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Toubkal Winter Conditions #9 – March 2015

Latest Toubkal Winter Conditions Report

Today was my first day back out in the High Atlas mountains after my trip to Scotland and it was good to be back! I headed up to the refuge this morning, had a good look around, soloed the first section of Chockstone Gully and then headed back home. It is currently snowing outside our place in the Imlil valley at 1,800m and, if the forecast holds true, we are in for some big dumps of snow overnight and tomorrow and then again on Monday.

 

 

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Heading up to the refuge this morning – Toubkal 19-3-15

 

 

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Snowpack and Snow Cover

The base snowpack is brilliant – well-bonded and pretty cohesive neve as there has been pretty stable weather over the last three weeks. The fresh snow over the next couple of days is due to fall in low winds so the drifting will be pretty minimal. As the SW winds are predicted to strengthen next week, be on the look out for wind-slab build-up on N to NE aspect slopes. Also, be on your guard when the snow is falling heavily and during the first 24 to 48 hours after the snowfall.

 

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Looking up at the south cwm/col route of Toubkal 19-3-15

 

 

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Tizi Ougane – 19-3-15

 

Climbing Conditions

Generally the routes have survived the warmer weather over the last couple of weeks. The routes on Afella are looking good with Fountain Gully in excellent condition with the upper ice pitch looking fat! Chockstone Gully is in good condition and Curtain Call is hanging in. Some single pitch ice routes at the end of the valley near Tizi Ouagane seemed to have thinned or disappeared. The routes on Toubkal West are in good nick with the upper slopes looking much more consolidated than a few weeks ago and a good build up of ice on the critical sections. The Afekhoi cascades looked to be in good condition, but the mixed climbing on the left buttress wasn’t in condition.

 

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Toubkal West – routes looking in good condition. 19-3-15

 

 

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Afella with it’s harder routes! 19-3-15

 

 

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Chockstone Gully 19-3-15

 

 

For a Logistics Only Package please get in touch with us! Let us sort all the non-climbing and mountaineering aspects to your trip, so that you can focus on enjoying the culture, peaks and routes of the High Atlas.

 

Refuge Access

Access to the Toubkal refuge was good today with the snow line on the path being much higher. About two thirds of the route is clear of snow but this will change with the colder conditions and the heavy snow predicted. You will be able to use mules to Sidi Chamharouch (2,350m) but will need porters for the rest of the trek in.

 

As the new snow on the path gets compacted down, it is a good idea to keep crampons in your rucksack, especially if you are starting out early or arriving at the refuge later in the day.

 

Winter Conditions Summary

Toubkal and the High Atlas mountains are still going strong for winter conditions! And with fresh, heavy snow forecasted it looks to stay that way late into April. The fresh snow should bring back some of the ice and fatten up existing routes. Be on your guard with the heavy dumps of snow (especially the first 24 to 48hs) and watch the strong winds creating wind-slab and big drifts on more northerly aspect slopes!

 

For a personalised trekking, guiding or instruction service and/or logistics for Toubkal and the High Atlas, just get in touch with us here at The Mountain People!

 

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Toubkal Massif approaching the refuge – peaks: Ras, Akioud, Afella. 19-3-15

 

Disclaimer: as a mountaineering instructor I have had avalanche risk assessment training and have a good level of experience but am by no means a professional avalanche forecaster. These reports aim to give you a general idea of the winter conditions and the risks involved but please be diligent in checking weather forecasts yourself and monitoring the conditions when you are out in the High Atlas.

 

 

Categories: Blog, Conditions, High Atlas, Ice Climbing, James, Morocco, Mountain Information, Mountaineering, Winter
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My journey to becoming an MIC

IMG_4764Some of you will have seen that I recently passed my Mountaineering Instructor Certificate assessment in Scotland. For any instructor it’s always a long journey to get to this stage due to the amount of experience you need. So I’ve been working towards this award since 2008 when I took my Summer Mountain Leader award and it’s a great relief to me (and my wife!) to have passed this final stage in the UK mountaineering and climbing qualification system.

 

 

What is the Mountaineering Instructor Certificate (MIC)?

 

According to the Association of Mountaineering Instructors (AMI) website:

 

“The Mountaineering Instructor Certificate is the higher qualification within the Mountaineering Instructor scheme in the UK.

 

MIC holders are qualified to instruct all aspects of mountaineering, both summer and winter, including rock climbing, scrambling and technical snow and ice climbing and winter mountaineering. MIC award holders have already passed the MIA and Winter Mountain Leader (Winter ML), after which they undertake further training and assessment in teaching winter climbing and mountaineering to obtain the MIC.”

 www.ami.org.uk/awards

 

For a good summary watch this short video for further details!

