Tuesday 30 March 2010

Kayaking & Canyoning,Monday 29th March 2010

Monday was action packed for Iain when he organised two half day activity sessions - firstly for Rae & Ed who wanted to try out kayaking as part of their honeymoon.

The weather was not fantastic on this day, but Iain managed to find enough to keep the couple occupied for their four hour session which began with a flatwater skills session followed by some fun on moving water. Here, Rae shows that she is mastering the kayaking stroke known as the draw stroke - useful if you want to move your kayak sideways!

This kayaking introductory session was run from Waterhead on Windermere and Iain, Rae & Ed visited the rapids at Brathey to look at ferry gliding skills and breaking into & out of eddies as well as running the rapids there - making it an interesting & varied beginners kayaking session.

We had a brief spell journeying around the head of Windermere before heading back and packing up. It had been a cold session with light winds and we were all very glad of the hot drink (always provided by Kendal Mountaineering Services) at the end of the session.

Iain then had but a short time for lunch before meeting Andy & Natalie for a half day canyoning session. This was not an ideal day for this with the temperature hovering around the 4 degree mark but anyway, we wrapped up well and went for it!

Church Beck near Coniston was the selected venue and here Andy & Natalie can be seen at the get in - just below the water take off point for the recently installed hydro-electric scheme.

Andy had contacted Kendal Mountaineering Services at short notice to book this half day activity session and was impressed by our flexibility, our website and our prices. Apparently, the other similar businesses he had contacted about doing this session had appeared unwilling or uninterested in organising such a session for them at short notice.

Here at Kendal Mountaineering Services, we will always do our best to accommodate you if we can, so it is always worth giving us a call.

A canyoning descent of Church Beck involves a short descent to an abseil down a waterfall and then a continued descent to the second abseil just below Miners Bridge. In this shot, Natalie is about to descend this 2nd abseil whilst Andy looks on from below.

Beyond this point, the sides of the gorge close in and you are committed to a descent of three waterfalls before one can escape the gorge again.

The first fall can be negotiated by two means - simply jumping off the chockstone at the top into the narrow pool below or having a roped traverse to the left and lower to a point 8 feet above the pool to jump in from there.

It's Iain's belief that the second method is safer as he has seen many "close shaves" with people jumping in from the chockstone and narrowly missing hitting the narrow rocky sides, often these have been commercial clients and its quite incredible to think that some businesses will put their clients in such a risky situation.

Following the first drop, there is a second one that hides a nasty boulder in the white water at its foot. It can be downclimbed on the left and today, we chose to do that as the safer option.

Another swim brings you to the chockstone fall in this picture where people slide down the middle of the chockstone into the pool below and this point marks the upstream limit for non roped ghyll scrambling.

Here, Natalie is about to "go for it" closely followed by Andy. Below this point it is possible to descend the ghyll for some 6ooM to the get in just above the Hydro plant but, having spent the last couple of hours immersed in cold water Andy & Natalie were happy to call it a day and return to the car via Miners Bridge for several hot brews and some dry clothes.

Andy & Natalie were very happy with their half day canyoning session and Iain hopes that they will return to work with Kendal Mountaineering Services in the future.

Tuesday 16 March 2010

Saturday March 10th, multi-activity day, Lake District

As well as having other instructors working as associates with Kendal Mountaineering Services on their outdoor activity courses, Iain also works for other similar organisations on occasion.

Iain was asked at short notice if he could fill in for another instructor and work on a climbing session in Langale and then run a Kayaking session on Windermere - both local venues in The Lake District.

Saturday the 10th was a lovely day and as he was driving into Langdale, Iain snapped this view of Bowfell (right) peeking out from underneath a cloud cap and still looking very wintry.

Iain plus two other instructors ran this climbing session for 20 American students who were up for a weekend break away from studying in Lincolnshire.

The crag in the background is Lower Scout Crag in Langdale - a venue popular with climbers and other outdoor activity providers.

A number of climbing ropes can be seen draped down the crag and these were to be used in the traditional beginner's fashion of "top rope, bottom belaying"

Here, a couple of students can be seen using this system. A multi-point anchor system is set up at the top of the climb and then brought together using pre-stretched rope to a single point to which are attached two karabiners - back to back and this point can be seen just above the girl climbing in this photo.

Running through those karabiners and attached to the girl is a climbing rope which, at it's other end, is attached to the chap in the foreground by means of a belay device.

