Wednesday 26 February 2014

Winter Skills Courses in the Cairngorms. February 17th & 18th 2014

Bryn Anderson booked this five day bespoke Winter Course for himself & his son Joel and friends Bill who came along with his son Jono; and also their mate - Martin. We were also joined by Iain's friend Cressida (Cress) Allwood who, contemplating her Winter Mountain Walking Leader Assessment had asked if she could shadow this course.

The first two days of the groups course consisted of a Winter Skills Course - undertaken in The Cairngorms. Photo one shows the team on the lower slopes of Cairngorm's North Ridge on our way to try & find a decent snow slope to look at Ice Axe Braking. We had already covered using the boot as a tool by this point.

Photo two shows the group at our Ice Axe Braking venue on Mam Suim (part of the north ridge of Cairngorm) and here, Bill is having a go at braking.

There are various permutations of Ice Axe Braking - on your front feet first is the way you want to finish up so that you can dig that ice axe pick into the snow under your chest and stop a slide. However, a slip can start in many ways - feet first on your back as well as your front or worse - head first on your back or front, or even a cartwheel! Iain demonstrated all of these types of fall and how to arrest before everyone else in the group followed suit. It was a good session!

It is amazing how quickly the day will pass when practising all manner of Winter Skills and before we knew it, there was only an hour left before it would be time to head off the hill. As the snow at the Ice Axe Braking site was suitable for looking at snow anchors Iain demonstated a horizontal buried axe belay.

This involves cutting a horizontal slot across the fall line of the slope the length of the axe and deep enough that when loaded, the axe will be braced against a layer of solid snow (preferably neve) which serves as the anchor. It is important that the slot is cut in such a way that when loaded - the axe will receive a sideways and downward pull. To attach the rope to the axe a sling is used attached to the axe with an inverted Clove Hitch and placed  in a vertical slot cut in such a manner that once again, the load on the axe is always sideways and down. The rope is then attached to a sling with a karabiner.

Photo two shows the whole group (six persons) trying to test a buried axe belay to destruction. How easy they failed would be an indication of just how well each individual had constructed theirs. Everyone had to make their own buried axe belay and then we had a fair bit of fun trying to destroy them. Most held with a steady pull, however, through tugging (shock loading) a few did fail. However, this was an opportunity to see that a well constructed snow belay in good snow can be quite strong!

The weather on Monday had been quite mild with the freezing level only at around the altitude we had been working. Winds were light and precipitation, negligable. Tuesday was looking similar so, in a bid to find better conditions, we had an earlier start in order that we might get into the upper car park at the Cairngorm Mountain Ski Area at Coire Cas and get high up on the mountains.

We had quite a walk to get to Ciste Mhearaidh - our venue for the day at 1050m just below the summit of Cairngorm. We had been told that conditions here were good for Winter Skills and on arriving, we found a massive snow hole (photo four) which was an ideal place to have lunch.

The walk in to Ciste Mhearaidh was quite interesting. We had to avoid the many skiers on our walk up to the Ptarmigan Restaurant and from there to our venue it was a walk in thick cloud (whiteout conditions) across around 500m of low angled slope to get there.

The whiteout conditions continued to prevail at Ciste Mhearaid. On arrival, we had some lunch in the snowhole and then ventured out to get our bearings and find out what snow slopes were available to use for our Winter Skills Session.

Amongst other things - we did find was this massive hazard - fortunately well consolidated! Photo five sees Bill standing underneath a ten foot high cornice and in places it was even higher! These are formed at the top of a lee slope when snow, carried along by a strong wind, is deposited creating an overhanging lip. Cornices are very dangerous things that can collapse creating an avalanche or frequently, people can walk over them in conditions of poor visibility such as a whiteout; or fall through them whilst trying to get a view down to ground below! From above, this was hazard was virtually invisible in the whiteout conditions today!

Time was getting on after our long walk in to Ciste Mhearaidh so after our discussion about hazards such as cornices we continued on with our theme of snow belays from the previous day. In photo six Cress is sat in a bucket seat and is using a body (indirect) belay to safeguard a person climbing the slope towards her.