 

 

MIC holders don’t only work in the UK – they also work overseas in places like Norway or Morocco and lead expeditions in the greater ranges.

 

 

The assessment

 

I actually really enjoyed the assessment. At this stage in the qualifications you should have enough experience guiding and instructing to just be yourself and enjoy working alongside the assessor and clients provided. You have to just trust that the training and experience you have will have put you in the right place to be on the assessment.

 

I did my assessment with Plas y Brenin on the West coast of Scotland. As you might have seen, conditions have been wild there recently with strong winds, fluctuating temperatures and blizzards. Thankfully, though, winter held in there for the week of the assessment and we got some good days in.

 

 

What does the assessment entail?

 

The elements that we covered over the four-day assessment included:

 

Day one covered general mountaineering, which was safeguarding two people on the end of a rope up and down a mountaineering route, avalanche risk assessment and use of appropriate winter anchors.

 

Day two looked at personal winter climbing skills such as good movement on a graded routes, anchor selection and rope work skills such as stance management.

 

For the final two days we were given a client and were asked to come up with an appropriate programme based on their experience and aims/goals for winter climbing. This was one of the best parts of the assessment for me as I got to take out a novice and give him the skills he needed for winter mountaineering and climbing and at the same time guide him on some winter routes.

 

On a personal note, the guys at Plas y Brenin were a class act – they were clear on what they wanted to see from us on the assessment and then they just let us get on with it and put us at ease. They also gave us a bit of coaching too so that we could become even better instructors.

 

How do MICs stay current on best practice?

 

This MIC is a lifetime award once you have passed the assessment, but to be a member of the Association of Mountaineering Instructors you must complete a day of professional development every year. This ensures that members are current on best practice in mountaineering and climbing. The association also sends out a magazine on topics relevant for the instructor to stay up to date.

 

 

Personal Reflections on the Assessment

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This has been a great journey for me as I have discovered my passion for guiding and instructing mountaineering and climbing activities. It is such a worthwhile investment to undertake the process to be trained and assessed by experienced guides and instructors. I have walked away with a deep sense of satisfaction on completing the qualifications as well as the conviction that I know what it takes to be a competent, professional instructor and guide because of the qualifications.

 

We need others who have been on the journey longer than us coaching us along as well as well as a community where safety, best practice and passion for mountaineering and climbing are the foundations we work from. And that is exactly what you get from qualifications. I have walked away with a confidence and skill set that I don’t think is possible to gain by just climbing and instructing on my own. Anyone who loves instructing in the areas of mountaineering and climbing should consider investing their time, energy and resources to get the relevant qualifications for the areas you want to be working in.

 

Massive thanks to everyone who has been involved in helping me get the experience needed to become an MIC!

 

 

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What sort of trips and course will The Mountain People now be offering?

 

We will soon be offering winter mountaineering courses, introduction to ice and mixed climbing, and mixed and ice guiding on the bigger routes in the High Atlas, so keep an eye on the website for details if you fancy some African ice.

 

 

Some good articles on the MIC assessment process:

 

 

 

Here are a few more photos from the journey!

 

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Categories: Blog, James, Qualifications
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Quick Update from us at The Mountain People

Quick Update from us at The Mountain People

 

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Buachaille Etive Mor – Iconic mountain in Glencoe

 

 

You may have been wondering why there haven’t been any Toubkal Winter Conditions Reports recently! This is because I, James, have headed up to Scotland and have been working towards my Mountaineering Instructor Certificate – a qualification that will allow me to teach and guide on more technical ice and mixed routes. So the conditions reports will resume towards the middle of March when I’m back!

 


In the meantime, here is what I’ve been up to over the last week in Scotland: routes such as Dinnertime Buttress I/II, Curved Ridge II/III, Golden Oldy II , Faulty Towers III, Dorsal Arete II have been hard earned with the wild conditions that are predominant in the western highlands. Slightly different to Morocco!

 

 

 

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Chris and Sam on the approach slope to the Douglas boulder and Fawlty Towers III

 

 

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At a belay on Fawlty Towers III

 

 

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Chris leading through on Curved Ridge II/III

 

 

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Taking coils before Golden Oldy I/II

 

 

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Rob and Andrew on Dorsal Arete II

 

 

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Me and the boys at the belay before the crux on Dorsal Arete

 

 

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The boys stoked after the crux on Dorsal Arete

 

 

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At the finish line!

