Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Stirling Bomber..

Kris Hill and I put our heads down into the wind this morning and walked into Coire an t-Sneachda.

A reduction in the freezing level and overnight snow had changed the corries appearance dramatically this morning, making for some good early season mixed climbing.

We decided to head to Stirling Bomber V,7 in an attempt to get a little bit of shelter from the wind.  This gave two really good pitches before abseiling to the ground.  The upper corner was actually covered in verglass requiring care with the gear.

Andy Nisbet also did Fingers Ridge IV,4, another party also climbed The Genie V,7.  Over in Coire an Lochain Matt Stygall and Keith Ball climber Fall Out Corner VI,7.  Mean while Tim Neill and Mark Walker make ascents of the Third Man V,6 and Overseer Direct V,6.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Northern Cairngorms...

I was out in the Northern Cairngorms today with Kris Hill.  Over the last week there has been cold weather sitting just out to the west of the UK.

This week it appears that we are likely to get a few cold pulses, with snow at higher levels and perhaps more significant snow in the North West Highlands later in the week.  At the moment a massive high pressure system is blocking this cold weather from coming in, maintaining relatively mild conditions in the alps.

Fingers crossed we will get some of this colder weather in the next few days as well as into December.  It was certainly fairly wintery today in Coire an t-Sneachda with fresh snow and high winds.  The ever keen Mark Chadwick was also running in the corrie to check conditions.

A couple of crag images appear here in Facebook. Fingers crossed for a drop in wind speed tomorrow...

MLTA Conference...

It's been another busy weekend, this time up in the Lakes with Peak Mountain Training.

Neil Johnson, Dave Hollinger, Ruth Taylor and myself were delivering some CPD workshops for the Mountain Leader Training Association Conference based at the Calvert Trust.

These conferences are always a bit of an inspiration given the sheer number of enthusiastic outdoor leaders present.  As in previous years we again delivered some well received workshops, most notably Turbo SPA, and Coaching Navigation.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Outside Winterfest...

Great news for Scottish Winter weather watchers - it looks like it's cooling down over the next few days and Outside will be hosting their Winterfest for a second year.

Fingers crossed for some winter climbing in the days to come.

If you don't manage to get out then feel free to join me (or indeed Tom Richardson) for an evening lecture in Outside Cafe, Hathersage on the 3rd December.  The venue does have limited capacity so you do need to pick up a FREE ticket during the day.

I will be talking about preparation for the Scottish Winter season as well as being on hand during the Saturday to discuss kit and instructional courses...

Friday, November 18, 2011

Walking Group Leader Assessment...

Well the delivery of the Walking Group Leader Award seems to be one of the main features of this autumn.

Today, marks the end of a Walking Group Leader Assessment here in the Peak District, with five candidates passing - well done to everyone.

Dave Hollinger and "Big" Tim Neill are going to be fairly busy this weekend with a Single Pitch Award Assessment on the eastern edges combined with a Turbo SPA Workshop.  Me? Well it's Walking Group Leader Training again starting on Monday...

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Preparing for the Winter...

I was up in Carlisle last night doing a lecture for the Carlisle Mountaineering Club on preparation for the Scottish Winter.

It was great to meet such a keen and enthusiastic bunch of folk, some of whom admitted to reading this blog during the winter - nice to know that a few people do.  If you are reading just now please feel free to add your comments or share some conditions information at a later stage...

There has been a lot of speculation as to when it's actually likely to get cold, and although it's mild now winter will be just around the corner.  Check out the Wetterzentrade 500Pa Geoplot which indicates a colder air mass fleeting with North West Scotland towards the end of November and into early December.

Fingers crossed...

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Walking Group Leader Award Training...

I have been out on another Walking Group Leader Training course today for Peak Mountain Training.

As we started the day on Kinder Scout thick mist shrouded the upper slopes giving ideal navigation practice.  Following a round of the southern edges, we descended Broadlee Bank Tor past the crash site of Heyford K6875 - where six people lost their lives in 1937 in a routine navigational flying exercise.

