5th October 2017
A Common Purpose
I’m not given to philosophy, religion or politics in any meaningful way. I used to be, but for a variety of reasons I’ve become disengaged in recent years. Consequently climbing has provided my physical, spiritual, intellectual and mental nourishment. As a result my prior articles have tended to focus on the mountaineering in isolation from what’s happening out and about….
Somewhat of a naïve viewpoint one may say…..
Things have a habit of colliding eventually……
Last week I was at the excellent TCA in Glasgow. I am following the “Training for the New Alpinism” regime so I was there for training….plenty of mid-grade aerobic traverses. The music was cranking out Dire Straits, the chat was good and I wasn’t feeling too knackered after the morning run. I was looking forward to seeing my girlfriend again later and so was feeling positive…..
In the middle of the bouldering walls there is a place called the pit….it’s a big rectangular floor space between the crash mats where climbers dump bags, chalk up and check text messages. I was due a break so I went and sat on my sac in the pit, along with about six or seven others.
A young woman came and sat opposite me in the pit with a baby in a car seat – 7 weeks old apparently. The wee fella was crying, obviously hungry, (I was and am a dad). The young woman proceeded to breast feed the boy, and no-one missed a beat. No-one broke conversation. No-one moved their gaze. Exactly as it should be.
A young guy joined us in the pit, sweating profusely. “Fuckin turban” he said. Ripping it from his head he threw it in his sack and adjusted his hair band. Huge laughter all round.
I was starting to look around now….and I mean really look…..
On the overhanging boulder wall away to my left was a guy obviously in his 70’s, possibly even older, cranking out some ridiculous black problem that I knew I wouldn’t get off the ground on. A few claps when he matched the top hold.
To my right, in the gym area, was a very well-muscled guy. Tattoos gave away his prior military profession and I know he has long suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He was helping a middle aged woman do some stretching exercises.
Right in front was a young girl, 15, 16, or so…. Her arms bore the obvious scar tissue of someone who had self-harmed. She was shy, and spoke very quietly, but came and joined us in the pit. No-one stared…and she didn’t hide.
What struck me upon thinking about these people was their sheer diversity. Probably, if I’d been bothered to ask, I could have possibly found someone from every social grouping in society. But that was the point…no-one was bothered. Not by the ethnic diversity, the breast feeding, the baby, the old guy, the psychologically struggling muscle man or the challenged young girl. Everyone was just doing their thing, and connecting around the common purpose….climbing.
Climbing and mountaineering do not exist in isolation. They reflect the diversity of the world around us. What however mountaineering and climbing do seem to be able to overcome is the perceived and actual divisions in society, and ameliorates the negative effects thereon. Division comes from a conflicting view of the end goal, a disputed common purpose.
For climbing, whilst diverse in nature, the common goals can be simple….doing the move, getting to the top, solving the problem. What climbing and mountaineering seem to be able to achieve, and thus the people taking part, is an acceptance of diverse goals as part of a common purpose. Paradoxically, what that common purpose is can be different for individuals – but it provides a common bond between participants. The climbers at TCA that day were clearly diverse, clearly had individual goals and demonstrated a common purpose within a shared passion. They accepted all and judged none. What a shame other sections of society are unable to do the same.
18th May 2017
Some humbling feedback from a client......
By Mountaineering Development Programme completer Vcky Bickerstaffe...
"I was asked to write an article so thought I would share it with you guys.....
A Mountain Journey Like No Other
Thinking back, I don’t actually recognise the person that made the decision to get back out on the hill. She was riddled with anxiety, lacked any personal confidence and lived an isolated life due to her mental health demons. I’m still shocked she actually did anything about her wish to be more skilled in the outdoors. She was badly equipped both practically and mentally. However, what she did have where her memories of reaching mountain tops, taking in the views, the sense of achievement and the taste of a cheese butty at 1000m.
My personal demons are Clinical Depression and Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) (info about these and many other MH issues are available on www.mind.org.uk). These conditions suck the very life out of me every single day. These demons are my constant companions, one has their infected claws deep inside me, the other
spits their endless stream of venom into my mind. The management of such conditions is a full time affair, ‘staying well’ requires an unbroken stream of time and energy to perform the tasks of daily
life. Yet, I regards myself as a very lucky person, I have studied my demons, I’ve kept these ‘mental’ enemies close, I’ve developed some useful strategies that allow me some respite from the endless
chatter. Doing this has stretched me as a person, I’m far more insightful and compassionate. I’ve developed a determination and strength that Thor would be proud of. I have a love of the great
outdoors, simply being out in the hills and glens helps me to sustain the burden of my demons but I felt a need to explore this area of self-care. So I decided I wanted to be more capable in this
environment so I could take full advantage of this beautiful landscape we have in Scotland.
So it was time to take a leap of faith and find someone to help me. I contacted Andy Mallinson (Mountain Summits, www.mountainsummits.co.uk) After explaining my needs and difficulties we arranged to meet for a day on the hill. To put it bluntly, I was crapping myself. Every ‘comfort zone’ was pushed and stretched. The first day was spent rekindling the essential navigation skills but more importantly it was spent talking, relaxing, thinking and daydreaming. A spark of confidence in my long forgotten abilities came out of nowhere, by the end of the day I felt calmer. I enjoyed myself and had fun, a real novelty.
