Sunday, 30 December 2012

Wild on the Ben.

I was working for Abacus Mountain Guides today with Stephanie and Dor who wanted to walk up the Ben. The forecast wasn't exactly favourable but we went to go and give it a try anyway, lots of fresh snow overnight and strong winds meant we encountered some pretty deep drifts just above the half-way lochain. There were some very heavy showers passing through today and the lying snow was being blown about all day and the old snow is refreezing nicely. Unfortunately conditions weren't on our side so we had to turn around as did many other teams on the track today.

The strong winds have deposited a lot of snow on the Northerly through to Easterly aspects and with a brief rise in temps tomorrow morning avalanches maybe a real issue. Remember to check the forecasts, be flexible and keep your eyes open when you're out and about.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

All quiet on Hells Lum

Hannah and I made plans to head over the back of Cairngorm today and I'm glad we did as the rain bouncing off my window over here on the West whilst lying in Bed didn't exactly fill me with Joy. The drive East thankfully gave us some blue sky and even a view of some of the tops but with a strong and steady wind blowing that made the walk up to 1141m take a bit longer than normal. From here we dropped into Coire  Domhain and down under Hells Lum to climb the Cold Climbs classic, Deep Cut Chimney.

Hannah on the entry pitch to get you inside the chimney.

What a great little route with some nice grade III/IV climbing to get you established deep inside the chimney and then a short steep traverse back out and onto the face. Many guide books give this IV,4/5 but I don't know whether I went at it expecting it to be easy but I actually had to pull. Not a sign of anyone all day until we dropped back down the goat track to hear a few teams still on routes as the light was fading fast.

An easy pitch of snow to get you deep inside the chimney.

There is still an excellent cover of snow and the surface is weight bearing in some places but you are still breaking through in quite a few places. The crags are white still but the thaw and freeze has made the crags a little icy, great for the climbing but gear is hard one still. Chatting to a team who had done the runnel and from our own experiences, the snow in the gullies is brilliant yet. consolidated in some places but still mostly loose but there are some helpful sections of ice about.

Hannah about to do battle with the crux.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

A winter Cuillin traverse.

After my visit to Skye last week and seeing how much snow was on the ridge I had been keeping an eye on the forecast to see if the weather was going to do what I wanted it to. Thankfully it did and after a quick phone call to Mike to confirm my thoughts Ken and I packed our bags on Monday and headed up to Skye.

Abseiling off the West ridge of Sgurr nan Gillean.

A cup of tea at Mikes and some info about a couple of bivvy spots and then we sorted the transport out and left the car at about 8pm so we could bivvy in Coire a' Bhasteir to put us at the start of the ridge first thing in the morning. A cold nights bivvy and I woke about 3.45am to head torches on the West ridge of Sgurr nan Gillean which turned out to be Guy, Kenny, Donald and Friend. We packed up and made our way onto the ridge and were stood on top of Sgurr nan Gillean at 6am. We made good progress South along the ridge from here with great conditions under foot and a track pointing the way so route finding wasn't exactly a problem.

Sunrise from An Caisteal.

A counter balance abseil off the North peak of Bidein Druim nan Ramh.

We made it to Sgurr Dearg at about 3.45 pm and stood and looked at the In Pinn and decided to do it first thing in the morning when we were feeling a little fresher. We popped down to our bivvy spot and had a  good feed and plenty of rest. Another cold night but it was a little warmer in our cave and we both got a  good nights sleep. Morning came and we made our way back up to the In Pinn which was a great wake up call and we had to switch on pretty quickly. Down the other side and we made quick progress round An Stac and over Sgurr Mhic Choinnich and Sgurr Thearlaich. We had a bite to eat at the top of the great stone shoot and took in Sgurr Alasdair before we carried on to the T-D gap and continued South.

The start of the In Pinn at first light.

Ken just teetering up the last few moves on the In Pin.

Kings Chimney abseil.

The legs are feeling tired now and the up to Sgurr nan Eag seemed to take forever but at the top we can see the summit of Gars-bheinn, the last on the ridge and it doesn't seem that far away. At the summit we bumped into John and Ronnie who had been on the traverse too, we had a quick catch up and then made our way to Gars-bheinn as a team of four.

