Thursday, 26 June 2014

A productive month!

This month started with an excellent day on an Association of Mountaineering Instructors (AMI) trainee workshop run by Alan Halewood. The aims for the day were to look at how we can effectively teach rock climbing to our clients. A big thanks to Alan for the day- it was thoroughly enjoyable as well as being massively useful with many top tips learned.

I had a great day out on the Ben with Anne and her five friends who had all met up from various parts of the country (and the world!) to climb Ben Nevis.

On the same day, Andy and John were guiding a group of 15 from TLT solicitors who were raising money for charity. A cold wind on the summit but a great effort from both groups!

Andy and I headed East to avoid the rain and did some climbing in the Cairngorms. We headed to Stac an Fharaidh on the North side of Loch Avon. Walking along the Cairngorm Plateau was enjoyable in itself before we headed down to the crag. We climbed Mack's Dilemma (VS 4c) and Whispers (VS 4c/5a). Some lovely slab climbing on good rock and a few other routes spotted for a return trip in the future!

Another reunion with some returning clients saw me meeting up with Simon, Jane, Zaf, Duncan and Justin from the Nordic walking club based near Cheltenham. The team did the 3 peaks over 3 days last year and were now keen to step it up a gear and go for the 3 in 24 hours!
From the outset I could tell we were on for a good time, reaching the Red Burn in just over an hour! We managed to complete Ben Nevis in just over 4 hours before heading down to the Lakes. We finished Scafell Pike in just over 3 hours in some hot temperatures but with stunning views.
The headtorches came out as we embarked on the final peak, Snowdon at about 0200hrs. Again, the team comfortably reached the summit in just under 2 hours before descending the Miner's Track. It gave us a total time of 23 hours! An outstanding effort from everyone and most definitely one of my favourite 3 peaks trips!

Back up to Fort William and I had a great teaching day down in Glen Nevis with Emma looking at multipitch climbing. We climbed 8 pitches as well as looking at gear placements and a bit of abseiling. Sunshine, a slight breeze and no midges!

A change of venue next, and I was at Polney Crag at Dunkeld with Nik. We looked at various aspects of climbing outside and covered stance management and building belays on multipitch climbs as well as some abseiling.

On Monday I was out with Anna and Amanda back in Polldubh. Both have done small amounts of climbing before but were keen to progress their knowledge of ropework and climbing. A few more midges this time but we managed to climb on some dry rock and cover a fair amount on the way!

I was back out again with Anna and Amanda on Tuesday, and with a good forecast, I wanted to get some practice guiding on Tower Ridge.
The hills were a bit claggy and damp in the morning but with an improving picture we decided to give it a go. We headed up Observatory which still has a lot of fairly firm snow in it, so the ice axes I stuck in as a last minute thought came in very handy! 

We traversed the ledge on the East side of the ridge to gain the crest proper. A few glimpses of the route as the cloud swirled around but no sign of sunshine. Still, this was great for me in terms of picking out the best route up and the damp rock certainly let me get some good mileage whilst short roping the girls.

 Tower Ridge has to be one of my all time favourite routes on the Ben and looking across to Tower Gap and the final slopes brought a smile to my face. The last time I was on this part of the ridge was during a long winter ascent, with the rock covered in verglas and powder snow and in pitch black darkness. Even with the cloud and dampness, it felt decidedly friendly in comparison!

A lower into the gap, and then a climb over for me and we were on the final push to the summit. Thanks to Anna and Amanda for being my guinea pigs for the day and being good company despite the lack of sun and blue skies!

Yesterday, I was out with Hannah and Benn on the Mountain Track. The couple had been planning a trip to Scotland for a while and thought that climbing the Ben would make a fitting highlight! With some cloudy and wetter weather due to arrive later on, we made the most of the views in the morning and had pretty pleasant conditions for most of the way to the summit. The waterproofs came out for a short while on our descent but all in all, a pretty pleasant day. Well done to Hannah and Benn for reaching the top of the UK and thanks for the great conversations throughout the day!

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Summer highs

Last Friday, myself, Kev and Andy headed on to the Ben with a plan to climb Tower Ridge. The guys had agreed to be my 'clients' for the day and as we approached the hut, it sure looked like an interesting day! The cold North wind was really biting and as we layered up, it certainly felt a million miles away from some of the warm sunny days we'd been having recently. I roped the guys up and we headed into the Douglas Gully East. This was pretty horrible, loose and wet and not particularly easy to safeguard the chaps on. Nevertheless, we made it up the chimney and onto the ridge just as the snow started... As the the cloud lifted we saw fresh snow and even some rime on the upper part of the climb. With an ice axe each, but no crampons, we made the decision to head down. After having an epic long day on Tower Ridge in winter before, none of us felt we had anything to prove by fighting up the route in sub optimal. We descended the grassy ramp higher into Observatory gully which will be my first choice of accessing the ridge in the future. We even found a few bits of kit that had been dropped last winter!

On Saturday, the sun was out again, and I was guiding a group of 3 peakers for Maximum Adventure. A great performance and nice conditions saw us on the summit in around 3hrs 15min and back down in under 6 hours total, a promising start for the team!

On Sunday, I was guiding Mark and his son Matt on the Ben for Hunter Mountaineeing. Both of the guys live in California but were adapting well to the Scottish climate! A wet forecast didn't really amount to much and we stayed fairly dry for the day, which was a bonus. Well done guys!

I seem to get more than my fair share of good weather when guiding on the CMD arete, and Tuesday was no exception! I was out with Sam, who had chosen to ascend Ben Nevis via a more interesting and challenging route. She was treated to conditions that were pretty much as good as it gets, with great views of the North Face of Ben Nevis, the Mamores and beyond to Glencoe. Sam took the arete in her stride and steadily cruised here way along it until the final push to the top of the Ben. It's on days like that I have the best job in the world!

It's always a pleasure to meet up with returning clients and on Thursday, Razia, Anuja and 9 year old Aakesh were back in the Fort with the summit of Ben Nevis in their sight! Last April when the guys were up here, we headed up Meall an-t Suidhe as warm up to the Ben. After a good few months of training, they were ready to give the Ben a shot. A good steady pace for the day saw us all reaching the summit in good spirits with plenty in the tank to tackle the long descent. A massive well done to young Aakesh who has been the youngest person I've guided up the Ben so far.

Aakesh making sure he was the highest person in the UK!
With a great forecast on Friday, Andy had mentioned the possibility of getting on one of the big mountain routes on the Ben. The Bullroar was high on both of our lists and so we headed up to Carn Dearg buttress to get a look... There were some wet streaks along the crux slab pitch but we hoped the sun would dry these out. Unfortunately, the first pitch was really wet and Andy moved over into the corner and the E1 5b alternative start. A great effort from Andy saw him battle his way up the strenuous corner and onto the first belay. I led the next two pitches which saw some thought provoking moves on sensationally exposed ground. The first wet streak was dry but the second one meant we had to make a rather large step over to avoid it. Route finding was quite hard but we eventually found ourselves on familiar ground half way up pitch 3 of Centurion. A couple more pitches and we reached the ab point above The Bat. We backed up some dodgy looking tat on the anchors with our own and made the 2 long abseils back to terra firma! An absolutely classic route and one of my favourite days climbing for sure!
Photo by Mike Pescod

With rare day off on a Saturday, Glenda, John and I headed to Glen Loy. I went for a run up Beinn Bhan which was massively enjoyable, especially with the stunning views over a mirror like Loch Arkaig. Nice to be moving relatively fast and light in the hills, and outrunning the midges too!