Now, if there is anyone who ‘lives’ the mountains, then its Andy. He has an encyclopedic mind, the teaching he presents is natural and straightforward and his enthusiasm for his ‘subject’ is
deeply infectious. Best of all, he’s a fellow Yorkshire ‘man’ (sorry, Yorkshire ‘person’ just doesn’t sound right)
I felt I could express what I aspired too. I explained that I felt at peace within mother nature’s arms. However, I wanted to acquire the skills needed to feel confident and competent in her arms when she’s unforgiving, mischievous and angry.
As a result of our discussions Andy created the Mountain Summits Mountain Development Program (MDP).
A 15-day plan covering: - Mountain Skills - navigation, maps, reading the environment, weather and camping skills.
Rock Skills - ropes, belay, protection, climbing skills, single and multi-pitch climbs, seconding and leading climbs.
Winter Skills - winter equipment, winter navigation, snow and avalanche awareness, winter and ice climbing.
Each of my 15 days ticked all the right boxes:-
During my 15 days I’ve been over hills, crags, munroes, and corbetts. Through corries, glens highlands and lowlands. I’ve been up and across ridges, buttresses, beinns, cairns, carns, stobs,
aretes and drumlins.
I’ve climbed, scrambled, jumped, walked, shuffled, yomped crawled and I have loved every nanosecond of it!
Each day I completed created more enthusiasm and motivation for the next. My personal confidence and sense of ‘self’ began to developed both on and off the hill and my general attitude to life
started to relax and soften.
I have discovered that rock climbing to be the ultimate demon deterrent. The concentration required for organising the ropes, the protection and completing each move of the climb reduces the demons’ venom to a drip. I don’t think they have a defense for this total focus, enjoyment and peace. Don’t tell the demons I said this but I think they might actually be learning to enjoy the respite…shush!!
I have learnt masses of essential awareness and knowledge. Being organised for the outdoors is the number one. Wild camping is faff free, mountains days are sorted the day before, the rucksack is
always full of the necessities and all of this is second nature now. I find navigation and map skills genuinely fascinating and I find expanding my knowledge of this endless subject a real pleasure.
I’m reading and learning about the mountain environment, weather and ecology and then utilising this knowledge to make the many decisions when immersed in the mountain ‘world’ I love so much.
Who knows where this will take me in the future?
Now that I’m in possession of this enhanced skill set I’ve found I am more relax on the hill. My mind finds a calmer ‘plane’ to function on. I feel ‘lighter’ and more balanced (ha maybe not!!) I’m
learning to use this steadier state to filter out some of the damaging thoughts I have allowing me to think clearer.
The bitter truth is that my demons will NEVER leave me, my bad days will always be soul destroying. The venom in my mind and the infected claws will forever cause me pain that is truly unexplainable in strength.
Yet, NOW I stand taller on my good days. The feeling of comfort and security while oot and aboot is fueling my strength and determination and I have an increased sense of empowerment for the ‘fight’ and for my life in general.
Robert Bryne said “the purpose of life is a life of purpose”. My purpose on this earth has eluded me for countless years but now, having gone through the MPD, I have a spark in my tummy that feels ‘bright’ with potential that’s motivating me to continue my ‘mountain’ life.
I feel completely at home in the wild-ness of Scotland. The overwhelming power of mother nature is a true life force to me and fuels me in many ways and I have no doubt that without this I would have to sacrifice myself to my demons.
AND SO 11 months after starting the MDP I am a confident, competent and skilled mountaineer. I completed day 15 of the program on Saturday 4th March in epic style. I lead the first assent of a multi-pitch grade 2 winter/ice climb on Creag a Choire Dhirich with Andy Mallinson. We agreed on the name ‘Mocking Grouse’.
My life long appreciation has, obviously, got to go to Andy Mallinson. I have much to thank him for. The mountain development program is Andy’s creation. Andy presents himself in a way that is
professional, friendly and welcoming. At first glance the content of the MDP could be said to be universal but it’s the way Andy presents the content that makes the program unique. His ‘teaching’
ability is adaptive, flexible yet completely natural. I rarely find learning easy yet I feel that Andy conveyed all the required knowledge in some sort of cognitive osmosis which has certainly worked
for me. Anyone can be a mountain guide, not many can be a mountain professor! Now that I know him a wee bit better I believe that Andy’s enthusiasm and love for the mountains is truly at his core and
I would hazard a guess that without the hills he would soon falter.
Andy, aka Coach M, Obi Wan, you have been and continue to be a true inspiration to me, your Young Padawan."
7th March 2017
Absolutely mad.....that's how I'd describe the last 4 weeks. Winter has been condensed into a month and so have all my client days ! Finally getting time to take a breather...... just before the spring season of navigation & wild camping trips start ! To catch up with the last four weeks and see our pics go to: www.facebook.com/mountainsummits
3rd February 2017
FULL OF HOT AIR ?