The start of the last rise upto Gars-bheinn

Looking North back along the ridge from Gars-bheinn. 

Reaching the top of Gars-bheinn was a fantastic feeling and to be able to look back and see the whole ridge was brilliant. Not often to you get the right conditions, with the right forecast, the time off and a good friend that is in the same position. I do consider myself lucky to have managed to get this classic British tick.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Success on Skye!

Standing on the last summit of Gars-Bheinn.

Ken and I are just back from a successful attempt on the winter Cuillin traverse with some good conditions. I'll put a full report and photos up tomorrow, right now I want some sleep.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Cobbler conditions got the better of us.

With very deep accumulations of snow in the Mountains and a better forecast further South, Ben and I headed to the Cobbler hoping that we wouldn't have to do too much wading to get to a route. The lower path was icy but we were soon out of the trees and looking at a nice white Cobbler and with a set of tracks to follow it was all looking good.

Our first full view of the Cobbler in the Morning.

We decided to head for Recess route as it was catching some sun which felt more appealing than hanging around in the shade on North Wall Groove with strong Northerly winds forecast. We made it to the path junction in about an hour and a half and turned off to make a new track into the corrie. An hour and a half later we still weren't at the bottom of the route and were now waist deep in wet snow and our chosen route was now stripping quickly as the sun got higher in the sky. North Wall Groove now looked appealing but after some thought we estimated it was probably going to take us another hour or so just to get across the coire which meant we were looking at starting the route at about 1pm.

A bit of a swim to get there.

Stripping fast in the sun. You can just make out someone on the steep bottom wall.

A crack that has appeared on a freshly formed cornice probably due to the rise in temp.

Looking across the Central and South peaks in deteriorating weather.

A bite to eat and we just decided to see if we could get a quick easier consolation route in but just ended up climbing some grade II ground to get to the top of the North Summit which is about where the freezing level was. The wind had really picked up by now and we battled to get down and round to the South face again. A good thaw going on at the moment which will initially cause some very unstable slopes but it is set to freeze again tomorrow so looking good for the long run I think. The SAIS forecasts have started this weekend so please remember to check this before you head out and keep your eyes open whilst you move around in the hills.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Plan B on Skye.

Mike Lates dropped me an email at the start of the week asking if I was free for Wednesday to go and have a look at an unclimbed winter route. After some phone calls and a very generous sentiment from the partner I was supposed to be climbing with, it was on. I set off last night and we spent the night in the Glen Brittle hut so we could get an early start without having to attempt the drive in the morning.

Our first view of the ridge with Sgurr a'Ghreadaidh in the morning sun.

Looking South from Sgurr na Banadich

The Inn Pinn stripping quickly in the midday sun.

Looking South to Rhum.

We set off from the Youth Hostel this morning under clear skies but had some pretty nasty weather to get through before we reached the top of Sgurr na Banadich. From here we could see how much snow had been blown over onto our intended route and the swim down the descent gully didn't exactly look appealing. So we opted to just have a nice day out on the ridge. We headed South towards the Inn Pinn with some decent snow conditions at some points along the crest but there is a lot of snow up there at the moment and going is slow in some places. We met up with Tom, Annie and Gemma who had come in along the West ridge and then we all made the bum-slide descent into Coire Lagan. A stunning day to be out in the mountains and my first winter day on the Cuillin, I'm looking forward to more.   

Monday, 3 December 2012

Hiding in the Ice Factor

Working with Ben and Dave today with some students from the West Highland College, it was supposed to be a day of outdoor rock climbing but with an inch of wet snow outside my window, plans were obviously going to change. After a quick discussion it was decided to change this weeks days around so today we spent the day in the Ice Factor with some coaching but also giving the students a chance to get some mileage so they could get their leads for CWA training. 

It snowed heavily at sea level all morning then turned to heavy rain after lunch, there is going to be a lot of fresh snow on the hills and getting anywhere is going to be time consuming and hard work. Lower lying routes will probably be the best bet for the next couple of days.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Bombing out on Stirling Bomber.

