Sunday, 3 March 2013

Early Summer?

I think this is the driest spell we have had since April last year! Sun and snow combined; perfect combination.

We have been making the most of this glorious weather on my days off. Yesterday I climbed Parsley Fern Gully with a friend and our dogs, descending back into Cwm Glas from Bwlch Coch. The only problem with the mix of sun and snow is the faff; forever taking crampons on and off! The snow is clinging in there although the descent gully into Cwm Glas was a lot thinner than when Steve and I were there last week! The Trinity face of Snowdon is still looking good in most of the gullies.

I am off to Iceland this week to assess the Icelandic Search Dogs with a colleague from SARDA Wales. Cluanie is staying with Steve and probably will take over the bed! From 8 'C down to -19'C in the Arctic Circle; it's going to feel like I'm back on my Winter ML.

When I get back I am straight back into an ML Summer Training course; Steve is teaching on the first 4 days and I take over for the overnight camp. When that finishes we are teaching a REC Level 2 First Aid course at Bangor University for the Mountain Walking Club.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Glorious spring!

We have been keeping busy; whether working or playing.

In the past 3 weeks we have taught 2 REC Mountain First Aid courses to the Military for JSMTC (Joint Services Mountain Training Centre) on Anglesey. Steve taught an Open REC Level 2 course for 9 participants while I was busy with GCSE Geography marking.

I got out on Saturday; a beautiful walk in the Glyders although the tops were cloudy but walking back along the banks of Llyn Ogwen it felt like summer! Cluanie was revelling in it!

Yesterday we headed up into Cwm Glas where Winter conditions are hanging in there. The snow conditions were great so we played around cutting steps and climbing steep snow. Cluanie thought it was Christmas as she chased chunks of snow downhill. She also discovered how slippery sheet ice is as I saw her disappear over an edge; thankfully it wasn't steep on the other side of the spur!

Today I headed up onto the Glyder up the Miners Path. The day started beautifully but sadly clagged in. However, again the snow conditions were excellent on the top.

Apologies for lack of photos, the blog is not allowing me to download any!

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Winter ML Assessment Day 5: The End!

The Final Day.

The wind built up all night and all of us had to dig ourselves out several times.

We were aiming to get away by 9 am to return to Glen Feshie by 12 noon so it was an early start in order to melt snow. By now there was no way I wanted to leave the snowhole for any reason until it was time to set off.

 The wind and weather had other ideas about our ETA. By the time we were walking along the Sgorr Gaoith ridge it was apparant that the wind was now gusting 70 + mph. Walking was extremely difficult and in the end we had to form a parallel line and link arms to stay on our feet and not get blown away. (This was becoming quite reminiscent of my WML Training on Creag Megaidh!). The snow had also arrived with large flakes mixed in with the spindrift.

We dropped to low ground as quickly as was possible also having to avoid windslab and rocky slopes. We finally made it back to the car at 3 pm. On our walk down, Steve debriefed each of us in turn. We were all delighted to find that all of us had passed the Assessment.


What an epic week. A big thanks to Sam Learey and Steve Spalding, our Assessors who not only assessed us but also used the time to add to our experience with coaching and tips, and to the other candidates, Neil, Danny and Emma. They were a great bunch, really supportive of each other and unlike some assessments I have seen we worked as a team with no one trying to play 'one upmanship' or putting others down. Thanks guys for an amazing week. Not sure I would want to repeat it, but I sure am glad I have had the experience and that after all these years I did go for the assessment.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Winter ML Assessment Day 4

Day 4:

At 8 am it was time to get melting snow for brews and I had not managed to get any sleep. I also did not get to wake to the smell of bacon as the snow holes closer to Danny's did. Danny had decided on luxury, and Steve, our Assessor said cooking bacon on a winter MLA was a first for him!

Into the bargain I felt really sick which limited the amounts I managed to eat through the day (not ideal for a long winter mountain trip).

Before heading out for the day Steve gave us all a quick debrief on our performance so far. Once again mine was really encouraging; words to the effect that so far, so good. If I keep up what I’m doing, I’ll be fine!

Snowhole village as opposed to the snowhole city!

I got to navigate the first leg leading us out towards Cairn Toul. By now we realised the going was really slow, averaging 1 - 2 kph in the deep snow. We also realised as we climbed the slopes towards Sgor an Lochain Uaine that the Low Pressure was winning the Battle of the Weather and the wind was rising significantly.

Wind beginning to rise! Climb up to the ridge as the sun sets.
Danny's photo

 Neil navigated us to the spotheight 1265 of Einich Cairn in now what was driving spin drift and debilitating winds.

My next leg was a spur down the slopes back towards Tom Dubh and our snowholes. By now the spin drift was incredible and on the lower slopes there were times when I felt to be going uphill only to turn round and see that the group behind me were actually higher. Very disorientating! The only way to have done an aspect of slope would have been to send people out in front.
Walking on a bearing through a boulder field and in the wind was not much fun; I managed to fall over and smack both my knee and head on different rocks. Fortunately by torch took the brunt of the head rock!

 After several long legs by the groups, we finally returned to our snowholes at 11.30. By now I was exhausted having been unable to eat for most of the day.  I had the final leg to find our snowhole village, and all the doorways had been filled in by snow. The amazing thing was that the snow hole really felt like a haven and home. I didn't find myself longing for a warm bed and central heating! I was just so glad to be out of the blizzards! (despite the spindrift which was pouring in through the door and covering everything)

By now I was counting down the hours to the end of the Expedition (mistakenly thinking we would be back at the car by midday on the Friday!)

The next few hours were spent cooking, rehydrating, clearing snow, trying to stop spindrift from covering our sleeping bags and equipment and so no one got to bed before 2.30. I think I managed 2 hours sleep from 4 am onwards having shivered for 2 hours. We were having to get up every 2 hours maximum to check that our doorways hadn't filled in.


Saturday, 2 February 2013

Winter ML Assessment Day 3

Home, sweet home!
 Yet again, I had a poor night's sleep; probably 2 hours max. The following morning it was a final check of kit and rucksacks while Neil and Steve headed up to the Ski car park to pick up the Cairngorm Poo Tubes ( a brilliant idea by Heather Morning-Rich to cut down on the faeces found around the snowhole sites) and then we drove round to Glen Feshie to meet George MacEwan who was moderating Steve.
 We headed out in nice conditions up the Allt Ruadh with each of us taking it in turn to navigate different legs. Steve left it to us to choose our own legs as it was also assessing our abilities to choose suitable routes. This is a realistic way of seeing whether the candidate can choose safe and suitable routes for groups.
It was becoming apparant though, that the Low Pressure was winning the Battle of the Pressure systems as the cloud was building up and it was already quite windy. Not a good sign for things to come!
We summited Sgor Gaoith and then dropped down to the Allt Sgairnich to find deep banked snow for snow holes. The next three hours or so were spent digging until we all had snow holes to call our homes.
The construction was made more difficult as the snow had not banked out as much as expected and we kept hitting turf bank at the back. As a result our snowholes elongated sideways and I had to build my sleeping platform by taking snow from the sides and stamping it out.
We had two hours from 8 pm to sort out food and get organised and then at 10 pm we set out on our night navigation over to Meall Dubhag and Fionna Choire. Visibility was still good and so loving navigation, I was able to relax into timings and pacings.

We finally returned to our snow holes at 2.30 am and after brewing up it was time for kip. Unfortunately my brain would not switch off. I also had cold feet and was worried about frost bite and spent most of the night wiggling my toes to keep the circulation going.

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!