I recently spent some time in Chamonix in the French Alps. Activities included some piste and powder skiing as well as a few day ski tours. Weather was mixed and so I made the best of the conditions on any particular day to get something done.
Not wanting to neglect the social side of life, I hooked up with old friends and drinking haunts of yesteryear – I first went there in 1979 ! The realisation of my advancing years came quickly. First, the Bar Nationale. A dubious haunt of British climbers for far too long, (did I really dance on the tables to Bruce Springstein ?), is now an upmarket bistro type place complete with patio heaters and soft furnishings. Not a smelly Helly Hansen in sight. Next, Le Choucas. The skiers bar of choice. I looked at the bright neon lights….then I suddenly realised it’s now a fashion shop. I was distraught actually……briefly remembering a new year in there where what happened is best left unsaid….
The proliferation of equipment and gear shops in Chamonix also continues apace. Just like the bars, things continue to change. Snells and Ravanels are still there, but are now accompanied by a plethora of shops dedicated to each individual brand. In one of the shops I was looking at ski touring trousers but slowly became distracted by a conversation. In the corner, a technically knowledgeable shop assistant was in the process of selling a £900 avalanche air bag system to a customer. Lots of technical information about the air bag and what it could do was shared. The potential life-saving capabilities were demonstrated with ipad videos, (other tablets are available – Prozac ?), and little models resembling those santa snow dome things you shake and the flakes go everywhere. Apparently this lady could ski wherever and whenever she liked now without fear.
Two days later and there was a big fresh fall of snow. I was keen to get going and make the best of it. I caught the bus from Chamonix at 07:20 and was in Les Houches for just past 8am. Looking as nonchalant as I could, I slid on to the first cable car with the lifties and bar staff. Putting my skis on at the top of virgin powder pistes I was completely on my own – EPIC !!!! Plenty powder on the Les Houches pistes which they didn’t groom….the skiing was great. Knee to thigh deep on a solid base……just wonderful silent skiing. Down at the bottom and with the my ski peace shattered I jumped back into the cable car along with a couple of North Americans – complete with avalanche airbags. They were enthusiastic and keen to explore the trees of the Les Houches basin, and rightly so. What was disturbing however was this overheard comment: “Don’t need to worry about avalanches mate, we’re both carrying air bags.”
There is no doubt that technology has improved the skiing experience. Modern technology in the form of improved bindings has led to far fewer injuries. Modern materials have made skis more responsive and accurate – ski length bears testament to that. But I find the encroachment of technology into the avalanche equation deeply worrying. Not the technology per se, but the impression it appears to be giving to people that they are now invincible….. “An air bag may be £900 madam but it will save your life,” said the salesman. Well, will it? And will a probe, shovel and avalanche transceiver save your life? Really?
Clearly, if caught in an avalanche, whether skiing or mountaineering, then such pieces of kit can and have improved the odds of survival. What would improve the odds of survival substantially however is avoiding the avalanche in the first place…..
Many, indeed most avalanches are triggered by the victims themselves….and many victims are killed or injured by trauma suffered during the avalanche. So avoidance is clearly preferable. Therefore, question….how many people who spend £300 on a probe, shovel and transceiver, or £500+ on an air bag, ALSO take an avalanche education and avoidance course? Listening to these recent overheard conversations, (a bad habit I know), would suggest some people don’t think it’s necessary….and I wonder if the technology is contributing to this attitude.
Things do change, be it watering holes or technology! But I cannot foresee a time when technology is a replacement for education and good decision making in the mountains. Or am I just full of hot air ?
26th January 2017
An interesting last three weeks...to say the least. A week of piste skiing and ski mountaineering in Chamonix, France, which varied from icy tracks to thigh deep powder. To then arrive home to 60cm of new fresh snow......massive excitement quickly followed by temperatures of plus 11 degrees and variable weather resulting in......no snow. Nada....not a jot.....mmmmmm
So now cranking up the wild camping trips, navigation days and rock climbing with clients.
Chances of real winter ? It's not out of the question yet....but.....could we see a re-run of some winters of the early '90's ?
5th January 2017
So another year over and winter just begun.....sounds like a song !! Sorry.....
Actually, after initial enthusiasm of early snows in November, we're still waiting for the significant snow we need to start our winter skills days....
In the meantime we've still been doing some great wild camping trips and navigation sessions......
14th November 2016
Yet again a busy month with my Mountaineering Development Programem clients covering everything from camping skills to rock climbing ! The first winter snows have also now arrived and a scrambling and ropework day got rapidly changed to an intoduction to winter mountaineering !
Still got some wild camping trips coming up and a couple of interesting projects on the go, including working on a backcountry skiing film.
And I'll be off to Alps climbing next spring....this time for a bus man's holiday! Happy climbing folks and see you soon....
4th October 2016
I was kinda expecting it to start quietning down a bit by now (got a stack of DIY jobs to do at home!) but it ain't happening !!
Still got lots of rock climbing days to do, some scrambling to squeeze in before the winter, and more camping expeditions.
