Wednesday 30 March 2011

Lake District Weekend Activity Break. March 26th & 27th 2011

Less than a week after returning to the Lake District, Iain was back at work in the outdoors running and activity weekend for a bunch of year ten pupils from Wellington High School in West Manchester. The School comes to The Lake District annually and sometimes more than once each year. This time, the aim of the weekend was to develop leadership skills and improve motivation and self esteem for these pupils - all keen sports people in the first year of their GSCE's. A plan for the weekend had been mapped out for the group - ghyll scrambling in Church Beck at Coniston on the Saturday morning and a paddle around Coniston Water in Canadian Canoes in the afternoon followed by more activities on Sunday. In this first photo the group takes the plunge one by one under the log in Church Beck - enough to waken up anyone as young Harry's face testifies! It was a nice morning to be in Church Beck. The weather over the weekend was cooler than the warm conditions we had had during the previous week, but it wasn't too cold for a Lake District Ghyll scrambling session! Church Beck was unbelievably low for the time though and very quiet too. Apart from the groups from our centre, we only saw one other party in the ghyll on this morning. By the time we got back to our base, it was early afternoon and most of the group had chilled down after the ghyll scrambling session. The planned afternoon activity was a canadian canoeing journey on Coniston water with the intention of heading to Peel Island to do "the jump" if anyone was up for it! The jump is off the rock in the distance beyond the group in this third shot which shows us all beached up at Peel. Understandably - no-one was keen to get another soaking (who say's teenagers are daft!) So the whole group were kitted out in dry clothes and wateroroofs for what was a cool, but largely calm journey down the lake and back. Paddling a Canadian Canoe is very much about teamwork as you have to paddle them in pairs (or like Iain - go solo!) and some of the group did have trouble mastering the basics - like getting the canoes to go in a straight line!. Everyone enjoyed the Canadian canoeing session though!
On the Sunday morning, we were supposed to be having another watersports session on Coniston Water - which basically meant kayaking or - Kayaking! The centre we were based at also does sailing but there was no wind. Iain felt it appropriate to offer something else instead and the group were very happy to accept the offer of some rock climbing instead at Tilberthwaite Quarry as an alternative.

In photo four the group can be seen having what we would describe as an intro to rock climbing session. In an introductory rock climbing session, people will generally learn how to correctly fasten a helmet & harness, tie in to a climbing rope, belay another team member who is climbing; and take their first moves on to real rock themselves.

There has to be good teamwork here. Communication, support and trust is essential if a party of novices is to work together to encourage and safely look after members who are trying to climb for the first time.

What's really unverving is when having climbed to the top of the pitch - someone who you don't really know lowers you back to the ground and your life is literally in their hands! Fortunately, this group were responsible young people and worked well together. Good news - because if people can't work sensibly on such a session, it can become unsafe to the point where the instructor has to stop it, but not on this occasion!

Iain has spent the last five days doing what he can to promote Kendal Mountaineering Services for the coming months. We are clearly moving into difficult times ahead with people having less money to spend on outdoor activities and outdoor skills training courses here in The Lake District. Iain is currently working on a strategy which he hopes will encourage people to book with us for the best value outdoor activity packages here in The Lakes. Time will tell if it works.

Anyway, there is plenty going on so follow our blog - Iain will shortly be working with a group from Harrow School helping them on their practise Gold Duke of Edinburgh's Award Expedition here in the Lakes starting in a couple of days. We have a learning to lead multi-pitch climbing course on the go in a couple of weekends after a day of guided scrambling in Langdale and we are definitely off to Skye in May to run one of our famous Cuillin Ridge Traverses once again. So - keep following and if you are intersted in booking your own outdoor activity session or skills training course, we are ready & waiting to hear from you - contact us here.

Thursday 10 March 2011

Stormbound Cairngorms. Thursday 10th March 2011.

