Friday, 10 February 2012

Winter climbing skills training courses in The Cairngorms with Kendal Mountaineering Services. February 7th - 10th 2012.

On Tuesday Iain from Kendal Mountaineering Services entered the final phase of his Scottish winter climbing skills training course with Benn Berkeley.

After the previous week's days out around Ben Nevis, both Iain & Benn moved to the Aviemore area as part of Iain's plan to introduce Benn to at least four of Scotlands main winter climbing areas.

The first day of our final phase of Benn's winter climbing course saw us all get a very early start and drive back the way we had come to go into Creag Meagaidh. Despite the long walk-in Meagaidh is a fantastic winter climbing venue and is remowned for its ice routes on the Post Face in particular.

We weren't looking to do anything too hard and Iain thought that Staghorn Gully would be a fitting intro for Benn to Meagaidh as it is a 3 star grade III. Here, in photo one, Benn looks on with the entry pitch of Staghorn Gully behind - it proved to be steep! Benn thought it harder than our previous day ice climbing on Green Gully on The Ben at IV'3. Anyway, Meagaidh proved to be a long (the route is 400m) but immensely rewarding day out. Cold, clear, great!


On the wednesday, we knew the weather was changing, warming up and probably wild on The Cairngorms. Nevertheless, we headed in to Coire An T Sneachda for a look - battling into a not uncommon Sneachda head wind as we did so. The MWIS forecast said considerable buffetting and they were not wrong. Sneachda was a maelstrom of whirling snow and Iain decided that playing around on ice (the original plan) was too dangerous a proposition and anything else would be at the least, most unpleasant - so we were on our way back out by 10:30 passing MIC's heading in with clients, groups from Glenmore Lodge and others who felt they had to be there regardless of the weather.

Iain, however, knew another place where we could go and practise ropework skills on a sheltered crag on a valley bottom not too far away -he's not letting on where it is either! Anyway, Iain & Benn spent the afternoon there looking at various climbing techniques such as anchor placements, abseil retreat as seen here in photo two; and self lining as these were all things that Benn wanted to look at. It wasn't an ideal day, but at least we managed to salvage something out of it.


Thursdays MWIS forecast was for a thaw to have set in over the Wednesday night and for temps at 900m to be 1 - 4 degrees.

The weather was uncannilly calm on the Thursday as we walked in to Sneachda - as compared with the previous day; and it was clear there had been a big thaw. The buttresses were black, the coire floor grassy and the air alive with the sound of stressed Ptarmigan trying to find cover as they flew around like airborne snowballs in a largely snowless backdrop - poor buggers!

Anyway, after being led on all of the various winter climbs over the previous two blocks, Iain was confident that Benn was ready to lead his first winter climb and here he is in photo three at the top of pitch four on a fine little grade II buttress route between Central Gully (II) and the Runnel (II) in Coire An T Sneachda. Due to the heavy thaw and lack of cornice debris Iain wanted to keep out the gullies, so this seemed a good choice of route.

A chap on MIC assessment seemed to agree too as he followed us up our route and suddenly Iain found himself surrounded by familiar faces - he felt like he was back on assessment himself!

Anyway, Benn led his first five pitch winter climbing route in fine style, climbing well, placing good running belays and building solid stances. Once finished on the climb we descended back into Coire An T Sneachda to practise crevasse rescue at a handy little icy spot Iain knows; and take a look at an Albolakov Thread too. All in all, another excellent day.


Finally, today, we started early again to get ahead of the crowds and by 09:30 Benn was leading off on the first pitch of Goat Track Gully (II) as seen here in photo four.

We had looked at this route yesterday
and as Benn had expressed a desire to do some lead climbing on ice Iain felt this would be appropriate for his ability. The second pitch was also a fine little ice pitch as it often is and then the following two pitches were easier with lots of opportunities for placing anchors in rock.

We topped out on Goat Track Gully shortly after 12 midday and were back at the car by 2. We have had a fantastic, progressive 12 days of winter skills, winter mountaineering and winter climbing in four of Scotlands main winter climbing areas with Benn having gone from following Iain to being able to confidently lead pitches of up to grade III and walk on any slope - whether it be snow or ice, with confidence.


Finally, one of our last photos from Coire An T Sneachda today taken from the moraines popularly used as a snowholing venue. We are looking back at a cloud cap hanging over the Coire An T Sneachda face with the triangle of Fiacaille Buttress poking through the cloud just right of centre. Blue Sky above and the sun trying to get through. Just awesome!

Iain has been coming to this place now for over 40 years and it is still one of his favourite places. Thank you to my parents, particularly my Dad for introducing me to the mountains - I have never looked back.

If you would like to book your own bespoke winter skills course, winter mountaineering course or winter climbing course with Iain from Kendal Mountaineering services you can contact him here. We look forward to working with you.

2 comments:

benn berkeley said...

Well sadly it's the end of my course :-( but what a course it's been, when Kendal Mountaineering Services say they 'give you what you want' they're not lying that's for sure! Iain has been a fantastic guide and coach throughout. He inspires confidence where it matters, he's funny, engaging and finds a great balance of having fun and being safe in the mountains. He didn't fail to answer any of my thousands of challenging questions and his knowledge of the mountains is unquestionable. I feel so much more confident in the mountains and it's all down to Iain and his great teaching style. If you want to do anything in the mountains Iain is your man! Just look at that last photo and they are the moments you do it for. Thanks to Kendal Mountaineering services and a special thanks to Iain

Iain Gallagher said...

Thanks Benn,

it has been an absolute pleasure working with you, helping you improve your winter mountaineering skills and watching your confidence grow day by day to someone whom I felt I could confidently put in the lead on our final two days out - Bravo!

You have progressed well from one with a good understanding and knowledge of climbing techniques to someone now posessing a solid foundation of good winter climbing skills - now go on and develop your own abilities further - push those boundaries, climb harder and expand your comfort zone - the sky's the limit. Stay in touch and thank you for using my services.

Also, if it hadn't been for your booking me then I wouldn't have been there sharing those great experiences with you - albeit on the other end of the rope! It's been an adventure of the best kind. All the best, Iain