Tuesday 29 January 2013

Winter ML Day 2: Steep ground

A beautiful weather day. A true classic Scottish winter day! Views and excellent visibility and sadly only too rare, although the wind was biting and I wish I had been able to measure the windchill!

Sam, our Assessor had us navigate up onto Cnap Coire na Spreidhe via various spurs, knolls, stream junctions (hidden under the snow) . I was delighted to bump into a fellow dog handler from the Lakes who I haven’t seen for several years. (I have to confess like most other SARDA handlers, I recognised his dog first!)

on the wide bealach below Cnap Coire na Spreidhe; courtesy of Danny


We then dropped over the back onto the slopes overlooking Strath Nethy. Confidence roping and belays were the order of the day with rock solid snow bollards and ice axe belays. We were split into pairs and told that one of our group had become exhausted or injured themselves and they needed help. In this scenario, confidence roping was the better option than wasting time digging belays. So I roped Neil down the slope. It was then his turn to rope me as an exhausted client.

 Wind slab was building up on these eastern slopes but at this point was not too deep and our slopes were not too steep or convex. Once again it was a case of judging the slopes by the Avalanche Triangle technique ie Snow Pack, Terrain and Weather. We were just okay!

We then were told to get our clients up a steep slope. In order to give everyone the maximum time, this time our clients were our rucksacks! (And heavy lumps they were too when it came to hauling them uphill!). With rock-solid neve under a thin layer of windslab, ice axe belays with bucket seats were perfect. Those of us with longer ropes were able to reach the top more quickly!

We had a very brief 5 minutes to stuff food down before being set another challenge; this time there was a very steep but short section that we needed to get our client down safely before abbing off ourselves. It was time to excavate a snow bollard.

Navigation was made more difficult this day; my compass decided to stick (the needle kept moving round with the housing and then sticking; a problem I have never had before.) which was a pain for the navigation but fortunately the visibility was great and so the problem could be compensated for easily enough. We walked off once more as it was going dark. Again we received feedback on the way out and mine was extremely encouraging.

Once home we had our Question and Answer paper on all sorts of different winter issues such as Avalanches, Cold related injuries, Weather.

Steve Spalding, our Director of Training returned and briefed us on the Expedition. At this point the Weather Forecasts were still mixed and undecided for the rest of the week. A battle between Low pressure to the west and High Pressure to the east was leading to confusion and no one was sure which one was going to win.

Our briefing finished at 10pm and then we headed up to pack our Expedition sacks for a two night exped.


Monday 28 January 2013

Winter ML Assessment Day 1

I have been thinking about doing the Winter Mountain Leader Assessment for years. I had been put off by my training in 1997 where the expedition took place in 110+ mph (gusting upto 140+)  winds and it was a terrifying experience! At one point the group were all lying on the ground with the picks of our ice axes dug into the snow and clinging on for dear life for over ten minutes in a bealach! The knowledge that if you let go off the axe you would be ripped off and blown away by the wind was not very comforting!

As the years went by, I was going out on the Cairngorm Plateau by myself and all over Scotland. (Despite the warnings which are often given about Solo Winter Mountainwalking, a lot of the time I would not have gone out at all if I had not headed out by myself accompanied by 1 or 2 dogs). After many years of Winter experience I realised that far less experienced people were going for the assessment, sometimes with only 2 decent winter seasons under their belts, and decided to give it a go.

I booked into do the Assessment with Phill George for March last year. Unfortunately tropical temperatures hit the UK and I watched the snow disappear with the speed of the end of the Ice Age. .

This January it looked like the same scenario was about to be repeated with temperatures at the summit of Cairngorm reaching 13.8'C a week before the assessment! So it was with fear and trepidation that I drove up to the Cairngorms on the Saturday. I needn’t have feared; that evening it began to snow and by morning it was white on the tops and in the glens.

The Cairngorms stripped of snow (again!); Danny's photo

I drove over to meet the rest of the group and our Assessors, Steve Spalding and Sam Leary on the Sunday evening.We were briefed on the week and then headed up to bed for a reasonably early night. Unfortunately I don’t like stress and so the sleep I so wanted did not arrive. In fact from the Saturday to the following Friday I only had 12 hours sleep in total! Not ideal when you want to be on form and with it!


Day 1: Monday.

This was Teaching Skills and navigation. The snow was bullet hard and great for crampon work, but Ice Axe arrests would have been lethal. The first hour was spent discussing Weather and Avalanche conditions and studying the SAIS forecast and relating it back to the weather forecast. As a group we discussed suitable and safe locations and decided on the western slopes of Coire nan Lochan. Each person took turns to lead navigation legs either in or out at the end of the day.

A small trough of bad weather had arrived and the weather clagged in so we did not see much all day.

 Once in the corrie we were assessed on our personal skills and techniques and our teaching skills. We also had to navigate closely as the mist clagged in. By the time we reached the car park again it was dark.

 I received some good feedback which basically was about how my years’ of experience were apparent and it was obvious that I could look after a group well in winter. Very encouraging.

 When we got home we had a 2 hour discussion, question and answer session on the Weather and Avalanches.


Monday 7 January 2013

Review of 2012

2012 was a busy year for Snowdonia First Aid.

Looking back on the year there are several highlights as well as some sad occasions.

The year started sadly with us losing Tilly, Steve's companion for nearly sixteen years. She remained an active mountain dog even up to the month before she died.

April saw us heading out to firstly Rum for a hot sunny few days followed by Inverie. The Knoydart trip was cut abruptly short by me developing appendicitis and having to be rushed to the Belford Hopsital in Fort William via the lifeboat. (There are few ways out of Knoydart; walk, fly or by water!).

We did manage to get back up to Scotland in August and again in October.

September saw us heading out to Spain and the Pyrenees. A beautiful place with a lot of variety in scenery from the limestone gorges of Ordesa to the high mountains of Benasque.

On our return we were out for several days searching for April Jones, the missing 5 year old at Machynlleth in mid Wales.

Christmas Eve saw Cluanie and me being called out to Loggerheads area of Clwyd for a despondent. We searched most of the night and then celebrated Christmas by climbing Snowdon with several of our Llanberis MRT friends.

New Year saw us back in Scotland in the Cairngorms for some excellent winter conditions.

Apologies for the lack of photos in this blog. The system for uploading photos straight from the computer appears to have been changed and I cannot find a way anymore! I hope I can get this resolved before too long as text alone seems rather boring!

Happy New Year!