The latest bunch of Summer Mountain Leader candidates should feel thoroughly tested after the last week of assessment. Not only did we o through everything in the syllabus but the weather gave us some very challenging conditions to endure as well. These assessments require five days with 60 hours contact time and test everything from leadership and navigation to camp craft and emergency ropework. They are intense, demanding days at the best of times and we did not get the best of weather this week.
The first two day was nice enough but with a bitter wind. We covered dealing with emergencies and accidents, improvised rescue and ended up in the River Nevis doing some stream crossings. So even though it was a dry enough day we ended up getting wet anyway. The second day we went to Glen Coe to look at security on steep ground and emergency rope work. Just to make it feel realistic we had rain for much of the day.
Our three day expedition started on Wednesday with incessent rain and 70mph winds forecast for the summits. Very careful route planning was required to find somewhere to camp that would give us some shelter and involve no stream crossings. With lots of stalking going on right now the options were severely limited! We ended up starting in Kinlochleven and walking up over the low hills on the south side of Loch Eilde Mor to a camp at the far end of the loch next to the ruin of a two storey house. We were soaked but at least the tents would not blow down.
Thursday did clear up after a wet start. We spoke witrh the stalker and checked that we would not disrupt their work that day before heading up to Glas Bheinne. This is a Graham I think and has brilliant views in all directions. The mountains are turning red as the autumn progresses with the deer grass and bracken going first. In amongst the heather some of the blaeberries have turned red as well as some ladies mantle. In another month all the hills will be a deep vibrant red.
We went over the next two lower hills as well before going down to Ciaran Bothy. It looks like the MBA has put some work into this bothy recently because it is very clean and tidy, and nearly all painted white. We were grateful to be able to use the bothy to cook in but we camped in the tents outside. It was a cold, starlit night and we woke to a frost and ice on the tents this morning!
So today it was just a case of walking 14km along the nice little trail all the way back to Kinlochleven. The candidates planned the whole day including the route, what time to set off, the pace we needed to maintain walking and the navigation. They all did very well and we got a great result with five passes; five new summer mountain leaders who will go out and inspire many more people to a life of adventure in the mountains. Well done!
Some days you just have to accept that the weather is not on your side but to go out and try to make the best of it anyway. Today was one of those days. With winds of up to 100 mph forecast for the summit of Ben Nevis we cancelled the group walk which was due to head up there this morning, but one group member, John, was keen to get out and make the best of the day at a lower level. Options were limited but we hoped we would get a bit of shelter and some good views on the path up to the CIC Hut at the foot of the North Face of Ben Nevis. It certainly didn't feel sheltered! We did, however, manage to get to within 10 minutes of the hut before the gusty wind and swollen burns became too much and forced us to retreat.
With plenty of time and enthusiasm to spare, John was up for making the short walk in to see Steall Falls, and it was well worth pulling on the damp waterproofs again. The volume of water pouring of the mountains at the moment made the short walk quite spectacular, and it was great to see a number of other people out making the most of a very wild day in Lochaber.
Dry rock for climbing has been in short supply for a couple of weeks. Today was no exception. It stop raining for much of the day and in some shelter from the wind it was not so cold. But it was certainly wet so Nigel and I went to climb Barn Wall Route on the East Face of Aonach Dubh. This is in some scrambling guidebooks and is graded as a Moderate climb. Dont be fooled though, this very much like a rock climb, especially with cold and wet fingers!
The climb goes straight up this very impressive wall with lots of comfortable terraces for belays, lending it to lots of short pitches very nicely. The climbing is excellent and with positive, incut holds on red rhyolite. It's also very steep and has an intimidating feel to, caused mostly by the sparse protection! If you expect to find easy belay anchors on blocks and spikes you'll be disapointed. Take a good selection of nuts and a good nose for sniffing out the placements.
It was a great choice for today, giving us a really good experience of rock climbing with moderate moves. The rain came in again later this afternoon and we're expecting a very stormy few days. High pressure might start to return next week so we might get some more settled and calm weather then.