It's great to see my clients now hooking up together and getting out into the mountains and doing it for themselves. Going to be starting our own mountaineering club at this rate ! And following clients that have climbed Elbrus and Mont Blanc, now got clients climbing in Canada !!
First heavy frosts already (couldn't find the bloody ice scraper !) and a dusting of snow on Ben Nevis and Cairngorm plateau already. Time to change over to winter clothing !!
Happy climbing folks.....and start thinking about winter !!!! Yay !!!!
8th September 2016
The calendar is moving incredibly quickly !! I'll not bore you with everything that I've done in the last few months....suffice to say that I've been very busy having some great days with clients in the mountains across the UK. Particular highlights include rock climbing in Wales and the Cairngorms...and seeing my clients climb Mt Elbrus and Mt Blanc !! I thought things would be quieter now but no....just need to hope we get some fine autumn weather ! A numbre of wild camping expeditions coming up...booked up to 21st December !!
For more regular updates on what's happening, and reviews from clients, go to www.facebook.com/mountainsummits
26th July 2016
So, I have been very lax...incredibly so...or have I ? The date doesn't lie you see so there's nowhere to hide. 8 weeks and no blog update...but I am still alive folks...just outrageously busy !! So what to do ? Suppose I could get someone to do my social media stuff for me...but at the end of the day I believe people buy ME and what I do with them in the mountains...so I'd rather have gaps in the blog and everyone know that it's ME who does it and not some hired hand. People want thoughts, help and advice from ME, not Brian from Social Media Inc. in Birmingham. So whilst I apologise for the break in transmission, I kinda don't I've been busy doing the job!!
So what have I been doing? Everything summer mountains instruction and guiding....navigation, wild camping, indoor climbing, scrambling, rock climbing on crags and mountains. And, working with my first client on her Mountaineering Development Programme - a 15 day instruction and guiding programme over 9 months which will take her from hill walking to leading winter climbs.
And coming up a week guiding on North Wales Rock.....
And Autumn time for back packing trips...Lairig Gru Max anyone ?
31st May 2016
Lots of navigation and rock climbing the last week and to a pretty high standard too - the clients that is ! Only complaint would be that for reduced visibility navigation, the weather has been too good !
Many of the crags have now dried out, including some of the high mountain venues - currently in the office and the river ARdle is as low as I've seen it.
Things to look forward to - rock climbing and scrambling days to come next week, and looking forward to a week of classic rock in North Wales in August !!
24th May 2016
Navigation - just love it !!
13th May 2016
So the spring cold spell finally went by the start of May but not before several guiding days where the thermals were back on !
Heavily in to mountain skills and navigation days now, from absolute beginners to people wanting coaching prior to undertaking qualifications....and nice to welcome many overseas visitors as well as my usual suspects !!
A warm and dry spell for the the last 2 weeks has brought many of the crags in to condition. As a result the rock climbing days are also well under way including taster days, competent second days and introduction to multi-pitch climbing.....complete with suntan !!
26th April 2016
"Some people are on the pitch! They think it's all over! It is now!"
Well, some people are now on the ice pitch, they thought winter was all over! It isn't now! As I sit in my garden office typing this, it's -3 outside and snowing. My face has been shot blasted for the last two days in strong northerly winds carrying pellet snow! To say it's sore doesn't cover it! This is probably what a botox injection feels like !
Starting the spring series of courses - the last two days were munro bagging (Beinn A Ghlo x 3) and navigation (great day Vicky!). Micro navigation this coming weekend.....
Now, where's the ice axe.....
5th April 2016
Incredibly busy period to catch up on !!
More winter skills days with new clients and winter mixed climbing days with existing clients. Thanks to all for the great days out, especially Kevin and Lauren !
Also been working further afield recently, up in the far North West....a scrambling and ropework day on Stac Pollaidh and a winter/spring day on Ben Wyvis....where the temperatures swung from -2, to +14, and then down to -4 in the space of a 3 hour ascent !! Lots of pictures on our facebook page from this trip www.facebook.com/mountainsummits
So winter comes to an end pretty much after some exciting days on the mountains with clients....and I'm already gearing up for navigation, mountain skills and rock climbing days....just need some nice dry weather now!
A picture from the North West last week.....
9th March 2016
Man fllu gone....hate being unwell...but got over it in a few days.
Great to see my clients moving onwards & upwards ! Just had 3 clients, Jim & Co., climb Crowberry Gully IV on the "Bookle" and another, Izabella, is currently at Everest Base Camp. Katie has been on Quartzvein Scoop IV, and international man of mystery Kevin is on his first winter climb next week. It's a real honour to have played at least a small part in all these folk's development, enabling them to get out and have their own adventures!
I continue to find new winter lines to tackle in various remote locations and the adventure aspect always appeals to me...there's something so magical about having a whole corrie to yersel, let alone a whole route !
Still many winter days to come - fresh snow again this morning and the ski guiding with Ian was fun yesterday. Coming up we have winter mountaineering days, winter skils days and some mixed winter climbing days...at least now it's a little warmer and the sun is oot!
Spring & Summer courses launched to go alongside our bespoke service - go to the relevant page to see the dates & costs.....
All for now....need to get outside !!
