International Mountain Leader

 Assessor Helen Barnard and my fellow candidates. 

Assessor Helen Barnard and my fellow candidates. 

Lucy: The exciting news here for us in the French Alps is that I have passed my International Mountain Leader Award!  Its been a time consuming and often challenging process, that has taken me just under two years to complete, with two 5 day training courses and two assessments as well as a speed navigation test and months of personal consolidation.  Preparation for my final assessment was one of the ulterior motives in our relocation to France this winter. 

 A break in the clouds on Mont Chery. 

A break in the clouds on Mont Chery. 

My last assessment began in Morzine a week ago, and I joined 15 other candidates and four super professional Plas Y Brenin assessors for five days of navigation, digging in the snow, avalanche transceiver searches and nature appreciation. The assessors kept us busy, scrutinised our skills, and gave us plentiful opportunities to demonstrate our knowledge. Thank you PYB instructing staff: Helen Barnard, Mark Tennent, Helen Teasdale and Rob Spencer. 

Whilst much of the IML award involves taking the skills that I've developed as a working mountain leader and applying them in an international setting, I've also learned absolutely loads. Emergency summer rope-work at this level can be more complex, and there is an expectation that IMLs will be slick and safe in dynamic situations. My understanding of the alpine snowpack and avalanche avoidance has increased exponentially (this is a subject where there is always room for more learning), and I've deepened my understanding of the flora and fauna of Europe. The best thing is that I've also had some awesome adventures on the way. The key for me I think was having a supportive community of fellow candidates to train and practice with over the last year or so, and ample preparation time to build up my experience whilst out here in France. Huge thanks to everyone who has joined me on the journey.  

 Sub optimal conditions above the Col d'Encrenaz. 

Sub optimal conditions above the Col d'Encrenaz. 

Looking ahead, I'm excited to be going home to Scotland next week and returning to the mountains that I love the most on Arran. Nature is best for me when it's on my own patch, with birds, mammals and plants that feel like old friends.  However, I'm also blessed that this new qualification is going to bring me lots of thrilling work in Europe and the next few months are looking busy. I'm raring to go! 

La Belle Vie

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Lucy: We've settled in to life in France, and while Wally still has a while to go out here, I'm over half way through my stay. It's been a roller coaster ride of snow storms, epic weather, adventures, visiting friends and the daily routine of checking the avalanche hazard bulletins.  This is quite a job as here in Le Bourg d'Oisans, we nestle between the two forecast areas of Les Grandes Rousses, and Oisans, and have a couple more on our doorstep. Not only that but I've been travelling about, with visits to the Pelvoux for the Ecrins Ice Festival, and north towards the Beaufortain and Chamonix areas. The stack of Blue IGN maps on my desk is getting bigger and bigger, we've reached peak cheese, I'm finally starting to get the measure of la bureaucratie franΓ§aise.  As is usual for us, life is hectic. 

It's only four weeks now until I head back to Scotland and whilst I'm loving life out here, I'm looking forward to getting home to friends and family,  as well as hills that feel like old friends too. We are taking bookings for the Spring and I can't wait to be back beside the sea again. 


Extreme Weather

 Great views from the Montagne de Gresse on Saturday. 

Great views from the Montagne de Gresse on Saturday. 

Happy New Year! 2018 has been a bumpy ride out here in South East France with lots of extreme weather, heavy snow fall and Storm Eleanor, who brought avalanches, rock fall, landslides and flooding to the region, including all of the above to our valley. Being from Arran, we are used to wild conditions, but recent days have surprised everyone, including the locals. The avalanche hazard in the high mountains is still at Level 3 in the valley, and it is even higher further east. Sometimes a cafe or admin day is the best option. 

Nevertheless, we've enjoyed some excellent adventures in between the storms, and when Eleanor was at her peak, we headed south and west to Provence for a couple of days respite, cycling in the sun. I was also grateful to grab a solo day sunshine on Saturday, snowshoeing near Gresse en Vercors. 