The system works in so much as - as the climber climbs, the person at the bottom "takes in" the climbing rope through the belay device and keeps tension on the "live rope" between him and the climber thus safeguarding them in the event of a fall. Once at the top, the climber has to commit to being lowered by the belayer back to the foot of the climb. Supervised by instructors, this is a very safe way for people to take the first steps on to rock.

Kendal Mountaineering Services offer such beginners rock climbing courses amongst many other outdoor activity sessions.

In the afternoon, Iain moved on to Windermere to take part of the same group on a beginner's Kayaking session.

In a beginner's kayaking session, we look at teaching people the basic strokes required to paddle one of these craft, play some games; and hopefully if time allows - do some sort of a journey.

On this particular session, we did all of those things and despite it being a bit chilly, everyone had a great experience. Time flies when you are having fun and before we knew it, it was time to pack up and get off the water.

This photo shows the group on their way back to end the session, at this point, rafted up - often the starting point for many wet games, but it was too cold for that today.

The venue was Lake Windermere and behind the group is Waterhead at Ambleside - a place from which many of Kendal Mountaineering Services Kayaking & Open Canoeing sessions are run.

Both the climbing & kayaking groups thoroughly enjoyed their sessions and Iain looks forward to working with them again later in the year.

Thursday 11 March 2010

Winter climbing, Cairngorms, Thursday March 4th.

Iain was back at Twin Ribs again on the Thursday knowing for definite that JMU were not going to be there, although he did have a sinking feeling at one point as there was a rather large group on our tail which thankfully disappeared up the Faicaille Ridge.

Iain had the venue to himself that day along with two returning clients - Chris Upton & Maria Norris, who were both keen to have a go at winter multi-pitch "trad" climbing.
Both were coming from good starting points. Both had been on the previous OM winter skills course and both had attended learning to lead scrambling courses with Iain, so they had experience of placing gear, ropework and the skills necessary to move on snow but not of building multi-attachment point belays.

In this photo, Chris belays Maria having followed Iain up the first pitch on a top rope - Iain having gone ahead and pre-placed running belays and given significant coaching on building belays at the bottom & top of this first pleasant little pitch on the right hand rib.

Further coaching on building belays followed. In the previous post, there is a photo of Phil attaching himself to multiple anchors using the rope and, as was discussed in that post, this photograph shows the method of using a dyneema sling to bring both anchors to a central attachment point.

Here the sling is clove hitched into each anchor and then brought to a central attachment point using an overhand knot. The belayer would then clip an HMS karabiner into this and use a clove hitch to attach their rope into this karabiner allowing for easy adjustment to get comfortable on the stance, prior to belaying the second climber.

Here, Maria tackles the second pitch
whilst belayed from below by Chris, but still top
roped by Iain - for additional safety.

Maria is placing running belays on this pitch
and is experiencing what it feels like to be on the
sharp end of leading a winter pitch - in doing so having to dig out iced & snowed up cracks in order to find a suitable anchor for a running belay - and remain in balance and avoid falling off whilst doing this!

Maria led the pitch in fine style and Iain was pleased with her progress. On reaching Iain's stance, Maria clipped in to a large sling around a block that Iain had prepared for her and then proceeded to belay Chris as he climbed up towards her.

Around this time, the weather began to deteriorate with snow clouds moving in over the Spey Valley.
Shortly after that, it clouded in at our location and began to snow, also the windspeed increased markedly and it grew significantly colder.

Chris led off up the next easier section of ground to the foot of the third pitch which Maria then climbed and here, she belays Chris who has just reached the top of that pitch.
By this time, both clients were feeling the effects of the drop in temperature so it was decided that we would look at the skills of retreating from a route.
Chris & Maria were very satisfied with what they had both learnt and achieved on this route and were happy to look at the skills of descending and then call it a day, although we only finished slightly earlier than the previous day.