The MWIS forecast for today was not good at all - click on the link to see what it says. Strong westerly winds gusting up to 100mph! The SAIS Avalanche forecast for the Northern & Southern Cairngorms wasn't as bad as for areas out west though - giving N through to S as being considerable above 800M, whereas The Ben, Creag Meagaidh and Glen Coe were given a high risk category of avalanches likely above 900M. The remaining mock client had left Iain a message indicating he was unfit to go on the hill today - so that was that! Despite this, Iain decided to take a drive up to Coire Cas to see if the weather really was as bad as the forecast indicated - it was! The first photograph is a view across Loch Morlich, where, it didn't seem so windy, but looking up at the northern corries, it was clearly very wild. The cloud was moving across the skyline rapidly and it looked as though there was a great deal of snow being blown - not a climbing day! The second photo is from Cairngorm Mountain's car park at Coire cas. As Iain was getting here, a squall was blowing in from the west and then it started to snow heavily - obliterating the view beyond a few hundred metres. There were very few cars parked - probably all belonging to employees of the ski centre and no sign of any Glenmore Lodge mininuses. As they are running an intro to winter climbing course this week - Iain wonders what they are doing with their clients today? So, back in the car and back down the hill - a view out of the Kendal Mountaineering services Mondeo. It was snowing harder than ever and blowing some. Visibility was down to a few yards at times and the road was being covered by fresh snow fairly rapidly. Iain noticed that there wasn't a massive covering of fresh snow on the hills this morning - it being indicated last night that up to 30cms were likely to be deposited, but there wasn't anything like that depth at Coire Cas. Most likely though that the westerly gale had blown most of it away eastwards - hence the higher avalanche category on those slopes. On the way back down, Iain swung back up to the Ciste car park with a view to taking a walk in to: and checking out, the Ciste crag - a rocky buttress on the E side of the corrie just a few hundred metres up from the now derelict Ciste chairlift station. This was the view from the Ciste car park towards the corrie at 09:00. Iain thinks that if the weather is better tomorrow, he might take a walk up into Coire Na Ciste to scope it out as a bad weather venue for next week. The forecast is supposed to be better then, with high pressure moving in - but one never knows in the mountains!

Wednesday 9 March 2011

Mentoring day and the wild winter weather returns. March 7th & 8th 2011.

After the busy period last week, Iain took the weekend off and then on Monday met up at Coire Cas car park with UKClimbing members Paul Calton and Jon Barrett - who had agreed to act as mock clients for Iain during his day out with James Thacker MIC.

Iain had contracted James in for a day to give him a workout with regards to the mountaineering day that Iain will undertake during his MIC Assessment at Glenmore Lodge next week.

Iain wanted to cover all aspects of the likely syllabus during this day - short roping, short pitching, snow belays and doing it all moving up down and across grade one ground and we did all of that and more during the day.

James firstly asked Iain to short rope the pair up and down the snow at the head of Coire Cas, we then went over to windy col and Iain short roped the pair down under Mesa Pottage to the foot of Jacobs ladder - leaving the pair "stacked" whilst he ran out a rope-length to the first rock belay. We then pitched 4 rope-lengths to the top of Jacobs ladder all on rock anchors apart from the last belay - a buried ice axe done in bullet hard neve and an indirect belay.

After a hike over Stob Coire An T Sneachda, James asked Iain to get the pair down the steep snow slope into the head of Sneachda. Iain belayed the pair down on a Scottish stomper belay before commencing more short roping down and then across the back of the corrie then up on to the col on the Fiacaille ridge. We then headed up to the top of the ridge using the techniques of ledging; although apart from pitching up the crux grade two chimney, there wasn't much ledging to be done.

The first three photographs taken by James show parts of the final scenario he set Iain; and that was to get the two clients off the plateau via .5 Gully. One of them had "lost" their crampons, so short roping wasn't an option.

Iain wanted to try lowering from a bollard leaving the clients attached whilst he abseiled (from the bollard) to them. He had a vague idea of what he would do but James showed him a much better method - this is how we did it.