This week my friend and colleague Cat from Reach the Peak has joined me as a partner in snowshoeing crime.  Today we were in the Vercors massif, enjoying firm snow, and watching rain fall on all the peaks around us apart from our own- St Michel, which seemed to resist the rain until we were well on our way back to Bourg. The Vercors has been a brilliant place to retreat to while the higher areas have such difficult conditions, but the snow pack is melting there, and becoming increasingly patchy.  If only we could coax some of the snow falling in the east a bit further down hill? 

 Ascending Pic Sant Michel via the Col de l'Arc. 

Ascending Pic Sant Michel via the Col de l'Arc. 

A White Christmas!

Lucy: We've heard a rumour that has travelled all the way from Scotland to le Bourg d'Oisans... Apprently there has been a White Christmas in some parts of the country... We hope that many of you have been able to get out and enjoy the snow, as we have over here. Today sadly,  it is mild and raining so we are hiding at home.  Above the house they are blasting loose rock to clear a road that was blocked in the last big storm. Tomorrow another epic snowfall is forecast.


I've been absolutely blessed with a fantastic welcome and a great new snowshoing companion. Kirsten and I made the most of the interim good weather over the weekend in the run up to Christmas. On Saturday I was a guest of the Grenoble-Oisans sector of the Club Alpin FranΓ§ais on one of their regular saturday meets.  This active club enjoy a lot of Snowshoeing and Kirsten is a regular particpant. On this occasion we met on the outkirts of Grenoble and headed in convoy up to Engins, in the Vercors Massif, for a snow shoe hike up to the plateau above Sornin.

As we set off the mist hung thick in the valley and it was a dark and depressive atmosphere in the forest.  It's quite a pull up to Sornin but once above the hamlet the mist began to disperse above us, and it wasn't long before we popped out of a cloud inversion in to brilliant blue skies. We paused at a chalet to "casse le croute" and also for some transceiver/probe/shovel practice, with the wise Francis patiently coaching us all on our technique. After lunch we continued in a circuit through the woodland on the plateau before eventually descending in to the mist once more. For me, this was an excellent experience- once more I was made to feel very welcome, and I enjoyed practicing my dodgy french on the group. It was also very interesting to see "how the locals do it", and I am grateful to Francis for sharing his knowledge and experience.


The following day Kirsten and I were a little tired! However, we managed to muster up some energy and Kirsten skillfully drove us up the steep snowy road to Villard Reymond from where we could easily access the small but steep little summit of Le Pregentil, that looms above the valley where we live. It was late afternoon, the sun was beaming at us from across the mountains, and we lingered for a long time on the summit taking it all in.

Yesterday of course was the big day, and we decided to spend the daylight hours outside, knowing that it would be the last good day for a while. Wally and Lee joined us for an ascent of La Quarlie, a 2322m summit above the village of Besse with incredible views of Le Meije. The sun beamed down on us and at times it was so hot we felt we were snowshoeing in the Caribbean not the Alps in December. The Quarlie itself is a big rounded lump, dare I say it a slog, nevertheless dwarfed by everything else around it. Again, we lingered on the summit, and the sun was setting as we raced back down to Besse so as not to miss our Christmas Dinner.

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The coming week looks a bit mixed for us out here, with bands of rain and snow coming through and topping up the mountains with their winter garb. We hope that all our friends and clients have had an enjoyable Christmas, with lots of time to spend with family, including some time outside having fun. In the closing days of 2017 we are reflecting on a busy year for us, and to looking ahead to perhaps our busiest yet to come. We would like to thank our customers for choosing to book their outdoor adventures with us and to wish them all the very best in this festive season.

Hitting the Ground Snowshoeing...

 Wally and Mikaela amongst the snow ghosts on Le Moucherotte.

Wally and Mikaela amongst the snow ghosts on Le Moucherotte.