Having discussed the various methods of retreating without leaving any equipment behind and what to leave if necessary, we all retreated by abseiling down a doubled rope from a piece of "abseil tat" arranged through a thread.
Maria abseils here using her belay plate backed up from below with a French prussik attached to her leg loop. Another method is to extend the belay plate away from the harness abseil loop with a short extender and then attach the prussik karabiner to the abseil loop. Either way, should Maria let go of the dead rope the prussik would automatically tighten around the dead rope - locking off the rope at the belay plate which would be holding Maria's weight.
For the next abseil we arranged a snow bollard (see last post, final picture) and having abseiled from that, we walked the remaining easy ground to the foot of the rib, packed up and returned to Coire Cas Car park in the sunlight and blue sky that had now returned.
This was the last day of work for Iain in this particular block of winter work and during that time he had seen a number of people further develop their skills and grow in their confidence to venture into the Scottish winter mountains.
We had some new clients and saw the return of existing clients to further their skills development with us. Both Maria & Phil had attended all three courses - winter skills, navigation & snowholing on the Cairngorm Plateau and winter climbing days; and could be said to have had a true winter mountaineering experience in every sense of the word!
We thank you for working with us and look forward to seeing you again.

Wednesday 10 March 2010

Winter climbing day, Cairngorms, March 3rd.

Wednesday found Iain & Kirstin having a day out with Phil Griffiths who had already joined us on both the winter skills course and the navigation & snowholing expedition.

Prior to this day, Phil had spent some time "top roping" on an indoor wall and wanted to get some experience of winter climbing. This was a big step as most people would generally have some experience of summer rock climbing before moving on to winter stuff, but Iain knew a location that he felt would be easy enough for Phil - allowing all necessary skills to be looked at whilst on safe ground.

As can be seen in the photo, the weather conditions were exceptional, blue skies, sunshine and no wind meant that it was a warm walk in and a warm start to climbing - until the sun disappeared behind the ridge!

Iain took Phil & Kirstin to Twin Ribs - a popular teaching venue with Glenmore Lodge and others as we were to discover - as a party of some 15 students from John Moore's Unviversity were about to start climbing on the main (right hand) rib.

The left hand rib proved, however to be more appropriate and we were left alone on here. Iain led the first pitch after some considerable instruction on building belays & running belay placements. Phil followed and here can be seen belaying Kirstin having built his own multi-point anchor belay. Note the correct belay plate orientation with the live rope in Phil's downhill hand and the dead rope in his uphill hand.

As well as teaching Phil about anchor points using various types of gear placement, Iain taught Phil how to bring anchor points to a central attachment point. In this picture, the central attachment point is Phil's rope tie in loop and the rope is used to attach to each anchor being brought to an HMS karabiner used to attach to the rope tie in loop and secured with clove hitches which allow easy adjustment of the ropes when equalising the load on the anchors.

This method of using the rope to tie into anchors is that typically used by climbers when they are leading alternate pitches.

Phil was also shown the same method but using dyneema slings to bring the anchors to a central attachment point - easier to escape from if your second decides he doesn't want to lead the next pitch and also the choice of mountaineering instructors who are working guiding clients who need to be secured at the belay point before the instructor moves off up the next pitch.

After seconding Iain up the first pitch and then belaying Kirstin, Phil was allowed to take the lead on all subsequent pitches with Iain alongside to coach and place running belays if necessary.

Despite the fact that the sun had now disappeared behind the Faicaille Ridge of Coire An T Sneachda the party moved steadily managing to remain warm whilst focussing on the nuts and bolts of traditional multi-pitch climbing techniques, doing so in what was pretty much, an Alpine setting.

Eventually, as we approached the crest of the ridge above, the rocks ran out and Phil was forced to use a snow belay - in this case, a deadman.

Phil secured himself to this with a clove hitch and an HMS karabiner but belayed from his rope tie in loop with a belay plate, setting up, in effect, a semi-direct belay and in doing so putting himself between his second and his deadman anchor.

It is not normal practice to belay directly to snow anchors - even though in this case the anchor was "bomber" ie very solid. The generally accepted view is that snow anchors are not as solid as rock anchors and in such a situation you should always put yourself in the system to allow for additional shock absorption and just be attached anyway to prevent the chance of your falling or slipping - not advisable when you are belaying someone else!

Note also, the dead rope stowed in a depression specially dug out for it. The dead rope should never be allowed to slide off down slope as this can have all sorts of negative implications.

Very soon, time ran out as it was almost 5pm which left Iain & Phil a little time to look at how to deal with descending down slope or having to retreat from a climb and here they look at abseiling from a snow bollard.
After this the team descended back to the car park - enjoying fabulous views and a great sunset. A perfect end to the day!
Phil found the day an exciting and exhilarating experience which really stretched him and certainly exceeded his expectations of the day. Although a steep learning curve to use a phrase, he thoroughly enjoyed himself and felt that the day was a fitting culmination to the previous four days of courses which has left him keen to push himself further in the outdoors.
Phil hopes to return to us in the summer to undertake a summer rock climbing course.