Alex and I fancied a short day so we decided to head to the Northern coires and grab a short route. We opted for Stirling Bomber and were glad to see no one on it as we arrived in the coire. We'd heard reports about people having to dig their way up routes but thought they were just over exaggerating  they weren't. Alex set off up the first pitch and after an hour and a half of digging and climbing later he finally arrived at the belay. I followed up and was surprised at how much climbing there was on it, a good lead by Alex.

Alex hoovering his way up pitch one.

My turn now and and thankfully the lower part of the upper corner wasn't as plastered as the rest of the route but the slab and higher up were covered in thick rime. I made my way up a few meters with some good hooks and torques and managed to find a semi rest so I could place a high nut before I stepped Right. Just as I unclipped the rest of the nuts from the one I'd placed my right foot popped and the next thing I knew I was hanging by the rope minus two axes and still with the set of nuts in my right hand. I shook myself off and managed to get back to my high point clip the nut and continue. Unfortunately my next runner was a large cam in an icy crack that didn't exactly fill me with confidence. After a few more minutes of clearing and digging I called it a day and climbed back down to a peg and lowered off. Just means I'll have to come back and show it who's boss another time.

My high point today.

Quite a few teams out today with all the usual suspects being climbed but gear is hard won and the climbing is time consuming, more fresh snow forecast overnight too. Pick your route carefully and get prepared to dig and dig.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Menage a Trois.

With the conditions looking good I gave an old climbing partner Alex a ring to see if he was free to come up from the Lakes and he was very keen to get here as soon as possible so headed up straight away. With the good conditions having been reported we knew things were going to be busy so we thought we'd avoid the normal areas and headed to Beinn an Dothaidh just North of Bridge of Orchy. This crag has a number of routes in the range we were looking for so we had a few more options if it was busy. Thankfully our guess was right and there were only two other teams in the coire in the Femme Fatale area. We headed round to the West side of the crag which looked fantastic, lots of rime and a good covering of snow. We opted for Menage a Trois at V,6 as it is one of the classics of the crag and now I can see why, three pitches with some great climbing on the First and Second. Where the turf is exposed and there is less snow it is frozen solid but in the bigger snow bays the snow has been insulating the turf, it is frozen in places but not everywhere. A great first route for the season and hopefully more to come. 

Me bridging through the crux.

Alex looking for that bomber placement over the crux bulge.

A beautiful sight to top out to and a great finish to the day.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

A quick peek!

I'm working a course at Outward Bound this week so no climbing for me but when they said they wanted to walk up to the snow it gave me an opportunity to have a look at conditions. So things seem to be shaping up nicely at the moment, the steeper mixed lines on the Ben are in good condition at the moment with routes being climbed on South Trident Buttress, Creag Coire na Ciste and No.3 Gully Buttress. The ridges look to be in good condition too but there is still some unconsolidated snow around so there might be a bit more digging involved and slightly slower going. Guy and Donald were up climbing today and I'm sure Guy's blog will have some more info soon.

Looking into Observatory gully.

The Combe and No.3 Gully Buttress.

Creag Coire na Ciste.

As for the future, some of the big ice lines are either complete or very close to at the moment but I wouldn't think the climbing would be to much fun at the moment, maybe after a couple more freeze/thaw cycles. The cold weather looks like it should be with us for the next week or so and with some more snow forecast to come our way but that is still a few days away so may well change. 

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

A surprisingly dry Glen.

I was out with Abigail and Fiona today who are both second years at the West Highland College on the Outdoor and Tourism degree. We spent the day based around the Pinnacle ridge area looking at personal climbing skills such as placing gear, building belays, abseiling and some rope work involved with group set ups. Despite the heavy rain of the last couple of days there were lots of dry routes to go at but where is was seeping it was running in some places.
A return to the heavy rain and strong winds tomorrow but it is getting colder as we start the weekend and all of the remaining snow will firm up nicely.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Assessment day.

Assessment day for Sam and John yesterday and they did a fantastic job of dealing with the problems I threw at them. They managed to put into practise some of the skills we have been working on and both were able to adapt the techniques they had learnt to different situations. It was mostly dry in the Glen with a few light showers later in the day which meant we could actually do some climbing too. We started up Pinnacle ridge and then onto the Gutter with the lads leading all of the pitches and me just hanging around by their side.
Sam finding out just how difficult it can be in a 'real life' scenario.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Just hanging around.

