We met at 8.30a.m. in the Onich Hotel, the winter base of Jagged Globe. We were five students (with one apology) and two facilitators; Ed Chard and Tim Blakemore. After introductions were made and aspirations for the weekend voiced, two distinct agendas emerged. Adele and I were keen on teaching climbing stuff and the other three wanted to look at snow theory and practice. The venue would be the same for both teams. Local knowledge, years of experience, a detailed examination of the weather and oh yeah, the gondola, determined that we would spend the day on Anoch mor.
In no time we were at the top of Easy Gully and, under the guidance of Tim, practising making various types of snow belay (stomper, boot axe, Kimber etc.) for lowering people.
The conditions had changed completely from the day before. A drop in temperature following the warm wet weather had played its part in stabilising the crag. Satisfied with our efforts we rapped down off a snow bollard and after short roping a traverse (the climbs start hundreds of feet above a lochan at the top of a very steep slope. A fall is not to be contemplated.) over to the Web area we got to do a bit of climbing. We had obviously chosen a great pair of teaching climbs to use and set to with screws, pegs, nuts and warthogs, we could even have used deadmen and bulldogs if they had been available. The weather was excellent and despite the fact that we were hanging from our axes in a very exposed position, I couldn’t restrain myself from shouting ‘Ooo look! a rainbow’.
There were 100 people on the face, it was almost like a sport crag but the mountain is not as benign as it appears and the seriousness of the place was made clear by the rescue chopper buzzing around and the cries for help of someone who had fallen and broken his arm. Despite these sobering thoughts our day was a great success and we learned lots.
After topping out and checking if we could be of any help with the rescues we met up with the other guys who had had an equally informative day with Ed.
The day was not over yet. We dashed back to the hotel for 5.30 where we were greeted by the familiar faces of Plas y Brenin gurus Simon Hale, head of training at the Brenin, a Mountain Guide and coincidentally one of my assessors for the International Mountain Leader, Stuart McAleese,(if you read any of the climbing mags his name will be familiar for the extreme routes he has been doing all over the world) in his final season at Glenmore Lodge he was an assessor for my Winter ML, and Tim who’s last name I have forgotten. These three had given up their time for free to talk to us on everything related to the MIC in particular and the white stuff in general, although we learned that in winter things are rarely black or white. Thanks for that guys.
After the talk I walked briskly back to the Alex Macintyre Memorial hut with plenty to think about. The temperature had dropped dramatically and brilliant stars indicated a clear cold night ahead.
Day two. Crunching out of the hut door into thick ground frost, I zipped up my jacket as far as it would go. The cloudless sky was painted with the colours of dawn, the hilltops bathed in the up light from the early morning sun and the birds trilled their chorus. The rain and wind of the previous few days was forgotten and I remembered why I keep coming back to Scotland. We were loading up the minibus (thanks Jagged Globe) by 8.15 – destination Big Bad Ben (Ben Nevis).
Adele and I were keen to build on what we had learned the day before and practice on something harder. Meanwhile the other guys were going to short rope and move together on Ledge Route, a climb I have soloed in proper winter conditions but they were going to have to do a predominantly rock route with icy patches.
Splitting up with the others at the base of Ledge route I short roped Adele and Ed to the foot of our climb, Central Gully. I lead the first pitch which was very steep but fairly straightforward neve with sections of ice. This left Adele with the crux pitch, supposedly grade IV. Adele who cruises grade V found it really hard and scary, although when her heart beat calmed down a bit she handled it with aplomb. I was pleased that it was her lead.
Respect. The climb was all too soon over and we rapped down again on tenuous gear and a frightening snow bollard. On the way back we bumped into Sir Hinkes of the 8,000’s who bummed a lift back to his car, celebrities eh. On the journey back to the hotel we all talked about what we had learned and swapped addresses. Everyone enthused about how great these training weekends are.
This has been my 20th. winter in Scotland and I think I have built up quite a high level of experience but in a winter when global warming and its effects on snow conditions has been blamed for an unprecedented number of fatalities non of us can afford to be complacent. The training we have just done might give us the extra edge we need to keep ourselves and those we are looking after safe and allow us all to have fun.
So Craggers folk lets all look forward to an exciting and safe Scottish winter experience in 2008.