Just a few figures to round up what More Than Mountains have been getting up to in the last couple of months!
1 x new pair of crampons purchased.
2 x visits to the Ice Factor in Kinlochleven.
3 x ascents of the ZigZags on Gearr Aonach in Glen Coe.
4 x days of teaching winter skills courses in the Cairngorms.
5 x pitches of snow and ice climbing on North Buttress on Buchaille Etive Mor.
6 x days teaching winter mountaineering courses on Ben Nevis.
7 x pairs of gloves used most days.
Following on from the last blog about winter mountaineering clothing, this short article will outline some of the gear I take with me.
A good helmet is vital in winter and I will often end up wearing one for most of the day, particularly if it is windy. It is worth finding one that you can comfortably wear a hat or balaclava underneath and is compatible with the hood of your outer shell jacket.
You can get away with a simpler harness in winter as all the extra clothing negates the need for padding on the waist belt. A ‘nappy’ style harness can easily be put on standing up whilst wearing crampons or skis which makes for a good choice.
An all round pair of twelve point crampons will do for almost all eventualities without getting too specialist. It is worth taking the time to make sure they fit your boots well. It is also vitally important that they are fitted with anti-balling plates to prevent snow buliding up undnerneath your boots as you walk.
Ice axes come in all shapes and sizes. It is worth trying some out before you buy as the grip and swing of an axe comes down to personal preference. In general, tools should be about 50cm in length as this is practical for most uses.
Dry-treated ropes are an essential in winter and most people prefer to use a double rope system to protect the climb and allow for longer abseils.
A standard rack of climbing equipment comprising nuts, hexes and cams is usually enough backed up with a few ice screws and maybe pitons depending on the route. Lots of slings and some spare abseil ‘tat’ always come in handy.
In my rucksack I will always carry a first aid kit, group shelter, head torch and spare map!
This weekend the Kendal Mountain Film Festival is taking place. It is a hugely popular event with films and lectures happening at various venues within the town. The Guardian has put together a collection of trailers to some of the films you can see at the festival.
I’ve been using and abusing kit ice climbing and winter mountaineering for a good few years now in Scotland on courses and for play. In the build up to the new season I have been compiling a list of what works really well for me.
Rucksack – The POD Thin Ice at 45 litres is big enough to take all my winter climbing kit for a day and yet still weighs under 1kg! I prefer a simple sack with a floating lid and compact waist belt and the Thin Ice fits the bill perfectly. On ‘go faster’ days I have been using the Osprey Mutant 28 which is a great day sack, again with all the right features.
Boots – Since first trying on the Scarpa Phantoms they have proved to be the perfect boot for ice climbing in Scotland throughout the winter months. They are one of the most comfortable boots I have ever worn and keep my feet warm and dry in all conditions. The La Sportiva Nepal are also a great mountaineering boot for when the going kets tough.
Socks – I wear merino socks every day – enough said!
Base layers – I usually wear merino baselayers and if it’s cold I will layer a technical hoody over the top. The new Mountain Equipment Eclipse hoody looks like it is going to be an awesome bit of kit that will be on my Christmas list this year.
Mid layer – The Patagonia R2 jacket is one of my favourite mid layer pieces. Another option would be a thin synthetic layer or something like the Rab Vapour-rise top.
Shell layer – Depending on the conditions I choose between a softshell, ‘event’ hardshell or more often than not a Paramo jacket which covers all eventualities.
Legs – Paramo Aspira Salopettes have proved themselves to be one of the best winter legwear options in all conditions. If it’s cold I will add longjohns underneath them.
Booster layer – A warm synthetic jacket such as the Mountain Equipment Fitzroy is great to throw on over the top of your other layers for lunch breaks or on cold belays during a climb. I would avoid down as it can soon wet-out.
Gloves – Lots are required to get you through a typical Scottish winter mountaineering day. I start with a thin fleece glove for the walk in. Windstopper works really well as a fabric for gloves. If I am ice climbing I will change to something thicker with a leather palm for dexterity and grip. The Black Diamond Punisher has been a great glove over the last few seasons. I always have a pair of warm mittens in my rucksack as a back up.
That’s about it for clothing. In the next blog I will list more of the technical climbing kit I use throughout the winter.
Rock climbing can give you a new challenge in life such as helping to overcome a fear of heights. Learning the techniques required to get you to the top can open up many new adventures along the way. Employing the services of a fully qualified mountaineering instructor will ensure that you safely learn the correct techniques to enjoy rock climbing for yourself. You may alternatively want to relax and be guided up some of the classic rock climbs to be found in the Lake District, Snowdonia or further afield.
Scrambling is often seen as the next step on from hill walking. Exploring rocky ridges and steeper buttresses can offer a new way to get to the top of your favourite mountains. If you are new to scrambling it may be worth considering a mountaineering instructor to help show you the way and introduce simple rope work and techniques to keep you safe on more exposed sections. The Mountain Instructor Award is the minimum qualification allowed to take people on graded scrambles where the use of a rope may be required in the UK.
If you want to improve your navigation skills, a mountaineering instructor will be able to coach you in taking a compass bearing and following it accurately using pacing and timing to find where you want to get to!
So next time you are planning a new adventure in the hills it might be time to hire the skills of a qualified mountaineering instructor to help you discover new places or learn the skills to get more from the mountains in your own time.