Sam abseiling past a knot.
More improvised rescue work today this time with the West Highland College. I was with Sam, Jakob and John and today was a recap on some of the skills we had covered last month and the start of their assessment process which we'll do more of tomorrow and hopefully get some climbing done if the forecast is right. Today we spent the day at Sheep flank buttress just above lower falls. A nice little crag with some good lines on it but never really sees any traffic.
John using an un-assisted hoist.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

SPA at Kingussie

I was running the second day of an SPA today for Al Halewood. The forecast wasn't really looking good anywhere but we kept our fingers crossed and hoped the weather would be better at Kingussie than here on the West as is quite often the case. It thankfully paid off and we didn't really get much rain during the day but the ground is soaked at the moment with plenty of mud around at the top of the crag.
Looking at problem solving on a 'group abseil'
We spent the day looking at personal climbing, problem avoidance and solving with some discussions about environmental impacts of climbers and groups on crags and a chance for the guys to put into practise some of the rescues they had covered at the wall yesterday with Al. 

Monday, 12 November 2012

MCofS student safety and good practice seminar

Over the weekend I was at Glenmore lodge volunteering on the Student safety and good practice seminar organised by the Mountaineering Council of Scotland. It was a great sociable weekend with some inspirational talks and discussions about how University clubs organise themselves and their responsibilities. There was also some workshops for the student to attend and I was lucky enough to assist on a dry tooling workshop on the Saturday and then a session of improvised rescue on the Sunday when there where a few feeling a little worse for wear, after the night before. 

Friday, 9 November 2012

Winter is on its way!

After an early blast of winter last week (that unfortunately I was too busy to get out in) peoples thoughts have started to turn towards the up coming winter. As always we are all full of optimism and everyone is hoping for a good winter, getting a list together of the routes we want to get ticked and looking at the forecast at least once a day to see if there are any signs of cold weather. I too am among one of those people and I plan to try and keep this blog updated as regularly as possible during the winter season with both work and play.
White Shark, Aonach Mor.

There are three ways you can keep in touch with these reports this season. You can follow @ScottKirkhope on Twitter, like Kirkhope Mountaineering on Facebook and of course subscribe to this blog. Here's to a good winter and hopefully I'll bump into a few of you out on the hill.
Mountaineering course on Ledge route.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Mountain skills assessment

Out with a group of second years yesterday from the UHI on their assessment of their mountain skills. Max and I headed towards the East ridge of Beinn a Choarinn with our groups but there looked to be a bit too much snow on the ridge and we had decided not to bring any winter kit with us. The group I was with picked their way up a faint ridge just south of the 1049m south summit looking at group management on steep ground and then carried on over to the summit looking at a couple of ways of  'winterising' their navigation. We then descended South and back to the bus. Congratulations to everyone, with everyone putting in a strong performance.
Watching the clouds clear from the summit.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Aonach Eagach.

After a week at Outward Bound last week working with a group from Webster's High School from Angus, which we had fantastic weather for I was on the Ben on Saturday working for Abacus Mountain Guides on a charity walk.
Dan and Dawn watching the cloud lift off the ridge.
Today I was out with Dan and Dawn who booked me for the Aonach Eagach but we had agreed to have a two day weather window to give us the best chance, yesterday was horrible but today was a stunning day. We made quick progress up to Meall Dearg and were greeted with the sight of the rest of the ridge just lifting out of the cloud.
Enjoying the pinnacles.

We carried on along the ridge with the occasional snow shower but the cloud just hung to the Southern slopes all day giving us great views North. A few other teams out but they were either in front or behind so it felt like we had the ridge to ourselves. The snow showers did put a bit of snow down but nothing worth the walk up yet but looks like things might be better by the end of the week.
Evening light on the Bidean Massif.

Friday, 19 October 2012

A damp couple of days over East.