 

 

 

Categories: Blog, James, Mountaineering, Scotland, Winter
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Toubkal Winter Conditions #8 – Feb 2105

Latest Toubkal Winter Conditions Report

On Friday I finished a six day 4,000m Peaks trip with a lovely group from England. Overall, we had fantastic winter conditions on Toubkal and the other 4,000m peaks in the High Atlas Mountains. It is proper winter now with the windchill being sometimes down to -25 C.

 

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Toubkal with the North and South Col routes & Toubkal West with the big mixed lines – seen from the Tadat Col. 11-2-15

 

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Ras (4,083m), Timesguida (4,088m), and Akoiud (4030m) – from the summit of Biguinoussene (4,007m) 11-2-15

 

Snowpack and Snow Cover

There is good consolidated snow on most slope aspects. We did find on more northerly aspects weakly bonded layers and pockets of wind slab, which is due to the S to SW winds we have been having. There is snow in the forecast for Wednesday and Thursday of this week, and the winds look to be coming from the NW and NE, so watch the more southerly aspects for drifting and windslab build up. Also, beware if the big drop of snow comes, as in places it will overlay on a harder layer and may need time for the layers to bond.

 

Take care on those more northerly aspects and areas where wind slab persists early this week and look for drifting and wind slab on more southerly facing slopes as the wind shifts directions later in the week!

 

 

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Climbing Conditions

The routes on Afella are looking doable and Fountain Gully looks to still to be in condition. Last week Chockstone Gully, Curtain Call, some single pitch ice routes at the end of the valley near Tizi Ouagane, and one of the 600m routes on Toubkal West all saw ascents by a group of British climbers. They reported good conditions on most of the routes, but on one of the routes on Toubkal West near the top, one of the teams reported it to be hard going with loose snow, but the lower sections were in great condition. The Afekhoi cascades looked to be in good condition and again the mixed climbing on the left buttress was in good condition.

 

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Ice routes at the end of the valley near Tizi Ouagane 9-2-15

 

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Afella with it steep wall of mixed/ice routes 9-2-15

 

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Afekhoi cascades 8-2-15

 

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Potential route between the Lepiney refuge and Tamsoult refuge 13-2-15

 

For a Logistics Only Package please get in touch with us! Let us sort all the non-climbing and mountaineering aspects to your trip, so that you can focus on enjoying the culture, food, and peaks and routes of the High Atlas.

 

 

Logistics Packages

For a Logistics Only Package please get in touch with us! Let us sort all the non-climbing and mountaineering aspects to your trip!

 

Refuge Access

Access to the Toubkal refuge is normal for this time of year, with hard-packed snow starting above Sidi Chamharouch (2,350m). Crampons are a good idea to keep in your rucksack, especially if you are starting out early or arriving at the refuge later in the day. Porters are needed from Sidi Chamharouch.

 

The Lepiney refuge has snow on the track and from the frozen cascades you will need crampons.

 

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Tazaghart Plateau 13-2-15

 

Winter Conditions Summary

Toubkal and the High Atlas mountains are in excellent winter condition with lots of the mountaineering and ice routes ready for the picking. It would be wise to avoid or take care on more northerly slope aspects and also southerly as the wind shifts directions and a big dump of snow is forecast. There are weaknesses in the snowpack on more northerly aspect slopes, so good route finding and watching the wind and weather will allow groups to enjoy the great winter we are having in the High Atlas.

 

For a personalised trekking, guiding or instruction service and/or logistics for Toubkal and the High Atlas, just get in touch with us here at The Mountain People!

 

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Summit of Toubkal – well done boys! 10-2-15

 

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Gully leading to the Tadat Col 11-2-15

 

 

 

Categories: Blog, Conditions, High Atlas, Ice Climbing, James, Morocco, Mountain Information, Mountaineering, Winter
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Alpine Ridges Adventure Jan 2015

We are currently enjoying bright blue skies, warmer sunshine and stable conditions here in the High Atlas after the stormier weather that brought lots of snow and made for an exciting trip with Dan and Phil this month. Check out the photos from the trip. And be on the look out for the next Toubkal Winter Conditions update coming early next week.

 

Here is how they summed up their trip:

 

“It was brilliant, guys. A really excellent trip. By a country mile the Saturday was my best ever day on the mountains. Great from start to finish in every way. You rock!”  (Dan)

 

“Thanks for giving us a memorable adventure in challenging conditions. Arrived home tired but inspired knowing that I had been stretched in a beautiful environment.” (Phil)

 

 

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Categories: Alpine Climbing, Blog, High Atlas, James, Morocco, Mountaineering, Winter
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