Lucy: Its exactly a week since I joined Wally in Le Bourg d'Oisans, where we are spending the winter season. Life is a bit different here to the one I'm used to back home on Arran. It's bitterly cold outside, (rather than damp), and everything is covered in snow. Everything! Great early season conditions here in the Alps mean that the mountains are in excellent condition for snowshoeing, yet at the same time, the avalanche hazard is considerable or higher.

My job this winter is to build up my experience and fill my logbook as I work my way along the IML qualification pathway. I've hit the ground snowshoeing, literally, and already enjoyed some quality days in the mountains. Here are a few pics from the week which I hope you enjoy.

 Mikaela in the forest at Chamrousse.

Mikaela in the forest at Chamrousse.

On Monday, Wally and I met with Mikaela Toczek, who is based near Grenoble and on a similar mission to me. We headed in to the Vercors Massif, with snow falling all around us, and bagged Le Moucherotte, a small summit overlooking Grenoble. Conditions felt distinctly Scottish, with a cold breeze and rime ice all over everything.

 Roosting "igloo", probably for Black Grouse.

Roosting "igloo", probably for Black Grouse.

On Wednesday, the avalanche hazard went through the roof, with a cold northerly wind shifting the powdery snow around, so Mikaela and I headed to the forest behind the ski area at Chamrousse. There were lots of signs of nature around for us to enjoy without sticking our necks out to much. We enjoyed discovering fox tracks, mountain hare, and the roosting burrows of black grouse amongst the trees. 

Yesterday was the shortest day of the year, a time that back home on Arran,  is invariably dark and damp. My normal response is to enjoy cups of tea and cake by the fire, but yesterday I joined my new snowshoe buddy Kirsten for an exploration of the plateau and ridges above Les Signaruax. We were treated to a magical display of winter light as we emerged through a cloud inversion and in to the sunshine.  I can safely say that this is the first time that I have been sunburned on the winter soltice!

 Kirsten on the plateau above Les Signaraux.

Kirsten on the plateau above Les Signaraux.

Washing a Down Jacket

In the run up to our Alpine adventure, Wally and I spent a lot of time sorting and preparing our kit for the cold weather we hope to enjoy. This included washing and repairing our down jackets.  Care for down equipment in cold weather is very important- as important as looking after your boots or any other bit of essential gear.  Down jackets are filled with light and compressible feathers that keep you cosy by trapping warm air.  They don't like getting wet, as this makes them heavy and they loose their fluffiness, or "loft". However, dirt, grime, sweat and body oils can have the same affect over time, so every now and then they need a good careful clean. In this blog post, we will take you through the step by step process that we use, and share some pointers that we have learned along the way.

What down equipment is suitable for home cleaning?

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First of all, read the cleaning instructions on your garment care label. We strongly recommend that you DONT wash sleeping bags.  These items are too big and bulky for domestic washing machines and tumble dryers. If possible, use a professional down cleaner with experience of cleaning technical sleeping bags. Smaller items such as down jackets can be cleaned at home. What you need are the following things:

  • Specialist down detergent (available from all good gear shops)
  • Washing machine
  • Tumble dryer
  • Two tennis balls (or tumble dryer balls)
  • Time

Preparation and washing

Sad down jacket.jpg

Make sure that you have a day or a long evening in front of the telly planned! You'll want to be on hand to ease the process along. Before washing the jacket, check that there aren't any holes where feathers can leak out. If there are, you may wish to consider repairing these with a dab of seam grip and leaving this to set overnight. Larger holes could mean that you need to put your cleaning plans on hold as these will require careful patching before laundering.

Ensure that all zips and hook and loop closures are fastened. Put the jacket in the washing machine on it's own, and wash at 30 degrees with your down cleaning agent. I prefer to turn the spin cycle down as wet feathers are heavy and spinning could damage lightweight stitching and baffles. When the washing machine has finished, your down jacket will look like a cat that has just got out of the bath. At this moment, things are a bit scary.  Did I mention that down jackets really don't like being wet?