2nd March 2016
Lots happening again this last week or so, despite the "man flu"....
Firstly, Kate who came on a learning to lead day with me last week, led Hidden Chimney Direct in the Norries recently - a first major lead at IV,5 !!
Secondly, some great ski mountaineering conditions just now.... plenty of complete descents to road level.
Thirdly, watch out for the launch of our Spring/Summer/Autumn programme, to run alongside our bespoke guiding and instructing !!
22nd February 2016
Lots of client action in the last 7 days - winter skills, avalanche awareness, munros, ski guiding, guiding winter climbs, instructing winter climbing learning to lead. All cracking days out - some wild, some windy, some sun......usually all three !! It's really impressive when you see all clients progressing quickly but Kate takes the gong and cake this week....from only seconding to leading grade III in one day, albeit a long one !!
15th February 2016
After a fickle start to the winter season involving monsoon type rains interspersed with cold temperatures and snow, February has finally brought about some settles conditions. So now working furiously to clear the backlog of clients wanting winter skills, winter mountaineering and climbing days....weather has been kind and the tan is developing nicely !!
29th January 2016
It's a long time to not update a blog....but sometimes life's crap gets in the way. Events happen in all our lives but I think more than any, death has the ability to make us stop, take stock, re-evaluate and recalibrate where we're at. Those sort of "life, the universe and everything" moments....
The day I wrote the last entry on 1st December my brother died suddenly of a heart attack aged 55. I have always thought that for the person it happens to, it has to be the way to go....but for those left behind I think the suddenness can be very difficult. Whether it's a heart attack or a climbing accident, the sudden brutal finality of it will test anyone. And yet again, it makes us question why we climb knowing full well that the concequences of a mistake can be disasterous.....not for us, we're dead, but for those left behind. The answer will always be personal for each of us as individuals, but funnily enough my brother's death only served to reaffirm my climbing committment. Why? Because he led a sedentary life, with a poor diet and lack of exercise and it killed him. If it can happen to him so suddenly in a shopping arcade, then I'm better off climbing...probably improve my life chances actually!
So, when as recently happened, two climbers were killed in Glencoe On Stob Coine Nam Beith, I thought not of the climbers, but of those faced with the brutal finality. I started going to funerals early in life - for most people it comes towards the end of their lives. I was just 18 when I attended the funeral of a college friend aged 20, killed in a climbing accident. Seeing the grief stricken reality of parents and relations smacked in the face by the death of one so young made a deep impression on me. It made me analyse why I climbed and once I understood the answer, I knew I would always climb....because it is the person I was born to be, and the life I was born to lead. The death of my young college friend, others since, my father aged 52 and my brother aged 55 all just confirm that for me, my decision to climb and continue climbing is the right one. Know why you are doing it......
Enjoy your climbing.....
An update on recent activity soon......
As I sit writing this it is snowing outside, and has been for 3 days now. Level depth is around 60cm with drifts up to 4-5 meters. Getting anywhere is a problem and walking anywhere is slow....very slow. I have a training speed walk I do with a loaded pack up Kindrogan Hill - about 300m ascent. I usually do it up and down in about 50mins.....yesterday it took me 3hrs!
It has to be hoped that this all bodes well for the season ahead both in terms of mountaineering and climbing. Alreay had some crackin' days in the Southern Cairngorms around Glenshee - hopefully more to come.
One of my clients came up with a good idea to add to the list of things to do to prepare for winter (see 6th October below).....go rock climbing at night by headlight ! Great idea! Then you'll be ready for that inevitable time when you don't finish the route in daylight. Thanks Jim ! I'll add it to the list !
So, the first snows of winter have arrived and some early season climbing routes have been done....and lots of people have been out on the hills walking in the snow. I have to say I don't think there's any such thing as hill walking in winter, only winter mountaineering. Winter in Scotland is such a BIG step up from summer, in terms of skills, committment, fitness and judgement. So many more factors to think about and the consequences for getting it wrong are much greater. Every winter I end up rescuing someone from a hill somewhere....lack of kit, lack of skills, lack of appreciation that the Scottish Hills in Winter are a serious place to be. The other side of the coin is that the rewards are HUGE !! My best ever days in the mountains have been in Scotland, and in Scotland during the Winter.. Get the skills, get the knowledge and get out there !!
Spending time in the office has it's good and bad points. Great to have a break after a very busy summer and early autumn, and it also gives the old bones a rest !! Downsides include hill withdrawl symptoms and the inevitable boredom of catching up on all the admin taks that need doing in life. At least I know that come the winter weather, I will be able to work and play to the max with a clear mind!!
And talking of winter, last two mornings have been colder.....we're lucky to have a met office weather station but 500m from my house so we get reliable data. Minus 5 the last two mornings at 05:00hrs so we're heaing in the right direction.....bring it on.....!
Ben Vrackie near Pitlochry yesterday...just for a wee blow out of the cobwebs.....cold on the top! The first snow has arrived on the tops so winter is on its' way....
