Thursday, 13 June 2013

Tollaidh Crags, Lochnagar and the Big Bad Ben

I had thought that working freelance would give plenty of time, but that seems as much at a premium as ever! I'm not complaining though, it's been a great week of work. The weather helped, with summer having finally arrived in the Highlands. I swung by Loch Tollaidh Crags with Rick on my way from Lewis to Ballater. We only had an afternoon, and it was the first time Rick had climbed outdoors in a long while so we had a nice chilled afternoon exploring some of the lower grade classics of the crag. We climbed Raven's Edge (VDiff**), Assault Slab (VDiff***), After Eight (Severe) and Rough Slab (VS4c**).

 Assault Slab deserves its 3 stars we thought

Rough Slab giving a little more thought

Then it was on over to Ballater ready for some D of E supervision for Albyn School. They had 6 groups out on the hill so camping was pretty sociable with 4 teachers and myself and Louisa out to keep an eye on proceedings. On the second day we left tents so we could get up high and make the most of the great weather. My team did a circuit of the 5 Munros of the Broad Cairn - Lochnagar horseshoe walk, covering 27km or so. There were a few sore feet by the end of the day but they did amazingly well, making good decisions and with no complaints. 

 Looking up towards the Dubh Loch

 Almost there! The top of Lochnagar

On top of the final Munro of the day at 1700

Once we got back to the finish point at the Royal Lochnagar Distillery and the group disappeared back to Aberdeen, I headed west for a few hours of sleep before an early morning marshalling tip up Ben Nevis. Jagged Globe organise an annual Three Peaks charity event for Action Medical Research and this year there were well over 200 people taking part. With other events and independent walkers on the hill it was pretty busy even by 6am (by which time I'd been up top for an hour enjoying the sun). There were a couple of skiers in Tower Gully who had also made an early start. With so many groups out it was good to see lots of familiar faces on the hill from the local instructing community and further afield.

 Ben Nevis at 5am

Views across the Mamores in the sun

The last few days I've been working at the Scaladale Centre with groups from Carloway Primary and West Side. Carloway is closing at the end of term and the children going to bigger schools, so they had bought all the children (all 14 of them!) from P1 to P7 which was brilliant fun for Raft Building and Survival Skills. Back to Scaladale for the last day with West Side tomorrow before heading for some climbing adventures again...

Monday, 3 June 2013

Exploring the islands some more

It's been a busy week, stating off with a mini island adventure with the girls and Roddy. We timed the tides right to have a walk over to Eilean Chaluim Chille from South Lochs and explore the ruins over there and the coastline.

The tidal causeway - finding mussel shells

Rock art on the wee island

The next couple of days were spent getting down to Kilmarnock for a D of E Assessor Accreditation day - no pics of this as it's paperwork stuff! Nice to get some ideas of what groups do in different areas as their qualifying assessments, especially with regard to the purpose of their exped. It's not all about flora and fauna with some great imaginative projects like re-enacting the story of MacBeth in photo's!

When I got back to Lewis the weather was beautiful, so I headed up to the Clisham to check out the scramble on the south side of the hill - Coire Dubh Slabs, grade 3. It's a lovely wee route and a surprisingly short day out, taking me only a little over an hour to get to the scrambling and 3 1/2 hours in total car to car... Even though I stopped for lots of pics!

 Looking in to Coire Dubh, the slabs are obvious just left of centre

 Mmm... Gneiss!

Great views of mountains and sea :)

After such a warm day on the hill, we took the girls for a quick swim in the sea after school and I was happy to join them and take the heat out of my shoulders which managed to get a bit pink even with my factor 50 on!

Friday I headed out climbing with a couple of guys from the HebSAR team, Neil and Charlie. Neil found a route which went at about HS/VS, and I found a line that went at VS or so until the last couple of metres when the rock changed in character. The lovely positive edges that had seen me up the slightly overhanging rock disappeared and became lots of rounded stuff. I ended up backing off, much to my disappointment! I felt slightly better about it when first Charlie, then Neil both backed off at around the same point, and even more so when Charlie struggled up it on a top rope... We were climbing at the crags at Riof beach. There aren't that many bits of rock large or continuous enough to provide routes especially at amenable grades, but there is a lot of great bouldering - next time the mat is definitely going to go in the car. 

 Charlie working out the (lack of) holds on the top part of my attempted route

 Charlie seconding the route that Neil lead

The line I spotted - it looked good!

Saturday Roddy and I were out with the HebSAR team for some rigging training. 3 of the team have just come back from a rigging course run by the MRCofS so it was a chance for everyone to share the information they had picked up and make sure we were all up to speed with it. We set up lowers with IDs and Rescue 8s, using a mix of stakes, hedgehogs, slings and rock gear to secure anchors. A very productive day with lots of ideas thrown in to the mix and interesting for me to see how organised rescue differs (and is similar to) the improvised sort that we learn about as instructors. HebSAR don't get the volume of technical rescues that other teams like Lochaber or Glencoe do, but with climbing on the islands steadily increasing in popularity it's important to make sure the skills base is there.