OMWS2010 Cairngorm navigation & snowholing expedition, March 1st & 2nd.

After the departure of most of the OMWS2010 Winter Skills Group on the Monday morning, Iain & Kirstin and six remaining members of the group headed for Coire Cas to begin the next course.

By now, the road & car park at Coire Cas had been cleared and hundreds of skiers were enjoying the unusually deep
snow conditions. The depth of the snow can be seen here as this telephone box just above the bottom station was buried up to the roof and just beyond this we were stopped by a member of Cairngorm Mountain staff and diverted away from the slope which can be seen above left which was apparently category five.

As we walked up by the bottom ski tow dodging the skiers everyone "hotted up" resulting in a stop to remove clothing and an excuse to have a cuppa. The weather conditions were perfect with a light North Westerly wind and great views all around.

As we climbed the Faicaille a Coire Cas the views just got better & better and eventually, we could see as far as Ben Wyvis about 50 miles away beyond Inverness.

When we arrived at the summit of the Faicaille A Choire Cas, the weather changed into typical Cairngorm whiteout conditions. The group had already been practicing pacing, identifying features and taking a /walking on a bearing. Now walking on a bearing was essential to get from point to point without falling down the slopes of Coire An T Sneachda on our right.

As the visibilty dropped, the windspeed increased and it was well below freezing. The whole experience was now one of some foreboding and apprehension as the whole group were well aware that we were now wholly reliant on our navigation skills to get us safely to our snowholing site in what would be for less experienced parties - potentially lethal conditions.

After successfully navigating round from the Faicaille A Choire Cas via Stob Coire An T Sneachda, the group descended into Coire Domhain to the snowholing site. Everyone in the group were doing an excellent job of walking on a bearing and pacing and despite what was virtually zero visibilty, confidence was increasing. We arrived at the snowholing site at 5pm to find only one entrance visible - likely there were more snowholes buried due to the heavy snow of the previous week and subsequent strong winds, but we had to set to and dig our snowholes as unfortunately the one we found was already occupied.

This turned out to be a difficult task due to hard layers of ice encountered. The whole group had split into 3 teams to commence digging in, two teams were successful at excavating snowholes big & comfortable enough to spend a night in. The 3rd team had to give up after the roof collapsed on their second snowhole attempt and were only too happy to be offered room in the already occupied and excavated snowhole we had originally discovered. All three teams managed to cook a meal and get comfortable for a good nights sleep but digging the snowholes had been a hard "real" experience of just exactly what can happen out there on the mountains!

The above shot shows Kirstin in our snowhole after our night out.

Tuesday morning dawned clear & bright, still with a strong, cold north westerly air stream.

This shot shows the sun rising over Beinn Mheadhoin with the snowhole entrances dotted about the slope. Spindrfit can be seen blowing along the surface of the snow evidencing the strength of the wind.

Everyone packed up kit after breakfast and all were ready to continue with our navigation excercise by 09;30

From the snowholes, we navigated south west on to the summit of the ring contour above Hells Lum Crag.

Here we did some more feature identification exercises before taking a bearing to the summit of Cairn Lochain. In this picture the group can be seen with the expanse of the Cairngorm Plateau beyond them with the North Top of Ben Macdhui in the distance.

This picture was taken for us by a passer by on Cairn Lochain. Despite an ominous looking start to the day with grey overcast skies to the west and a strong cold north westerly airstream persisting, by the time we got to the top of Cairn Lochain the wind had died, the sky had cleared and again, we had fabulous views.

The group had found the ascent up the south east Shoulder of Cairn Lochain interesting in that most people had underestimated their paces per 100 metres of distance. This was almost certainly due to the constantly varying consistency & depth of the snowpack - one of the factors that gives people the biggest headaches when trying to work out distances travelled and one of the main reasons for navigation deferrals on Winter Mountain Walking Leader Assessments!

On approaching the summit of Cairn Lochain in poor visibility Iain made sure that he was ahead of the group to make sure no-one walked over the cornices and fell down into Coire An Lochain and not without good reason too!

This picture shows the cornice overhanging the No 1 Buttress by, in places a good ten feet. The whole rim of the coire was overhung by a cornice that was massive in places and all of the slopes below were banked out.

