What a wonderful day for biking at Laggan Wolf Trax and what a great team of students from West Highland College UHI to be riding with. Top MTB coach Emma Holgate and I were working with students on the adventure degree courses who want to up skill their bike riding and start thinking about MTB leadership. Yesterday we were at Nevis Range riding the trails and improving braking technique, body position on the bikes and weight shift followed by a whole lot of cornering. We managed to stay dry just about all day yesterday, but today it was full on sunshine all day.
We warmed up on the green at Wolf Trax, an under-used gem of a skinny single track trail. If you can stay on the trail around all the wee corners at any speed you are doing well. The orange jump and berm trail has had some work done on the top half which makes the jumps a lot more jumpy and the surface smooth as a smooth thing. We rode both red trails as well with the team dropping the drops and rolling the rocks with ease. Well done team, great riding.
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.
Mountain guiding, leading and instruction of climbing and mountaineering are becoming much better recognised as professional careers. The profession of mountain guiding has of course been around for many decades but it was seen for a long time to be not quite like a real job. The degree courses now available at West Highland College UHI are further proof that working in the outdoors is a career choice and it should be seen as a profession. So today I was with some more first year degree students on their Introduction to Professional Adventure Practice walking up Stob Ban in the Mamores.
It turned out to be a much better day than expected. It was windy on top but not quite the 50mph we were forecast. The rain came on later and stayed light and patchy rather than the constant rain we thought we would have to put up with. So we had a great time climbing the North Ridge of Stob and going down the coire to the east on the good path. Autumn colours in the landscape are showing themselves and are getting to be as bright as our jackets!
What a wonderful day it was on the Cuillin Ridge on Skye today. High pressure settled directly over the west coast bringing a cold start but sunshine warming the rocks and no wind at all on the summits. There was a little light cloud swirling around the summits just to add to the atmosphere and show off the shapes of the rocky ridges perfectly. Fiona and I have been trying to get a good day to enjoy a few summits for a few months and today it worked out brilliantly.
We walked up to Sgurr Dearg first to climb the Inaccessible Pinnacle straight off. There was nobody else there and the sun was shining on the rocks making it pretty much perfect. A smooth quick ascent was followed by a stylish abseil back down and before we knew it, we'd climbed the most challenging of all the Munros. Walking north away from Sgurr Dearg we went over Sgurr Banachdichd and Sgurr Thormaid to the col next to the Three Teeth. Here we met the first people of the day - it was not a busy day on the ridge.
Sgurr a Greadaidh is probably my favourite peak on the Cuillin ridge. The ridge is narrow, solid and involves brilliant scrambling with breathtaking exposure. With the conditions being so good we tip toed gracefully right along the crest, soaking up the scale and sence of space all around us. All too quickly we got to Sgurr a'Mhadaidh having completed the four Munros we aimed to climb. Well done Fiona, it was lovely spending such a good day with you on the ridge. Good luck with the remaining six!
West Highland College UHI has a range of adventure degree courses available now. The Adventure Tourism Management course has been going for many years now. In addition we have Adventure Performance and Coaching and a new course this year Adventure Education. We have a group of new students starting out on these courses and they all need to get some fundamental skills and experience. This is what we can an Introduction to Professional Adventure Practice and it was my job yesterday and today to go through mountain skills with some of the students.
We started out discussing clothing and equipment before obtaining some weather forecasts and considering what the effect of the weather would be on us. The rest of the day was spent practicing all sorts of navigation skills using an orienteering map for a location next to Torlundy. Today we went up a Munro, Stob Ban in the Mamores by its North Ridge. This is a great walk with some steep sections requiring the use of the hands a few times. We discussed all sorts of things including the traditions of hill walking in the UK, environmental topics, emergency response and how to look after yourself to stay warm and dry. IUt was cold on top and we had a couple of snow showers on the top of Ben Nevis. We also had a little rime on the summit rocks yesterday. Feels like winter is coming!
Lochaber and Lorn Ramblers is a very active group of walkers that have walks for all levels of ability led by experienced volunteer club members. It's a fantastic way to get into walking, whether it is a short flat walk around a loch or a big walk in winter over some Munros. Some of the members enjoy a bit of scrambling and this is what we were doing today. With four experienced walkers and scramblers we chose Curved Ridge on Buachaille Etive Mor as a route that would stretch the comfort zone and give us a great opportunity to practice some simple ropework to make it safe enough. The sunshine was a deciding factor too!
In the dry, Curved Ridge offers excellent scrambling at grade 2/3 on mostly very good rock. It is a popular route that sees plenty of people so the rock is clean and most of the loose rock has been kicked away over the years. We looked at some movement skills well before we got to any scrambling, including best ways to place your feet and to move efficiently on a simple path. When your balance is better on simple walking your balance will be better on the scrambling and practicing on the path is a lot more secure than practicing balance skills on a scramble!
On the route we put on a rope to look at a technique that makes you much more secure but that does not slow the rate of progress too much. This is moving together on a rope with a few meters of rope between all the team members on the same rope. By placing slings and cliping them to the rope or running the rope around solid anchors on the route we made it very secure for everyone. There were no stops for pitches and we were all moving at the same time so we all got to enjoy the same freedom of movement as we would have done without the rope. It's a real skill that takes some practice but that also adds an element of enjoyment when you get it working really well.
We made the short diversion out to Crowberry Tower taking very great care as we went underneath the extremely loose and very large block the hangs over Crowberry Gully Left Fork. Part of this fell off this year and the rest does not look like it will be there for very many years. Great views all day, great company and great scrambling ade this a lovely way to spend my birthday. Thank you Lochaber and Lorn Ramblers!
After such a wet day yesterday and a serious amount of kit drying, it was very nice to get a dry start today. Grahame and I started from Sligachan and walked in past the Basteir Gorge to the foot of the West Ridge of Sgurr nan Gillean. We had a couple of glimpses of sunshine and a view of the fabulous Pinnacle Ridge, dark imposing rock towers rising out of a rugged coire already chaging to its autumn colours. We wanted to climb the northern three Munro's of the Cuillin Ridge and the best way seems to be to start with Sgurr nan Gillean, traverse Am Basteir by abseiling down King's Chimney before reaching Bruach na Frithe.
The West Ridge of Sgurr nan Gillean has the imposing pinnacles at the top of the first chimneys. We found a little dry rock going past these which was very welcome! As we went through the eye of the needle at the top of the ridge the clouds came in and we did not get a view from the summit but at least we had been given an impression of where we were on the way up. As we climbed back down the rain came in so we had a slippery climb up Am Basteir. The cave at the top of King's Chimney gave us a welcome bit of shelter from the heavy showers.
From the foot of the chimney it is a simple walk up to Bruach na Frithe, one of the easiest peaks to reach in the Cuillin. We did not hang around in the rain looking at the view of the inside of the cloud. Instead we walked back down past the Basteir Gorge to Sligachan with Grahame having completed his Cuillin Munro's. Well done Grahame! It's not easy in the wet and we certainly had a lot of wet weather thee last two days!
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.