Wednesday 22 February 2012

Scottish Winter mountaineering courses. February 12th - 17th, 2012.

After the end of Iain's 12 day Scottish Winter Climbing Skills Training course with Benn Berkeley, he had but a days rest before starting working again, this time with (Left to right in photo one) Andy, Lucy, Martin & Dave who were all attending a Winter Leader Progression Course with The Cadet Centre for Adventurous Training (CCAT) based from the Joint Services Mountain Training Centre at Tulloch in Glen Spean near to Fort William.

CCAT run all manner of outdoor skills training courses to anyone involved with the cadets. Andy, Martin & Dave are all from the same school in Essex and regularly work with cadets at the school. So as leaders - having already attended the CCAT Winter Foundation Course (essentially a winter skills training course) previously and all looking to attain their Winter Mountainwalking Leader Award, they had booked on to this years Winter Leader Progression Course run by Iain on behalf of CCAT. Lucy is a student currently studying on an Outdoor Leaders Course in Cheshire.

Our first day out (Sunday) proved to be a long hard day as the other instructor Iain was co-running the course with appeared to be bent on providing his group with a mission - in this case a 20km hike over the Grey Corries - a ridge containing many Munros near Spean Bridge. Anyway, Iain (and his team) decided this was a bit much for a first day out but we still walked a long way from near Coirechoille up on to Stob Coire Easain and then east to Stob Coire Claurigh before returning to Coirechoille. The mild conditions from the previous week had remained and it was a damp walk up almost on to the spine of the ridge before we encountered what could be described as decent winter conditions as seen in photo one near to Stob Coire Claurigh. The day was cloudy for the most part but as can be seen here, we were close to breaking out above the cloud in to the sunlight.

Monday saw Iain, Lucy, Andy & Dave head up into a little known corrie to the south of Coire Adair near to Creag Meagaidh with a view to looking at some winter skills. The forescast for the day was for strong westerly winds so we wanted to try & find some shelter and Iain thought this little corrie might do the trick (he had had a look into it on his return with Benn from climbing Staghorn Gully the previous week).

In photo two Lucy, Andy & Dave are enjoying a lunch break having just finished practising all variants of Ice Axe Arrest technique. Creag Meagaidhs Great Buttress can be seen in the background and there were lot of climbers around on this day. Conditions were thinner than the previous week - indeed, Iain watched as a party backed off the initial ice pitch of Staghorn Gully and took an easier line up to the right.

After lunch Iain went through more winter skills looking at winter belays, bucket seats and snow belays before we all packed up and climbed up out of the corrie and descending via Sron A Ghoire back to the minibus at Aberarder. A useful day out.

Tuesday found Iain & his team heading for a fantastic Grade II winter Mountaineering route - the East Ridge of Beinn A Chaorainn(photo three). This great little 300m scrambling route leads on to the North top of Beinn A Chaorainn via series of rocky steps which makes for interesting route finding.

Once on the top, most people return via the south top to Glen Spean - a plan which has often led to the demise of not so careful navigators! Between the north & south summits the rim of the eastern corrie bites deeply into the ridge and anyone taking a bearing straight between the two tops is likely to fall through the cornice in poor visibility - straight to their death. Iain is experienced in dealing with Beinn A Chaorainn in such conditions using a technique known as "boxing" the corrie - if you want to learn more about navigation techniques then come on one of our mountain navigation skills training courses - the next one is running during March 31st & April 1st 2012 and is only £80 per person for the weekend course.

Once arriving at the summit of Beinn A Chaorainn we traversed to the south top - marvelling at the massive overhanging cornice on our left before descending south via a series of connecting snowpatches and snow filled gullies which went a long way towards easing our descent off the south side of the mountain. At one point, we found a gully with an overhanging snow bank and as Lucy really wanted to dig a snowhole we let her set to and Andy joined in as well.

Eventually the pair "holed through" into each others snowholes and as we were all big kids really (apart from Lucy) a bit of fun ensued. In photo four Dave had entered via the rh snowhole and then exited via the lh entrance on what can only be described as a toboggan run. Clearly, Lucy found the whole thing hilarious as Dave slid down the bank face first, what a laugh.

It was a pleasant afternoon and we finished the day by walking back to JSMTC - arriving early, for a change.

On Wednesday, more strong westerlies and wet, mild conditions were forecast. The other instructor decided to set off early and go as far west as possible to traverse An Teallach - a strange choice given the conditions!

Iain and his team chose to stay local and decided to have a navigation skills training day in Ardverikie Forest (photo five) Forest is hardly a fitting term for the area - it is bare apart from some recent Forestry Commision plantations - however the evidence of previous forestation is evident everywhere with tangles of ancient tree roots in every peat hag gully.

Anyway, we practised map orientation, walking on a bearing between grid references, back bearings, pacing, timings and any other aspect of navigation techniques that Iain could think of before we had to get back to our dropoff point. We later heard that the other party had turned back from An Teallach - no surprise there!

Thursday saw us dropped off again at the same point for our Mountain Navigation Skills Training Day the previous day.

However, this time we were carrying much heaver packs in preparation for our expediton which basically involved hiking about 12km east via Ardverikie and Ben Alder Forests to Culra bothy.

The weather was again, mild & wet with a westerly blowing again as we climbed to cross a bealach at 750m in thick cloud. However as we descended east, the cloud disappeared and the sun came out and after managing to cross a rather swollen river without getting wet feet, we arrivied at Culra at 13:45 having left our dropoff point at 09:15. Photo six shows Culra Bothy in the distance beyond the surging Allt A Chaoil Reidhe. Ben Alder, with its famous Long & Short Leachas ridges lies beyond.

The final photo shows Dave, Lucy & Andy as we departed Culra the next morning. An ascent of Ben Alder via one of the ridges would have been great but time did not allow this on either day as we had to be back at our dropoff point in Glen Spean for around 13:00 today.

Iain had a walk up towards the head of the Allt A Chaoil Reidhe the previous evening on a path that eventaully leads to Loch Ossian. It was clear in the time he had that a round trip to the summit of Ben Alder from Culra would have taken around six hours, so it was as well that we hadn't attempted it.

This post quite probably ends Iains winter season in Scotland this year. For the short time he was up he ran some great winter courses for people. Hopefully the mild, wet spell will end soon as climbing conditions must be getting desperate even high up. To check out conditions go to the MWIS forecast for climbing conditions in any of the UKs main climbing areas and be sure to check out the avalanche forecast before going anywhere. Happy climbing!

Our next posts will be about upcoming courses and activity options with Kendal Mountaineering Services as Iain now looks to what he hopes won't be a too distant Spring. Bookings are already coming in - to book an activity for your family or a skills training course for the Spring you can contact us here. We look forward to working with you.

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