The mixed and stormy weather continues. We have just finished the second half of the Summer Mountain Leader Tarining Course we started last week. On Wednesday we looked at accidents and emergencies, how to manage them, look after the rest of the group, work with MRTs, satisfy our duties of care and responsibilities to different people and bodies. We also practiced improvised self-rescue and stream crossings before palanning and preparing for the expedition. With steady 40mph winds forecast along with freezing at the summits and bursts of heavy rain forecast we needed to plan carefully.
We went to Kinlochleven where the Skyrunning World Championships are being held currently. We didn't go quite as fast as the runners but we did have the gear to stay warm and comfortable over night next to Loch Eilde Mor after walking high around Sgurr Eilde Mor and practicing lots of navigation. We set the tents behind the walls of a ruin at the NE end of the loch and did some night navigation on the other side of the loch. The new hydroelectric scheme on the loch means the water level is a metre or two higher than it used to be. The causeway across the head of the loch is still OK to get across but the water is pretty high on it!
We enjoyed a good sleep and were away again early this morning for more navigation training. The five trainees were great fun to work with on this course and I hope they got a lot out of it. When they have done their consolidating and passed their assessments they will make exellent Summer Mountain Leaders.
The mixed weather will last into next week by the look of it. There is a hint though that higher pressure might start to bring slightly warmer and more stable weather at the end of next week. Let's keep our fingers crossed this works out!
It was touch and go today whether we would manage to get round the CMD Arete. The wind was forecast to be about 40mph from the SW with stronger gusts and showers of snow on the tops. However there was also mention of a lull in the weather in the late morning. So Mike, Dianne, Chris and I took a gamble with every intention of turning back from Carn Mor Dearg if it was too wild. Walking up from the Allt a'Mhuilinn was already blustery and on the flank of Carn Beag Dearg it was really quite windy but it stayed mostly dry for us on the walk up.
The CMD Arete is a very narrow ridge with long slopes down both sides. It would not be fun in strong winds and with wet snow being blown onto us at the same time, making us lose strength and accuracy of foot and hand placements, it would be a poor decision. Thankfully for us the calmer weather seemed to come at just the right time. We did get a blast of hail as we were on Carn Mor Dearg but it had been quite calm before that and it was calm again afterwards. So I've already had the first face blast of hail of the coming autumn and winter! There will be many more I'm sure.
Going round the CMD Arete was fine. There was a little wind at times and it was wet but mostly it was quite alright. The view appeared momentarily every now and then too, just enough to give us an idea of the scale of what we were doing. On the summit of Ben Nevis the view was, predictably, of the insiude of the cloud and it stayed that way until we got down to 900m on the Pony Track. We had some heavy bursts of rain on the way down too so Dianne, Chris and Mike all did brilliantly well. Not only did we climb Ben Nevis the hard way but it was in some quite testing weather as well!
Training the next generation of Summer Mountain Leaders who will, no doubt, go on to be great mountaineering instructors, is a very good job. On our training course this week we have five young and enthusiastic new leaders who are keen to learn and passionate about being in the mountains. In Cecile, Isla, Luke, Ellie and Rowan we have a range of previous experience and backgrounds, as well as knowledge, which we are all sharing and learning from. I'm sure I learn as much as the trainees on these courses and it's brilliant to be able to share some of the experience I have gaimned through the last 25 years of mountain leading.
Yesterday was the first day of the course and we set it up by looking at the scope of the award, what kind of work you can do with it and what the work entails. We did some core navigation training using a stepped approach to teaching navigation, learnt about the weather, leadership styles and models and what kit to carry. Today it was all about lweadership and we went to Ben Nevis North Face to look into the corries here.
There are still a few snow patches and we had hail down to 900m today. It's pretty chilly right now! On the summit in the cloud it must have been quite uncomfortable for Sally and Hiran who walked up the mountain track today as well. Most of the day was dry though with the cloud sitting just on the summit. On the training course we looked at leading people on all sorts of terrain from easy paths to steep scree, rocky sections and slippery grass. We also looked at lots of plants and flowers, geology and geography, land use and designations designed to protect it as well as the heritage and ethos of walking and climbing in the Brittish hills. It was quite a full day!
