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!
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.
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.
Temperatures have taken a dip at the moment and we have had some gloriously cold and frosty mornings in the Lake District over the weekend. One of the biggest dilemas that seems to crop up every year is the eternal search for the perfect glove. Though this may not justify why I now own at least two drawers full of them. Last week when the temperature dropped a bit I dug out one of my favourite pairs made of windstopper fleece. Windstopper is one of those technical fabrics out there that sounds awesome but gets mixed reviews. Personally I’ve only ever owned gloves made out of the stuff and I think that is where it is best used. Heading out for a walk with friends over the Wainwright’s of Knott and Great Calva my fingers were snuggly warm and yet the gloves were still dexterous enough to enable me to take photos and eat snacks without taking them off. So next time you’re on the look out for a pair of warm, thin gloves for hill-walking check out the many pairs available made from windstopper fleece.
The compass is an invaluable tool for navigating in the mountains. Before getting to grips with how best to use it, it is important to understand all the features of a suitable compass for hill walking and mountaineering.
The base plate should be large enough that you can comfortably grip it in your hand. The base plate will have on it a direction of travel arrow that should always point the way you want to go. In the picture it is the small black arrow just above the magnifying lens. Also the base plate should have romer scales for at least 1:25000 and 1:50000 map scales that allow you to easily measure distances and take grid references. These are in the top right hand corner of the base plate in the picture. Other features of the base plate can include a magnifying lens, small hole for accurately marking your map through and rulers in cm and mm.
The compass housing (or bezel) contains the bearing dial showing degrees in 2 degree inclinents, the orienting lines which include a red arrow that points to north on the compass (these can be lined up with the grid lines on a map that run from south to north) and the red needle that points to magnetic north. An index line on the bearing dial that lines up with the direction of travel arrow is where a bearing would be read from.
A lanyard is usually attached to the compass. I have mine tied into a pocket on my rucksack waistbelt or to the zip pull on a jacket pocket to save losing the compass. If you are going to wear it around your neck, the lanyard must be long enough so you can comfortably hold the compass out in front of you whilst walking on a bearing.
After three months of winter mountaineering I have spent the last couple of days reflecting on what went well and what I can improve on for next time. One thing that came up this year was the importance of having kit that fits you well, in particular your boots and your pack as this can vastly improve the comfort of your day out in the hills.
They say that saving a pound off your feet is equivalent to four pounds off your back!
Scarpa provides some very good information on its website on boot fitting.
It is also worth spending some time considering fitting your rucksack correctly so the weight is supported using the hip belt and chest strap to take the load off your shoulders.
I’m resting my legs this week after eight days winter mountaineering in Scotland. The conditions were interesting to say the least and provided much head scratching each evening deciding where to go after looking at the weather and avalanche forecasts. Often it was a case of walking in to the corries and making a decision once we got there. Thursday proved most interesting as parts of the cornice around the rim of Coire an t’Sneachda collapsed without any warning sending teams scurrying away. We did get stuff done everyday and I particularly enjoyed the zigzags on Gearr Aonach and the east ridge of Stob Ban as it was the first time I had been up these routes. I’m going back for more next week!
This weekend I was out running a private scrambling course for two clients and took the opportunity to check out some new scrambles I had not done before on Long Crag above Coniston. The rock was excellent and I can thoroughly recommend them.
Last year I compiled a list of some of my favourite scrambles in the Lake District that I particularly enjoy and thought it would be a good idea to republish it on the new blog. They can be enjoyed in their own right or as useful training for trips to Skye or the Alps.
Grade 1 – Sharp Edge, Blencathra
Sharp Edge is an exhilarating knife-edge ridge leading from Scales Tarn to the summit of Blencathra and is a fine introduction to scrambling. The line can be varied but the best route lies right along the crest of the ridge. After a gentle introduction the exposure increases until an awkward move around a large block on a sloping ledge. A step down into a notch leads to a smooth slab that must be crossed before steeper scrambling to the top. Sharp Edge is best enjoyed in fine weather as it can remain extremely slippery even a couple of days after rain.
Grade 2 – Cam Crag Ridge, Langstrath
Cam Crag is tucked away in the hidden valley of Langstrath which feels a million miles away from the hustle and bustle of Borrowdale. The walk in from Stonethwaite gives ample opportunity to stretch the legs before a steep pull up to the start of the scrambling where the best line sticks close to the right hand edge of the ridge. The ridge can be climbed under any conditions as all the steepest sections are easily avoided by moving left at any time onto grassy ledges. From the top the easiest descent is via Tarn at Leaves or the day can be extended with a visit to the top of Glaramara or further scrambling in Combe Ghyll (Intake Ridge or Dove’s Nest).
Grade 3 – Pinnacle Ridge, St. Sunday Crag
Pinnacle Ridge is a grade 3 scramble of 3 star quality and the traverse over the pinnacles close to the top of the ridge gives a real alpine feel to the route. The start can be hard to find but can be located by following the largest scree slope up to the base of the crag. The initial scrambling offers a variety of lines, the best being to the right, but all eventually lead to a steep corner. This is climbed by a crack on the right where a nifty foot swap half way up solves the puzzle of how to reach the next hand holds. Care should be taken on the down climb of the third pinnacle as the foot holds are not easy to spot from above. The summit of St. Sunday Crag is a short walk away from the top of the route.
Langdale Link-up – Stickle Gill, Tarn Crag, Pavey Ark, Harrison Stickle
The many scrambles found through out the Lake District are of the highest quality but often short lived. To enjoy a grand day out it is possible in some areas to link up several scrambles to form a longer route. In Langdale one such enchainment is to start up the side of Stickle Gill and then cross over to Tarn Crag which offers a few different routes to choose from. A short walk round the edge of Stickle Tarn leads to Pavey Ark which has its own link up of going up Pavey’s Far East ridge, down Easy Gully and back up Jack’s Rake. The day can be finished with a scramble up the south or east ridges of Harrison Stickle to the summit.
Worth the walk – Ill Crag, Central Fells
Ill Crag lies at the head of Eskdale and with a vertical height gain of 300m it is home to the longest scrambling routes in the Lake District. One of my favourite mountain days and a route that made it into Trail magazines top 50 starts at Seathwaite Farm in Borrowdale and ascends Grain’s Ghyll to Esk Hause. A short descent into Upper Eskdale leads round to the base of the crag. The choice of route is between the grade 1 of Cockly Pike ridge or the grade 3 of the South-East face. Both are excellent and the choice will come down to your experience and the conditions on the day. From the top of Ill Crag it is not far to the summit of Scafell Pike, England’s highest mountain from where a descent of the Corridor Route to Styhead Tarn leads back to Seathwaite and tea and cakes all round.