The Three Beinns

Wally writes: Today I went for a walk with Mallory and Sophie, and their trusty humans, Nicola and Russell. We headed up on to the Three Beinns ridge, a high level horseshoe at the quieter end of the Goatfell range.

The conditions were mostly kind to us.  It was a good day to chew the fat, talk about weather and the geology around us, and admire the expansive views. We found some ice and snow on the northern shady side of Beinn Tarsuinn.  At one point a snow shower came up at us from the depths of Coire Daingean, but mostly the sun shone. Thanks all for a great day's work in the hills!

Navigation Coaching

Wally writes: Yesterday afternoon I headed to the southern moors with client David for some navigation coaching to help him prep for his forthcoming Mountain Leader Assessment. It was a beautiful day, with wall to wall sunshine and amazing views of the northern hills, so we planned to navigate past sunset and in to the night to make the most of the featureless terrain.

Setting off from the highest point on the Ross Road, we criss-crossed the plateau, with David leading navigation legs as well as practicing relocation techniques by following me blind on other legs.

After the sun finally set, we enjoyed a bite to eat on A'Cruach, and then David navigated us through the darkness to the highest point on the String Road, where a vehicle was waiting. 

I'd like to wish David the best of luck in his ML assessment!

Summit of A'Chruach.

Summit of A'Chruach.

Hill Mission

Image credit: Kirstie Smith

Image credit: Kirstie Smith

Lucy writes: My friend Kirstie and I are raising money for Arran and Mulanje Mountain Rescue Teams. Mulanje is the highest mountain in Malawi, and the team there do amazing work with very little equipment or training. To encourage people to support the cause, we've set ourselves a crazy challenge, to climb all the 700m peaks on Arran in a day. At over 35km and 3,000m of ascent its going to be a toughy!

Today the training began in earnest.  We set off with Wally to help for a dry run of A'Chir, which will be the crux of our challenge. From the moment we roped up, we wrestled with an arctic wind, and even though I was wearing all my layers, I had the coldest hands I've had so far this winter. We bailed, and Wally in the most gentlemanly way, offered to carry the climbing gear off the hill for us while Kirstie and I pushed on with a traverse of Cir Mhor, Goatfell and North Goatfell.  Off we set, and although the wind never let up, at least were were moving fast and keeping warm.  With only 18km done today and 1400m of ascent, we realise that we have got a very big challenge on our hands! You can donate to our fundraiser here: https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/Arran700s

Caisteal Abhail

Lucy writes: Yesterday dawned bright and beautiful again!  I met up with Charlotte and Electra for their final day out with me this week and we headed to North Glen Sannox. We'd left this day until last as I knew that there would be lots of old snow lingering under Caisteal Abhail and wanted to give it as long as possible to melt and soften in the warm weather. It was a good call, as by sunday,  it was only the final part of the North Ridge that was holding any quantity of snow. In the shade of summit buttress we found a little that was quite firm and needed care to traverse. Happily we'd carried ice axes in preparation for this short section.

It was a fun day out with incredible views and fanatstic clients...  and a fitting finale to Electra's birthday celebrations. Happy Birthday Electra!

The Eagles are Coming

Lucy writes: Today was another beautiful day on Arran and I was out with Charlotte and Electra again, on a wildlife watching Hotspot Safari. They'd been lucky enough to see otters earlier in the week, and so were happy to focus on other species today.  With the dry weather and excellent thermals, there was lots of bird of prey activity. We began the day with a hen harrier spot, and ended the day with lovely views of a pair of harriers.  However, most of the day seemed to be spent watching golden eagles, soaring in the skies above Arran's big glens. The highlight was watching a male eagle deliver a dead rabbit to his mate, who swooped down from on high when he called her to devour it.

Western Hills of Arran

Lucy writes:  Wally and I are back on Arran after an enjoyable couple of months working in the Fort William area.  I hit the ground running with a hill day today. Charlotte and Electra are looking to explore the less well trodden parts of Arran and so we headed to the Western Hills. This also had the benefit that we could avoid much of the recent snow, amongst lower, rounded hills that face the afternoon sun.

It was wonderful to feel the warm spring sunshine on our faces.  We didn't see a soul all day, but were treated to lots of wildlife including ravens and golden eagles enjoying the thermals above the summits.

North Ridge of Stob Ban

Lucy:  I was working for West Highland College UHI with the 3rd year students on the Adventure Tourism Management degree today. This was a revision day for them, looking at a range of winter skills and risk management in preparation for an expedition later this month. The team led me and each other up through steep ground on the North Ridge of Stob Ban. We enjoyed fun scrambling, and a chance to look at movement techniques and discuss how you would protect less confident people on the steeper sections.  The descent to the bealach above Coire a Mhusgain was also fairly steep with wet slippery snowpack that needed careful footwork to descend safely. We saw lots of avalanche debris on NE facing slopes and big cornices on north facing aspects.