Following this we headed out onto the hill again for some night navigation practice on Brown Knoll.  All good practice for assessments to come...

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Start to the Scottish Winter season...

As hinted at in a previous post, the Scottish Winter season has started.  Many of the early season 'usual suspects' saw ascents on the 20th October.

James Edwards sent this via email today: "Well the reports of winter climbing were true.  I went to have a look with my neighbour Ross Jones as a happy coincidence meant that we were both free on the same day.
We drove to the Ski Car park in the dark and were very pleasantly surprised with how wintery it was; although on the walk-in I fell into a stream hidden by a snow drift up to my thighs which wasn't a pleasant surprise.
We started up 'Savage Slit' V,6 (pictured) on No 4 Buttress intending to do 'Fall Out Corner VI,7 in the afternoon but as we abbed back down just after midday the wind had changed and the crags were dripping.  We went for coffee! It all went in the next couple of days, but i had to scrape the car windows this morning at sea level and it looks like winter may come back in a week or so... watch this space!"

It's all very mild at the moment and the medium term forecasts suggest it will be generally mild for a while yet   Fingers crossed for a drop in temperature again shortly.

In the mean time check out Simon Richardson's excellent blog and and get those tools out just in case...

Lorpen Socks!...

About this time last year Jake Wiid from Mountain Boot Company got in touch asking if I could test some socks from the new Lorpen Range.

Well I have to be honest.  I have always thought of socks as well, just plain socks.  After a good year of testing these two products I have got to say that I have been proved wrong.  As somebody who spends a lot of time on my feet by the end of the summer alpine season my feet are usually tired and battered - not this year...

First up I tried Lorpen's Trekking Expedition model (pictured).

This uber sock is actually made from Polartec and Primaloft which gives it a thin minimal bulk feel with flat sensibly placed seams.  This leaves you with a very comfortable sock that is very warm.  I used these with my Scarpa Phantom Lights (which I have used for a few years) in Scotland and didn't suffer from chilly feet on stances etc - as I sometimes do.  Although I haven't had a chance to test them in super cold conditions, I suspect that they will be excellent on bigger higher expedition peaks.  I know what I will be packing for Ama Dablam next year.

Next up was Lorpen's Heavy Trekker model

Out of the box it was clear that these were going to be comfortable with some heavy padding in all the places you would expect.  As suspected, they were great to wear and became a must have piece of kit for chilly days in the alps this summer.  So much so that I should also add that they survived multiple washes...

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Scottish Winter Tactics....

There has been lots of speculation about a cold winter this year, although it's fairly mild at the moment the first routes of the season have been done. More of that coming up...

Judging optimum climbing conditions in Scotland is a tricky business (although a good Instructor or Guide can help).  To give you a bit of a head start here are my top tips for Scottish Winter Tactics:

#1: Know you stuff..

Scottish winter climbing can be a frustrating game due to the sometimes fickle nature of the weather in the UK. But why is it that some people seem to climb all the classic lines anyway? Inevitably, they are either extremely lucky or more likely they have put some time in to planning their trips. I suppose this is fairly obvious, however where do we find the information?

The aim here is to explain how best to go about planning your trip to get the most from the prevailing conditions.

#2 Be Flexible (or get an Instructor/Guide who is)

Due to the highly variable nature of the Scottish winter climate the best thing to do is be flexible: go where it’s good! It’s really easy to select routes or areas that are on your tick list rather than what’s good at the time. As such if you can be flexible with your destination and your choice of routes then you are more likely to be successful. This also goes for the style of your chosen routes i.e. if you have aspirations to climb ice, mixed, buttress or turf dependant routes then you are widening your options massively. The next thing to do is to match the prevailing conditions to a suitable objective….

#3 Find out about conditions

Information on Scottish winter climbing conditions is much more readily available now than even five years ago. In the past it was a case of phoning friends or just hearing news on the ‘grapevine’. Now with the use of the Internet there is a mass of information through a variety of forums, conditions servers etc.