Ben Vrackie is a popular hill undertaken by lots of tourists from Pitlochry and so it's the type of place where path erosion can be a problem....Ben Lomond is another place that suffers - apparently it has over 30,000 ascents a year. But on Ben Vrackie the paths are of outstanding quality as they are almost cobbled....small steps with local rock that blend into the surroundings....A great example of what can be done....some footpath building, whilst clearly well intentioned, is framkly crap.....too big a steps and the drainage not sorted....and so the patch just gets wider.
So winter is coming...an exciting time....just need to get fit now.... for the looooong days ahead...
See you on the hill.....
Things are a bit quieter now, so spending a bit more time in the office recently, catching up on all the things I haven't done during the summer ! I have still manged to get out though, doing some site vistits in preparation for winter....looks like the first snow witll arrive this weekend.
Despite the rock climbing being finished for the year, I'm still delivering some navigation instruction - very much high level, specific skills stuff like timing, pacing, slope aspect and relocations. Just spent 2 days in the Cairngorms honing these skills with Sue - the second day being very windy (60mph+).....great to illustrate the difficulties of following bearings and pacing across rough terrain to small contour features ! Now, when I get blown over...do I count that as a double pace !!??
See you on the hill....
Autumn has arrived my friends...frost on the grass and the colours in the leaves are fab....one of my favourite times of the year. Trying to squeeze in rock sessions just now....a seconding rock day for Katrina in Glenshee and a scrambling rock day for Izabella in the Northern Corries...followed by navigation across a wet, windy and cloudy plateau !
The problem is at this time of the year is the sun, when it's out, is not very strong and so any moisture on the rock doesn't fully dry. So, the lichens and moss grow, the weeps weep and rock climbing becomes greasy. Mica Schist is worst (e.g. The Cobbler), and Granite hangs in there the longest (e.g. Cairngorms).
Looking forward, we're all hoping for a 2010 style winter....well I am...... And I'm sure a lot of you are too! Look at the article below "Preparing for Winter" to get you in the mood !!!!
Preparing For Winter
I’m not ashamed to say it, and no amount of Amy Winehouse style rehab is going to alter the fact…. I’m an addict….
A complete and utter Scottish Winter addict…..
I’ve climbed all over the World – India, Nepal, Pakistan, Morocco, France, Italy, Switzerland, Norway, and even Wales…..but for me, nothing beats Scotland in winter. The sheer mental and physical challenge, together with astounding beauty and harshness in equal measure, is so magnificent as to be almost overwhelming. As an experience in which to immerse yourself, it doesn’t get much better than this…..
And it’s the size of that challenge, the nature of that experience, which can place huge demands on us as mountaineers….and there are only mountaineers in winter…I don’t think there’s such a thing as winter hill walking, only winter mountaineering. To meet that challenge, and enjoy it, we need to be ready…..and as some Chinese General or other once said, 90% of battles are won before they are fought. So what can we do to be ready? To ensure we have an awesome day out in the cold/wind/snow/ice/sun of a Scottish Winter?
We’re all different and I refuse to be in any way prescriptive, but what I thought might be useful is to tell you the things I do to tip the odds of a brilliant day on the hill in my favour….and I’d say my success rate is about 8/10 so I must be doing something right.
Some of this you’ll think is rubbish, some just plain stupid…great stuff…don’t do it. But maybe the odd thing may just help you….so, in no particular order…..
So after 2 weeks of holiday, (surfing in Portugal), I'm back in Scotland and the weather has a distinctly autuminal feel to it.......leaves down, grass stopped growing on the lawn, and yesterday a heavy frost followed by a bright sunny October day. Which turns my thoughts to winter and the joys (or pain) to come! Look out for my new article on here in the next few days, about preparing for winter on the mountains.....
A successful week just gone, with sessions on gear placement and multi-pitch rock, advanced navigation and supporting another instructor in his preparation for a rock climbing assessment.
A couple of observations: it's amazing how quickly you can place rock protection when being attacked by wee beasties; GPS is the invention of the devil; so much in life is about self-confidence.
There's some thoughts for you......
Coming up - a days scrambling in the Cairngorms with Kevin, my international man of mystery.....
And then, I'm having a break......
A mixture of pleasure and frustration the last four weeks. Frustration that both personal matters and continued wet weather have prevented as many days outdoors as one would have liked....and pleasure from the days that have happened because they have been so successful!
I detest letting people down but the reality of the weather this summer has meant that rock climbing in the mountains has been severely restricted. Some routes have just never come in to condition with lots of greenness and water weeps. As a result, some clients are going to have to wait until 2016 to do some routes!
When it has dried out on the outcrops at lower altitudes there have been some great days with beginners experiencing rock for the first time, and some more advanced folk learning to lead. Love seeing people progress and doing it for themselves....
We all have crap in our lives to some degree and it's managing that to ensure it doesn't get in the way that I find challenging sometimes. Sometimes I find it helps to just switch off the climbing brain and focus on the duty that needs to be done - get it over with and then return to the mountains. I know I need to be in the right head space to both do my job well and enjoy my own mountaineering, and for me that means focus with no distractions. Well I 'm back there again now - days this week on single and multi-pitch rock, and advanced navigation....and the weather looks good!