It was indeed good to see that climbers had had the sense to avoid the place as the avalanche risk would have been extremely high and climbing would have been treacherous.

Half an hour away from the car park at Coire Cas, a tired but satisfied party walks along the Choire An T Sneachda trail with Choire An T Sneachda and its Faicaille ridge in the background.

After leaving Cairn Lochain, the group had traversed west to avoid the coire cliffs and gullies and descended to the hanging valley above Twin Burns before traversing across to & descending the ridge between Coire An Lochain & Lurchers Gully.

Trudging through windslab of varying depths made us all somewhat jealous of the sensible people we saw making easy progress on snowshoes, but we all made short work of the distance. The group arrived back at the car park at 3pm with everyone feeling tired but having a deep sense of satisfaction at what had been experienced and achieved over the past 28 hours.

Outdoors Magic Winter Skills 2010, February 27th & 28th continued

In this picture Iain coaches one of the clients on what most considered to be the most challenging aspect of ice axe arrest - that of going down a slope head first on your back.

Everyone came away from this winter skills course with a heightened sense of their abilities to cope with winter conditions and improved self confidence. Having been on a winter skills course with us, many clients return to do bigger and better things as the next few posts demonstrate.

Kendal Mountaineering Services organised all aspects of this winter skills course including accommodation, food and as can be seen here - beer! For £148 clients got 3 nights accommodation, two days of instruction, a full English breakfast on both mornings and an evening meal on Saturday night. Real ale was on tap at £2 per pint. Everyone thought we offered exceptional value in every aspect of the course. We like to stay ahead of the competition in terms of value for money and overall experience.

Finally, a group shot of this years OMWS2010 team. People came from all over the UK to join us on this event and many had made long journeys to be here. We had 6 guys from Ireland, 4 having travelled from Dublin and even a chap from Belgium came to join us.
Our thanks go out to all of these people who attended - making it one of the most successful winter skills weekends ever and we hope to see you all again - whether it be on future courses or just out on the hill.
Our thanks also go out to Patricia & Richard of http://www.nethy.org/ for providing our accommodation this time; and for being so very flexible.

Outdoors Magic Winter Skills Course 2010, February 27th & 28th

For the first time ever Iain & the Kendal Mountaineering Services team encountered problems with too much snow rather than not enough! The preceeding two days prior to the start of the course had seen up to half a metre of fresh snow dumped in the Spey Valley north of Drumochter and at first it looked as though no-one was going to get to the venue at Nethy Bridge. We are pleased to say though, that due to the herculanean efforts of the road clearing teams, the A9 was open by the early afternoon and the clients started arriving at 5pm with the last arriving finally at 3am on the Saturday having undergone a long detour via Inverness to join us.

With the road up to the Cairngorms shut on the Saturday, alternatives had to be investigated and some good slopes were discovered on The Hills of Cromdale only a few miles distant from Nethy Bridge. This venue proved to be so good that we stayed there all weekend!

The first two pictures in this post show people practising the position for ice axe braking and then step cutting - two of the most commonly practiced aspects of winter skills courses. Also practised on the first day were aspects of step kicking and snow belays.

In this picture, Iain can be seen discussing the merits of a well constructed ice axe belay. Other snow belays demonstrated included a reinforced buried axe belay, a snow/ice bollard and a Deadman belay. All of these can be used in conjunction with a bucket seat and an indirect/semi-direct method of belaying - useful techniques to know if you find yourself having to ascend/descend a steep snow or icy slope with a less confident person.

With step kicking/cutting and ice axe braking practice, we had little time left on Saturday to look at snow belays. By 5pm the light was starting to fade and some people wanted to get back to watch the rugby on tv at the bunkhouse.
Sunday saw us back at the same venue continuing looking at snow belays. Here, Iain's group test one to destruction (although it didn't fail) Everyone was tasked with building the various snow belays and then everyone else would set about trying to get them to fail. It was definitely a good way of learning whether or not each one had been properly constructed.

Following a morning looking at snow belays, the groups returned to a steeper, icier slope on Sgorr Goaithe to look at crampon footwork - moving up, down & across slope on what was ideal neve.
Following this Iain discussed avalance assessments and demonstrated the Rutschblock test demonstrating that although the SAIS had indicated all NW aspect slopes were likely to be of a considerable hazard, the one we were using was in fact only category two.

Finally Iain's group looked at building snow shelters before closing the course and heading off the hill - another winter skills course completed.