Tuesday, 19 July 2011


I returned to Scotland and set to training in what I considered was steady progressive increase in mileage - important for the story as it transpires. After a winter spent mountaineering in Scotland long days on dry hills are not as much of a trial as might be expected. I trawled the BGR web pages for training hints and took some interesting ideas form Dave MacLeod's Blog. 

Creag Mhor summit

After a couple of double traverses of Ben Rinnes and some keen times on my local Moray coast running circuits, the Cairngorms beckoned. My first long stint was over Ben Mheadoin starting and finishing at the Hayfield in Glenmore. I took in the Corbett Creag Mhor and finished over Cairngorm. 32Km 1850m of ascent 6.5 hours - good confidence building stuff and the bonus of excellent weather and bone hard ground.

The next test was an attempt on the Cairngorm four (or five) tops: Cairngorm, Ben Macdui, Cairn Toul, Sgor an Lochain Uaine and Braeriach. Another blue sky day with a keen easterly wind and once more excellent conditions for fast movement over the mountains. 
Cairngorm Panorama
Cairn Toul from Braeriach
All went well until Ben Macdui after which I took a flawed route choice off the summit. Deviating from my original descent by the Tailleur Burn I heading straight down on increasingly steep rocky ground. After negotiating this successfully a momentary lapse in concentration caused me to trip on moss and land badly on my shoulder. Although the ground looked innocuous the large clump of moss must have hidden a lump of granite - after two minutes prostrate on the ground I shook myself down. I couldn't raise my right arm above my shoulder and it hurt like hell. However there was a job to be done and I continued albeit at a reduced pace - final tally 35Km 2500 m of ascent 8.5 hours.

The shoulder gave me a sleepless night and a quick search on the web diagnosed a rotator cuff injury. RICE treatment and then some gentle stretching .... five days later I tried some local hill reps; fine, so off for the longer test run. Half way round an abductor went in my left groin; I limped back chastened and depressed. I rang Alasdair with the news and the soul searching began.


Jumps park in Avoriaz
There's something very comforting about sharing one's passions with members of the family. At the end of March/ start of April I took my 11 year old son James downhill skiing in Morzine - in fact we spent most of our time in Avoriaz as the snow was a bit thin lower down. We skied with some of the others staying in our hotel and James earned the nickname 'the Demon Skier' while I basked in the limelight as the demon's dad!

Of course James developed his own passion, which revolved around the excellent jumps parks  - but hey that gave me a chance to rest between runs! Good bonding and some great sunshine meant a great week was had.

Alasdair on NE ridge of Robinson
On our return to the UK I made another trip to meet my eldest son Alasdair who is now established in the world of work and has developed as a keen climber, runner and skier. We had decided on a more serious form of bonding - we were training for the Bob Graham Round in the Lake District! 

Glass Clogs VS - Black Crag - Pike o'Blisco

An April weekend saw two long hill sessions on leg 5 of the round, completed in very good time and a recce of Mickledore and the infamous bad step on Broad Stand. After that the excellent weekend weather allowed us a final day cragging on Black Crag above Wrynose in warm spring sunshine and gentle winds.

Alasdair is now a friend and companion as well as a son, and these days spent enjoying the satisfaction of swift movement in the mountains and shared routes on rock are increasingly precious interludes in busy lives.

Thursday, 31 March 2011


During March I worked for Glenmore Lodge on a winter mountaineering course, got Jane, Anne and Alan up their bogey Munro and ran a winter skills weekend for Kirkby Stephen Mountain Rescue Team.

Constructing snow belays below twin ribs

The 2 day winter mountaineering course ran on a blue sky, low wind weekend on rock hard neve. I was working with Nick March and we had a group of six clients. Day one was spent in Coire na Ciste and Coire Laogh Mor looking at snow skills, crampon work, abseiling from snow bollards and travelling over steep ground. Day two was spent in Coire an-t-Sneachda looking at snow belays and rock belays before climbing the Fiachaille a Coire an-t-Sneachda. A great weekend in idyllic conditions .and sun tans all round.

Summit of Beinn Chabhair
The following weekend was totally different with a conserted spell of snowfall giving very difficult travel conditions. Friday saw Jane, Anne, Alan and I heading up Beinn Chabhair in the Southern Highlands from Inverarnan on the A82. We had been friends at Durham University 40 years ago and have only just caught up with each other again. They are on the Munro quest and had tried this mountain twice before. After an initial steep ascent from the valley the route is quite complex going through valley floor moraine before heading onto the craggy west ridge, weaving through rock outcrops. Visibility came and went in snow showers and some of the rock steps proved challenging. However we prevailed and the peak was finally climbed in good style.

