Adventures

Samoëns: IML Summer Assessment

Lucy: I'm back on Arran after a couple of weeks living the high life in the Haute Savoie.  This was a personal trip, preparation for my International Mountain Leader Summer Assessment, followed by the assessment itself, which I'm delighted to say, I passed.

Based in Samoëns, I had 10 days to get to know the area, before assessment, trekking up high, exploring the passes and steeper chained sections of the main routes, and learning about the amazing biodiversity of the area. The backdrop was an incredible karst limestone landscape, baking sunshine, lively marmots and badass alpine flowers throwing shades at 2500m. Guidebook: Cicerone's Walking in the Haute Savoie: South. 

Now all that remains is the (not) small matter of my Winter Assessment!

Massive thanks to the posse of aspirant IMLs and other warm and friendly folk who I joined in the hills, to the Plas Y Brenin staff for a professional and challenging assessment, and Ian Spare, Communications Director of BAIML for organising an aspirants day in the hills.

 On the way up to the Refuge Alfred Wills.

On the way up to the Refuge Alfred Wills.

 Cascade de la Pleureuse, Sixt fer a Cheval.

Cascade de la Pleureuse, Sixt fer a Cheval.

 Field Gentian.

Field Gentian.

Slovenské Tatry

WhiteTatrachalet

Lucy: I've just returned from a fantastic week assisting Andy Charlton of Adventure Expeditions: Duke of Edinburgh's award expedition experts. Alongside their excellent UK based journeys, they also provide a number of bespoke European Gold expeditions including an adventurous and frankly, stunning journey through the Tatra mountains of Slovakia.

Initially, we based ourselves on the Polish side of the border in the bustling town of Zakopane for acclimatisation and last minute equipment and food purchases. Once underway, we quickly crossed the border in to Slovakia. The first day we explored the eastern fringes of the White, or Belianske Tatry. With quiet farms and meadows, this was a big contrast to the noisy tourism of the Polish side.

 Beliansk é  (White) Tatry

Belianské (White) Tatry

For the following three days, we crossed the White Tatra, and headed deep in to the High Tatra, or Vysoke Tatry, journeying from hut to hut and crossing remote mountain cols. We met a few fellow travellers, and almost as many chamois and marmots. We saw no sign of the reported bears and wolves.

This was was my first time in this wild and exciting mountain range. The nearest comparison I can come up with, is that it is like a huge pumped up Cuillin Ridge, with dark and jagged ridges towering over remote lakes and corries. The terrain is complex and steep, but the paths we used are well maintained, making this a great place for a very special DofE Gold exped.

 Vysoké (High) Tatry

Vysoké (High) Tatry

 Tatra Chamois

Tatra Chamois

 Lomnický štít Cable Car

Lomnický štít Cable Car

 Téryho Chata mountain hut.

Téryho Chata mountain hut.

Holy Isle: Arran Mountain Festival

Lucy: Today I was volunteering for the Arran Mountain Festival. The festival's strapline is "Small groups, big walks, huge fun" and it certainly delivers. Every year I lead the Holy Isle walk, in partnership with Russell and Elspeth Cheshire from the Community of Arran Seabed Trust (COAST). Whilst our walk isn't the biggest, it has lots of adventure in the form of a trip over to the island in Russell and Elspeth's RIB and the feeling of being marooned, if only for a few hours.

Today the weather was pretty wild, with strong winds, and a bit of mist on the summit of the island (Mullach Mor, 314m). There's a bit of a scramble over the top, spiced up by the crosswind, which the team enjoyed. Once we had descended back to sea level, we took a leisurely stroll back along the coast passsing nesting oystercatchers and curious seals.

Arran 700s

 Somewhere in the clag on the Western Hills.

Somewhere in the clag on the Western Hills.

Lucy: What a day, what an amazing, sore, exhausting and ultimately uplifting day.  We were truly blessed with the weather, and with generous helpers who all played their part in getting us through our Arran 700s trek.