First, find an already dug bollard and make it suitable for use, the clients have been left attached to a nearby boulder.

Take the rope, find the mid point and put it at the back of the bollard, bring both sides of the rope together below the bollard and link together with two overhand knots on the bight and join with an HMS krab.

Attach yourself to the knots with a cows-tail and untie from your end of the rope which can then be dropped down the slope. You will have probably about 20 M of rope available on which to lower your clients/abseil yourself.

Attach the clients live rope to the HMS with an Italian Hitch and ask them to approach you taking in the rope as they do so. Get the middle client to self belay just below you and lock off the hitch. The back client can be lowered to below the middle person by using an Italian hitch/HMS attached to the middle person's isolation loop. Once both are tight on the rope, unlock the hitch and lower away!

The clients must have been briefed on what do do when the rope comes tight - ie cut out a platform for their feet and ram in their axe shafts uphill wrapping the rope between them around the shafts (self belay). Once this has been done you can attach your belay device below the knots to prepare to abseil on the doubled rope. Lock it off of course whilst you untie the knots; and remove the HMS, then abseil!

Once at the clients, Iain set up another Scottish stomper and was able to lower the pair almost 50 M before they had to self belay again. One more of these brought us on to walking terrain and the end of the training session.

Thanks goes out to James of James Thacker Mountaineering for a really useful and enlightening

Yesterday, Iain, Jon & Paul were out again and the good weather of the Monday had been replaced by gale force winds; and in Sneachda, a maelstrom of whirling snow; although the temperature was above freezing.

It was another one of those "Gawd! What are we gonna do today?" days - especially as despite the lousy weather, there were a great many others out and about; although it turned out that most of them were probably winter skills parties.

Paul was keen to get on grade IV and Jon reckoned that he would be ok with that. Neither wanted to attempt lower grade routes and so we decided to go for Patey's Route IV'5 only to have been pipped at the post by two climbing teams from The Lodge.

In photo four, the lodge clients can be seen "stacked" whilst instructors Phil Sanderson & Carl Harberl each ran out a rope-length to the rock anchors at the foot of Patey's Route.

Photo five shows Paul approaching Iain at the stance above the ice pitch of Mirror Direct IV'4 which Iain had just led. Iain then lowered Paul back to the foot of the pitch and as Jon had decided not to do it, Iain then abseiled back down to the pair.

Paul has a month to go before starting at Glenmore Lodge on the night watch scheme - regarded as being a very good start for anyone wanting to pursue a career in the outdoors. Iain & Paul had first met in January when they ascended Tower Ridge together. It was indeed a shame he couldn't stick around for a few more days to partner Jon on a few more adventures but hopefully, we'll catch up again soon.

Back at the foot of Mirror Direct, Jon wasn't feeling so great and, as the weather was really was not good, the trio made the decision to descend to the corrie floor and head back out. A pair had been waiting behind us and in photo six the leader takes a crack at the pitch above, which was, as always, steeper than it looks here! It was, however, well pocked with axe & foot placements and in great condition. Hundreds of climbers will have been up it this winter season.

Today, Wednesday, Iain is not out on the hill. Paul has left, Jon wants a day to recuperate and the other UKC bod coming to climb got the dates mixed up - so is not coming after all. Oh well! It's snowing here anyway & the forecast ain't that great but Iain & Jon will hopefully get back out for a day tomorrow.

Saturday 5 March 2011

Winter Climbing on Creag Meagaidh with Dave Barker MIC. Friday 5th March 2011

You might imagine that Iain of Kendal Mountaineering services would have had enough after six days on the trot of winter work and would have wanted a day of rest. Well - he did, but friend and fellow mountaineering instructor Dave Barker had a few days off and fancied going climbing.

Dave's a good bloke and a very experienced MIC and even though he was fairly tired - Iain wasn't going to pass up the chance to go and try some new routes on Creag Meagaidh. with Dave.

