Tag Archives: Ben Nevis

Scotland winter mountaineering trip 2017: Day 3, Coire nan Lochan

Scotland winter mountaineering trip 2017: Day 3, Stob Coire nan Lochan - The Mountain People
 
Decent conditions in Broad Gully, Stob Coire nan Lochan
 

Scotland winter mountaineering trip 2017: Day 3, Stob Coire nan Lochan

 
This is part of our annual Scotland winter mountaineering trip, and you can find the previous days here:
 
Day 1, Aonach Mor
Day 2, Ben Nevis
 
A good day out indeed today, especially as we pass the halfway point and the big day out take their toll on the feet and legs.
 
The winter skills and summits and ridges teams both walked into Coire nan Lochan in Glencoe, up Broad Gully, took in Stob Coire nan Lochan and then split ways.
 
The cool overnight conditions had firmed up the snow pack and put down some snow, which made things feel more wintery.
 
There were snow showers for the first part of the day, but these passed through to leave wonderfully clear views and bursts of sunshine and lifted people’s spirits.
 
Things are still very lean, especially in Glencoe, but the old snow provided good travel and options for looking at different mountain skills.
 
The climbing team made a return trip to Ben Nevis, and took on No. 3 Gully Buttress on Ben Nevis – a snowed up rock route, given the lack of in condition routes.
 
Friday still looks to be the best day of this week, so the challenge now is to sake people’s legs and save the best route or journey until last!
 

Check out our ‘Getting ready for Scotland winter mountaineering series’:

 
Training and fitness for Scotland winter mountaineering
Choosing kit & gear for Scotland winter mountaineering
Winter Climbing Part I – Getting started
Winter Climbing Part II – Training
Managing yourself on the hill for Scotland winter mountaineering
The Headgame: Scotland winter mountaineering
 

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Scotland winter mountaineering trip 2017: Day 2, Ben Nevis

Scotland winter mountaineering trip 2017: Day 2, Ben Nevis - The Mountain People
 
Enjoying No. 3 Gully on Ben Nevis!
 

Scotland winter mountaineering trip 2017: Day 2, Ben Nevis

 
This is part of our annual Scotland winter mountaineering trip, and you can find the previous days here:
 
Day 1, Aonach Mor
 
Today it was mountaineering by numbers on Ben Nevis, making use of the big Grade I gullies.
 
The winter skills team built on their Aonach Mor session by ascending No. 3 Gully and descending No. 4 Gully.
 
The big Grade I gullies are No. 3, No. 4 and No. 5. No. 1 gully was renamed Tower Gully and No. 2 Gully is Grade II.
 
There were a smattering of climbers coming down the gullies who had made the most of the cooler overnight temperatures to climb routes like No. 3 Gully Buttress and similar with an early start.
 
The day started fairly clear and cool after colder temperatures overnight, which had firmed up the higher snow patches and put down some cosmetic dusting.
 
All the three teams made the long walk into Coire na Ciste via the CIC Hut in the heart of the North face of Ben Nevis. The independent climbers headed onto the Aonach Eagach.
 
Coire na Ciste was a good choice for the teams who wanted to consolidate winter skills, and the summits and ridges team went round the corner to Tower Gully above Observatory Gully.
 
James went over some skills with Andrew and Caleb before escaping the worst of the wet afternoon weather.
 
By home time, the rain had properly set in, so everyone got a good old fashioned soaking, but spirits were high thanks to a productive time on the hill.
 
The forecast for the next few days is much colder, but stormy, which has its challenges, but will be a welcome change from the wetness and moisture.
 
Friday looks to be the best day of this week, with temperatures staying low, as well as the wind; the challenge will be to find the snow and ice that has survived!
 

Check out our ‘Getting ready for Scotland winter mountaineering series’:

 
Training and fitness for Scotland winter mountaineering
Choosing kit & gear for Scotland winter mountaineering
Winter Climbing Part I – Getting started
Winter Climbing Part II – Training
Managing yourself on the hill for Scotland winter mountaineering
The Headgame: Scotland winter mountaineering
 

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A history of Scotland winter mountaineering trips

A history of Scotland winter mountaineering trips - The Mountain People
 
This photo from 2010 has featured in brochures, such does it capture Scotland winter!
 

A history of Scotland winter mountaineering trips

 
This is part six in our ‘Getting ready for Scotland winter mountaineering’ series, designed to help you prepare physically and mentally, putting in place realistic strategies and effective tactics.
 
Training and fitness for Scotland winter mountaineering
Choosing kit & gear for Scotland winter mountaineering
Winter Climbing Part I – Getting started
Winter Climbing Part II – Training
Managing yourself on the hill for Scotland winter mountaineering
The Headgame: Scotland winter mountaineering
 

Introduction

 

I’ve made four Scotland winter mountaineering trips over the years and counting, and quite quickly went from being a participant to organising and leading them. I loved the overall experience that much!
 