I've been working with Mary in the Inverness area for the last two days on a rock improver course. Mary wanted a strong focus on movement and having done a lot of seconding on trad she wanted to start to look at how it all worked too. Today was supposed to be the nicer day so yesterday we based ourselves in the wall at Inverness Leisure centre and managed to cover loads of movement skills and gave Mary's arms a rest by looking at some rope work using the bolts.
Today didn't turn out to be the nice day they had forecast but we persevered at Pinnacle crag at Duntelchaig until about 2pm by which point we were pretty damp and cold but got a lot of the trad element covered. We ran away back to the wall at that point to give Mary a chance to re-enforce what we had covered yesterday. 

Monday, 15 October 2012

Autumn cragging by Lochailort

Headed out West today with Jo and Kev to go and have a play on the slab out there as Jo wanted to get the E5 ticked and look at the E7 and Kev was interested in putting up another line. We started on the E5 and Jo went up first and made it look easy and then tried the E7. Me up next and I climbed the E5 clean, which is not what I thought was going to happen and thoughts of giving it a go on the lead started popping into my head.
Jo working the E5

Jo gave it another quick top rope and then went for the lead and again made it look easy. Nice one buddy. The route is protected by a sky-hook about a third of the way up and although no-one has tested it, the consensus is it won't hold a fall. This led me to play it safe and walk away but it's still nagging now though. We chucked a top-rope down a couple of other lines for Kev to have a look at and there was some nice climbing but they were both eliminates really so Kev left them.
On the 'easier' ground about to top out. You can see the very lonely piece of gear beneath him.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

All in a weekends work.

I've spent this weekend working on the Ben but with snow on the summit and reasonable weather it's been a great weekend. Saturday I was just on the Ben track working for Maximum Adventure on a three peaks challenge. It was a reasonable sized group and I think a few of them realised very quickly they might have bitten off more than they could chew but we got 14 out of the 18 to the summit.
The Ben at first light this morning.

Today I was working for West Coast mountain Guides with Chris, who has gotten a bit of a bug for hill walking but fancied a bit more of a challenge so we headed for Ledge route. A 6.30am start from the car park meant we made good time and were gearing up at about 8am, a quiet day on the North face but it all added to his experience. We hit snow just below the summit of Cairn Dearg but not enough to be of any trouble and then walked over to the summit of the Ben. The snow has frozen hard on the summit and down to about 1250m but is wet below that. The clouds started to clear as we made our way down the path and into what turned out to be a nice afternoon.
Chris getting stuck into Ledge route.
Descending off the plateau looking towards Loch Eil.
Have a quick look at our new Facebook page too. We'll keep it updated with photos and post our blog and news on conditions in the coming winter. Kirkhope Mountaineering

Thursday, 11 October 2012

More of the same.

Kate rescuing Jon.

Day 2 of the groups rescue days and we headed back into Glen Nevis to try and put some of yesterdays new skills into practise. It was forecast to be a miserable day but we didn't really see anything of the rain until about 3pm which made for a better day. The guys had obviously taken in some of the things we had covered yesterday as they flew through the hoists, so we built on that with some SPA scenario rescues and then put it all together to have a quick look at a much bigger problem before we headed home. They've got a month now to practise before an informal assessment and further training.
Working hard with an unassisted hoist

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Getting out of a fix!

I've been sunning myself in Glen Nevis today with a small group of five from the UHI. We did cover lots and some of the guys minds were definitely full by the end of the day. We spent the day covering some rescue techniques at the top of the crag that they had covered in the class room previously and then made our way to the bottom to look at escaping the system. Everyone did well and more of the same tomorrow.

No one looks too confused, thankfully!

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Too nice a day to waste.

I've been away for the weekend visiting family and spending some time with the girlfriend and had a very relaxing weekend meaning I was feeling fresh today but had to drive back North this morning. Getting home at lunch I had a list of jobs that needed doing but it was just too nice a day, so important emails sent and I went out on the bike up towards the CIC hut which is becoming one of my favourite rides because the down hill is fantastic.
It's a long ride down.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

A quick trip up the Ben

Just had a quick trip up the Ben this morning for Maximum Adventure with Rob and Steve. They are just up for the weekend and made very good time up the Ben, all finished for a late lunch, not a bad days work. There is some snow on the summit today and we had a snow shower pass over just before we got to the summit but all in all it is a beautiful day. The snow is settling but the freezing level was higher than was forecast and is about at summit height so it is thawing slowly.