Another MIC had been raving on about Diadem (V'4) in Creag Meagaidh's inner coire - having taken clients up it earlier in the week. Neither of us had been before, so we met at Aberader and set off in at 07:00.

The weather was again warm; and the top of Meagaidh was shrouded in cloud. This first photo shows the Post Face in the background behind Dave; and most of the Post Routes were still in - apart from North Post.

So up we went; and around the corner to the right in the last photo - this is what we could see.
Diadem is the r/h of the two icy runnels seen on the upper part of the face in the l/h of this photo.
We started off by climbing the first pitch of Glass Slipper (III) which is the icy gully pretty much in the middle of the photo and then moved left to drop in to Diadem.
The gully below Diadem and the runnel to its left (the Wand V'5) is called The Sash and is an easy II.

In photo three, Dave approaches the foot of Glass Slipper and then he duly handed the lead of the first pitch to Iain - it was great! Steep ice, but grand for placing ice screws and getting those ice axes in too!
Again, it was thawing all around, but the ice in the gully was solid.

In photo four, Iain snaps Dave as he appears over the crux of the first pitch. Iain was belaying Dave from a stance consisting of two ice screws - fine as the ice was good. Dave came up, grabbed the gear off Iain and continued up the next pitch.
During this time Iain both felt and head a thump followed by a roar which echoed around the inner corrie. Moments later, an avalanche of loose snow blocks appeared around the foot of the buttress in this photo. It would appear that some of the massive cornice above Cinderella (a big GII gully to the right of our route) had collapsed. Whilst we were on Diadem shortly afterwards, there was yet another, but smaller cornice collapse - a typical winter hazard in thaw conditions.

Once up the first pitch of Glass Slipper, we moved across, down & then up and on to Diadem. Iain, again, got the first pitch which had a large cave with a waterfall running behind the ice - interesting!
Anyway he made it up ok and then set up a belay on the right and brought Dave up and here in photo five Dave approaches the belay where he once again grabbed what was left of the kit before heading off up the main pitch.

Shot six - a well equipped MIC ready for the off!
Dave lives in Derbyshire where he works for most of the year - apart from when he moves up to Scotland to work the winter season for local mountaineering businesses. He's a top chap and you are guaranteed to have a great day out with him.
To arrange a winter climbing experience with Dave - contact him via 07929 634979 or via his website at

Finally, Dave leads on up the crux of Diadem. He definitely got the best pitch which as always, was definitely slightly steeper than it looked.
Iain followed and thought it a fine pitch - good for grade four except it wasn't! Diadem is graded V'4 in the SMC Ben Nevis guide - did Dave know and just not tell Iain? Well, he's not sure but he just climbed his first grade five route which was funny as shortly beforehand he said to Dave "if you want to climb a five I'll follow you but I'm not leading it!" Ha!

After a couple of pitches of easy gully climbing above, we topped out and walked down to The Window, bum sliding down into the Inner Corrie before walking out in sunshine, with great views.

A fab day out, well worth the early start and hard graft despite already being tired. Iain was certainly knackered afterwards - but!

Thanks Dave!

The rest of the photo's from this day can be viewed here.

Outdoors Magic Winter skills week with Kendal mountaineering Services. Feb 26th - March 3rd 2011

Kendal Mountaineering Services has just finished yet another successful set of winter courses - run on behalf of Outdoors Magic.

This year we were markedly down on numbers compared with last year, but that seems to be the same story throughout the industry - a sign of the financial times we find ourselves in. Hopefully, eventually, things will come good again for everyone.

Anyway, Iain & five delegates started on Saturday with our 2 day winter skills course in Coire An T Sneachda in The Cairngorms. Here, we spent the day practising step kicking and cutting, self belay, moving up down & across steep snow slopes and as can be seen in photo one, ice axe arrest techniques.