John briefing the team before the first lower

Sunday was spent chilling on the beach at Riof (yes, again!) with Roddy and the girls. With bodyboarding, rock pooling, sand castles, exploring little rocky islands and some sit on top sea kayaking they were pretty tired at the end of the day... And so were we!

Playing on the bodyboards and dodging moon jellyfish!

I'm off to the mainland for some climbing and some work this week, so here's hoping the sun shines some more...

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Gorge Scrambling and a RIB Ride

On their last day, there was just time for the team from George Watson's to squeeze in a gorge scramble before getting packed up and sorted. There was fresh snow on the Clisham down to 700m or so, so the water was a little chilly to say the least! It's been a great couple of weeks working with this group and getting to know them, and I think it's fair to say that by the end of their stay most had achieved things they would not have thought they could at the beginning.

 The girls group tacking the big jump

The boys group chatting to the locals

Yesterday after a day of pottering about at home and in town to get some chores done, I headed out with Roddy, John and Iain to see what John's new RIB was like. We took a little tour about from the end of the road at Point on a lovely evening. The RIB is meant to be good for seas of up to 2m... Not convinced I'd fancy it in that though!

 The coastline around Point where John and Iain go cliff-jumping

John grinning like the Cheshire Cat with his new toy!

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Aird Uig, Camping at Luskintyre and Todun

On Sunday I had the day off, so we headed up to Aird Uig to check out a crag up there and take the girls to play on the rocks. Although it was overcast and misty in Stornoway, the weather came good in the west and we had sunshine all afternoon. In between scrambling, bouldering, bouncing stones on pools and swimming, we managed to have a nosey at Boardwalk Crag and hope to head there for some climbing soon.

 About to head off to play on the rocks

Looking back towards the Uig hills

Yesterday I was working with Sean and the crew from George Watson's College who are staying at the Scaladale centre just now. They were all feeling refreshed after a day off from activities, so we thought we'd cram as much as possible into the last few days of their stay... We started off with a raft building session, then hit the showers before packing bags and walking the Coffin Trail through to Luskintyre where they pitched tents for the night. Once tents and dinner were sorted and tidied away, we had a fire on the beach and the group entertained us with music and stories until late. Although it was a pretty breezy night, the tents managed to pass muster and everyone got some sleep at least!

 The view from my tent - could be worse!

 Natalia rocking it up on the ukelele

Hugh playing some ceilidh tunes on his fiddle

Today there were lots of bleary eyes getting the tents packed away and the washing up done. A short sharp shower of hail woke everyone up a bit though, and we managed to get out on to Todun at a pretty respectable time. The hail soon stopped and we were mostly in the sun for the rest of the day, with squally showers passing us by down the loch. With nicer weather and lots of little scrambly bits to play on, the group soon perked up and we had a great short day out. On the way back we took them to have a little peep at the hostel at Rhenigidale where the school group used to stay each year before the Scaladale centre opened 12 years ago. 

 Stopping for a quick bite to eat on the way up Todun

 Play time on the way up - bouldering

 On the ridge - a wee bit of scrambly stuff

 Squally showers going down the loch and passing us by

Views to Clisham - very different to a few days ago!

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Hillwalking on Todun

The weather wasn't quite so kind today, with a stiff north-easterly wind and cloud down to around 400m. We opted to go up Todun, which at 528m gave us a good challenge. Lots of defensive walking and some wee scrambly bits saw us to the summit, where we huddled in the shelter for a bite to eat. On the way down the group really enjoyed battling the elements, with a few of them getting knocked over by gusts - pretty blowy at times! They remained amazingly positive though, managing to spot some of the vegetation they identified with the rangers from the North Harris Trust a few days ago, getting involved in the navigation and having a shot at finding the route themselves through steeper ground.

Scouting for the best route down

Friday, 17 May 2013

Staff training day - climbing and gorge walking

Today I was out with Sean again from the Scaladale centre, and we were joined by Matt. The idea was for us to go and have a look at a single pitch crag near Scalpay that we hadn't been to before, and have a look at the gorge walk on the Rhenigidale road so myself and Matt can help deliver sessions there. The sun shone all day and there were only light breezes - it almost felt like summer for a while!

Matt on one of the 6 good lines at the wee crag

Sean doing his very best pensive pose in the gorge

Sean showing us the best spot to place a handrail using a knotted sling

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Biking and Coasteering for Scaladale

The last couple of days I have been working for the Scaladale Centre, in North Harris. Yesterday was showery with a few exfoliating hailstones, so we decided that mountain biking in the castle grounds was the way to go. This is a great area for teaching skills, with lots of small, isolated slopes and features to practice on, and a variety of purpose-built trails to play on once confidence has been built. The teams did brilliantly, with some who had never been off road on a bike before managing to ride the red run by the end of the session.

Top of the blue run - 2nd run, double the fun!

Today was a brighter day, although still with a cool breeze and the odd heavy shower. We took the groups coasteering at Rhenigidale as they had a theme for the day of comparing coastal and inland environments. Conditions were great, with just a little swell to make things interesting, but not enough to prevent us getting the maximum fun out of the journey. It's a great venue, with plenty of options to start and finish, and interesting things to do whatever height the tide is at. 

Running into the sea - Baywatch style!

Getting used to letting the swell do the work