This week Sally and I are training a new bunch of mountain leaders. This is the Mountain Training scheme of Summer Mountain Leader Award and it is a six day training course. Yesterday we started by chatting through the scope of the award, equipment to carry and started the navigation training. We also did a session on the weather and reading synoptic charts and discussed a couple of group leadership models. The days are long, ten hours each day, to make sure we have enough time to get through all the content of the syllabus.
Today the focus was on leadership. Starting with preparing group members for the walk in advance, assessing them on the day, teaching core skills and leading them on all different types of terrain. We started up the Ben Nevis pony track from Achintee as far as the wooden bridge, then turned back on ourselves up open grass and steep broken, rocky ground on the SW Rib to go up Meall an t'Suidhe. On this steep terrain the leader needs to manage the group very closely and carefully, choosing the best route, safeguarding each group member and keeping them all secure.
The summit of Meall an t'Suidhe gives a great view of the pony track and a good oportunity to talk over how we can minimise our impact on the mountain, or in fact make a positive impact by clearing litter, unblocking cross drains in the path and educating our groups to do the same. These are the kinds of things that Nevis Landscape Partnership can help with as well on their workshops. Have a look here at what is on offer.
Life on Skye this week was pretty good. The rock was dry, the views immense and the company was excellent. We reached all eleven Cuillin munros in four days and threw in a few bonus extras as well!
You never know who you will end up with on a shared experience such as our Cuillin Munro Bagging trip. It normally works out pretty well, but this time it worked out very well indeed. James, Kev and Jimmy are from different parts of the country and different backgrounds, and they also have different experience of walking and scrambling in our mountains. Despite this, we all got on very well and were matched very evenly with pace and technical ability.
Our first day was in the southern end of the Cuillin. We walked up to Coire a'Grunda and gazed into the sparklingly clear water of the loch before walking up to the end munro, Sgurr nan Eag. Heading back north we went over Sgurr Dubh an da Bheinn to go out to Sgurr Dubh Mor. This has some nice scrambnling on excellent rock and gives a brilliant view of the whole ridge. We went back in and skirted the southern cliffs of Sgurr Alasdair to reach the gargoyles and climb Sgurr Alasdair via the Bad Step. It was a cold day in a strong breeze despite the sunshine and after we'd walked down the great stone chute and back to the campsite we all had a good mix of sunburn and windburn on our faces. At least the midges were blown away from the campsite.
On day two we went straight back up into Coire Laggan but this time we went up over the An Stac Screes. This got us onto the ridge and a lovely ridge scramble over to Sgurr MhicCoinich, a brilliant vantage point and a very airy summit. We went back and climbed straight up the front of An Stac to reach the Inaccessible Pinnacle. This we climbed by the east ridge and abseiled the west ridge. The most iconic munro did not disapoint and it was a great place to learn how to abseil for two of our guys! The walk up to Sgurr Banachdich was pretty chilled out as was the walk down to Glen Brittle afterwards.
We left Glen Brittle for the third day to reach the northern three munros. We started with the West Ridge of Sgurr nan Gillean via the nicely exposed pinnacles and the superbly exposed gas vent breccia higher up. Heading back down we went over to Am Basteir and enjoyed the journey down to the nick next to the Basteir Tooth before going underground and abseiling out of Kings Cave Chimney. This involves two abseils, the second of which is really cool! A short walk got us to Bruach na Frithe before a long walk out to the pub and a welcome cold beer (or two).
The last day was our bad weather day. There was a little cloud and the chance of a shower in the evening. We took this in our stride though and did the shortest of the four days, up to Sgurr a'Greadaidh and Sgurr a'Mhadaidh. It turned out to be a popular choice so we didn't go straight up to An Dorus; instead we went over to the Thuilm Ridge of Sgurr a'Mhadaih and climbed this fantastic narrow crest to the summit. This is very worthwhile, a very impressive ridge in a stunning position that is actually quite simple scrambling. We went over to the last munro, Sgurr a Greadaidh, enjoying saying hello to the other teams but never getting in each other's way and soaked up the quiet peace on the summit for a while before heading back down to Glen Brittle.
When it's good, it's the best place to be in the world! The Cuillin on Skye are quite unique and absolutely wonderful. I'm so glad we had such a good week to enjoy the place and delighted that we had such a good group to spend the time with. James, Kev and Jimmy all did so well on the routes and the company was excellent. Let's hope for more of the same on our next Cuillin Munro Bagging trip on 24th to 27th September 2019.
Scotland has been putting on quite a show lately with plenty of sunshine, and it looks like it is set to continue until the end of the week at least. We have been making the most of the weather with two beautiful days on Ben Nevis. There are still a few patches of snow on the summit plateau but they have softened up nicely in the sun and make for a good bum slide on the way down!