For the last three days I have been out with members of the Sierra Club who are over from the US to experience the finest Scottish scenery, history and culture. The Sierra Club is an environmental organisation which was founded by Scottish-American John Muir in 1892. With 3.5 million members and supporters they are the most influential grassroots environmental organisation in the US, and have protected millions of acres of wilderness and helped to pass a number of environmental acts.
With only nine days on their tour the group were cramming in as much as possible. After a day in Edinburgh they headed north where I met them for a leg of the West Highland Way from Drymen to Balmaha. Yesterday we were back on the West Highland Way, this time from the Kings House to Kinlochleven. Today we squeezed in a visit to Glencoe Lochan before heading up toward the Pap of Glencoe. There is plenty more planned for my next four days with them and the weather is looking perfect for our visit to Lismore tomorrow!
Matt, Adrienne, Oscar and Maika are well practiced mountain bikers. Living in Whistler in Canada with the trails very cl;ose to their front door means they have fantastic access to some of the best riding in the world. So on their trip to Scotland they wanted to try some of our awesome trails, to see the landscape above the tree line and have a lot of fun as well. So we did exactly that!
We got the bikes from Nevis Cycles at Nevis Range and did a couple of loops around the trail centre routes to get used the bikes and the trails. There's a bit of difference between the grades of trails in Canada and Scotland. After a wee stop for hard boiled eggs we went up to the Allt a'Mhuilinn and up the walkers trail towards the North Face of Ben Nevis. This is a super technical trail and not for beginner riders. Despite being just seven and ten years old, Oscar and Maika did amazingly well and we got a good way up the trail before turning round for the descent. We only had one pinch flat which says a lot about the standard of riding.
Back down in the forest we enjoyed the world champs red and came back through the whole in the wall to MacKenzies Road back to Nevis Range. Six hours of riding is plenty for most folks and for the youngsters it was a big day despite the sweet blaeberries to keep us going. It was really nice to be on the bike today and to spend the day with a great family showing off the riding here in Scotland.
What a contrasting weekend! Yesterday was sunny and calm, and today was, well, wet. But the wind and rain wasn't going to put Guanyu off climbing Ben Nevis. Full of enthusiasm, she also wanted to learn about some basic navigation techniques along the way so we took every opportunity to chat about ways to keep track of our position on the route, checking off different features and some contour interpretation. Even if you're on a path with good visibility these are good habits to get into.
We made excellent time in very poor conditions, but the summit was no place to be hanging around today. The temperature has certainly dropped over the last week, and it looks like a pretty mixed bag for the rest of the month. Autumn is definitely just around the corner!
John and Fi are over from Australia to sample some of Scotland's best bits. There are few better places to start than the CMD Arete onto Ben Nevis. They were expecting cold, damp weather with lots of cloud and bits of rain. Luckily the weather today did not ruin their expectations but we did get some brilliant views and it was mostly dry. It's a long pull up to Carn Mor Dearg over the wet peat slopes that slowly give out to a path through the red screes on the flank of the hillside. The cloud kept teasing us with glimpses of a view of the north face to keep us going on. As soon as we arrived at Carn Mor Dearg though we enjoyed a brilliant view down to Steall and all around.
The rocks on the arete are mostly pretty grippy after lots of people have worn away the lichen. Even with a couple of light showers the rock was mostly good and the wind was light enough so we enjoyed the best of the scrambling right on the crest. John and Fi have not experienced anything quite like this despite some treks in Australia but they got on really well and soaked up the exposure and the atmosphere.
It was really interesting to chat about land management in Australia and to compare it with what goes on here. Around Melbourne there is a big problem of having too many deer like we do here and no big predators to keep the numbers down. But they do have lots of smaller predators that have a very bad impact on the small marsupials and mammals. It's always a very difficult balance to get right with pressures from many different sides. It was cold on top today and it will be even colder tomorrow with a chance of sleet or hail on top. We might also get a frost at the weekend! Time to turn on the heating?
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.