SYHA winter skills February 17th, 18th and 19th

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The SYHA Torridon winter skills course was looking very marginal at the start of last week with mild conditions and a rapidly disappearing snow pack, the mountains were more like May than February.

I met a very international group at Cairngorm lodge hostel which consisted of German, British and Portuguese. Everyone was really enthusiastic and eager to get crampons fitted to boots, some people did not have boots, which was a bit alarming but fortunately they were able to rent some the next morning.

Day one.

Coire Na Ciste seemed to be still holding some snow so for the first day I thought this would make a good start. We left the Ciste car park and headed into the coire. The first snow we came across was very promising as the overnight frost and made the conditions bullet hard.

For some of the group this was their first time walking on snow we quickly covered the various techniques for ascending descending and traversing snow slopes on some low angled ground. We then had to move rapidly on to cramponing as we were going to be unable to make further progress up the mountain without their use.

We made our way up the Coire na Ciste and over to Ciste Mhearad to have a look at the quite elaborate snowholes which had been constructed. After a quick bite to eat the team put their navigation skills to the test taking a bearing on Cairngorm summit, the last objective of the day, other than getting back to the hostel!  The view eastwards were obscured by some low cloud but the situation was still spectacular with views to Fiacaill Coire an t-Sneachda and Lurcher’s Crag. We made our way back to the car park making the most of the remaining snow patches to practice ice axe breaking.

Day two

The warm temperatures had significantly softened the snow pack and I felt pleased that we had the opportunity to do so much crampon work on the previous day. We focused on navigation, beginning in the car park by finding out what everyone’s double pace count was for a hundred meters. Then we broke down the journey to Fiacaill Coire an t-Sneachda into sections and navigated to the bottom of the ridge. Although the snow pack was wet and soft the steep snowless ground proved more challenging as it was still deeply frozen. For this reason, we put crampons on for the descent from the ridge into Coire an Lochan. Here the group experienced much steeper although more forgiving snow conditions than the previous day which stretched comfort levels for some people. Avalanche assessment was covered but more in theory than practice as the risk was Low with a fully consolidated snow pack. We talked about islands of safety and safe route planning using the previous day’s forecasts and the avalanche report. Some final legs of nav from Lochan saw us safely back to the car park. 

Day three

Having spent two days in the Northern Corries I felt a change was required. I knew that the snow conditions would be very sparse elsewhere but the snow that was left in the Northern Coires was not going to provide the group with much more learning. We decided to do a Sgor Gaoith as a round trip from Geal-Charn descending down Allt a  Chrom-alltain. Again safe route choice was discussed but in theory only due to the lack of snow. The group navigated themselves round the route using the techniques learned during the previous two days and we soon arrived at the dramatic summit with views down to the windswept Loch Einich, impressing some of the group who had summited this peak several times before. Once again, we were able to use the remaining snow patches to ease our way back down the mountain and practice our breaking skills.

A very satisfied group arrived back at the car park. Although the three days had not been typical winter weather we had made the best of the conditions available to us.

Many thanks to Marta, Sergio, Jamie, Jeff and Matthias for your great company and laughs during the three days.

blog by Dunc Maclennan, nineonesix-guiding

more photos here

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A winter micro adventure in the Western Highlands

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I’ve had the good fortune to be able to explore the hills around Torridon for the past 15 or so years as my wife’s grandmother, a MacDonald, grew up on a croft just below Beinn Eighe in Kinlochewe. Although now 97 and having not lived there for almost 80 years, she still has a small house there which is used regularly by the extended family throughout the summer.  However, it’s rarely used in winter and over the last couple of years I’d been imaging walking amongst the beautiful snow covered peaks of Slioch and Liathach. I started planning a trip and although more than happy to go alone thought I’d share the idea with a few friends, expecting maybe one or two to show some interest.  I was surprised when seven of the nine on my invitation list promptly booked flights and all of a sudden there was some practicalities to attend to.  In my musing I’d not actually thought too much about about routes that would be safe and accessible for a bunch of novices, so I took out the maps and soon realised that the reality was quite different with very few routes that would not offer some potential dangers in winter.  This was when I turned to Google in search of some local expertise and soon came across Jim and nineonesix-guiding. The simple pricing and great communication from Jim made the whole process straight forward and allowed me to really enjoy the build up to the trip, rather than fretting about it.  Nor had I actually looked in any detail at the winter conditions or the propensity for snow in Wester Ross and this proved quite hard to come by.  As the days and weeks ticked by until our mid-January departure I was a little concerned by the lack of any persevering snow, which I was fortunate to have a live view on thanks to the great web cam at the Torrid Hotel  (http://torridon.wpengine.com/webcam) which looks directly onto the south side of Liathach.  Christmas and New Year passed and I was keeping a close eye on the weather and the webcam and still no snow had settled even at the height of the summits. Then with almost perfect timing, a week or so before departure, a cold and wet front started blowing in from the Arctic.  So, we got on our way and my concerns soon went from no snow to too much snow as we had to cross from the east coast to the west. We picked up our ‘click and collect’ from Tesco and got out winter gear fitted by the helpful crew at TISO before getting going.  As we neared the bucolic Glen Docherty Pass the snow was thick on the road and with no winter tyres the minibus was a little unsteady. Fortunately the snow ploughs and gritters were out in force and the descent into Kinlochewe went without incident.