The tops of Tower Gully and Gardyloo Gully are still corniced so make sure you stay well back from the edges if you are planning on heading up Ben Nevis. We will be up there again with our Ben Nevis Group Walks on Wednesday and Sunday this week, as well as making the most of the dry rock for the rest of the week. Hopefully you have some fun mountain adventures planned for the week ahead too!
Mike and I have climbed most of the classic V.Diff and Severe rock climbs at Poldubh over the years, so today we went to find some of the less well known and less well traveled climbs. We started with a classic though, Cross 3 at Hangover Buttress. This is a Difficult climb going between huge overhangs, a very impressive place but surprisingly simple climbing. The bracken has not come up yet so it is a good time to be at Poldubh. Walking to the buttresses is easy enough and you can see the rocks. The trees are in leaf now but with so many of the crags clear of trees at their bases now, the rock is cleaner, drier and will be less midgy once the little biters are out.
Across on Tricouni Buttress we climbed Black Slab and Dolly's Delight. Both of these have some very nice climbing, underneath the heather and moss somewhere deeply hidden. I did my best to weed the routes as I led up them, and even this small effort gave us some excellent holds and protection. With a bit more concerted effort these climbs could be cleaned up completely and made into very nice climbs, worthy of stars. The ground is very dry and the heather has not started growing much yet so it is a good time to clean crags. Remember, we have the blessing of Nevis Landscape Partnership for this kind of work. Take a look at the film below.
After Tricouni Buttress we went across to Repton Buttress where we climbed Tyke's Climb and Repton Ridge. This V./Diff / Diff combination is very good with two nice pitches. I've not climbed Repton Ridge before but I will be back, it's a nice route with some fun moves. The rain started to come in once we finished this climb so we left it at that for today. We have a few more cold showery days to come then high pressure looks like it will settle on the UK giving sunny and progressively warmer days next week. Go on up Glen Nevis, admire the excellent work of Nevis Landscape Partnership, and enjoy the excellent rock climbing.
Nevis Landscape Partnership is an innovative collective of environmental organisations, local and national, working together to protect and enhance the land. Our team is taking a hands-on approach to deliver fun and engaging projects all over Glen Nevis and Ben Nevis. From path building to archaeology, botanical surveys to tree planting and community engagement to art in the landscape, we've delivered 19 projects over 5 years and we're keen to keep up the good work.
Climbing sea stacks is a very strange thing to do. For the amount of effort and logistical detail required, there is very little climbing. They are also a very long way away, covered in birds, awkward and even some of the climbing isn't great. However, climbing a sea stack is a real adventure; you never really know how it will go until you do it. That's why it's so satisfying when you do it. As well as the amazing places that you visit and the sharing of the adventure with some really cool people.
Gordon, Andy and I had never met before last Sunday but after the four hour drive to Stoer lighthouse it was clear that we were going to get on very well. The climbing standard was well matched and we were all up for a great trip, exploring new places and enjoying the experience. It all went just about as well as it could go too. The weather worked in very well, we got the tides just right and climbed every day of the six days apart from one. We had one wet day (just the mormning actually) and we went to Scara Brae on Orkney instead of climbing to check out the oldest known houses on the planet.
Even when things go so well, there are always some lessons to learn, and here are mine.
Lesson 1. Green rock is amazingly slippery. The morning before we climbed Old Man of Stoer was wet and the tide was still going out when we got there. So the rock platforms and the first traverse pitch were wet and green, making them about as slippery as the most slippery thing known to mankind. We set the tyrolean traverse rope but in walking around the flat rocks, my feet went up from under me and I landed very heavily, flat on my back. Thankfully there was no rock sticking up, it was a flat surface I landed on but it was quite a moment, and something I do not want to do again. It could very easily have been the end of the trip before we'd even started. Take care on the slippery green rocks.
Lesson 2. Sea stacks are really scary to look at. The first glimpse of Am Buachaille did not fill me with joy. I try to avoid watersports and waves so seeing the wave washed platforms underneath Am Buachaille did send shivvers down my (slightly aching) spine. Thankfully, sea stacks look less scary when you get closer to them. Once we were down on the rocks next to the stack and we'd let the tide drain out a bit more, we could see we'd be OK to swim across. It was still exciting and one or two of the waves were still coming over the rocks as Andy discovered! Am Buachaille is not a stack to take your time on. It's a serious job, getting the timing just right so you don't get stuck for twelve hours.
