Glen Coe looked brilliant today in the sunshine. Dave and I took our Summer ML Trainees to Buachaille Etive Mor for the emergency rope work training. Summer mountain leaders need to know how to use a rope in an emergency to safeguard group members down a section of steep scrambling type ground. There is so much rock on Buachaille Etive Mor that we it is easy to find a suitable spot and we set to work with the ropes.
We looked at different anchors and how to rate them, how to attach the rope to them and how to set up a body belay to safeguard people on the steep ground beneath them. This is all done with just a rope, no karabiners or slings are allowed. We also covered how the leader should look after themselves with the rope in descent. We had an amazing view all day with plenty of sunshine but a cool breeze. Two aeroplanes flew down the glen at low level to give us a cool spectacle as well. We're off on our camping trip out west tomorrow and on Friday so hopefully the dry weather will continue.
This week we are delivering a Summer Mountain Leader Training Course on behalf of Mountain Training with eleven trainees. It's a mixed group of students and other people with an international feel. Yesterday we covered lots of navigation training using the orienteering maps for Torlundy and today we were discussing all sorts of leadership and group management topics and techniques.
We went to Glen Nevis and made our way up the Pony Track and the SW Rib of Meall an 't'Suidhe. The wind was blowing straight up the slope and was going at 50mph as we topped out. Unfortunately a heavy shower caught us at exactly the same time so we got the full force of the weather! Lots of people made it up Ben Nevis today though and it was not as windy on the summit as where we were.
The fine spell of weather we have been enjoying on the west coast of Scotland finally broke down slightly yesterday, but not until Derek and I reached all the Munros on Skye and their subsidiary 3000' tops over three days. In the last 30 years or so Derek's hit rate on the Munros dropped to one per year on average so this was a coordinated hit to raise his tally and complete everything on Skye on his first ever trip there. Thankfully the weather helped us along the way.
We started out by warming up on Clach Glas and Blabheinn. I have only ever done this once before and it was misty so I did not get the full experience. On Monday we could see for a few hundred miles in all directions and the traverse is a stunner. The complex and narrow ridge is brilliant and made for a perfect warm up for us to get used the nature of the scrambling in The Cuillin. We made sure to reach both summits of Blabheinn too.
One of the subsidiary tops in the main Cuillin ridge is Knights Peak on Pinnacle Ridge of Sgurr nan Gillean. If we were to make the full traverse from south to north as is common, the thought of descending to Knights Peak after two long days did not appeal. So we started at Sligachan and went up Pinnacle Ridge before traversing from north to south. What finer way to start the best ridge traverse in the country than by one of its finest ridge climbs?
The weather could not have been better for us. The wind dropped to a very gentle breeze and the sun was shining but without it being too hot. Derek and I made great progress all the way down past Sgurr a'Greadaidh to a bivi at the Three Teeth. We enjoyed 360 degrees of stunning views all evening with the sun setting and clouds billowing on one side, the full moon rising and shadows reaching out on the other. It stayed dry over night as well which is a really important thing. Waking up in the wet and getting going again in the morning is very hard so it was great that we had a dry start.
It was cloudy though and the route finding was made more difficult by the misty conditions. The cloud turned to a bracing dampness then a gentle drizzle and finally to light rain. Climbing the Inaccessible Pinnacle was fine, the rocks were still just about dry there, but the ground was wet by the time we got to Sgurr Alasdair. We past a team of two trying the full traverse in a day - hopefully it stayed dry enough for them and they got along in good time.
The rain did not put us off or indeed slow us down that much either. The ground eases off the further south you go on the ridge and the last peak of Shurr nan Eag is simple enough. We made sure to go over to Sgurr Sgumain since this is a subsidiary top as well and a first for me on the summit of this peak!
Derek did an amazing job and we made it down in very good time, before the rain came in for the evening. Reaching all the Munros in the Cuillin Ridge is a big enough job for most and throwing in the tops as well certainly adds an extra couple of hours of work. For a first time trip to Skye, completing all this was a fine achievement. However, make sure you go back to Skye Derek, there's lots more to do!
Mike seems to have a way with the weather this year. This is the third day out we've had in brilliant weather this year! The last two were winter climbing but this time it was definitely the conditions for rock climbing. We went to Glen Coe, the home of the mountain crags, and climbed a couple of V.Diff. routes on the NE Face of Gearr Aonach in full on sunshine.
Many people know of a scramble called The Zig Zags up this side of Gearr Aonach. From the base of The Zig Zags and further left there is a collection of really good rock climbs that do not see much traffic. As it happens another two guys had the same thought today so the crags was relatively busy with two teams climbing.
First up, Mike and I climbed High Flying. This has a tricky first pitch going the way I went but you could choose a different line to make it the same grade as the rest of the climb. The second and third pitches were great and we found an easy walk off back down The Zig Zags. We had plenty of time for a second climb so we followed Ian and Donald up Hairy Kipper. This has a good bit of heather on it, hence the name, but also plenty of steep rock with great holds. It's a cool climb that is well worth doing. Down in the glen it was busy busy in the car parks and it was nice to think we gave them something extra to look at while they soak up the natural wonder that is Glen Coe.
Jim and I enjoyed climbing the Skye Cuillin Munros over the last few years, sometimes joined by his daughter Aileen. Now he has finished the Munros Jim is focusing on the Corbets (and potentially the Grahams as well!). The wonderful island of Rum has two Corbets and a Graham and these were the focus of our trip on Friday and Saturday. After so many years of looking west from Ben Nevis to the distinctive profile of Rum it was so nice to make the trip at last and experience the hills here.
If you get the ferries right, you can reach these three tops with just one night on the island. There is a very nice new hostel to stay at and a bothy on the south coast at Dibidil. The forecast was for dry weather though so we chose to bivi out at Beallach an Oir in between the hills. We got there after two and a half hour's walk from Kinloch with a neat traverse underneath Askival. With plenty of time left in the day we went up Askival with light bags and just missed the best of the view as a cloud stuck to the top as we got there! We were intrigued to see all the Manx Sheerwater burrows and lush green grass all around them. It all seemed quiet though so we were not sure if the birds were in residence at this time of year.
A few hours later, after a fine dinner and settling down for a dry and cold night, our question was answered. About 200,000 Manx Sheerwaters came in off the sea and started squabbling over whose burrow was whose. This was quite an experience and one that people travel from very far away to be part of. At first it was quite amazing to be in the middle of this cacophony of noise. After five hours of it I must admit the novelty had worn off a little! These are quite brilliant birds and it is well worth reading up on them and going to Rum to see them. You can play a sound track of the noise they make from this link!
Askival is a really nice hill that has steep sides and a couple of rocky steps but is not any where near as rocky as the Cuillin on Skye. On our second day, Jim, Aileen and I went up Trollval first which does have a short exposed section of simple scrambling and a few rocky steps to get down in the direction of Ainshval. The walk up Ainshval is steep but has a good path that is easy to follow and easy to climb as well. The clouds were playing with us and it seemed like they built up just as we reached the tops!
It did stay dry though and the wind was not too strong so we achieved our objectives with plenty of time to traverse back to the bivi col and back along and down to Kinloch. There is a nice wee community here where it seems everyone does a few different jobs. We booked ahead and enjoyed a fantastic meal in the village hall with huge portions of great food at a very reasonable price. The late ferry on a Saturday gave us plenty of time to enjoy being on Rum and to learn more about the wildlife on the island including the noisy birds that kept us awake all night! Rum is fantastic and if you have not been yet I can recommend it very highly!
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.
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.