Sunday, 14 August 2016

Ben Nevis North Face Survey- The Final Year...

Few people would have imagined how successful this project would have become when the concept was initially devised. The sheer ambition had to be admired- a collaboration between botanists, geologists and local Mountain Instructors and Leaders surveying some of the most difficult places to get to on the UK's highest mountain.
Despite the obstacles, despite the mountain throwing everything it had at us (plenty rain, wind and the occasional rock!), this week saw the completion of the North Face Survey of Ben Nevis and an experience I will always fondly remember.

We started last week, with a day showcasing some of the work we had been carrying out on the survey over the past 3 years. It was very gratifying to see so many people enthused by the work that's been done and rewarding so share a glimpse of it by spending some time looking at botany, geology and abseiling!
Dan from NTS sharing his passion for plants!

Some mudstone near the Allt a Mhuillin

Extreme Botany in action- an abseil down the Organ Pipes

Our next day was a training day to get the whole team back in the groove. We reviewed some of the abseiling rope systems we had been using in previous years with great success and also got stuck in to using the Field Move App by Midland Valley again. We also did a count of some previously unrecorded Wavy Meadow Grass and incidentally have now found the largest recorded population in the UK- a superb result for our training day!

I was on reduced duties this week due to my back injury so Andy and I took it in turns to be out on the hill and running communications from the CIC Hut. On Monday I was out with Cathy Mayne from Scottish Natural Heritage and Beccy, one of the indomitable Trainee Volunteer Rangers (TVR's) from Nevis Landscape Partnership! We counted the other known population of Wavy Meadow Grass in Observatory Gully and then headed to the base of Zero Gully and the Minus Face. A fantastic start to the week and some good finds too!

Wavy Meadow Grass

Looking up towards Zero Gully

Beccy and Cathy underneath the Zero Gully snow patch
After a day on comms in the CIC hut, I was out with Murdo, a photographer from the Guardian as Dave B, Dan, Ali and ourselves headed to the botanical treasure trove that is No. 4 Gully. We were sheltered from the worst of the weather and it was reassuring to see many of the nationally rare plants that were once thought to be in a very unfavourable condition, to be doing so well.
Dan counting some Tufted Saxifrage

Murdo capturing some of the action!

Dave B and Ali in No. 4 Gully
With my final day out on Friday, we were battered by a low pressure that made things feel more like November than August! Still, we managed to complete the Wavy Meadow Grass count near No.5 gully before packing up shop and heading down one last time.

There are so many people to thank for their contribution to this project. Firstly Mike Pescod for putting the team of climbers together in the first place and to colleagues Donald, Al, Scott, Dave B, Will, Connor and Andy for being a pleasure to work with. Cathy Mayne from SNH, Ali Austin and Blair Fyffe from JMT, Botanists Ian Strachan and Gordon Rothero, Roddie Muir from Midland Valley, Lewis and Susan from Nevis Landscape Partnership and our team of hard working but always smiling TVR's, Beccy, Ciaran, Hannah and Peter. Thanks to you all for making this project not only a huge success but also so much fun to be part of and creating a genuine excitement around going to work each day...

Forwards and Backwards...

My first foray back into the hills after an injury imposed rest went by with mixed success. With both Kev and I dealing with injuries, it was great just to be back in the mountains on the superb Tower Ridge, which must rank up there as amongst both of our favourite routes. We've had some memorable Alpine type days on this route as well as having to battle poor winter conditions, so a dry sunny day was an absolute pleasure!

On a separate note, I had a chance to test out my new La Sportiva TX4 approach shoes. These performed amazingly well on Tower Ridge, with the friction provided by the Stealth Rubber on the sole being superb. They were sensitive enough to feel precise when climbing but had enough cushioning to be comfortable on the walk in and out. They don't have a waterproof lining so will be used mainly on dry days but on these sort of scrambling days I think they'll be fantastic.
 Whilst all went well on the day, by the walk out we had both started to suffer a bit and by the drive down the track, I needed to get out for stretch to relieve the pain from my prolapsed disc and inflamed sciatic nerve. The next couple of weeks proved to be quite frustrating with very little improvement.
It looks like I may be in for a long journey to full fitness but I'm optimistic things are slowly moving forwards...

 To break things up a bit, I had a very enjoyable couple of days with the team from BBC Countryfile who were in Lochaber filming a special about the 60th Anniversary of Duke of Edinburgh Award. I was filming with them for a short piece on navigation so if included it might make for an interesting (or humorous) watch tonight! (1730hrs BBC one).

The Countryfile team settingup below an 'emblematic' mountain!

Meanwhile, our freelance staff have been busy! Rich had a damp but enjoyable day on Tower Ridge with Syaza and James
pic- R. Parker

pic- R. Parker
 Andy was out with Jan and David in Glencoe showing them this iconic part of the Highlands and reaching the summit of Aonach Dubh in the process.

Andy was also up the amazing CMD Arete with Tracy and her family, showing off this fantastic walking route to the UK's highest peak

Steve was out guiding Jim on Glencoe's famous scramble, the Aonach Eagach Ridge. Jim cruised the scrambling and added another couple of  Munros to his count.
pic-S. Holmes

pic-S. Holmes

 Mandy is preparing to climb Kilimanjaro in a few weeks and decided to test her self on Ben Nevis in preparation. She did really well and we wish you the best of luck with the big climb in a few weeks!