Lesson 3. Fulmars nest in May. Both times I've climbed the Old Man of Hoy previously, it's been covered in nesting fulmars. My tactic was to send Donald up first so he got the worst of the oily, fishy puke projected at him meaning there was less in the tank for when I went past. This vomit warfare only starts in May though so April is a good time of year to climb here. The fulmars are not nesting, there are far fewer of them on the stack and they just fly away when you get close and return after you've gone.
Lesson 4. Sandstone is very different to gneiss. We had a morning climbing at Sheigra on imaculate, solid, rough, clean gneiss. It's a joy to climb, well endowed with holds and protection, and very steep. We climbed Jugernaut which is outrageously steep but on very big holds and well protected. If you can hang on and pull, you'll be fine. Sandstone is not like that! The crux of the Old Man of Hoy requires remarkably little pulling, even round the overhangs. It's all about pushing, bridging, leaning and shifting your body weight around from slopy ledge to slopy ledge. The off-width crack is protected by two blue cams and two silver cams so it's pretty useless to help you climb. Wide bridging over a very impressive drop is the way to do it. You can't just pull yourself up.
Lesson 5. You will not get bored of climbing sea stacks. This was the third time I've gone on a sea stack climbing trip and it will not be my last. Each one was so exciting and rewarding, beautiful and intimidating that I will be back next year for more of the same. The drive around most of the NC 500 route adds enormously to the trip, stopping at Smoo Cave on the way past and with the added highlight of a visit to Orkney and Hoy. This really is a trip to remember for a lifetime. Come along next year and see for yourself!
In 18 days of walking up Grahams and Corbets around Fort William in the last three weeks, Jim met other people on the hills on only 2 of those days! There is lots of space up here and plenty of hills to enjoy walking up, down and around. Today was just the same. We went to Cluanie Inn and walked up the delightful Munro Ciste Dubh and saw nobody all day. Even with the Easter holidays and the town being quite busy, there is lots of space to get away from it all and find a bit of peace and quiet, some breathing space.
Ciste Dubh is a very nice peak which is found above a gentle coire directly north of Cluanie Inn. We walked up the coire on the vehicle track near the stream, rather than the old stalkers path up the slope to the east. It seems to be an easier walk on the track even when it starts to disappear. We got to the big, three way col and climbed the steep slope above to find the ridge that goes all the way to the summit, getting more and more narrow as it does so. There is a nice path though to take away from the long steep slopes down both sides and the wind was blowing on the other side, leaving us in a bit of shelter. The rain held off until we were on the way down too.
Back on Ben Nevis Tom, Tom and Freddie climbed Castle Ridge on nice dry rock in the main, and kept out of the stronger wind. They stayed off the snow today, but to reach the summit you need to walk over big patches of snow still on the Pony Track. We've had brilliant weather, even if it has been windy and cold. Today was a cloudy day making poor visibility on the top and someone made a mistake on the navigation to get down from Ben Nevis and ended up at the top of the cliffs above Coire Eoghainn. He needed Lochaber MRT to help him back onto the path and to get down. A little practice with a compass and some pacing to measure distances is all you need to keep on the right track when the visibility is poor.
This week Abacus Mountain Guides have looked after groups walking up Ben Nevis as the first of their three peaks challenge, taught climbing skills on Curved Ridge, practiced for the Alps on the Zig Zags and Stob Coire nan Lochan, all in fabulous sunshine and light winds. The mornings have been frosty with the snow frozen hard but once the sun is up its warmth gets to work to soften the snow pretty quickly. Since it is the start of the Easter holidays my children are off so whe Owen asked me to go ski touring with him I jumped at the chance.
We went to the Cairngorms where there is much better snow cover than over west. We walked a short way from the top car park at 600m before we could start skinning up Fiacail a'Choire Cas to point 1141. Hard snow made this tricky as soon as it got steep but once we were on top the snow was already soft in the sunshine. We went over to Stag Rocks and found Diagonal Gully. We'd had a tip off that had been skied and the snow was good all the way to Loch Avon. This is what we found, along with a good few ski tracks leading into and down the gully. The snow was certainly soft for us (someone who also skied it today said it was soft already at 10am) . Great fun skiing all the way down to one of the most impressive places in Scotland, Loch Avon Basin.
It was hot down by the loch with a very alpine feel. The skin back up was mostly on a track but we made a few adjustments due to more rocks revealing themselves with the melting snow. The slopes around Hells Lum crag had soaked up a lot of heat and, sitting on steep heather, made me think about the chance of full depth avalanches, despite the low hazard today. We kept to a route going through rocks to minimise any chance and got up fine but I did hear a slightly wierd whoompfing kind of noise at one point.