Now the hard work begins.


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Put the jacket in the tumble dryer on low with a couple of tennis balls. You should not go far from it for the next few hours, checking on it every 20 minutes or so and giving it a gentle shake. As it dries, you will notice that there are clumps of soggy feathers and empty areas where there are none. This is where your care and attention is essential.  Take the time to shuggle and coax the down in to areas where it is needed, and with your fingers fluff the clumps gently. It's worth doing this each time you check on the jacket. The amount of time your jacket takes to dry will depend on the amount of down inside and the air permeability of the shell.  Wally's vintage first generation Gore-Tex Mountain Equipment Annapurna jacket takes a lot longer than my light weight Jottnar Fjorm.

Eventually, it will start to feel normal. Don't stop! It's still not dry yet.  I like to give a few more goes in the tumble drier until it feels fluffier and better lofted than it did before.  The final round in the drier makes all the difference.


Down jackets.png

Finally, to maximise the lifespan of your down jacket, be sure to store it in a dry place, where it has plenty of room to expand and loft. It's definitely not a good idea to store it for any length of time in a stuff sack, even if it is supplied with one. Hopefully with these top tips, your beloved jacket will keep you warm for years to come!

Snowy Goatfell

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Winter is off to a flying start!  On Sunday we were out on the hill with our friend Kirstie and her wee search dog Cailleag, looking for some snowy fun, and we were certainly not disappointed!

We took the steep path from Corrie, in to Coire Lan, and then up the headwall towards the bealach between North Goatfell and Mullach Buidhe. The snow lay deep, but not particularly crisp, more deep and a bit sticky... Once on the ridge the wind began to blow. We wrapped up warm, actually quite excited to feel the nip of winter after so much rain, and headed along the ridge towards Goatfell.

Stacach Nov 17a.png

We took the traverse path that avoids the rocky scramble of Stacach ridge.  This is not always the easy option as is also potentially quite tricky in snowy conditions as it lies in the lee of the ridge and can sometimes be buried in snow.  However, prevailing winds have been northerly recently and the ridge was mostly quite well scoured.  It's worth mentioning that although the deeper pillows in the sheltered bits were well bonded this time, retracing our steps is an option we always have in our minds on this route in winter.

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We reached Goatfell summit and were delighted to find another friend up there- Zabdi of Flying Fever Paragliding School (on foot for a change). Arran is a beautiful place, especially under a blanket of snow, but it's the people that really make it special.  I absolutely love this place and am going to miss home like mad this winter.  For more pics of our adventures, check out Kirstie's twitter feed.  She's a talented photographer, and her pics really do the day justice!

It's not too late to book your winter adventure on Arran.  Lucy is a qualified Winter Mountain Leader and has some availability over the next couple of weeks.  The forecast is awesome, so this is a great opportunity to see the mountains at their best!

A wintery day on the Mainland

Lucy: It's been a long damp dark autumn, and the snow has been slower to arrive than some years, but the mainland is at last looking persistantly wintery and there is snow in the forecast for Arran towards the end of the week! Yesterday I was in the east of Scotland catching up on some hill time with my friend Jen.

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Jen who is normally unstoppable,  is recovering from injury so we picked a relatively easy day that we could adapt and make longer if we wished. The munros to the east of Dalwhinnie fitted the bill perfectly, with a land rover track from roadside to ridge, and a gently undulating plateau to explore.  We targeted Carn na Caim first. It's a steep climb up from the road but not difficult and before we knew it we were away from the hustle and bustle of the A9 and enjoying the open feel of the heathery plateau.  Visibility was mostly good, but a few whisps of cloud played with us from time to time. Crampons were not needed, but it was bitterly cold. There was a dusting of snow, the ground was mostly frozen, and the light was gorgeous. 

