Ben Cruachan

If there’s any way to soften the blow of England and Wales installing the Tories with a majority government at Westminster, this has to be it; a day out on Ben Cruachan with a great bunch of people helping Wendy from Christian Aid clock up another peak in her 70 Munros Challenge.

Although Stob Daimh isn’t on the list of 70, I encouraged the group to make the most of the day by continuing along the ridge rather than heading back down the way we’d come. It became another fantastically rewarding day, helping people to push their boundaries, coaching a range of skills for moving on snow, easy scrambling and some techniques for managing psychological fears about steep ground. The highlight on the day was to see people’s faces as they reached the summit of Stob Daimh and looked back to see Ben Cruachan in all it’s  majesty, with the last of winter’s snows picking out the details of it’s rocky ridges.

Stopping off on the way home in my usual haunt at the Real Food Cafe (it’s worrying that the owner’s starting to recognise me!), I had the chance to catch up on the news about the General Election. There’s no doubt the result means it’s going to be five hard years for many of the people I work with back in Glasgow, but reassuring to be reminded that we have these beautiful, spectacular hills as a resource to help people cope with their struggles; to ensure that, in John Muir’s words, “people have beauty as well as bread”

 

 

  

  

  

 

Ben Nevis

I spent this Saturday working for Atlas Mountaineering on a large charity walk on Ben Nevis. The participants were young people from schools in the North Lanarkshire area. With a lot of lying snow on the upper slopes of the mountain, and the forecast low temperatures and snow showers, the young people weren’t able to head for the summit! So instead they made it up to Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe and then got a sneak preview of the northern side of Ben Nevis. 

It was great to see so many young people enjoying themselves out in the hills; hopefully their day out will spark a long-lasting passion to be out in Scotland’s wild places. Hopefully, they’ll not be expecting somebody standing halfway up handing out Jelly Babies on every hill they visit in the future 🙂

   

   

Avalanche Avoidance Training

probesECTI’m a big fan of continually honing my skills, especially the ones that are likely to keep me alive. When I’m operating as a mountain leader, I’m assuming responsibility for the clients I have with me and this responsibility takes on a whole new dimension in winter when the snow underfoot transforms the mountains into places of remarkable beauty, but also creates potentially deadly hazards which have to be managed.

Those hazards have probably been underplayed for many years in Scotland and, in comparison with the USA and Europe, our scientific understanding of snow and the hazards it creates is fairly rudimentary. As a result, when I was offered the chance to undertake on the American Avalanche Association’s Level 1 training courses, I jumped at the chance.

The course took place over 2 days at Glenmore Lodge, nr Aviemore, with tutor Mike Austin providing an excellent mix of classroom learning and sessions out on the snow to put the theory into practice. As well as developing our understanding of how snowpack forms, and how potentially hazardous transformations take place deep within it, and the various techniques available for investigating snow conditions on the ground. There was quite a bit of humour throughout the two days, but also some very sobering moments as we discussed the accounts of avalanche victims, some of whom had emerged broken but alive, and others whose lives had been snuffed out by a wall of snow.

The high winds put paid to any attempts to get high up the hill on day 1, but we were able to make it to the snowline and get our hands, axes, shovels and saws into the snow to explore the layers. The weather on day 2 was much better, and we were able to carry out some companion rescue scenarios using transceiver searches, along with a chance to undertake an Extended Compression Test, which is a fairly recent innovation that tests the propensity for any shears in the sample snowpack to propogate.

Over the course of the two days,  Mike passed on a lot of helpful avalanche avoidance ‘kung fu’; here’s hoping the snow lasts long enough for us to practice them a few times before we’re back to green hills and t-shirts for the summer.