It's been a very long time since I did any walking or climbing in Wales. I have been to a couple of meetings and workshops but the last time I set foot on a hillside in Wales was on my BMG summer test, about 15 years ago. So I was very excitied to go to Snowdonia to be part of the Girl Guiding Walking Week. I was running a Summer Mountain Leader Assessment Course and it kept me on my toes doing it in an area I only had distant memories of.
We got off to a very wet start! Monday was wet all day with drizzle and persistent light rain. It has been very wet for the last few weeks and the ground and streams were full of water so we were all soaked through in a few hours. We walked up the brilliant Cnicht and discussed emergency response, practiced self-rescue and went back to base in Nant Gwynant for some stream crossings. However with the streams being in spate condition we decided to leave the practical stream crossing for the next day!
Carl took the team to Tremadog on the second day to avoid the winds gusting to 50mph. They stayed dry(ish) and covered all the aspects of safeguarding people in awkward, steep terrain, route choice, group management and emergency ropework to safeguard individual group members and the leader. No planned use of the rope is covered in the syllabus or scope of this award but mountain leaders need to know how to deploy one if an emergency situation arrises.
The main part of the assessment is the three day expedition with two wild camps. We walked from our base and went round the west side of Snowdon before reaching the summit and returning by the Watkin path on the final day. The first day was spent on Yr Aran navigating to lots of little wrinkles in the contour lines. We found a lovely camp site near the disused works and the llyns at the col to the north of Yr Aran and this gave us access to Cwm Llan for several hours walking around in the dark finding more small features on the map.
The weather was definitely getting much better and the second day of the expedition was a bright, dry day with a couple of misty moments as we went round the cwms on the west side of Snowdon. It was another day of continuous concentration finding little contour features and sharing knowledge of the environment we were walking through. There are many similarities between the landscape here and what I am more used to in Scotland. However, the rocks are definitely more slippery in Wales!
Our last day was planned and led by the candidates with the single task of getting back to base by 2.30pm. We went over Snowdon and went above the cloud just before reaching the top. With the sun shining brightly down into the mist below us we were treated to a brilliant brocken spectre, the first that most of the candidates had seen. Snowdon was at its best, basking in the sunshine above the wandering clouds and it was a fitting finale to a great few days. All four of the candidates passed and it was a pleasure to spend a week in their company. Well done to Sarah, Mark, Jo and Andrew. You will be an inspiration to the groups you lead in the mountains.
It will take me a while to dry out from the last three days. Dave Anderson and I were walking through the Grey Coires with our team of Summer Mountain Leader candidates with two wild camps, night navigation, stream crossings, scrambling ridges in 40mph wind and rain, belowing stags and lots of smiles. It was quite an experience and a great result for everyone.
We started and finished at Coire Choille near Spean Bridge. A long walk in along forest roads got us to Allt a Coire Eoin and the walk up the fine ridge to An Chul Choire. This is a rarely visited peak off the side of Aonach Mor. I think it has great views from its top but we were in thick mist so we couldn't see anything at all. We descended the steep slope from the col down to one of the most impressive coires in Scotland, An Chul Coire, under the huge east faces of Aonach Mor and Aonach Beag. We couldn't really get a feel for the wholel thing, stuck as it was in the mist. However this added to the sense of mystery of this wild place, so close to home, but so rarely visited.
The second day took us round the head of the coire doing some fine detailed navigation legs before emerging onto the main ridge of the Grey Coires at Beallach Coire Easain. We were quite glad we were not going to spend much time on the ridge in the 50mph wind and rain! Instead we climbed the steep rocky ridge of Stob a Coire Easain and went straight down into Coire a'Mhadaidh and round to our camp at Coire an Lochain. This was another fine camp site and gave us great night navigation.
This morning was thankfully dry and cool. We packed up our camp with cloud down in the valley and views over the red ridges with grey rocky tops and stags on the horizon. The walk down was full of great discussion about adventure philosophy, land management and why we get so much out of spending three rather wet and challenging days in the mountains of Scotland. The final result was a clean sweep of seven passes out of seven candidates. Well done to you all, your hard work paid off and Dave and I had a brilliant few days with you.
This week I am irecting a Summer Mountain Leader Assessment course. It should be called an Autumn Mountain Leader right now as the colour of the landscape has changed dramatically over the last couple of weeks. The bracken is deep red, the deer grass is vibrant orange and the whole mountain side is in fabulous autumn colours. We have had some quite autumnal weather as well with storms coming in off the atlantic bringing strong winds, rain and even a bit of lightning.
The program startes out with how to manage things that go wrong! We looked at dealing with emergencies, incidents and improvised mountain rescue as well as dealing with water hazards and techniques for stream crossings. The river Nevis was back down again after it burst its banks at the weekend, damaging our new all abilities path a little. As it turned out we had quite a dry day yesterday but it was certainly windy and really quite stormy as Ophelia went past last night.
Today we were in Glen Coe looking after groups in awkward terrain as well as steep broken ground and scree. We stayed in Coire na Tullach to keep out of the wind and found a route through the base of the crags on the east side of the coire facing west. We got the ropes out to demonstrate emergency rope work to safeguard group members going down a section of scrambling type ground and got back to the van all in one piece. Our three day expedition is next and there is quite some uncertainty about the weather. Let's hope it works out OK and we don't get Ophelia's twin coming our way!
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.
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.