Early on Saturday Jim showed up, along with our other guide Richard and after a concise briefing – where Jim really listened to what we wanted to get out of the day – we headed out to the ridge of Beinn Eighe which was pointing directly at us just outside the widow.  A stunning, steep sided track with a good covering of beautiful Scots pine eased us into the day before we got to the river crossing which signals the start of the climbing and we soon discovered how much more effort is required when there’s a good covering of snow.  Before long we found ourselves high up on the ridge using our ice axes for security and practicing some essential skills as we made our way up. Then, before long we unpacked the crampons and benefited from the the secure bite of these as we made our way up some steep and tricky  ground.  Up until this point the weather had been kind to us with sun often showering down on the beautiful, clean white hills around us, but things then started to close in and more snow began to fall.  We reached Creag Dubh at the top of the ridge and after a short break we took a different route down on the other side of the ridge; Jim & Richard having carefully assessed the snow conditions. This gave us a great chance to practice more of the skills we’d been learning including ice axe arrests and different methods for understanding the snow pack. On the safer slopes we also managed to enjoy frolicking around in the the kind of snow you just don’t get in southern England.  We eventually made our way off the mountain after the sun had set, already reminiscing about the day we’d just had.

We had set out with the idea of having a great, safe day high up in the mountains, while picking up a few essential skills along the way. That’s exactly what we got, thanks largely to Jim and Richard.

blog by Jamie Saward

more photos here at the nineonesix-guiding gallery

From the NC500 to the Wildcat Trails

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My first official job for Jim and nineonesix-guiding was a trip up to Golspie to do some guiding and coaching on the Wildcat Trails.

In the planning since around last September, Dawn was bringing her son Keane over from Texas to drive the North Coast 500, and wanted to sprinkle a little MTB goodness into the trip.

Planning any trip to Golspie in January always ran the risk of being white-out with snow, but the weather was looking ok right up to the last few hours beforehand.

A cold snap descended on Easter Ross just in time for the big day, so a bit of creative thinking was in order.  Keane comes from a driver instruction background, and was quick to pick up tips and techniques for managing the bike in colder temperatures (not to mention some loaned waterproof socks!).  We headed up the unavoidable climbs of Golspie for the a closer look at the state of trails, and found clear and relatively dry going, so took some alternative lines to reach the top of the red route.

Keane told me he had been looking endlessly at online videos of singletrack trails in Scotland, and after his first run down the red route, said he had never seen anything quite like it.  We quickly got to technique chat, and that led to ‘let’s have another go’.  A few circuits later with a little coaching on corners and the tell-tale grin said it all.

After a break for some hot lunch in Golspie, we headed a little higher towards the beginning of the black climb ‘Lactic Ladder’.  Going well at first, the snow started to settle in and by the time we reached our turning point talk turned to snowboards maybe being more appropriate.

With the trails still being relatively clear, we headed for the final run of the day.  Keane had really got the hang of carrying speed through the turns and features, so had an upgrade to full suspension for the last part of the trip.

A great day in cold conditions – Keane was great company and didn’t seem phased by the wintry weather at all.  Hopefully this trip set him up for the planned snowboarding at Nevis Range for the next couple of days? Good times.

blog by Ian Sikora

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Tenth University of Stirling Mountaineering Club Winter Meet with nineonesix-guiding

unspecifiedUniversity of Stirling Mountaineering Club returned again this year for another couple of fun days with nineonesix-guiding in the Cairngorms. We were lucky to get a few days of snow in the run-up to USMC’s visit, providing various options for the groups.  Once again Nathan White took the helm for nineonesix-guiding, well assisted by Iain Murray & Richard Cockburn.
Knowing that the forecast for the second day was suggesting what’s technically known as a ‘hoolie’, Nathan’s winter mountaineering group opted on Day One to go up by Twin Ribs from Coire an t-Sneachda onto Fiacaill Coire an t-Sneachda and round to explore Point 5 Gully. Not liking to the condition of the gully, the group completed the circuit of the coire and came down above the ski area. The next day, to escape the wind, Nathan’s group visited the crags at Huntly’s Cave for a great day on the rock looking at various mountaineering techniques.
Iain’s winter skills group wanted a journey on Day One before the gale force winds arrived and a circuit of the Northern Corries fitted the bill perfectly, with some winter skills tuition at several points along the way. Day Two had a focus on winter navigation, heading into the Chalamain Gap before ascending Creag a’ Chalamain and Castle Hill and then escaping back to the car park.
The third group wanted to get stuck into winter skills techniques on the first day so Richard took them into Coire an Lochain to explore a range of skills, practising navigation there and back. The group was keen to get ‘back out there’ on the second day and an ascent of Meall a’ Bhuachaille from the east via some pacing practice in and around Ryvoan kept the worst of the westerly gales at bay with lunch in Ryvoan bothy providing welcome respite from the weather.
Lots of quality discussions in groups back at USMC’s bunkhouse on topics ranging from route planning to avalanches and belaying in winter completed a very full and enjoyable two days. We look forward to seeing USMC again next winter!
blog by Richard Cockburn

Rock climbing in Glen Nevis 25/10/16

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p1020868Flying Dutchman (reaching the tricky crux)

p1020871The massive jug to finish.

