Wednesday, 23 April 2014

MIA training and some stunning Spring days

The start of the month saw me undertaking the long drive down to North Wales to start my MIA (Mountaineering Instructor's Award) training at Plas Y Brenin. After having to postpone this last  September due to injury, it was great to finally make it and get started on the next stage of my mountaineering career.
Day 1 was our SPA type day where we looked at various aspects of the Single Pitch Award as well as setting the tone for the next 9 days. A emphasis on progressive learning, keeping things simple when they can be and being neat and tidy! We also looked at using a fixed line to ascend alomgside a climber,  with a view to teaching leading. The evening session was in the climbing wall where we looked at how an MIA can make use of indoor walls and got to practice teaching some lead falls.
Day 2 was pretty mind blowing in terms of the amount of new material we learned. The emphasis was on improvised rescue. As usual, we started off with some simple bits and pieces before building upon these. By the afternoon we were looking at more complicated scenarios and by the end of the day, there were some full brains in need of some time to digest everything! We thankfully had use of the training wall at PYB and so were able to spend a few hours in the evening practicing what we'd learned.

Day 3 saw us getting back on the crags and we headed to the Moelwyns on a rather wet day to look at our personal climbing and teaching multi pitch climbing. Due to water pouring off the rocks to start with and some squelchy rock shoes, we stuck to some easier routes, around Severe, whilst exploring climbing in series vs climbing in parallel and a bit of teaching.
Day 4 gave us some great sunshine and dry rock at Tremadog where we continued to look at multi pitch climbing. We climbed a few pitches of VS and covered multi pitch stance management and changeovers. In the afternoon we chose a route and set up a line that would allow us to coach someone through their first lead climb, all really useful stuff!
Day 5 had us back at Tremadog doing some more multi pitch climbing at VS 4c but with things going 'wrong'! We had a few simple problems to solve first before things went wrong in a bigger way and we got a chance to use some of the techniques from day 2. This was a great session and it was surprising how much had sunk in from day 2. The main points I took away were to break down the situation into manageable blocks and deal with each one at a time. Even the most complicated scenario felt easier after that.

Day 6 saw a change in the course towards the mountaineering side of things. We headed to Tryfan and spent a few hours covering the ML syllabus with regards to ropework, management on steep ground and the standards we would look for if working on ML courses. We headed up the North ridge and started learning some short roping skills on ascent and then on descent.
Day 7 lead us to Cwm Idwal where in small groups we got to practice some more short roping on scrambling terrain. This was an immensely enjoyable day with so many great tips and techniques to pick up.
Day 8 was a little trip to the coast looking at group adventure activities. We got to set up some sea level traverses and Tyrolean traverses as well as grabbing an ice cream at the seaside on the way home!
Our final day was our navigation day. After such a long and intense course, the first signs of decreasing group motivation became apparent but Keith quickly raised our psyche levels by having us run round PYB doing some orienteering before heading onto the hillside behind the centre. Despite having done lots of navigation for my Summer and Winter ML awards, I found this day really useful and certainly picked up some really good tips, not least of which was knowing the high standard expected at MIA level.
I have to give a massive thanks to all of the Instructors at PYB who really made the course an exceptional learning experience as well as being good fun, in particular Matt Stygall, Helen Teasdale and Keith Ball. Also thanks to Tim, Matt, Pete, John and Andy, the other trainees on the course, for being good company over the 9 days.
I'm really looking forward to getting climbing this season and starting the journey towards my assessment.

I headed back up the road for a day out with Jennifer. We went up to the Red Burn on Ben Nevis, enjoying some great views before heading down to Glen Nevis and Steall Falls.

Last Friday, I was out with Paula and Karen, some returning clients who completed the CMD arete with me a couple of years ago. We chose Glencoe as our venue this time, and probably Scotland's most iconic mountain, Buachaille Etive Mor. Some hard snow in the coire meant we were glad of our axes and crampons as we exited onto the ridge. Some spectacular views from the summit of Stob Dearg (1022m) were had. We chose to descent the western ridge of Coire na Tulaich to see a different part of the mountain. Thanks again to Paula and Karen for a thoroughly enjoyable day out!