Navigation courses going well and people coming from Australia and the USA. Rock climbing really has been hit and miss with the weather this summer. Some great days on the rock but also some cancellations, just because it's been so wet. Hoping to get some more seeions in between now and the end of October....and then thoughts will be turning to Winter !!
NNAS courses going well but it would be nice to get out on the rock - it's wet and just not drying out. Wind, rain and 7 degrees today.....that's it for summer me thinks. And this winter will be a very cold one - I expect something in the order of 1987 and 2012.
More days out and more bookings! Days out instructing rock climbing and navigation over the last week together with a superb day on Fiacail Ridge in the Cairngorms. The weather made it to be honest....blue skies, sunshine and no-one else on the ridge, which was quite suprising. Only challenge was the wind but it never got so bad that it made things difficult. Was therefore a great learning day, with conditions good enough to stand around and extend skills without freezing one's nicky nacky noo's off !!
So coming up this week we have client days with some trad rock climbing, and an NNAS Bronze Course....some warm weather would be nice though.....just been down to my local village shop and it was 8 degrees !!
The weather has been a bit hit and miss recently with some warm days ideal for hitting the rock and some bloody cold days, ideal for hitting the bar ! Was out yesterday with the intention of having a wee look at some new routes on another new crag in Glenshee...but rain stopped play and we had a walk instead.
No matter, got a busy few days coming up next week with guiding scrambling in the Cairngorms and learning to trad lead on local crags....can't wait !
It's been a busy month ! Multiple days on the crags with clients covering all elements of rock climbing from absolute beginner taster days, to multi-pitch new routes ! And a lot of navigation sessions, including NNAS Award courses, for clients from the UK and overseas !
No sign of things being any quieter in the future either! More rock climbing and ridge scrambling days to come as well as further NNAS Award courses.
On a personal front, discovered some new crags in Glenshee and put up some more new routes. And already making site visits for winter venues....keeps me off the streets and out of trouble !
Had a good few sessions recently teaching people the basics of rock climbing - how to tie on, how to select and tie on to anchors, how to belay.....all the improtant basics. What is becoming a common theme is that everyone seems to think you need masses of new shiny kit to go rock climbing, even at single pitch crags. When I show them the simple ways with just a rope, they're amazed ! Don't know why they think this, whether it's shiny catalogues, gear maufactures or whatever, but tons of kit is just not required...I wonder if it's putting people off venturing outside? Do people just see it as mega cost? At the end of the day two people can go to many single pitch crags and top rope routes with one rope, a harness and helmet each, one crab and a belay plate. Interesting the preception that is being created out there.....
Ok, so sometimes we have to admit we were wrong.....
I didn't realise how many people were looking/following this blog, so thank you to everyone who got in touch and told me off !!
Thanks again for your feedback.....
1st April to 11th May
It seems that most of the world is on Facebook now, and I have found myself just updating our Facebook page rather than posting on here as well. So rather than just duplicate things which wastes valuable hill time for both you and me, all the blog stuff will be on the Facebook page from now on, together (in due course) with a Twitter feed. So, to follow us, go to :
5th March to 31st March
A frustrating few weeks following the move to Perthshire. It always seesm to take ages to get unpacked and put things in roughly the right place. To be honest it will probably take about a year to get everything fully sorted out ! I can't say all this has been an enjoyable experience but the beauty of the place makes up for it. Our holiday rental property will be available from 1st May once we have finished all the upgrading we want to do but I'm ready now to take hill day bookings again...which are already coming in. It'll be good to see some old friends again and get out on the hills !!!!
Anyhow, here's a wee view from a short walk on our new local hill...I had to go for a walk or I would've lost the will to live !!
3rd & 4th March 2015
Beautiful location and beatuiful weather ! Just a few hundred more boxes to go......
2nd March 2015
Spent 5 days unpacking boxes and moving in to our new home in the Southern Cairngorms village of Kirkmichael....exhausted.....the snowdrifts outside the front door didn't help !!!
22nd & 23rd February 2015
Rope work, scrambling, moving together instruction with Jim & Jim yesterday. The weather was very poor with snow and rain, but it made it all very real. Movement skills, route choice and assessment, equipment choice, anchor building, protection placement, rope mangement and set-ups, ascents, ridges, and descents all covered - a very busy day!
Today was spent drying out all the kit !!!!! Good use for a clothes horse !!!!!!
20th February 2015
Instructing ice climbing once again....
19th February 2015
So, Ben Lomond yesterday...started nice, ended nice, just the blizzard in the middle for an hour ! The summit shot with my client Kevin shows the blizzard just coming in. An hour of zero viz and horizontal graupel followed, with the only way to see and navigate being through ski goggles. Glad we managed to guide the two guys from London off the mountain safely....chastened but wiser for the experience....
18th February 2015
Thanks to all the climbers from S.H.A.G for a great night of instructing ice climbing ! (Scottish Hillwalkers Activity Group.....what did you think it stood for ?!)
17th February 2015
...just a small selection of the mountaineering kit required for the next 5 days
instructing and guiding !!