Chris and I had a wee plan for an adventure in the mountains, but as the forecast was cold we decided to head to some sunny rock.

The plan was to get as many pitches of climbing as we could and see how things went. The Polldubh classic ‘The Gutter’ got us started, followed by a big abseil. Onto Right wall on Styx, Pine tree wall (Hard Severe) and Flying Dutchman with the VS 4c finish for a great finale.

Chris seemed to be revelling in the moves and situations and hopefully has regained the rock climbing bug. I sense there could be more adventures to come!

Iain

Amazing day on Alligin!

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October started with a bang this year, rewarding us with the most amazing weather. And Tuesday was no different. I met Gary and Mary, who have been coming to the Torridon area for the last 20+ years, along with their friends. Jacqui and Geraint were first time visitors to Scotland, but I’m pretty sure it wont be their last visit.

 

Gary & Mary have done plenty of walking in the Torridon area, but have never ventured onto the higher tops. They picked an absolute cracker of a day, wall-to-wall sunshine and blue skies.  They all enjoyed ascending Beinn Alligin via the Horns and were pleasantly surprised that they looked worse than they actually are and quickly, we were on the summit of Sgurr Mor.  The visibility from the top was so good we could see as far West as the Outer Hebrides, North to Ullapool and South to Glen Shiel. The East was cloudy, but it didn’t matter, as West was best today!

 

We moved well down to the dramatic Eag Dubh, that everyone had been looking at in awe from the hotel that morning. Before long we were ascending Tom na Gruagaich via a few wee scrambly sections and onto the rocky tower at the summit.

 

Throughout the descent, we were rewarded with more wonderful views, with the spectacular October light casting long shadows across the surrounding hills. Plus, our soundtrack of the day consisted of the Stags roaring and the Ptarmigan croaking in the Coires below, what a great time of year!

 

We returned to the car park with big smiling happy faces. Well done everyone, what a wonderful day. Be sure to bring that great weather with you the next time you are back!

blog by Kirsty Chuchla, more photos on our facebook page

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Kirsty’s #SYHAdventure Torridon Munros

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A couple of weeks ago I had the privilege of guiding John, Norma and Alan on the 6-day #SYHAdventure Torridon Munros activity holiday. It was a week of very mixed weather, but this didn’t deter a very capable and enthusiastic group.

 

After some introductions on the Saturday evening, we were greeted with dry, calm and sunny conditions on the Sunday, a great start to the week. We started with a warm up scramble on Beinn Eighe and were rewarded with stunning views all day. We managed both Munros and descended into the spectacular Coire Mhic Fhearchair to follow the great stalkers path back to the car park, with some rain and a few midges thrown in for good measure.

The next day started glorious as we headed for the Horns of Alligin. Only once we began scrambling did the cloud dramatically roll in followed by the rain. This didn’t deter Alan, Norma and John as we moved well over the ground completing the Horns and both Munros. The beauty of grippy Torridonian sandstone!

Our next day was the wettest of the week, driving rain and wind with very little visibility. We took a direct route up Maol Chean-dearg, a quick bite to eat at the summit cairn before we got too cold, then some good navigation back down to the bealach. Lots of glacial features on the return journey that Alan was happy to talk to us about, his daughter (a glaciologist) would be proud.

Wednesday was a well deserved rest day for all, before we tackled Liathach. The winds were nice and light with some cloud coming and going over the tops. Today we were joined on the hill with Jim and his two clients, Debbie and Helen. Amazing to watch them climb the hill in front of us picking a way through what always looks like impossible terrain. On the contrary, the ridge proved no difficulty for both teams. My guys seemed to fly along and it all felt very smooth. Only once we started to descend, did we drop out the cloud and were rewarded with beautiful sunshine and finally a view of the amazing terrain we had just crossed. We finished the day with tea and delicious cake at the Torridon Stores Café, always a delight.

My week with the team had to unfortunately be cut short. But on Friday they finished all the Torridon Munros by ascending Slioch with Rich.

 

For me these weeks are not just about being in the hills, you also share a love of the mountains and hear about others adventures. Lots of great stories were told throughout the week. Amongst other things John’s journey on the Appalachian trail, Alan’s exploits in the Alps and Norma’s adventures on the West Highland way.

A wonderful week spent with lovely companions and the weather didn’t matter. Well done everyone!

blog by Kirsty Chuchla, nineonesix-guiding

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