The information given on these sites is variable and sometimes misleading. For example, limited snow depth isn’t ideal for climbing gullies however; this is great for technical mixed routes. Any information given is likely to be very specific. Unfortunately, these sites often get vast amounts of ‘hits’ therefore you can guarantee that if you have just read a post saying Orion Direct is in excellent condition so have 200 other people! The ideal situation is to combine these conditions reports with weather forecasting to identify other areas or routes that might be in condition. Often other routes at a similar height and aspect will be experiencing similar conditions.

Local information from Instructors, Mountain Guides and Climbers is always really useful. Many often have there own conditions reports throughout the season (see references at the end of this article).

#4 Weather Forecasting

Getting a good quality weather forecast is useful for your day out but also very useful at the planning stage. If you monitor the weather prior to your trip you will start to build up an idea of how the prevailing conditions are created. With practise this will allow you to build a good idea of what’s “in nic” and what’s not. Good forecasts are difficult to come by, currently the best available are those produced by the Mountain Weather Information Service (MWIS) and the Met Office. Regardless of the forecast you choose you need to look at the essential information:

#5 Check the Freezing Level

Generally, to find good conditions then you need to be above the freezing level. However, it is worth checking the forecast carefully as a low freezing level combined with an overnight hard frost may mean that good conditions are present down to sea level! If the freezing level is high then go high; it might be generally mild but going high on Ben Nevis or in Coire an Lochain in the Cairngorms might mean that you salvage the day.

In addition monitoring the freezing level over a period of time might indicate any freeze-thaw cycles that produce good ice.

#6 Check the Wind Direction

The wind direction is sometimes over looked but can give you some good information. Firstly, wind will bring with it characteristics of its source i.e. northerly winds will be dry and cold; south westerlies will be mild and wet. Cold northerly winds might give good conditions for technical mixed climbing by creating hoar frost and rime with very little or no snow. Also northwesterly winds might bring snow to the west coast, which will bring good conditions on Ben Nevis.

In addition the wind direction will also give you an indication of where snow is likely to accumulate creating higher avalanche risk. Remember this could be on the descent as well as near to your intended route, check the Scottish Avalanche Information Service (SAIS)

#7 Check the Synoptic Charts

Synoptic charts are potentially really useful if you are keen! Firstly, they will give an accurate idea of wind direction (see above). They will also give a good indication of the speed that fronts are forecast to come through. If a mild front is coming in from the west then going east might salvage the day for example. Good quality synoptic charts can be obtained from this german website has loads of information, for synoptic charts click on ‘bobenkarten’ or follow the link

#8 Check the Precipitation

Following the precipitation over the preceding days will give you a good idea of where snow is accumulating, combined with the wind direction. There might be really good climbing conditions, however, the last thing that you want to do is spend most of the day wading through deep snow!

Heavy rain at all levels can be disastrous if your route relies on frozen turf. However, followed by a brief freeze, it might produce good ice conditions.

#9 Finally Have a Plan..

1 Be flexible and have a have plans A,B and C!

2 Be prepared to travel and make the most of conditions.

3 Think about the whole day including your approach and descent.

4 Get up early to make the most of your planning.


Martin Moran, 1998, Scotland’s Winter Mountains, an excellent book for the Scottish enthuisiast with loads of information on the “infernal conditions”.

Andy Nisbet and Rab Anderson, 1996, Scottish Winter Climbs, Scottish Mountaineering Club, the introduction gives a brief summary of the main areas, reliable times of season, combined with some conditions advice.

Some links:


Scottish Avalanche Information Service (SAIS)


Mountain Weather Information Service:

Mountain Forecasts from the Met Office

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Limestone Top 10...

Yesterday it was classic grit routes, well it only seems fair to fly the flag for Peak District Limestone today.

Here is my Peak District Limestone Top Ten.

The central Derbyshire Dales and the High Peak areas of the Peak District offer some of the finest accessible rock climbing around in the UK. With literally thousands of routes the first time visitor is spoilt for choice.

Peak District limestone has been very quiet recently as many people concentrate on the popular ‘eastern edges’, however, there are many fine routes to found on the ‘limestone’.