A very nice skin across to 1141 and down into the ski area got us back to the van. There are plenty of rocks to avoid, both going uphill and downhill. We certainly thought it was very much worth it toay and it will be good for several days more too. A trip up to Ben MacDui would be excellent and there are lots of other routes to enjot. Pinnacle Gully and Y Gully would not be much fun but I did not get a look into Castlegates Gully to see what it was like. Back home, there is still gully skiing on Ben Nevis but not much elsewhere. There is, however, great rock climbing in the warm sunshine, biking on (mostly) dry trails, brilliant walking in the glen and on the summits. Get out and enjoy the wonderful weather if you can.
Walking up Ben Nevis at this time of year can catch out some people. It looks and feels like spring in the glens, the flowers are coming out and there is blossom on the trees. The summit of Ben Nevis is still covered in snow though and it is a big deal reaching the summit, requiring winter boots, crampons, ice axes and navigation skills to deal with the white out on the snow where the trail is covered up. Our team of fantastic women from Birmingham hired a guide through us today and Andy helped them to reach the summit safely and all the way back down again.
The walk up the Pony Track is all on snow from corner five at 1050m above sea level. The freezing level was above the summit but the team was very happy to hav the crampons to make it easier on the snow. It was not hard frozen but the snow was firm packed and slippery. Our guided group walks start on Wednesday 1st May and take place every Wednesday and Sunday from then until the end of September. We're expecting snow on the ground for the first few and Sunday 5th May is already sold out. Get in touch if you'd like to join a group to get some help and support for your ascent and to learn a lot about the environment and history of the place.
Hard frozen snow, dry cold air and great company made for a very nice climb of Ledge Route today on Ben Nevis. Brooke and Sean are over from Seattle in the US for a few days in Scotland. Being strong mountaineers they wanted to experience Ben Nevis by the North Face. With worstening weather forecast we went for Ledge Route so that we would be off the summit in good time. After the cold weekend the snow was frozen solid and we made very good progress, reaching the summit before 1pm and back down by Coire Leis before the rain came in this afternoon.
We put crampons on at the foot of the snow in the run-out of Number Five Gully. The snow was hard frozen and the steps made in the thaw last week made it easy and secure to walk up the snow. We thought about taking the crampoins off at the start of the narrow rocky ridge. However, we kept them on and were glad to have them on most of the wy. There are just a few rocky sections, most of the route is on snow, including the slab low down on the route. We had a few light snow showers but the air and the rock were really dry so we stayed warm and comfortable all day.
On the summit there is about 1m depth of snow and the slope down towards the CMD Arete is also very well covered. The slope down into Coire Leis is quite serious so we took it very steadily. Hard frozen snow on a steep angle leads to rocks at the bottom of the slope. We followed good snow all the way to the Allt a'Mhuilinn underneath NE Buttress and took off the crampons there. The cold spell will stay with us for a few days more. It might officially be spring but it is very wintry on top - winter equipment and skills are absolutely required, no April fool!
Laura, Ryan, Jon and I had a good time walking up Ben Nevis today. It was a bit windy to start but on the summit there was very little wind, and we had the summit to ourselves. The cloud was down to Lochain Meall an t'Suidhe so the views were not great from windy corner all the way to the top and back down again. It was quite wet in the cloud and the guys did a great job of staying motivated. We got to the top in a very good time, imagined the views, and headed back down before we got too cold.
There are patches of snow on the trail from corner number two, and continuous snow on the trail from corner number five (1050m) to the top. This means the snow is covering the trail and it is not possible to see it to follow it. There were several other groups out trying to reach the summit but very few actually made it. Most decided, very sensibly, that they should turn around once the snow covered the trail completely and go back down.
If you want to get to the summit when there is snow on the ground and cloud on the summit, you will have to do some careful navigation. The skills of navigation you will need are to follow your location on the map so you know where you are all the time and to be able to use a compass to make sure you go in the correct direction. For this, you need to be able to work out the bearing, put it on your compass and then be able to use your compass to walk in that direction. In addition you will need to be able to measure the distance you travel, probably by counting the number of paces you take. If you already know how many you take to walk 100 you can measure the distance traveled.
These are core skills of navigation that can be learned by studying books, looking online or by hiring a good instructor. Without these skills, you should not expect (or even try) to reach the summit of Ben Nevis in the mist with snow on the ground. If you get the navigation wrong you are likely to go very badly wrong - all the sides of Ben Nevis apart from the one where the trail is have very steep ground or very big cliffs. It susprised me today how many people didn't expect the whiteout on top and didn't have the navigation skills required to deal with it. It was reasuring, though, that all these people turned back before they got too far into the white room to turn back.
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.