Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.”
— Lewis Carroll
The quote is from Jabberwocky, a poem written by Lewis Carroll in his book Through The Looking Glass. At long last I have discovered what a Mome Rath is and I've also been to the Mome Rath Face above The Hidden Valley in Glen Coe and climbed the Mome Rath Route. It's not nonsense at all, it's a very good crag and excellent climbing. Thankfully we didn't see any Mome Raths but I can't guarantee there won't be anythere when you climb the route.
It's not a long walk in to The Hidden Valley but it is slightly tricky finding a reasonable route to the terrace at the foot of the crag. Well worth walking up the opposite side of the flats in the Hidden Valley to check out the best line. We went up Rev Ted's Gully side and it worked out well. The climbing on Mome Rath Route is excellent. The rock is solid and mostly clean with great protection and ledges to belay on. The first few short pitches are a nice warm up to the chimney at the top. This is V.Diff. and was slightly wet today but this didn't effect the climbing at all. The views from the crag are immense too, especially looking down on the tiny figures at the bottom of the coire.
Mike and I have been exploring most of the V.Diff. and Severe climbs in Glen Coe and there are a couple more to go back to on this face. After such a brilliant, sunny and dry day up there today I'm pretty keen to go back and do the others. Is it too early to think aboiut winter climbing? Mome Rath Route would be awesome in winter as a mixed route - frozen turf and rimed up rock is all you need.
While Mike and Gill are away on the Summer ML Assessment mini-break, I (Sally) was on CMD Arete and Ben Nevis with Sascha. There was fresh snow visible down to about 800m and more wintry showers due throughout the course of the morning. It turned out to be a very Scottish day with sun, rain, hail, and snow all before we reached the summit of Carn Mor Dearg, then the weather calmed down in time for the arete, giving us great views down to Steall Falls. The arete is now completely free of old snow, as is the final ascent onto Ben Nevis from the top of Coire Leis, so crampons were not needed at all today. The snow line for the old snow when coming up from the arete is right at the edge of the plateau where the ground levels out, however the thin layer of fresh snow has made all the rocks incredibly slippy so care should be taken if heading up there in the next day or two. The sun was just trying to break through the clouds as we reached the summit of Ben Nevis, then gave us a warm and sunny descent back to the car.
It was a wet day in Glen Coe today. Steady rain made for uncomfortable conditions for the steep ground route choice, group management, safeguarding and emergency rope work elements of the Summer ML syllabus. We went up underneather the West Face of Aonach Dubh into Coire nam Beith. Here we found some nice scrambling type terrain for the candidates to demonstrate their emergency rope work. This involves using just a rope (no karabiners or slings) to safeguard people in descent as well as to safeguard themselves. The streams were full and the rocks were loose and slippery so there were plenty of real hazards to manage. It felt like a very realistic day! Off on a three day mini-break now for the rest of the week in the wild west.
We started our Summer Mountain Leader Assessment today with six already very experienced candidates. This is just another little step towards becoming an inspirational mountain leader. Most of the skills and qualities of a leader are learned in their extensive bank of experience. The training course and assessment course direct and guide the candidates from recreational walkers towards professional mountain leaders.
We went up from Glen Nevis to the col next to Dun Deardall, the ancient hill fort that over looks the glen. From there we went up Bidean Bad na h'Iolaire and discussed the management of accidents and incidents, practiced improvised self-rescue and discussed signs and symptoms of hypothermia. Even on a modest hill like Bidean Bad you would need mountain rescue to come and help evacuate an incapacitated walker and it is possible to stumble and hurt yourself even with the best mountain leader.
Back down in Glen Nevis we also looked at stream crossings. We take this seriously in Scotland since there are many areas where a stream crossing is obligatory if you want to explore the wildest of areas. We looked at techniques to move through the water securely and to support group members as well. The water seems to be warming up slightly but there is still plenty of water in the streams from snow melt.
With the bank holiday weekend and the Six Days Trial starting it's been a busy weekend here in the Outdoor Capital of the UK. We've not had the best weather in the UK but it's not been bad. Yesterday and today started out wet and drizzly but the clouds cleared both days to leave a dry and sunny afternoon. We had the first of our guided group walks on Ben Nevis today and these run on every Wednesday and Sunday all the way until the end of September. It's a great way to find like minded peoiple to share the climb with and learn all about the natural environment, the geology, and history of Ben Nevis as well as be happy to know there is support and help to get you to the top and back down successfully.