To make things a little easier, here is my personal ‘limestone top ten’ from grade Hard Severe to Extremely Severe (E3):


Grade: Hard Severe (HS 4b,4a) Location: Wild Cat Crags
On first acquaintance climbs at Wild Cat can be difficult to find as the base of the cliff is shrouded in trees. Lynx starts at a large flake where a steady groove line takes you up through the trees and out into a fine airy position. Following a delicate leftwards diagonal traverse, a couple of steeper moves up a corner/groove line take you to a fine belay position on a tree belay. From here the second pitch takes you left and up another groove well furnished with good holds.


Grade: Very Severe (VS) Location: Ravensdale
This limestone classic was one of the first routes at Ravensdale and takes the large, prominent groove line in the upper section. Climb the slightly polished groove directly, taking care with some loose holds to belay on a large ledge next to a pinnacle/flake. The second pitch climbs steeply upwards in an exposed position finishing up a bottomless groove.

Ten Craters of Wisdom

Grade: Very Severe (VS 5a) Location: Dovedale
This route takes a steep slab hidden in the trees, on a first visit it looks unlikely for the grade. However, starting upwards you are shortly rewarded with some of the biggest and best holds on Peak Limestone!

Golden Yardstick

Grade: Very Severe (VS 4b,5a) Location: Wild Cat Crags
This photogenic route takes an unlikely looking hanging rib in its upper section. Climb the first groove up to a cave belay. From here the route goes up before steeping left onto the large hanging rib. Following one tricky move at the start you are rewarded with large holds and good protection that takes you rapidly to the top.

Gangue Grooves

Grade: Hard Very Severe (HVS) Location: Willersley
Good steep climbing starting up the black section of wall (contains unusable lead ore known as gangue) before climbing the steep crack and escaping right at the top.


Grade: Extremely Severe (E1 5b,5b) Location: High Tor
This route takes a large diagonal line (right to left), across the steep imposing cliff; High Tor. ‘Debauchery’ was made famous by its appearance in Ken Wilson’s landmark book ‘Hard Rock’ the climbing being tricky and exposed but never desperate, taking you through some impressive territory. Start at a small tree and climb up and diagonally left following some in-situ pegs until a tricky move allows you to reach the safety of the ‘Debauchery stance’, a small ledge in the middle of nowhere! After leaving the stance, again going diagonally left, some awkward move bring you to an obvious traverse line and the end of the difficulties.


Grade: Extremely Severe (E1 5b) Location: Chee Dale
Another ‘Hard Rock’ classic, ‘Sirplum’ takes perhaps one of the steepest lines in the Peak District at a relatively amenable grade. Starting up an easy, vertical, warm up pitch the second section soon reveals itself as ridiculously steep! Good holds, and excellent protection tempt you onwards until you are in a position that the RockFax guide aptly describes as “brain jellying exposure”. This last section and the steep grass above is usually climbed in an adrenalin induced haze..


Grade: Extremely Severe (E2 4c,4c,5b,5a,5c,5c) Location: Stoney Middleton
Making the grade as another ‘Hard Rock’ tick, ‘Alcasan’ is one of the longest girdle traverses of any crag in the Peak District. This combined with some excellent varied climbing of the sideways type, combined with some rotting pegs as protection, makes it a classic to be savoured by the experienced climber. A brief description of the route here just wouldn’t do it justice, all I can say is, check out the bizarre Chert nodules on pitch three!

Dies Irae

Grade: Extremely Severe (E2 5c) Location: Stoney Middleton
This short routes packs a bit of a punch at E2 5c taking a series of small bulges directly to access the delicate upper lead wall. For the confident this Stoney Middleton classic is not to be missed.

Mad Dogs and Englishmen

Grade: Extremely Severe (E3 5c) Location: Chee Dale
A sustained route at 5c, with tricky moves separated by good rests, in many ways the ideal route. Follow the wandering line of pegs, taking in a crack line, steep slab, powerful bulge, delicate traverse and urgent finish: it really has got it all.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Gritstone Top 10...