Sociable climbing on the Mess of Pottage

A personal day climbing out east for us today, which paid off with a fun outing on the Mess of Pottage in Coire an t-Sneachda in the Northern Cairngorms. We approached the Coire with fairly open objectives but it quickly became clear that the most straightforward option with the snow (esp cornice) conditions would be a climb on the Mess of Pottage. We headed for Hidden Chimney, a superb route that we have done before and knew would be good value. However, the route was busy with several parties and a with a bit of a bottleneck developing in the chimney we headed out right on to mixed ground. A series of steep litte steps and grooves at about grade II/III (a wandering line that we think is the harder variation Jacob's Edge?), brought us to the summit in good time.

Snow was lying deep on the easier angled terrain on the route, and there was no ice to speak of.  Happily there was lots of gear to be found to protect the steep sections.

Living the dream

Great views from below the cloudbase on Ben nevis.

Great views from below the cloudbase on Ben nevis.

Lucy writes: Since Thursday I've been immersed in a dense little block of freelance work of the type that is the standard bread and butter stuff of the jobbing Winter ML.  On Thursday and Saturday, I was working on the "tourist path" of Ben Nevis for West Coast Mountain Guides and yesterday it was the Ptarmigan Ridge of Ben Lomond for Abacus Mountain Guides. Both companies are well respected and highly professional outfits operating out of Fort William, led by super experienced local guides, and I'm very pleased to be on their books as a freelancer.

Getting to the point where I am using my Winter ML Award in this way has not always been straightforward. I was warned when I began the qualification years ago that there isn't much work out there. It took me a while to get my foot in the door with a few companies, and I've had to gamble quite a bit, laying out for accommodation in the Highlands with no guarantee of work. This winter, chracterised by poor conditions and lack of snow,  it's been hard at times to keep the faith. However, when it comes, it is definitely the most rewarding and satisfying work that I do.

Deep snow on the upper slopes of Ben Nevis.

Deep snow on the upper slopes of Ben Nevis.

Both Ben Nevis and Ben Lomond attract a wide range of visitors, from experienced Munro baggers to folk out on their first ever mountain walk, and some might even consider these peaks a little dull. However, in winter, they can be serious undertakings.  On Ben Nevis this week I've encountered the "Full Scottish" platter of strong winds, blizzards, and visibility so bad that even the summit marker cairns are hard to find without a compass. On Thursday I broke trail almost from the snowline to the summit. I used all my navigation skills even though I was on a summit plateau that I know like the back of my hand. The sense of achievement of a job well done at the end of a day like that is immense.  I was back on that same plateau on Saturday, the vis only marginally better, but thanks to two determined clients, keen to lap up as much winter experience and knowledge as possible, I did not feel at all jaded in my work. I love meeting people who are just beginning to fall in love with winter, and am honoured to have a part to play in their journey.

Ptarmigan Ridge of Ben Lomond

Ptarmigan Ridge of Ben Lomond

Yesterday on Ben Lomond, the conditions were a little quieter, but on the steep Ptarmigan ridge,  crampons and ice axe were essential for safe progression.  My clients were super keen, super psyched, but with no winter walking experience.  It was brilliant fun teaching them how to use the kit,  seeing their big grins as they stomped and kicked their way up the snowy ridge. At the top, a cloud inversion, and that rare sight, a brockenspectre, an angel in a rainbow, waiting for us. The delight in these things is as real as happiness can ever be. All three of us, clients and leader, feeling alive and filled with joy at a day in the mountains well spent.

Ben Lomond brockenspectre

Ben Lomond brockenspectre

I began this season on a training course in the Alps, and it seemed a far cry from the wild weather and unreliable conditions of Scotland in winter.  I wondered if I was missing a trick by spending my time fighting spindrift and gales, rather than swishing through Euro powder. Now, as the first signs of spring are creeping in to the glens, I'm sure that there is nowhere I would rather be working than the West Coast of Scotland.  Here, in a typical day, even when I'm repeatedly doing the same routes, I'm using every skill in the box, to coach, inspire, and take care of people in some of the most challenging and exciting conditions out there. Its a massive cliche, but I absolutely love my job.

Sron na Lairig

A personal mountaineering day for us today. We did Sron na Lairig, a classic Glencoe ridge, accessed from the Lairig Eilde near the top of the Glen.  Its a stunning ridge, with lots of choice low down, and a fine arete to finish.

Snow conditions were soft, and distinctly mushy low down but better higher up.  Ice was generally cruddy, but there is lots of rock on this ridge and all felt generally solid.

When we topped out, the views were absolutely stupendous.