 Steve had a grand day on Ben Nevis with Andy who completed a speedy climb of Ledge Route, experiencing the grandeur of the North Face of the Ben!
Pic- S. Holmes
 Steve was also out with Isla, who was over visiting from Australia. They had another great day on the Aonach Eagach and it's fantastic when we get a chance to showcase this beautiful mountain area in all it's glory.
Pic- S. Holmes

Pic- S. Holmes

Pic- S. Holmes

Nathan was also out for us on the Carn Mor Dearg Arete this week with Jennie and Alex and even a bit of cloud didn't dampen their enthusiasm for this awesome route!

Taking things easy for a while was also aimed at being able to work in the very special North Face Survey on Ben Nevis...see next post!

Monday, 18 July 2016

Recovery road....

It's been a painful few weeks for me after developing sciatica due to a bulging disc in my lower back.  Whilst initially working through it, it came to a point I had to admit defeat and take a proper enforced rest period.
I've been quite fortunate with my back in general as after having two previous fractures, one from a traffic accident and one from a climbing fall, it hasnt't really given me much bother since. Unfortunately, things felt pretty bad for a while as even a walk to the end of the street became a mission. Thankfully and hopefully, things seem to be slowly on the mend now.
We're lucky to have the excellent Lochaber Clinic in Fort William and with some treatment from the Osteopath Geoff there, I've managed to continue talking small steps towards recovery.
Also, my friend and colleague Steve, who has been through the mill and under the surgeon's knife with a similar but more serious problem, has given me some sound advice too.

In the meantime I have to thank all of our associate staff who've kept things going whilst I've been out of action.

My last day on the hill for a while was a smashing day with Andy and Leanne on Ledge Route

Connor headed out with Tom and Pam on the classic Buachaille Etive Mor in Glencoe

pic- C. Holdsworth

pic- C. Holdsworth
 Steve tackled the CMD Arete and Ben Nevis with Tony and Cameron in some challenging conditions!
pic- S. Holmes

pic- S. Holmes
 Dave had a superb day introducing Dan to outdoor climbing in the fantastic Glen Nevis!
pic- D. Buckett

pic- D. Buckett
 The sun didn't last too long though and Dave and Zareff managed a quick ascent of Ledge Route and on to Ben Nevis in some pretty heavy rain- a summer monsoon!
pic- D. Buckett

pic- D. Buckett
Andy had a super fast trip on Ben Nevis with Matt and had time to show off Steall Falls as well as the summit of Ben Nevis- a fully packed day!

pic- A. Hague

pic- A. Hague

pic- A. Hague
 Andy was also out with Ian and Luke on the classic CMD. The mountain teased them with a few glimpses through the clouds but that chaps made a great time despite the damp conditions.
pic- A. Hague

pic- A. Hague

pic- A. Hague
It's back out to the hills for me tomorrow to test things out so fingers crossed this will be a step in the right direction!

Monday, 6 June 2016

Summer in the Mountains

What a start it's been to the Summer so far! Making good use of the good weather, Dave and I headed to Skye for a couple of days traversing and expanding on our working knowledge of the ridge.
We checked out various alternative routes and bivvy sites, as well as enjoying the awesome weather in the process! A bit of a cold bivvy saw us shaking ice and frost off the sleeping bags at Bealach Glac Mhor but it didn't take long to warm up. Great to see the Cuillin at their best again!

Back home, I was working on a Summer Mountain Leader Assessment for Abacus Mountain Guides. We headed into Glencoe for the steep ground day and the Northern slopes of Meall an-t Suidhe on the final day. Well done to the candidates for some strong performances!

Last weekend I had the pleasure of guiding Pauline, Graham, Russ and Nikki on the best walking route on Ben Nevis, the CMD Arete. Stunning weather and views and great company meant for a superb day!

Last Wednesday, I met John and his son Sam who was celebrating his 12th birthday by climbing Ben Nevis. Both John and Sam have done a fair bit of hill walking so wanted a more exciting route to the summit. We headed up into Coire na Ciste and onto Ledge Route to let the chaps experience the North face of the Ben. They both cruised the scrambling, especially young Sam who looks like he'll have a great mountaineering future ahead!

On Friday I met up with returning client Graham, who I took out for a days Winter skills training in February. Graham was keen to try one of the classic scrambles in Glencoe and so we decided on the classic, Curved Ridge on Buachaille Etive Mor. Graham loved the scrambling and took it all in his stride and with some extra time in the bank, we bagged the summit of Crowberry tower before reaching Stob Dearg. Making the summit before midday and with such amazing weather, it was a no brainer to continue along the ridge to bag Graham another Munro in the process! Another memorable day on one of my favourite mountains!

 Yesterday  was one of my most enjoyable days at work I've had for a long time. Janette and Stephen had their sights set on Tower Ridge and with another blue bird day, I knew we were in for a great one! Tower Ridge has to be my favourite climb on Ben Nevis and sharing this awesome route with Janette an Stephen was an absolute pleasure! A superb performance team!

So it's been a thoroughly enjoyable start to the Summer so far and here's hoping for some more great weather through June and July!