Seeing is really believing with Scotland winter, but I wanted to give a flavour of some of the magic by looking back on my highlights from previous trips.

 
A history of Scotland winter mountaineering trips - The Mountain People
 

Cutting my teeth in Carrbridge

 
Walking into the snowy Cairngorm interior on a snowholing expedition
 
My first ever trip to Scotland was in 2010, based out of a bunkhouse in Carrbridge, outside Aviemore, and really was an extraordinary week.
 
It coincided with a handful of very hard winters recently, which was pure luck and meant I was spoiled for winter weather and conditions – blue sky days, low winds and volumes of snow.
 
Being cramped into a small bunkhouse meant lots of interactions with people, and I appreciated the different characters that emerged.
 
Joel’s enthusiasm for passing on knowledge and skills, and his pure, infectious enthusiasm for being together in the outdoors. Richard, the corporate banker who kept the drinks flowing and regaled us with amusing anecdotes.
 
There was Nick, a cheeky yet fatherly figure, with whom you could spend much time talking about philosophy, life or career. His hilarious stories of triumphant failures helped to bond the group together.
 
We spent much of our time in the Cairngorms, and I enjoyed the quick progression from the bread and butter skills on the first day; a fine Grade I gully, The Couloir I***, Coire an Lochain ; my first winter climb, Hidden Chimney III*, Coire an t’Sneachda; and a long haul over to the West coast to attempt the Ring of Steall.
 
The highlight of the trip was the last day on which we walked out of Glen Feshie in the eastern Cairngorms and took in an overnight snowholing expedition. My vivid memory was of a sea of snow, as we dropped down into a buried riverbed to spend the rest of the day digging in.

 
A history of Scotland winter mountaineering trips - The Mountain People
 
An eventful week with the minibus!
 

Disaster strikes!

 
The following year, buoyed up by my first taste of winter in Scotland, I helped organise the 2011 trip and we found a lovely traditional cottage outside Newtonmore.
 
However, this was the introduction to the real Scotland winter: high winds, changeable weather, fickle snow conditions. Despite this, there were moments of pure wonder, whether a burst of sun, an unexpected view or a quick freeze as conditions changed.
 
There were a couple of low points on this trip, which make it stand out even more!
 
I had the dubious pleasure of a ‘rain at all levels’ day. These are the sorts of days where you look at a poor forecast and try to make the most of it. Generally, it means starting in the rain, eating lunch in the rain on a summit, staving off hypothermia and then descending in the rain!
 
On the penultimate day of the trip, the weather deteriorated rapidly in the afternoon, leaving us battling through stormforce winds and blizzards to get back to the minibus. Even then the ordeal was not over: the high-sided minibus acted as a sail, almost toppling us over a steep bank at the edge of the carpark. The wind then whipped back the driver’s door and left it dangling by a thread.
 
Thankfully, Glenmore Lodge came to the rescue and we lived to see another day. Even the minibus hire company saw the humorous side of things, but raised an eyebrow the following year when we hired a van.

 
A history of Scotland winter mountaineering trips - The Mountain People
 
One of many special moments with our group
 

Constantly surprised

 
The year after, undeterred by the setbacks, we took a very big group and stayed in a wonderful old Scottish lodge in the Kinguisse area.
 
My reflection on 2012 was how we were continuously surprised and entertained as the week unfolded.
 
Long-returning attendee Sarah and started the week with a bang, taking in Ben Macdui, which is the second highest peak in the UK. It involves a committing walk onto the Cairngorm plateau, deep into the interior – what some call ‘going over the top’, as you enter a different world, cut off from civilisation.
 
We spent a day in the Creag Meagaidh area, which is a wonderful journey from a farmhouse, through stunted woodland, into the inner coire and up to the distinctive col called The Window, and finally onto a broad and expansive ridge. Throughout the week, the views kept opening up at unexpected times, leaving us in awe at the beauty of the Highlands.
 
On the last day, we got a special offer to be dropped off by the local estate keeper. Beforehand, we helped feed the local deer population. As we continued our journey on foot into a less well trodden area, the landscape continued to develop, gradually becoming more snowy and icy. At the summit, we popped out into bright sunshine and romped back to glen level in high spirits.

 
A history of Scotland winter mountaineering trips - The Mountain People
 
Striding forward for glory
 

Hiatus

 

With training, assessments and life, the next time I headed to Scotland for a group trip was 2014.
 
We stayed in the now familiar Aviemore area, accessible to the services of town as well as the popular Northern Corries.
 
By this time, I was a fully fledged Winter Mountain Leader, so had the pleasure of taking groups off on my own on big days out.
 
In contrast to 2012, we ventured onto a plateau shrouded in cloud – the whiteroom – and navigated carefully from point to point to the summit of Ben Macdui. The satisfaction of moving around safely and confidently in these conditions is huge.
 
