we got to any scrambling, including best ways to place your feet and to move efficiently on a simple path. When your balance is better on simple walking your balance will be better on the scrambling and practicing on the path is a lot more secure than practicing balance skills on a scramble!
On the route we put on a rope to look at a technique that makes you much more secure but that does not slow the rate of progress too much. This is moving together on a rope with a few meters of rope between all the team members on the same rope. By placing slings and cliping them to the rope or running the rope around solid anchors on the route we made it very secure for everyone. There were no stops for pitches and we were all moving at the same time so we all got to enjoy the same freedom of movement as we would have done without the rope. It's a real skill that takes some practice but that also adds an element of enjoyment when you get it working really well.
We made the short diversion out to Crowberry Tower taking very great care as we went underneath the extremely loose and very large block the hangs over Crowberry Gully Left Fork. Part of this fell off this year and the rest does not look like it will be there for very many years. Great views all day, great company and great scrambling ade this a lovely way to spend my birthday. Thank you Lochaber and Lorn Ramblers!
After such a wet day yesterday and a serious amount of kit drying, it was very nice to get a dry start today. Grahame and I started from Sligachan and walked in past the Basteir Gorge to the foot of the West Ridge of Sgurr nan Gillean. We had a couple of glimpses of sunshine and a view of the fabulous Pinnacle Ridge, dark imposing rock towers rising out of a rugged coire already chaging to its autumn colours. We wanted to climb the northern three Munro's of the Cuillin Ridge and the best way seems to be to start with Sgurr nan Gillean, traverse Am Basteir by abseiling down King's Chimney before reaching Bruach na Frithe.
The West Ridge of Sgurr nan Gillean has the imposing pinnacles at the top of the first chimneys. We found a little dry rock going past these which was very welcome! As we went through the eye of the needle at the top of the ridge the clouds came in and we did not get a view from the summit but at least we had been given an impression of where we were on the way up. As we climbed back down the rain came in so we had a slippery climb up Am Basteir. The cave at the top of King's Chimney gave us a welcome bit of shelter from the heavy showers.
From the foot of the chimney it is a simple walk up to Bruach na Frithe, one of the easiest peaks to reach in the Cuillin. We did not hang around in the rain looking at the view of the inside of the cloud. Instead we walked back down past the Basteir Gorge to Sligachan with Grahame having completed his Cuillin Munro's. Well done Grahame! It's not easy in the wet and we certainly had a lot of wet weather thee last two days!
In total contrast to my circuit of Coire na Ciste last week, today was very, very wet in Coire Laggan on Skye. Grahame is completing his Skye Munros with the three around Coire Laggan and the northern three. Today we started up to Inaccessible Pinnacle in reasonable weather but as forecast the rain came in just as we set foot on the climb! Thankfully the wind was not so strong so, despite being very wet, we managed to stay cheery and enjoy the climbing and scrambling.
There was no queue for the Inaccessible Pinnacle! In fact we did not see anyone until we had traversed Sgurr Mhic Choinnich, reached Sgurr Alasdair and we were descending the Great Stone Shoot. Everyone else was far too sensible to be out in the Cuillins! It was nice to see Scott and Dave with their team who were equally soaked through. It might be slightly less wet tomorrow and Grahame says it is better than when he was here last time!
Mike and Lawrence have been coming to Scotland for several years and have enjhoyed trips to Skye and Glen Coe for things such as Curved Ridge. This year they wanted to push it up a notch so we decided on Tower Ridge on Ben Nevis as the best objective. We also had a great forecast so we decided to make as much of it as we could and we ended up doing a brilliant circuit of Coire na Ciste.
We started up the SW Ridge of Douglas Boulder. Since this is such a popular winter climb now, some of the loose rock has been removed and the solid rock is getting cleaner. I remember climbing this route about 12 years ago and found it quite loose and slippery but now it is quite pleasant. There are plenty of loose blocks in places but not so many to make it uncomfortable. The cloud was coming and going all day but we got a wonderful view from the top of all the crags on the North Face.
Once we got to Douglas Gap we caught up with a couple of other teams going up Tower Ridge as well. However Mike and Lawrence were moving really well so we moved together all the way up the Little Tower and kept well ahead of everyone else. When the rock is dry and grippy it is a delight to climb. Tower Gap was fun and the last little section got us to the top and the long line of people on the Pony Track. With plenty of time left we went over to Carn Dearg and went down Ledge Route, roping up just for the wet slab at the bottom just before getting into Number Five Gully. So the ciruit of Coire nas Ciste is great fun and covers a lot of delightful rock. Is there anything to beat it on a brilliant day like today?
Ben Nevis Race day tomorrow - good luck to all the runners!
Glencoe is a special place to go scrambling. Somewhere between walking and rock climbing, scrambling takes you over steep rocky ground with simple climbing skills and some rope work but without the stop-start of pitched rock climbing. Glencoe is perfect for it because it has lots and lots and lots of clean rock at a nice angle. Not only this but the rock is very often well covered in positive hand holds and foot holds. Today, Jim, Fiona and I went up Buachaille Etive Mor via Broad Buttress. It's only 2km from the car park to the summit but you climb up 740m and most of this is on the rock!
Jim and Fiona have been enjoying many of Scotland's best mountains such as An Teallach and Suilven. This time they want to explore more adventurous terrain and have a go at Aonach Eagach. Broad Buttress was a great warm up with a chance to get to used to moving along tied on to a rope and to do a little movement coaching. The exposure on Broad Buttress was great today with views down to the glen and right across Rannoch Moor.
From the top of the buttress it is a short walk to the summit of Stob Dearg where we got great views in between the clouds. There were one or two showers and it is feeling a little cooler now we are nearly into September. Some of the Autumn colours are starting to appear already making me think that winter is not far away! However, it would be nice if we have a summery day for Aonach Eagach tomorrow.
This week, Dave Anderson and I have been assessing five candidates to become Summer Mountain Leaders. This five day course requires 60 hours of contact time and each candidate must have at least 40 quality days of mountain walking in their log books. It's an intense week for both candidates and assessors!
Working as a Summer Mountain Leader requires great leadership skills, navigation, camp craft, environmental knowledge and the skills to manage an incident or accident. All of these aspects of the award are covered in the assessment. We started out with the emergencies, rescues and stream crossings on Doire Ban near Lundavra. We went to Glen Coe for the steep ground day which we spent in Number Two Gully on the West Face of Aonach Dubh. This is a steep walk with occasional simple scrambling in a very dramatic place. Careful route choice and group management as well as safeguarding are required to lead people here.
For our three day expedition we went to the Ardverikie hills. The candidates spoke with the stalkers to check we would nopt disturb them at their work before heading to Beinn a'Chlachair on the first day. We found a wonderful camp site at the col to the NE and enjoyed a great show from the sunset and clouds floating in and out of the coire. We enjoyed several hours of night time walking as well, checking out the navigation kills of the candidates in poor visibility.
The second day took us over Aonach Beag and Beinn Eibhin, so we reached three munros on the trip. Another brilliant camp site and a walk down and over Meall Cos Charnan on the last day, with the group planning the route, the timings and leading it, got us back to the van. Well done and thank you to all the candidates for all the hard work you put in to this week. It's great to have a new crop of mountain leaders inspiring people in the Scottish hills.
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.