Monday 7 February 2011

West Coast Capers and Cairngorms foulness. Feb 5th - 7th, 2010

During last weekend, Iain had been invited by Fort William Based MIC Richard Bentley to observe and co-instruct on one of Richard's intro to Winter Mountaineering Courses.

Mike & Simon, two climbing buddies from London had travelled up and spent the Friday with Richard on Tower Ridge on Ben Nevis looking at the skills of short roping before the storm of that evening which saw the whole of the north beset by storm force winds, heavy rain and a rapid thaw.

Richard believed that climbing conditions in Coire An Lochan, Glen Coe, would, on the Saturday, be favourable for the pair to learn the techniques of winter climbing and that Dorsal Arete would be an ideal location - and it was, in every respect, perfect.

In the first photo, Richard (right) coaches Mike & Simon in the techniques of stance management. At first there were only us & one other party on the ridge and then suddenly a hord of guides and clients started to climb behind us and eventually caught us up.

There were people everywhere, ropes everywhere and instructors and clients climbing past each other. Fortunately our party managed to remain ahead of the throng and then two climbers soloed through the middle of everyone and proceeded on to the crux of the route (the sharp crest behind the climber in the blue jacket) and decided once there that they needed to put the rope on - in the most exposed position possible. Ludicrous tactics on a winter climb - putting themselves and everyone else at risk!

Fortunately, nothing happened ands the pair (now roped up in photo two) made it to the top without incident. Also, in photo two, Mike climbs up to the right of one of these chaps. The photo is taken from the top of Dorsal Arete.

Once at the top, we all grabbed a bite to eat and then Richard showed the pair a Stomper Belay before we all descended Broad Gully back in to Coire An Lochan and walked out. A significant amount of learning was achieved by Mike & Simon during this excellent intro to winter climbing day.

Richard decided that the most appropriate follow on to this day for the lads was a "coached" winter ascent of Ledge Route on Ben Nevis. At Grade two - the best mountaineering route on The Ben if not anywhere. Richard suggested that Iain might get more involved with coaching the lads on this day - something Iain was happy to do.

Initially the "guys pitched" two ropelengths up the route to easier ground where we changed to "short roping" for the rest of the ridge. At this point we were overhauled by legendary IFMGA guide and MIC Alan Kimber and his client. In photo three, Richard (left) and Alan stop for a natter. There will be no people who know Ben Nevis better than this pair - Alan was responsible for putting up a number of new winter climbs on Ben Nevis, starting more than 30 years ago and the previous day had just turned 65. And still guiding! Way to go Alan!

Shot four shows Simon (left) and Mike on Ledge Route at the famous "perched block". How much longer this feature will remain here is anyone's guess, but you won't want to be below when it goes!!

The pair rapidly ascended the rest of the route with Iain's coaching and we were all on the summit of Carn Dearg North by 1pm. Richard's plan for his clients was a descent of No Four Gully starting with a stomper belay and finishing with a short roping descent back in to Coire Na Ciste. However, we had already seen the remains of a massive avalanche that had come out of No Five Gully on our ascent to Ledge Route and at No Four, we discovered a massive overhanging cornice that had not collapsed. It was clearly a no go zone, so instead, we left the mountain via Red Burn and were back at the car by 3pm - ideal for the lads as they then had to drive to Glasgow to catch a train back to the big smoke.

It was a thoroughly excellent weekend and Iain is extremely grateful to Richard Bentley for allowing him to come along, observe; and work on this excellent intro to winter mountaineering course.

Iain was straight back out today - this time with Sean Watt who he had met via UKClimbing.

The plan was to head into Coire An Lochain in the Cairngorms although the weather was not what the MWIS forecast had predicted - at least the snow was not meant to reach east of
the A9. However, it had and clearly it had been snowing for some time already! We discovered vast accumulations of fresh snow lying over icy neve on our approach to Coire
An Lochain - in fact it was looking distinctly dodgy.

The dodgy-ness was borne out when on starting to traverse under Number One Buttress Iain released a 30M wide section of windslab which went plummeting into the gloom, so, no climbing (we had intended Astroturfer on No Two Buttress) but an about turn and get the hell out of here!

Sean, it turned out, had little experience of ice axe braking, so, on safer ground Iain spent a couple of hours coaching him in this skill in readiness for our day out tomorrow. Yet another day lost to poor winter conditions this year - making probably about 7 so far!

Pictures from the weekend can be viewed here and pictures from today here.

For information about the range of winter courses Iain from Kendal Mountaineering Services can offer you please check out our website.

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