Saturday, 4 February 2012

Scottish Winter Skills & winter climbing courses with Kendal Mountaineering Services. Jan/Feb 2012.

Iain from Kendal Mountaineering services is busy up in Scotland at the moment running various winter courses for people. His particular client at the moment - Benn Berkeley, wanted to learn everything about winter climbing from putting on crampons and using axes for the first time to being able to lead grade three winter climbs by the end of his twelve day bespoke winter climbing course.

This sounded like an exciting challenge indeed. Iain suggested that Benn first undertook one of our basic winter skills courses. Part of these courses entails using an ice axe to arrest a slide and on day one of Benns course, Iain took him into Coire An Lochan in Glen Coe to teach him basic step kicking & cutting plus ice axe arrest techniques as Benn demonstrates here in photo one. It was a cold and windy day but we had a good time and Iain got Benn to consolidate what he had learnt by taking a walk around the corrie afterwards practising all we had covered - a good start to the course.


Day two found us back in Coire an Lochan we where we looked at avalanche prediction & snowpack analysis followed by all of the various types of snow belay and the techniques required for ascending or descending easy grade one or two climbing routes.

Having practised all of the ropework skills, both Iain & Benn alternately lead a few pitches up a long snow slope using bucket seats backed up with various snow anchors. In photo two Benn belays Iain from a bucket seat using a buried axe belay.

We also looked at dynamically arresting a fall when belaying from a bucket seat where a falling climber is gradually slowed down rather than being suddenly stopped - often resulting in the failure of the belayers bucket seat & anchor.

The weather was good on this day and we managed to cover almost every aspect of one of our basic winter skills courses over the two days.


Day three saw the next progression on from basic winter climbing skills. Iain decided to introduce Benn to winter mountaineering techniques otherwise known as winter scrambling. The Zig Zags on Gearr Aonach in Glen Coe proved as always, to be a useful route for practising these techniques.

We ascended The Zig Zags with Iain demonstrating appropriate belay techniques from basic direct belays through to techniques more associated with rock climbing and short roping on easier ground - Benn even got to practise short roping Iain on the easier upper section of the route - both up and down.

In photo three Benn is anchored to a rock spike that Iain has just used as a direct belay to protect Benn on a short climbing section of the route. Iain has left Benn secured to this spike - simply by wrapping the rope around it a number of times whilst he moves on to an easier piece of ground to commence some more short roping (a scrambling technique).

Having reached the top of Gearr Aonach, we then reversed the route to look at techniques used for abseiling and lowering people on the more exposed & steep sections to be found on scrambling routes. Great weather and for Benn another very useful day.


On the final day of our first four day block, Iain decided to introduce Benn to his first winter climbing route.

Dorsal Arete (II) in Coire An Lochan fitted the bill perfectly as it often does for our introduction to winter climbing courses. A nice easy angled route with lots of good belays and opportunities to learn rock climbing techniques and how to climb with two axes and use crampon techniques appropriate to steeper winter climbing routes.

Dorsal Arete's arete is a nice ( or not so nice) sting in the tail to this seemingly easy winter climb. After climbing a pleasant easy angled broad buttress, the ridge narrows and rears up to a knife edge crest (the crux) - easy to protect but challenging for a winter climbing newbie with its feeling of exposure. One has to first surmount the arete - no easy task; and then walk along its crest for 30 feet with a seemingly bottomless void on the right into Y Gully and a fair drop on the left in to Broad Gully. Only a short distance remains from here to the top of the route. Photo four shows Benn at the belay below the arete, Iain has taken the photo from the top and you can see the queue of people mounting behind us!

Dorsal Arete is a well known and very popular first winter climb. As a result, it is wise to get away as early as possible in the morning to avoid being "stuck in the queue" at the foot of the crux. Be away from the car park in Glen Coe before eight am, be fit and fast and first!. We made sure were were.

For more information about our range of winter courses - contact Iain at Kendal Mountaineering services here.

1 comment:

benn berkeley said...

What a first four days! Iain gave me the perfect introduction, we look at everything a wanted to and more. Building all types of snow anchors, doing ice axe arrests (on my back upside down!) The high light was definitely Dorsal arete II, with an amazingly exposed arete right at the top of the route. Iain has got so much local knowledge on routes, I don't know how he remembers them all! Bit it meant that we were in the best conditions all the time. The walk in was tough but once we were up in the Coire it was completely worth it and it got the blood pumping for the climbing!