A bucket seat belay is a very basic snow belay used to safeguard some one on an easy climb such as a grade 1 or 2 snow gully. If the integrity of the snow is in doubt then one would "back it up" by also using something such as a Buried Axe Belay, Snow Bollard or Deadman. Iain demonstrated all of these snow belays and then everyone had to construct and test their own - more fun for the group tugging on ropes again! Many might consider including snow belays as part of a Winter Skills Course unnecessary, but as a day of winter climbing was planned for later on during this week, Iain considered that thes would be useful skills to learn and indeed, these were new techniques to everyone in our group!

After practising the remaining snow belay techniques we had a wander around the various types of snow shelter that had been constructed by previous groups. As well as the obvious massive snow hole there were various "lean to, sitting bivvis" and a "snow grave". We discussed how to construct the various types of snow shelter before packing up and setting off back to The Ptarmigan Restaurant - doing the return journey to our vehicles in under an hour! Photo seven taken on our walk out shows just what the day was like - still whiteout conditions!

However, there had been no wind; and even though the MWIS forecast had predicted the freezing level would be around 800m, we reckoned that even at 1050m it had barely been freezing - if at all! Conditions had been pleasant even if the visibility was poor.

Today had not been a bad a day at all but there we still aspects of the Winter Skills Syllabus that were yet to be covered. However, there was still time with another three days of this Winter Course in The Cairngorms to run.

Wednesday 12 February 2014

Mixed Winter climbing in The Lake District. Bowfell Buttress, Monday 10th February, 2014.

Not all of the posts on our blog relate only to the work that we do at Kendal Mountaineering Services. Sometimes Iain likes to mention the other things that he gets up to in the outdoors - so here he goes!

Towards the end of last week I received an invite to join a mate - Dave, for some winter climbing, if suitable conditions presented themselves in the area.

We all know about what a poor winter it has been so far as low pressure systems have tracked one after the other across the country bringing with them copious amounts of rain, strong winds and mild temperatures. None of these are conducive to "good" winter conditions and so far this season, The Lakes have seen little of such conditions.

However, Dave seemed to think that Monday was going to be a settled day and that there would be "winter conditions" higher up. We left Kendal at 06:00 and set off on the walk in to Bowfell Buttress from Langdale at about 07:00. In the valley it was mild and everywhere was green. As it got lighter, we could make out some snow peeping out from under the cloud shrouding Crinkle Crags!

As we reached the point where the Climbers Traverse path breaks from the main path to Three Tarns (at about 600m) there was a distinct "bite" to the air and we were already in snow. The Climbers Traverse (photo one) was tricky, banked out with snow having a thin hard crust but being deep & soft underneath resulting in our constantly breaking through - for me at times - right up to the tops of my legs. This was not a place to slip today, the slope below the path is preciptitous and and an Ice Axe would not have stopped you! Today, the traverse was best described as arduous!

At least the weather was calm. There was no wind when we arrived at the foot of our route and it would remain this way all day. Also, there was virtually no precipitation during the day either, but it was to remain largely cloudy.

As a winter route, Bowfell Buttress is given a grade of V'6, in Summer it is one of the areas classic Rock Climbs and given the grade of Vdiff in the FRCC Langdale guide. Overall, it is 110m long and generally climbed in four pitches, however, as we had my 2 60m ropes, Dave decided to pitch the route in two ropelengths.

Here in photo two, Dave can be seen leading off on the first pitch, the route was thin and conditions not great. However, after the early start and long walk in, we weren't for turning back  particularly as the weather seemed so settled! 
Time passed slowly as it can do on winter climbs, but this was largely due to Dave having fun with the cruddy conditions we found on the route. Being barely freezing - it was more a case of torquing and hooking rather than being able to bash picks into lovely frozen turf or ice. It was quite a while before the ropes went tight on me indicating I could climb. The chimney at the top of the first pitch gave me considerable difficulty but eventually I joined Dave on the spacious midway ledge.

Dave led off up the next steep wall and across the traverse knocking off loads of snow & ice as he went. I knew he was traversing as initially, all the rubbish was falling down to my right, then on my head and then off to my left! Dave reckoned that the final chimney was the crux (hardest part) of the route and whilst moving on the exposed start to that chimney was exciting, I certainly found the second two pitches easier than the first. Photo three sees Dave at the final stance as I climbed up to join him.