The British Mountaineering Council have produced this video to help explain what someone who holds the Mountain Instructor Award has to offer.
Mountaineering Instructor Award from team_BMC on Vimeo.
As the highest mountain in England Scafell Pike can be summited by as many as 1500 people over a busy summer weekend but away from the crowds following the main trails to the top there are other quieter routes to enjoy including some of the longest scrambles in the Lake District.
Seathwaite is a small hamlet at the head of the Borrowdale valley. It’s name comes from old Norse and translates as ‘clearing in the sedges’. Rather unfortunately it is famous for being the wettest place in England! There is plenty of parking along the lane before the farm but it is worth getting there early, particularly on a weekend as you can find your walk extended by up to a mile the further away you end up parking.
From the farm take the track due south to Stockley Bridge. After crossing the bridge turn left and the first big climb of the day ascends along the side of Grains Ghyll to come up underneath the magnificent north face of Great End, well known for the winter climbs that ascend its gullies when filled with snow and ice. Bear left and then right to head up onto the saddle of Esk Hause. This col is known as the central ‘hub’ of the Lake District from which the various ridges spread out like the spokes of a bicycle wheel with the valleys lying in between. Most folk turn right here to continue up through Calf Cove and straight on the top of the ‘Pike’. Instead of this, carry on over and drop down into Upper Eskdale and upon reaching the bottom of the valley a choice can be made as to which route to follow to regain the summit of Ill Crag.
Cockly Pike Ridge at grade 1 is a fantastic introduction to the delights of scrambling. Interest can easily be maintained by sticking to all the rocky steps along the way, or the steeper sections can be avoided by following grassy ledges around the sides. The first point to aim for is the knoll of Cockly Pike itself, from here the next rock barrier is crossed by following a grass rake to the left and then moving back right on the best rocks. As height is gained the slope becomes more littered with large block and sections of scree. The many slabs and ribs of rock that protrude from this to provide the best scrambling. The final tower provides a fitting finish to this great ridge.
For more of a challenge it is worth heading up and round further to the left to climb the South-East Face of Ill Crag which is given grade 3 for its central slab and steep upper buttress. The scramble starts by picking out the best line up clean slabs of rock to reach the impressive Central Slab. Start in the centre of the slab and climb straight up until it is possible to traverse out left to reach a heathery groove. Cross this and follow the edge of the slab to the top. If using a rope to protect this section of the scramble it is a full pitch of 48m. The rest of the scramble continues by again picking out the best of the rock and including some steeper sections along the way.
If you are feeling fit and there is still plenty of time, it is possible to descend via Little Narrowcove from the top of Ill Crag to pick up the scramble of Thor’s Buttress and Pen for another grade 3 route on to Scafell Pike. This is excellent alpine training given the amount of height gain and time spent on exposed rocky terrain by combining the two routes.
The summit cairn of Scafell Pike is now not too far away across the boulder field of Broad Crag. The best line across this is clearly marked by cairns before the short drop into Broad Crag Col and back out again for the final push to the summit. On a clear day the fine views of the rest of the Lake District fells can be taken in along with Blackpool Tower and the Isle of Man.
To make the round trip back to Seathwaite descend back to Broad Crag Col and continue down to the left to pick up the start of the Corridor Route. This follows a broad shelf above the upper reaches of the Wasdale Valley and below the steep sides of Round How, Broad Crag and Great End. Be careful to ascend the short rock-step part of the way down to keep on track and not be tempted to keep descending into Piers Gill, a notorious black spot for the local mountain rescue teams. Continue round to the left to find the stretcher box and the picturesque Styhead Tarn. Follow the path around the side of the tarn passing underneath Great Gable to start dropping down alongside the waterfall of Taylor Ghyll Force and back round to Stockley Bridge. On a hot day it can be very tempting to take a quick dip in one of the amazingly clear pools that can be found in the stream below this point. The final section of track back to the farm at Seathwaite gives a good opportunity to stretch out and relax after taking in on of the finest mountain days the Lake District has to offer.
If you have just started out rock climbing or are looking to update your existing rock climbing equipment then UK based gear manufacturer DMM have produced a useful factsheet on their website and a video to view in conjunction with this explaining what to consider when buying new carabiners.
The Annual Outdoor Show took place recently at Friedrichshafen in Germany. All the major outdoor brands were there exhibiting their new products for next season. Kit is definitely getting lighter and shinier!
UKClimbing were there to report on the latest products and have published a comprehensive report on the show on their website. Click here to read about the award winners.
It is positive to see that helmet designers are really thinking about making helmets that people will want to wear when they go rock climbing or mountaineering.
A rock climbing article on the Guardian’s website today about indoor bouldering-only climbing walls where you climb above a crash mat without the use of ropes and a harness has highlighted it as one of the fastest growing sports in the county.
If you have got into the sport of rock climbing through one of these centres and want to try outdoor climbing for the first time our ‘beginner’ and ‘introduction to rock climbing’ courses based in the Lake District are an excellent taster to many more adventures that lie ahead.
The British Mountaineering Council (BMC) has just published a video to promote their current helmet campaign. You can watch it here. With modern helmets weighing as little as 250 grams we strongly recommend you consider wearing one for all rock climbing and mountaineering activities.