Marie and Sally enjoyed the clearing of the clouds and the views this afternoon after a wet start. The snow has been melting away quite quickly. The strong easterly winds of the winter blew a lot of snow down the Red Burn though so there is a deep patch of snow at the Red Burn crossing which has a couple of wide boot trails across them. After this there are just a couple of patches of snow to corner six, more continuos patches from there to 1200m and continuous snow from there to the summit. On a warm day like today the snow is soft and easy enough to walk over. Take care if we do get another late freeze though.
Meanwhile the crags in Glen Nevis dried out very nicely. With the sunshine on th erock and shelter from the wind it was lovely climbing on dry rock. The mica schiest dries out very quickly, especially now that a lot of work has been done to remove the trees close to the crags. Scottish Natural Heritage has welcomed this work and we are also able to clean moss and grass off the climbs. Hannah, Owen, Katie and I were at After Crag where we climbed the steep and pumpy Kraut as well as the much more layed back Rubber Face, both at E1 5b.
Tomorrow we start our Summer Mountain Leader Assessment. Five days of assessment in all things to do with kleading groups in the UK mountains in summer conditions. We'll be avoiding the snow patches and the tops of the highest mountains but there are plenty of lower peaks that will test the six candidates thoroughly!
Each year Nevis Landscape Partnership takes on trainee volunteer rangers to help deliver the programme of projects and to give them skills in the job of being a ranger and conservation worker. We have been able to help with this by delivering a couple of days of training to the new recruits and today Mike ws doing just this in Glen Nevis. Edith and George are the new TVR's and Iona came along as well since she has just started a new post in the partnership and she needs to get a better idea of all the work that goes on.
So we chatted through the whole approach to working in remote and wild places and how to make it safe enough. We went up Glen Nevis to Scimitar Ridgeat Poldubh and we did some scrambling ropework on this delightful little route. We figured out how to tie together, how to use a body belay and an italian hitch on a sling. We also went round the side to a little abseil and did a few laps of abseiling to get used to this.
Some of the work these guys do is next to rivers so we looked at the characteristics of rivers, where is good to cross them and where is not as well as some techniques for crossing. Lastly we did some core navigation training. It was all good fun but mostly it is always really nice being able to show people around the place we love and care for, people with a similar passion for the outdoors and wild places.
Canyoning is like a natural obstacle course going down a stream. You find all sorts of slides, drops, jumps, scrambles and bits to avoid on the way from the top to the bottom of the canyon. We have some great canyons here on the west coast of Scotland and today I was exploring one of them with a whole bunch of great canyon guides for the very excellent Active Highs. With the summer season started already we were doing some staff training to share knowledge of the canyons and also of how to run them with groups of people. They looked after me very well indeed and we all learned lots.
We also looked at their rock climbing site where there is a nice single pitch rock climb and abseil. We looked at how to set up this, how to run a climbing session with a group of people and how to solve simple problems. The sun was out and it was a beautiful day after a wee frost. The sun is up early though and it soon warms up. The water is pretty cold though, there is still a lot of snow melting away gradually.
Each spring we get one last fall of fresh snow at about this time. It's when the lambs are being born and when you think the snow has given up for the winter. So Connor, Alex, Mark and I had a slightly snowy climb of Castle Ridge on Ben Nevis today. It also made the descent very smooth.
There is quite a lot of fresh snow above 1000m, about 30cm or so in places. However it is all soft and wet and not very helpful. On the rocks it covers up the hand and foot holds and is not very supportive. So it looks lovely but isn't very useful. Most of Castle Ridge was clear of snow though so we were not held up at all. We were on quite dry rock all the way to the first crux, a corner with slightly rounded and nearly always wet holds.
The second crux was dry and really quite nice but getting there was probably harder today. There is a slab which is awkward to get onto and which was covered in snow so we needed to uncover the holds before we could use them. All very delicate for a few metres. Above the second crux the ridge is very fine indeed. It is narrow and interesting with great exposure.