At the top of the final pitch things were properly frozen - even the turf. We peeled off down the l/h slanting couloir leading into the gully to the south of the buttress and descended through crappy snow back to the sacks and after a bite to eat, packed up and left.

It was good to get off the Climbers Traverse and on to turf - even in a pair of Nepal Extremes! It was no less knackering a return journey to this point (photo four) than it had been on the way in with my constantly floundering about in the deep soft snow. At least I was getting a good workout!

However, it was a good, long hard day out and nice to have been out on one of the areas classic mixed winter routes in what, other than the cloud, had been a decent day. The views as we descended back to Langdale were fantastic! Thoroughly satisfying stuff!

There is still time for the weather to cool down and hopefully we will see better winter conditions spread to a lower level in The Lakes so for anyone interested in learning Winter Skills or winter climbing we are available to take you out. Contact Iain at Kendal Mountaineering Services if you are interested. His next post is likely to be about a winter adventure booked with four clients in The Cairngorms next week. Happy winter climbing!

Caving sessions in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Wednesday 29th January 2014.

Winter in The Lake District can be a cold, wet time of year and so far the winter of 2013-14 has been just that! However, you can still get out and have an adventure with Kendal Mountaineering Services and either wrap up warmly - or go underground!

That was exactly the though of Beccy Phillips and Aldene Woodward when they booked an Introductory Caving Day in the Yorkshire Dales National Park with Iain.

Photo one shows the pair as we made our way underground from Diccan entrance in Long Churns - one of the areas best introductory caving venues.

The pair enjoy spending time in the outdoors - hillwalking & mountain biking amongst other things and on this visit to The Lake District, had decided to try caving. The weather was ok, cool but not too windy or wet and water levels were moderate in Long Churns.

As an army group arrived around about the same time as us, Iain took the pair straight in via the shortest route to The Cheese Press (photo two) where Al can be seen here giving this famous tight squeeze a go. Good effort!

After trying The Cheese Press for size, we visited the top of The Dolly Tubs Pitch where daylight was clearly visible entering from Alum Pot before heading upstream visiting Middle Entrance and then Cross Passage (Baptistry Crawl).

After revisiting Middle Entrance from its upstream entrance, we then continued on through Upper Long Churns to exit via the waterslide at Doctor Bannisters Washbasin.

There was as much water as we wanted in Long Churns today, any more would have certainly made the fall at Doctor Bannisters a bit tricky but as it was, this "up for it" pair took everything in their stride! Beccy can be seen doing exactly that in photo three as she "bridges" across a notorious deep pool in Upper Long Churns.
The pair were quite keen to try something harder in the afternoon so Iain offered them the option of a level 2 Caving Session in the Calf Holes/Browgill system. If you are wondering what the difference is a Level One Caving Session has vertical drops of no more than 2m involved whereas a level 2 Session has vertical pitches of up to 18m (60 feet) involved. The entrance pitch to Calf Holes is 11m (33 feet).

A level 2 Caving Session is therefore a more serious proposition and requires more equipment and skill to keep people safe, but Calf Holes is a relatively straightforward pitch and easy to manage. So, Iain was happy to lower the pair down so that we could then investigate downstream in Browgill Cave.

There was as much water in Browgill Cave today as Iain wanted to see and indeed the volume and noise of the water made it seem a more challenging environment than Long Churns. After lowering the pair down the Calf Holes Pitch, we made our way downstream, squeezed through Hainsworths Passage and "The Slot" and descended to marvel at the absolutely thundering waterfall below. Shortly afterwards, we emerged at the downstream exit (photo four) where the pair, were happy to call it a day.

This exciting, adventurous & challenging Caving Day in The Yorkshire Dales National park cost Beccy & Aldene £75 each. For that they got a full day out with a qualified & experienced Cave Leader and were provided with all of the equipment you can see them wearing. To book your caving session with us contact Iain here. Caving is one thing you can do underground when above ground - the weather might not be fit to do much. Our caving trips usually start with our meeting at Inglesport in Ingleton - the areas best outdoor sports shop with it's legendary cafe.