The week wouldn’t have been complete without a big expedition over to the West coast, so we made the most of our last day on Stob Ban in the Mamores, close to Ben Nevis and Fort William. We had a bit of everything, which is what makes it special: a steepening ridge, navigational detour and deploying some winter skills with the rope.

 

Getting ready for Scotland winter mountaineering series

 
Training and fitness for Scotland winter mountaineering
Choosing kit & gear for Scotland winter mountaineering
Winter Climbing Part I – Getting started
Winter Climbing Part II – Training
Managing yourself on the hill for Scotland winter mountaineering
The Headgame: Scotland winter mountaineering
 

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How Many Deaths on Toubkal…

Nearing Tizi Toubkal in the South Cwm

Nearing Tizi Toubkal in the South Cwm

One of the search terms on Google that leads people to The Mountain People website is, ‘how many deaths on Toubkal due to avalanches’.

 

This might seem like an odd search initially, but it actually reflects the lack of information that we take for granted in the UK, such as the superlative Scottish Avalanche Information Service and Mountain Weather Information Service.

 

We are all used to the daily routine of consulting and poring over the current meteorological, avalanche conditions or the whereabouts of particular blackspots. However, focusing on a bodycount does seems a little odd: all mountains are dangerous, whatever the season. Whether a bodycount is high or zero, the risks remain.

 

This confirmed some reflections that been prompted after reading the trip report of an independent traveller, Holiday Nomad (link below), who climbed Toubkal at the end of March 2013.

 

There is nothing untoward or unusually risky about climbing Toubkal. It is widely recognised as a straight-forward trekking peak with no major technical difficulties on the voies normales. However, in winter conditions it necessitates a serious approach, with the right equipment (i.e., ice axe and crampons), and perhaps more importantly, the right mindset. The trouble seems to be that individuals make the wrong call in these areas, whether through innocent ignorance or downright folly.

 

Preparing for the traverse from Tizi Toubkal onto the summit plateau

Preparing for the traverse from Tizi Toubkal onto the summit plateau

If you forget your ice axe or crampons, you can normally get by, whether kicking steps with your crampons or cutting them with your ice axe, depending on which you have left. You may even be able to get yourself out of trouble by cutting steps with the edge of your boots. However, there are a number of areas on Toubkal where you would simply not want to be in such a predicament, especially on bullet hard névé. One of the most exposed areas is just above Tizi Toubkal on the South Cwm route, where an exposed traverse across to the summit plateau is required. To the west are precipitous cliffs and to the east is a moderate slope which ends abruptly with a 500m high rock face.

 

In fact, this particular spot is reminiscent of the area on Snowdon in Wales where the mountain railway crosses above the crags of Clogwyn Coch. The railway is dug into the mountain on its traverse, making for a tempting platform on which to walk. However, when banked out with snow and ice, a slip here would result in an increasingly rapid slide and eventual fall over the cliff tops (link beow). In recently harsh winters, there has been a handful of fatalities where the scenario above unfolded (link below).

 

The other thing to bear in mind is that the summit plateau of Toubkal can be very windy. This can come as a shock, as prevailing winter conditions are cold and dry. However, the combination of cold and wind translates into extreme windchill, so it is advisable to have a flexible clothing system that can deal with the wind. Moreover, wind can have further implications for safety, if one is without ice axe or crampons – a sudden gust of wind could quite easily cause one to lose balance and precipitate into an uncontrollable slide. If you want an idea of what it is like to slide down a mountainside out of control, watch the video below, which is again from Snowdon earlier this winter (link at bottom of page).

 

Summit cliffs of Toubkal

Summit cliffs of Toubkal

To come back briefly to the theme of avalanches, they do occur in the High Atlas, in the same way as in all mountain areas where humans or human property come into contact with the mountain. Fortunately, the level of incidence seems low, which could be explained by lack of media coverage, relatively low levels of people in the mountains or otherwise. However, the point is to remain aware and informed, and I recommend a great book on avalanche awareness that gave me a lot of confidence in assessing conditions recently in Scotland: Snow Sense by Jill Fredston and Doug Fesler (link below).

 

Lastly, in an age where the apprenticeship process of ‘learning the ropes’ seems to be waning, either get out with an experienced, knowledgeable friend or get yourself an instructor. You may get lucky and be able to rely on good-hearted members of the public to help you in a tight spot. However, there is no shame in going back to basics in the old school and learning the ‘noble art’ of step cutting from someone, whether you have bought their services with money or beer! Alan Halewood, a local Fort William guide had to employ these techniques, drawing on the assistance of his two clients at the end of this season on Ben Nevis (link below).

 

Ice axe, crampon, avalanche awareness skills are life long skills once acquired, and may well just save your life and the lives of others right when you need them.

 


 

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Categories: Blog, High Atlas, Morocco, Simon, Winter
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