A Bhuidheanach Beag.jpg

We made short work of Carn na Caim, and feeling strong, headed for A' Bhuidheanach Beag. It wasn't long before we were congratulating ourselves on the second summit of the day and heading down. All that remained to top off a perfect day was to grab a brew and a bowl of soup by the cosy fire at Dalwhinnie's Snack Shack.

Snow is coming to Arran in the next few days so give us a shout if you fancy a guided day in the Arran hills this weekend with a Winter Mountain Leader.  If you also fancy a mainland Winter Munro Day, we are taking bookings and enquiries for March- just get in touch and we will endeavor get back to you straight away.

Work and Play in the Peak District

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Lucy: Things are getting quieter here on Arran and as usual November is the month that we can catch up with ourselves and begin our winter preparation. With less work in the diary and the nights drawing in, it can be hard to keep active at this time of year, and this is one of the few periods when I have to consciously push myself outside to exercise. After a busy year it is of course good to rest, but we also have one eye on winter, a time when we need to be at our fittest! Last weekend I was working on a Lowland Leader Training for Adventure Expeditions all the way down in the Peak District so we both decided to head south and add a bit of rest and relaxation on to the trip in the form of riding bikes and rock climbing as well as spending time with friends.

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With a cold wind forecast on Thursday, we headed to Rivelin Edge for some rock climbing. The crag is sheltered and south facing so it was agood choice. It is also relatively quick to dry, which was a bonus as the day started damp. Some of the greener crack climbs stayed slimey all day, but we enjoyed some delicate face climbing. It's a long time since either of us have played on grit so Wally was very happy with his lead of Left Edge (HVS 4c).

The Peak District is also a great place for road cycling, and we enjoyed a spin amongst the showers, with obligatory cake stops on friday, and Wally who is keen as mustard on the bike,  was out and about on his bike while I was working over the weekend.

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The Lowland Leader Award is a Mountain Training walking and leadership award for people taking groups out in lowland terrain in the UK.  It's part of the Mountain Training leadership pathway and benefits from a structured training and assessment process, with candidate experience consolidated and recorded along the way. Our friends at Adventure Expeditions are providers of this excellent award and this is the first Lowland Leader Training course that I have worked on and I can't wait to do more. Training future leaders is an interesting and rewarding process!

Winter News and 2018 Bookings

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The first snow is dusting the summit of Goatfell, and on the mainland, the hills are starting to look genuinely wintery. With the change of season, it is time to update our clients and friends with our winter availability and accordingly,  announce some big news about our own plans.

In short, we will be spending much of the season in the French Alps!  This is obviously very exciting from a personal perspective, but will have a knock on effect for clients for which we are very sorry. We won't be available for bookings from the 10th December until early March.  Wally is expecting to be staying out in France until the end of April but Lucy will be back to grab some proper Scottish winter fun from the beginning of March. She already has bookings for winter mountain work on the mainland and is taking bookings for mainland winter munros throughout March. However,  if you are keen for Arran wildlife watching or an Arran mountain day in March it is still worth getting in touch to check availability.

Looking ahead to Summer 2018 (May onwards), we will start taking bookings for these dates in the New Year.  We realise that this may be a little frustrating for those of you who wish to get in early with bookings and appreciate that we book up fast, but this is due to the large amount of schools/contract work that we do.  This can block up weeks at a time, and is an important part of our work which we enjoy very much.  Sadly we don't yet have these dates firmed up, and would absolutely hate to take your booking and then cancel you further down the line. We hope you understand that your bookings are just as important to us and would be delighted to hear from you in the mean time to chat about options and ideas for your day out on Arran.

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Finally, we hope you are looking forward to winter as much as we are.  It's a brilliant time for watching wildlife and getting out in to the hills.  Don't forget your head torch as the nights are drawing in, and pop a few extra layers in the bag!

Lucy and Wally.