Sunday found us back in Coire An T Sneachda where we firstly dug some snowholes and then following this we practised making snow anchors - bucket seats, buried axe anchors and bollards before linking them together to make a useful belaying system for climbing easy gullies and snow slopes and everyone got a chance to dynamically arrest a sliding fall using such a belay. In photo two, Mark was determined to try and dislodge Kelvin from his bucket seat - Kelvin would have non of it!

All of the pictures from the Winter Skills course can be viewed here

On Monday, we all headed off complete with maps & compassess for a two day nav excercise on the Cairngorm Plateau - carrying enough equipment for an overnight bivouac in a snow hole.

As can be seen in photo three, the weather was perfect - all we had was a light cool breeze but great visibility.

Shortly after this photo was taken, two of our party members made the decision to withdraw from the trip and we were very sorry to see them leave. The rest of the party rapidly made progress - not only with the map reading but also with covering terrain - the recent warm spell followed by a freeze had left the Cairngorm covered in a hard icy shell of neve which, for the most part, was very easy to walk on - unlike last year's knee deep power snow.

Shot four shows us heading into Coire Domhain - directly to where we snowholed in last year's OMWS2010 course.

In the distance can be seen Ben Macdhui (N Top) centre left and centre right Cairn Toul sticks up with Angel's Peak to its right. This time, we navigated way beyond Coire Domhain to a hanging corrie above Loch Etchachan where we dug our snowholes and were all comfortably esconsed by dark.

Tuesday dawned cold and clear and after an hour's walk up, the team had a fantastic view all around from Ben Macdui 1309M - the second highest summit in the UK. We returned via the path leading up from Coire An Lochain to Coire Cas - finishing at 3pm. Everyone was tired but well satisfied with what had been achieved over the two days and all had enjoyed the snowholing experience in particular. All of the pictures from this winter navigation & snowholing course can be viewed here.

After a chance to recuperate on the Tuesday afternoon, Mark & Gary - two of our OM delegates, were out again with Iain the next day. Mark wished to learn about winter climbing techniques as he is off to climb Everest very soon with a view to raising £30K for an Irish Charity. Good luck Mark!

Iain decided to take the pair climbing on Central Left Hand Route in Coire An T Sneachda (grade I/II). Gary had prior experience of rock climbing techniques but not of using them in a winter setting - it was all new to Mark however! Both did extremely well, although it was a steep learning curve for Mark who can be seen here in photo five belaying Gary who is about to climb the short ice pitch at the top of the 3rd pitch of Central Left Hand Route.

The pair thoroughly enjoyed the day and both claimed to have learned a lot of new skills. The rest of the photos from this day can be viewed here.

Being a glutton for punishment, Mark came out again with Iain on Thursday for another day of climbing - as it was 1 on 1 - a guiding day for Iain.

Iain felt that Invernookie (III'4) would be just the route for Mark who had climbed well the previous day. Thursday was very warm as we walked in to Sneachda with low cloud through which we could hear the local grouse chattering excitedly about the prospect of an early spring!

Invernookie was interesting as the route was thawing rapidly but fortunately the party in front of us left enough ice for us to follow although the many parties in the area were getting peppered by falling ice from all climbing parties above. In photo six Mark approaches Iain at the "cave belay" just above the crux pitch. He found the route challenging but thoroughly enjoyed it!

You may notice that the shiny new pair of Quarks he was using were, at no time during the climb, attched to him. Iain decided this was unacceptable and took him into Aviemore after the route to buy a pair of lanyards. After this winter Iain has gone leashless but no-one should be climbing un-attached to their tools - for their own safety -as well as that of others below.

After reaching the top of Invernookie, the pair scrambled up the remainder of Fiacaille Buttress
and then abbed the first part of the descent into Sneachda from a bollard. Mark had a great day out with us.

To find out about winter courses such as the ones described in this post with Kendal Mountaineering Services - contact us here.