Winter skills

Snowy Goatfell

Stacach Nov 17.png

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.

Team Stacach 17.png

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!

Winter News and 2018 Bookings

Lucy and Wally Winter.png

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.

Snowy Warrior.png

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.

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.

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.

A day of two halves....

Lucy writes: I didn't take any photos on the first part of my day with Phil, Nigel and Mark in the Mamores. Heavy rain and strong winds were forecast and the weather delivered. We banked on the weather calming down around midday and started later than usual from Achriabhach with a plan to climb Mullach nan Coirean. When we set out the Nevis was in phenomenal spate, and the little burns coming off the hills were wild torrents.

Our day didn't go entirely to plan, but the summit is optional. With mixed experience and fitness levels in the team, we took a leisurely pace, and explored the (soggy) snowpack, discussed mountain hazards, navigation and enjoyed the improving views as the weather cleared.  We didn't make the true summit, but for at least one of the lads this was his first Scottish mountain, and a baptism of fire. A good effort by all.

The high temperatures and heavy rain have stripped a lot of snow and saturated the snowpack.  Cooling temperatures should bring some stability and more snow is forecast.  A good week is potentially in prospect.

A busy weekend...

Lucy writes: Its been a busy three days for us!  It began on Friday, with me working in the East on the first day of a winter skills workshop for Nineonesix Guiding in partnership with the SYHA. This great wee course was supposed to have been delivered in torridon, where the stunning scenery and remote location ensure an special and unique experience.  Sadly our reluctant winter has put paid to that, and the course was relocated to the Cairngorms, where more reliable coonditions ensured a quality outdoor classroom was available.  We had a great day, covering some navigation (despite the good vis) and avalanche avoidance,  as well as movement skills with and without crampons.

Meanwhile....Wally was having some fun with a personal solo day out on the East Ridge of Beinn A Chaorainn, a grade I winter climb and a fine easy mountaineering route.

Saturday saw Wally doing a CPD Avalanche Avoidance refresher on Aonach Mor with the Scottish Avalanche Information Service, and generously supported by the Chris Walker Memorial Trust. Like first aid training, keeping these skills up to date and fresh is an important part of staying current as a winter leader, and so we grab every opportunity we can to learn from experts in this field. Worth remembering though that whilst its easy to get geeky about snow, the basics are simple- knowledge of weather, snowpack, terrain and human factors form the basis of good planning and decision making, supported by forecasts from the SAIS avalanche if available.  Meanwhile, on the mountain next door, I was working for West Coast Mountain Guides, helping to guide a team of seven intrepid lads to the summit of Ben Nevis as part of a winter Three Peaks Challenge.

Finally, yesterday Wally and I were working together, this time for Reach The Peak, on an introductory winter skills day on Ben Vorlich, near Loch Earn. Our team of ten intrepid hillwalkers certainly experienced the "Full Scottish", with spindrift, high winds, and deep snow. We managed to get lots of learning in depsite the weather!