15th February 2015
Really busy just now! Making final preparations for the move North and taking lots of bookings for everything from guided hill walks to ice climbing! Here's hoping for more conditions like this !!!
12th February 2015
Preparation for a Scrambling & Ropework Session - a site visit and a sneeky bit of climbing thrown in as the sun came out!
Local suitable crag venues are great for this kind of thing...less flogging up hills means more skills learning time ! Neilston Quarry near Glasgow is a good example.....plenty of broken ground coveing all scrambling grades from 1 to 3(s) where skills can be learnt, practiced and improved, ready to be taken on the hill at a future date !
Jim, Graeme & James...looking forward to our session together!
9th February 2015
Mountain Summits appointed an Approved Course Provider for the National Navigation Award Scheme
8th February 2015
An Caisteal today. The weather was great to start with, as you can see below, but it kinda went downhill. Go to our FB page to see a short video of out time in "the white room"!
Happy days - certified again ! Or is that certifiable?
5th February 2015
Instructing Advanced Navigation today.....deep snow still, making for hard going. Misty Law & Hill of Stake are great for micro features navigation, and following bearings.....especially when
it changes from blue skies and sunshine....to this......
One navigation leg on a dead reckoning bearing was over 2km in length, with visibility about 10m...
Unfortuately it didn't stay like this !
3rd February 2015
You'll all be happy to know, (as indeed I am), that I passed my Outdoor First Aid Qualification. Spent the day treating emergency "patients" in a variety of scenarios...the best one was the guy who had a finger bitten off by his mate and was screaming and pulsing blood, whilst his silent mate was not breathing due to a finger down his throat......what would you have done ?
1st February 2015
After another session on the ice wall on Friday night, we are beginning work on the move up to our new base in Perthshire. We're due to move on 25th February so the weekend has been spent ensuring River Cottage will be ready for our clients, and East Lodge will be ready for us to live in!
29th January 2015
After an evening instructing ice climbing, it was back up into the mountains today, with a guiding trip into the Arrochar Alps, heading up the back corrie of the Cobbler from Glen Croe. Heavy snow made for heavy going, with general snow depth 20-25cm, and drifts anywhere from knee to waist depth! Some brief sun but mainly cloudy with snow, spindrift, whiteout, the whole shebang.....
The picture below shows the amount of snow - this is a shot taken at circa 400m alt. looking down into Glen Croe...it was the last we saw of the sun.
For a video from today go to:
26th January 2015
Instructing Ice Climbing this evening....had a young lady on a taster session tonight...she had done ballet before...picked up ice climbing technique in minutes...it's all about the footwork you see.....
24th January 2015
...in the Arrochar Alps again today...still lots of snow, which was blowing around in the strong winds. Plenty of cornices visible, particularly on Ben Ime. Trail breaking was still hard work but we managed to wade through 12 miles of the stuff. This picture of Ben Vane taken today shows how much snow there still is down to a low level.
23rd January 2015
...teaching ice climbing at Snow Factor tonight....great session with Allan the lawyer ! Thanks fella! I really enjoyed it!.....Heading off for the Arrochar Alps early doors tomorrow....
22nd January 2015
I've just done a wee instructional video to highlight a common problem a lot of people have in taking an accurate bearing using a compass. The problem is that the measurment gradations on the left edge of many compass base plates obscure the identification of the location and destination. However, using the thin line in the middle of a base plate can overcome this, so making the bearing much more accurate. To see how, go to:
www.facebook.com/mountainsummits to see the video......
21st January 2015
...another stunning photo from the Arrochar Alps on Sunday,,,,,
20th January 2015
Instructing ice climbing at Snow Factor last night. Here's Jim & Graeme looking like they're enjoying themselves ! I certainly did! Let's hope they're still smiling after the Aonach Eagach this coming weekend!
Just back from teaching ice climbing at Snow Factor......
If you want to see a video of yesterday's action on The Cobbler, go to our Facebook Page at
18th January 2015
In the Arrochar Alps on a Winter Travel Day. An ascent of The Cobbler on a windy but beautiful day, with lots of opportunity to examine avalanche prone slopes and snow transportation. Very evident that dynamic assessment was required enabling safe route choice. Plenty of ice axe and crampon work as well as a good fitness workout in the numerous deep drifts. All in all, a belter of a day!!!!!
Near the summit of North Peak, looking towards the South Peak.....
...ice axe & crampons required......
17th January 2015
Ben Lomond with a private client today. Cold, snow showers, some sun and LOTS of snow. This led to a real fight up the Ptarmigan Ridge, in snow that was up to WAIST deep ! Eventually Mike and I decided enough was enough and we retreated from 750m. Still, gave some opportunities for ice axe practice and plenty of discussion about avalanches!
...a glimpse of blue sky.......
...Mike with a well earned brew !
The Luss hills across Loch Lomond...plenty of snow !
15th January, 2015
Wild and wet on a recce today, but signs that the next two weeks could be good......here's hoping !
Above - Loch Lomond at 300m alt. Below - Plenty of Water !
East Lodge, Kindrogan,
Perthshire PH10 7PF
Tel: +44 (0)7801 852798
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