Since South Castle Gully is still full of snow we went to descend this. South Castle Gully is my favourite grade 1 gully on Ben Nevis and possibly anywhere. Steepe and very big walls line the top half of it. It's pretty easy to get into from the side and gave us a brilliant slide all the way down to the bottom steep bit. Here there is an abseil to do which got us to the bottom snow slope and a quick slide to the bottom of the climb. What a great way to get back down again!
During last week and this week we have been running a Summer Mountain Leader Training Course with West Highland College. It's been brilliant working with twelve enthusiastic trainees and showing them everything we know about leading groups on summer walks in the mountains. We split the course into two 3 day chunks and this week we finished the course with practice dealing with incidents and accidents, self-rescue and stream crossings, and our two day wild camping expedition.
We started the expedition from Insh, near Spean Bridge. We went up to Beinn Chlianaig and Cnap Chruin doing lots of navigation training, practicing leadership and group management and learning lots about the environment and land management. There were lots of new born lambs low down on the hills and we were very careful not to disturb any of the sheep by walking slowly and keeping away from the sheep. The tops of these two hills are beatufully smooth in places with moss and lichen, making the walking very easy going. We also had amazing views onto the Grey Coires and Stob Coire Easainn.
We went down to camp on the south side of Sgurr Innse. It was all a bit rough and wet here but we managed to find enough space for all of our tents and we had a dry night. The moon was shining and there were few clouds so it was bright enough for our night navigation training. Even so, we could not see any detais in the shape of the ground so we had to see poor visibility techniques to find our way around.
Today we traverse around Sgurr Innse and climbed up Cruach Innse. Both of these corbetts are rough and rocky, Sgurr Innse in particular. We looked for some steep broken ground to practice some more safe guarding on this kind of ground and we found plenty! Again the top of Cruach Innse is short moss and lichen making the going easy. We also had some great rainbows from the sunshine and showery weather. It was cold though and the showers were of snow at 850m and above.
So our twelve trainees are now in their consolidation phase. They need to go out and get more experience and practice everything we have gone through on the course. With six packed days of training there is a lot to remember and to practice! Well done to all of you and thank you for your efforts on the course. I hope we get to see again in the future, working as mountain leaders after a successful assessment course.
Third and fourth year students on an Adventure degree at West Highland College get to plan and carry out an expedition. This year students will be going to Morocco, Mongolia, Georgia and Iceland. Unfortunately I will not be going with any of them but I did spend today with three students who will be going to Iceland. They have a ten day trip to explore some of the mountains and ice caps there and today we were looking at some skills to help with late snow patches, snow bridges over streams, stream crossing, glacier travel and crevasse rescue.
We went up Ben Nevis to the Allt a Mhuilinn a bit above the CIC Hut. The snow cover has been melting away much faster than I thought it would. Just six days ago I walked across a snow bridge covering the stream about 500m below the CIC Hut - today there was no snow there at all. We had very deep snow covering the stream a month ago and it is melting and breaking up now, but also the snow is still covering the stream in many places. There are lots of places where you could easily fall through the snow into the stream. This would be a horrible accident and it would be very hard to get out in some places.
I remember a couple of accidents when people fell into the cavern underneath the snow at the foot of Number Five Gully. If you go up the gully or onto Ledge Route do take care. It is very hard to be sure the snow is solid beneath you and not just covering a big cavern.
Today we found some excellent bits to practice glacier travel and crevasse rescue. It all had a sense of realism too with the streams underneath! It's mnot all about pully systems and hoists. There is a lot to know about glacier travel, avoiding crevasses in the first place, and methods of extraction without resorting to using a hoist off a buried axe anchor. We did the pully syustem as well though and my rucksack was successfully rescued a couple of times!
None of the big ice climbs are still complete. They all have water running down sections of them and even the great ridges do not have much snow on them now. You can get up Castle Ridge without touching snow, Ledge Route has patchy cover, Tower Ridge is the same. The coires are full of snow as are the big easy gullies. The bum slide down the Red Burn is still excellent though!
So I guess we will not be doing any more ice climbing this year. It is surprising to me how quickly it all went. My last winter climb was Point Five Gully exactly three weeks ago and it started to warm up straight after that day. We can get some late cold spells and falls of snow in late April and May. If it cools down a bit the big gullies will be very nice to climb too and the skiing is really good. Don't hang around though, it's melting fast.
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.