On Saturday I was working for Maximum Adventure. Constantine had traveled from London for a short break in the Highlands and so we decided to bag a Munro whilst keeping out of the remaining Spring snows. Mullach nan Coirean (939m) in Glen Nevis fitted the bill nicely and we enjoyed a chilled out walk to the summit and back in glorious sunshine.

Easter Monday was forecast to be a bit windier on the mountains and I was back out with Dan who'd tried previously to climb Ben Nevis with me earlier this year. Unfortunately, we had horrendously strong winds previously and whilst it was looking a bit fresh on top, we were both keen to make it all the way this time! We headed up the large snowy field next to the Red Burn to get away from the track for a bit before heading onto the plateau. Some fairly gusty winds bombarded us with waves of loose snow crystals that certainly stung the face! Finally, Dan realised his goal and we stood upon an empty summit!

A great effort that shows perseverance pays off but that also that there's always another day when the conditions aren't safe. Still a large amount of snow up high which will make the many upcoming summer events on the mountain pretty tricky.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Cheerio Winter, hello Spring...

Last week I had a great day out with John, Colin and Sam in Glencoe. The guys were had all done a bit of winter walking before but wanting to brush up on a  few skills. We had a good chat about avalanche awareness and route planning before heading onto the hill. The walk up to Coire nan Lochan was tough going due to the fresh snow but thankfully, Andy and his group had already broken trail. We looked at the snow pack before heading into the Coire properly. There was already some avalanche debris in the West side of the Coire and by the time we headed down there were 3 more avalanches! We managed to cover lots whilst still being out of harms way. Thanks for the enjoyable day guys!

On Tuesday I was guiding a group of priests from London along with Dave B. Two of the group, Junior and James, were out with me last year for a winter ascent of the Ben. This year, they decided to bring some colleagues and had raised £2000-3000 for charity. It was a bit of a soggy day and plenty of cloud but we did get the odd glimpse of sun. The path fizzled out at corner 4 and we headed straight up to the plateau from there. A great effort by everyone meant we all reached the summit and had a speedy descent back down to Achintee.
Photo by D. Buckett

Wednesday was a great forecast so Kev and I headed to the Glen for our first bit of rock climbing this year. This was quite a benchmark for me as the last time I was out climbing was September, when I fell and fractured a vertebra! We warmed up on Pine Wall (HS 4b) and I went on to one of my favourite routes, Damnation (VS 4c). Despite some early season rustiness, my head felt in a good place which was really encouraging, so hopefully last year's ground fall shouldn't affect things for this season. The first BBQ of the season also happened that evening, with the obligatory down jackets on after 7pm!
Pic- Kev Shields

Pic- Kev Shields
Last Thursday and Friday I was working with the First Year Degree Students on their leadership module. Day one was training based so we looked at some of the hands aspects of leadership such as helping a group over rocky steps, choosing a route and general management. We even had time to look at a couple of emergency situations and the leader's role.

The next day was their assessment so we headed to Druim Fada for a hill day to put into practice some of what they'd covered. The students did really well and handled some very awkward group members with ease! Chilly on to the tops but some stunning views over Lochaber.

On Tuesday I was out with Andy as he prepares for his Summer ML navigation assessment. We went up Glen Loy and I found some good features to give some challenging legs near Beinn Bhan.
As the weather cleared up we headed down to Glen Nevis and I jumped on a climb on Dundee Buttress which I think was  Weaver's Loom, HVS 5a ( left the guidebook at home!)-. I then ran through a couple of bits of ropework with Andy being a  helpful body on the rope!

I'm heading off to Wales tomorrow for my MIA training. I've been looking forward to it for a long time so can't wait to get started!
It's been a challenging Winter season, with some really tough conditions to be working in. However, I feel I've learned a lot on a personal level and the few nice days out climbing I've had have really stood out because they've been so rare.