Slab released from a snowpit

Saturday and Sunday were spent in Glencoe with six members of  Kirkby Stephen MRT. Based in Kinlochleven we traveled to Glencoe mountain on day 1. After taking the chair up we navigated to the steep flank of Meall a Bhuiridh in whiteout conditions. We looked at avalanche assessment techniques en route and after releasing a large slab on a clean shear plane in a snowpit we practices some save travel techniques! After constructing snow belays we moved down to the transceiver park and practiced searching and probing techniques. Many MR teams now use transceivers when searching in winter and as ski touring becomes more popular it is possible that participants will be wearing them in case they are avalanched.

Trying to get into the Lost Valley - it remained lost!
On Sunday we tried to access the Lost Valley in Glencoe but gave up when deep snow slowed progress to a snail's pace. Instead we found a flat area below the rim of the corrie and constructed a large shovel up shelter, practiced course and fine avalanche probing before looking at the use of the Italian hitch to protect a climber examining a slope over an edge and other steep ground techniques on our descent. It didn't stop snowing all weekend and the team certainly got an insight into the dangers and problems presented by so much snow - quite a contrast in 7 days!

Monday, 21 March 2011


Coire an Lochain from pt 1083 - Steve Stout enjoying his first tour!
This winter has seen some great conditions for ski-touring with the Cairngorm plateau holding snow well. I have managed several tours across the plateau including a blue ski day to Ben Macdui. Recently Cairngorm Mountain have introduced a ski mountaineering ticket, which for £10 allows two lifts (NOT including the railway) so you can get up as far as the Ptarmigan restaurant and set off on your tour.  The conditions on Cairngorm have varied from sheet ice to soft snow depending on the melt and wind.

The heavy snowfall of the second week of March has left excellent conditions and last week Sandy Paterson and I took advantage of this by getting the ticket up the slopes. We then headed over Cairngorm down Coire Raibert and over Cairn Lochan before a  terrific ski down Lurchers Gully and a quick skin back up to the car park .
The ski down Lurchers


In February I worked a variety of courses from winter skills for Windermere School to winter mountaineering and avalanche avoidance for Glenmore Lodge

Inspecting avalanche debris in Coire Laogh Mor
The latter course proved really interesting. I was working with Kevin Rutherford on the two day course developing knowledge and practical skills to improve avalanche awareness and the risk assessment process. We covered  the different types of snow, the effects of weather, forecast analysis, snowpack history, observations on the hill, layers, instabilities, snowpit analysis, safe(r) travel techniques, the use of transceivers, and probe and digging techniques.


The last weekend of January saw the Annual General Meeting of the Association of Mountaineering Instructors  at Glenmore Lodge. This is the second AGM that I have co-ordinated at the Lodge this time with the assistance of Sandy Paterson who did a great job of arranging a package of top class CPD workshops. The package was administered through Liz Belk the events co-ordinator who ensured that everything went well before and during the two day event.

The weekend was open to both trainee and full members of the AMI. Saturday and Sunday were set aside for workshops and the AGM itself was held at 5.30pm on the Saturday evening. A Talk by top UK climber Nick Bullock followed dinner. 

The workshops programme included the following:

Glenmore Lodge in deep mid winter

Transceiver use and Companion Rescue
MIC Trainee
Avalanche & Snow Safety
MLT provider Workshop
Dry Tooling 
Short Roping
BMC FUNdamentals 
MWIS weather forecasting
MIC Refresher
Winter ML update/trainee workshop
BMC Learn to Train
Technical Advisor Workshop
Business & Tax Advice
Climbing With Stu McAleese ( IFAGM/MIC) and Andy Turner (MIC)   

A great weekend and thanks to the Glenmore Lodge staff and all the workshop providers for making it such a success.

Friday, 18 February 2011


Winter skills group by Cairngorm weather station
This month I have been working on winter skills courses for Sandy Paterson and Glenmore Lodge. These have been two day courses; there's lots to pack in and sometimes the weather doesn't play along. However most groups managed the basic skills sessions with axe and crampons, ice axe braking and    secure travel on steep ground. Alongside this some avalanche and weather forecasting backed up by observations on the hill usually complete the first day.

Day two uses a hill journey to put these skills into operation and to let the group use their new found practical and analytical skills. Throw in some winter navigation technique and the group is then ready to expand on their experience through their own adventures.

The view here is of a group on Day 2 when we traversed Cairngorm from Corie na Ciste to Coire Cas in excellent navigation weather!