Kirstie's partner Mark was up all night on a lifeboat shout, but still managed to drive us to Pirnmill for our dawn start. Kirstie's wee search dog Caileag joined us and we headed for the Western Hills, still swathed in clag from the previous day's weather. The first few summits came thick and fast, ticking off the Beinn Bharrain ridge, serenaded by Golden Plover.  These "peeper squeakers" as we called them accompanied us all the way around the top of Glen Iorsa and up on the the Leac an Tobair of Caisteal Abhail. The mist cleared and it was super exciting to get our first glimpse of the eastern part of the island.

Getting up on to Caisteal Abhail was a monster, and was the point at which I began to doubt myself, but Kirstie kept the banter going and after some food we both felt better.  Cir Mhor was a doddle and we were given an extra bounce by four gentlemen who kindly emptied their wallets in support of the cause.  Things got mentally tougher as we traversed under A'chir, for an out and back to Beinn Nuis via Beinn Tarsuin (so good we climbed it twice). It was a bit grim to pass A'Chir twice and not climb it.  Even wee Caileag started to lose her enthusiasm and it began to rain.

 A'Chir Summit

A'Chir Summit

Morale was saved by dropping in to Glen Rosa to meet Mark and Wally. The rain stopped and Caileag had the chance for a nap with Mark while Wally made himself in to a human boulder problem, physically getting us on to the summit block of A'chir. This was the bit that had been daunting both of us thoughout our preparation and with that over, it was as if a weight was lifted from our shoulders.  The four of us and Caileag skipped under Cir Mhor and up to the Saddle to meet Arran MRT Team Leader Alan McNichol, waiting with a huge flask of tea, biscuits, Jelly babies etc. We cooked a bit of scran, and were ready for the last three not insignificant summits. Caileag, bless her, was done in and returned down the Glen with Mark and Alan.

 Up, up, up, with help from Wally...

Up, up, up, with help from Wally...

I'd always known that the climb out of the saddle would be hard, but Wally stayed with us and helped to pace us up the ridge. It was great to have his company as we ticked off North Goatfell and Mullach Buidhe (the second summit of this name of the day).  Finally, before we knew it, we were on Goatfell. Absolutely punch drunk but over the moon.

So its a huge thanks to everyone involved, especially our Arran MRT colleagues who were out on a shout late on Saturday night but didn't call us, thereby not jeopardising our attempt.  Of couse we'd have turned out if asked, and postponed the challenge, but they saved us from this fate as well as successfully finding a missing person on a dark, damp night in a remote part of the island.  This is what MRTs do, made up of volunteers who unquestioningly put themselves forward to help those in need. I've met some of the finest people on the planet through MR and if you ever need them, they will do their best to help you. 

We enjoyed the challenge despite the hard graft,  and the biggest thrill is seeing the amount of money we have raised so far for our own Arran and Mulanje MRT in Malawi, a team with very few resources, who not only save lives in the mountains but support vulnerable people in their community,  a place with little or no safety net. 

We both love being part of an MR team, the teamwork and camararderie are a big part of the reason why we do it,  as well as wanting to help those in need in the hills that we love. MR work is expensive, and rightly free in the UK at the point of access. MR teams depend on public donations to do their work.  Thank you for your support (and to Kirstie and Wally for these great pics)! Please keep the cash rolling in. https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/Arran700s

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

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.

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.

Sunblock and Snowshoes!

Storm Doris brought snow, and Storm Ewan washed it away again. Happily, on Ewan's departure a colder airflow was sucked across the UK and we woke up to snow at valley level once more. What's more, the sun was shining.  With no work in the diary, and a good forecast, it was time to take a personal day on the hill. We decided to play local, left the car behind, and jumped on our mountain bikes to head up through the Loy Woods towards Stob A'Ghriainain, a Corbett with a ringside view of Ben Nevis.

Once on the ridge, the snow was deep and fluffy. Lucy got her snowshoes out and the vibe was distincly Alpine.