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.

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