It's a really nice Gritstone day in the Peak District at the moment.  As we are in grit season I just thought I would share my favorite gritstone top ten - what are yours?

Eastern Edges: A Gritstone Top Ten: The eastern edges of the Peak District offer some of the finest accessible rock climbing around in the UK. With literally thousands of routes the first time visitor is spoilt for choice.  To make things a little easier, here is my personal ‘gritstone top ten’ from grade difficult to extremely severe:

Black Hawk Traverse

Grade: Difficult (D) Location: Stanage Edge
This fantastically popular route is often included in many peoples initial gritstone apprenticeship, never hard, and well furnished with holds it is very friendly but not without interest. At half height the famous “Bishop’s Stride” will test the leaders resolve as you step across, and slightly down, onto a good ledge. Having done this, you will be rewarded with a choice of three equally good finishes.

Flying Buttress

Grade: Very Difficult (VD) Location: Stanage Edge
This excellent classic takes you into steeper territory above and slightly to the side of the imposing overhangs of ‘Flying Buttress Direct’. The climbing is honest and obvious with a fantastic finish on some of the best holds on Stanage.

Heather Wall

Grade: Severe (S) Location: Froggatt Edge
A great route at the grade which gets gradually harder as you move upwards, although punctuated by good rests; for many climbers the ideal route. The final crack can be climbed in a number of ways but for many, this is a great spot to experiment with gritstone “hand-jamming”.

Christmas Crack

Grade: Hard Severe (HS) Location: Stanage Edge
Back to Stanage for the classic ‘Christmas Crack’, this is what proper routes should be about. Surprisingly steep, but well furnished with good holds and protection, it’s a route to be savoured. On the top section there is also the opportunity to pull up the exposed rib if you fancy testing yourself..

Mississippi Buttress Direct

Grade: Very Severe (VS 4c) Location: Stanage Edge
One of Stanage’s landmark routes at the grade, ‘Mississippi Buttress Direct’ is one of the longer routes at Stanage and is not without interest. Steep bridging up the initial groove and flake line takes you to two distinct, but well protected, bulges.

The File

Grade: Very Severe (VS 4c) Location: Higgar Tor
‘The File’ is a landmark for any ‘gritstone’ climber, being a true test of “hand-jamming” technique. Those who have trouble often bear the scars of fight. The start is probably the hardest section but the fine, parallel crack line at the top maintains the interest. Keep a little in reserve!

Croton Oil

Grade: Hard Very Severe (HVS 5a) Location: Rivelin Edge
‘Croton Oil’ is a classic with a difference, climbing the ‘Rivelin Needle’ a freestanding gritstone pinnacle, makes quite a unique experience with some fine climbing positions. Starting at the base of the south face, climb the wall trending slightly left making use of good cracks and a slightly loose flake at the top (be careful). Descent is by abseil from a metal chain at the top.

Chequers Buttress

Grade: Hard Very Severe (HVS 5a) Location: Froggatt Edge
One of Froggatt’s major classics, ‘Chequers Buttress’ is perhaps one of the most photographed pitches on Peak District Gritstone. Climbing up the huge flake is followed by some tenuous, and well protected, climbing out left to the fine arĂȘte. Follow this in a spectacular position to the top.

Suicide Wall

Grade: Hard Very Severe (HVS 5a) Location: Cratcliffe Tor
Perhaps a contender for the finest pitch on Peak District gritstone ‘Suicide Wall’ is a stunning classic made famous by the book ‘Hard Rock’. It follows the steep wall by a series of jamming cracks, wall climbing on small holds and an impressive final, usually speedy, layback. Best climbed in one single sustained pitch.

Left Unconquerable

Grade: Extremely Severe (E1 5b) Location: Stanage Edge
An established classic and a popular route as a first E1, ‘Left Unconquerable’ takes the precarious crack and flake line to a good horizontal break. Here there is the opportunity to place as much protection as possible, before climbing the tricky upper section. At the top you are rewarded with large holds made for tired arms.