GPS Training Course

27 01 2013

Today I met Carolyn and Paul in Chapel Stile to run a GPS training Course. They are both confident navigators but fancied getting a GPS for back-up for when the going gets really tough. We started the day by running through all the features on their Garmin 62s, and how to get the best out of the unit.

We set a route up on the GPS from Chapel Stile to the summit of Silver How. It was quite a windy day, and pretty wet underfoot as unfortunately all the snow has been either washed away or melted- bad times! Nonetheless, we enjoyed our walk up to the summit, even if Paul did take us over some odd ground on the way as he was quite intent on making his way directly to the next waypoint he had plotted, a lesson was learnt there for sure! haha

On the summit we simulated a ‘GPS faliure’ and got the map out. The scenario was simple, their GPS had stopped working, they were on the summit (hypothetically in the mist) and needed to get off safely. I handed Paul a map and told him to take us to a tarn about 500m away. This was a great opportunity Paul to practice his map skills, and for me to also give him a couple of hints while doing so. We reached the tarn perfectly and opted to stop for a bite to eat out of the wind.

After lunch we plotted our return route back down into Chapel Stile. Crackin’ day out on the fells, one that was long overdue!

If you have a GPS and want to learn how to get the best out of it, or want to come on a course and use one before you buy, then Lakeland Mountain Guides run a course tailored to your needs!


An Epic above Mardale

15 01 2013

Over the last few days it looked like winter was coming back with a vengeance!  Snow on the fells, colder nights and even gritters on the roads.  A colleague and climbing partner Tim had read about a crag over above Blea Water on the eastern side of High Street that builds ice quickly, and what with recent conditions we thought we would go and see if there was anything to climb.

Like true ‘Keen Beans’ we met in Keswick at 7.15am and made our way along and down towards Haweswater. Just as we reached the dam there was a sign at the side of the road that read ‘Road Closed’…..Oh dear. The walk in to the crag was only about a mile from the car park at the end of the Lake, but we were currently the entire length of Haweswater (about 4.5k!) away from the car park. We continued on down the road hoping it was just closed much further down. This plan failed as about 500m later the road was littered with lorries and we had to pull over.

It was about 8.15am and we had made the drive over from the Western Lakes, so in true ‘Keen Bean’ fashion we got our kit and started walking down the road.
An hour and half of road walking swiftly passed, all the while the sky got lighter and lighter, and the views got better and better. We reached the car park and after just a brief stop continued on our way up the path. As we climbed gently towards Blea Water the sun glinted off of our intended climbing location beautifully.

We arrived at the shore of Blea Water and we surveyed the crag across the other side. Based on the ground conditions we had experienced on the way up, plus what the crag looked like, we knew that today was not going to be a day for climbing. In some places it is OK to get onto a climb to see if it is in or our of condition, but this venue holds some very rare wild flowers so it should not be approached unless it is in anything but perfect ‘nick’.

From the shore of Blea Water we opted to climb the ridge that led onto the summit plateau of High Street. We reached the plateau and turned northwards to make our way along the long ridge-line. We headed past Rampsgill Head and onto High Raise. As we reached High Raise the sun broke through the low cloud base, and at this point we chose to stop for some lunch.

From High Raise we continued northwards for a few kilometres and when we reached High Kop we turned to the east to head back to Haweswater. Again on our way down this slope the sun burst through the cloud and revealed some spectacular views, especially over towards the Pennines. Once again we took this opportunity to stop and soak up some rays.

We made our way off of the fells and to the western shore of Haweswater. After not too long we were back at the car having clocked up an impressive 14 miles! No climbing but a fine day out nonetheless!

Winter Mountain Leader Training Course – January 2013

11 01 2013

The next step in my career as a Mountain Leader is to complete my Winter Mountain Leader Award. The Winter Mountain Leader (WML) allows you to safely lead groups in the mountains of UK and Ireland in Winter conditions, including the use of Ice Axes and Crampons. As with all UK mountain qualifications the WML is gained by attending a Training Course, and after further consolidation (which can be anything from a month to a few years) a 5 day Assessment course is completed – and hopefully passed! Here is my day by day account of my 6 day Training Course undertaken with Pete Hill, MIC.

Day 1: Teaching Self Arrest and Cutting Steps, Coire Laogh Mor.

After meeting Pete at our Bunkhouse at 9am we made our way around to the ciste car park just below popular Ski Centre on Cairn Gorm. The Ski Centre car park was to be our start point for every day of the course as it gave us a nice 600m height gain to get up onto what was left of the snow clinging on in the higher Corries.

We bimbled up the fell side from the car park into Coire Laogh Mor which was to be our playground for the day. The aim of the day was to break down the teaching process of Self Arrest (How to stop yourself with, or without an axe when sliding down a slope). The first portion of the day pretty much consisted of sliding down slopes, which was wicked fun! I had the biggest grin on my face each and every time I through myself down the slope! We tried numerous different techniques, one of which included sliding down on your back head first – A video of me doing it can be seen here.

The second half of the day was spent learning how to cut various types of steps into the snowpack. As we walked out some moody cloud was coming in from the west which created some dramatic scenes.

Day 2: Security on Steep Ground, Choire Chas Headwall.

Just like in the Summer Mountain Leader Award, the use of a rope should be reserved for an emergency situation (apart from when confidence roping), but knowing a variety of steep ground methods is crucial. We made our way up from the Ski Centre past the ‘Ski’ slopes to the steeper headwall of Choire Chas. Throughout the course of the day we covered numerous methods on how to belay a client up or down a slope. The day included much more digging than day 1, but fortunately for us the snow was quite soft.

Day 3: Emergency Shelters, Coire an t-Sneachda.

Our venue for the day was to be famous Coire an t-Sneachda. When in full winter condition this Coire would be littered with climbers tackling some of the best winter routes in the UK. It was my first time in the Coire, and even though it wasn’t under a full blanket of snow and Ice, it was still impressive to see.

Our main objective of the day was to learn about Emergency Snow Shelters and Snowpack tests. If you are caught out in a storm or have an injured member in your group, knowing how to get yourselves, and/or them, out of the elements will almost certainly save your lives. We learnt about the Seat and Coffin shelters before having a go at it ourselves. I opted to dig myself a Sit Shelter, but unfortunately I ended up making more of a Chaise Longue, which when rated by my peers scored a very generous 2 out of 10! With an expediton in a Snowhole looming just 2 days later, I hoped my digging skills would improve!

We finished the day learning about how to assess the snowpack through various methods. We were all told to dig a Reusch Block and then test it to see how solid the Snow was. Here is a video of the block being tested – Kind of…

Day 4: Navigation. Coire an Lochain around to Cairn Lochan, Stob Coire an t-Sneachda and down Fiacaill a Choire Chas.

Unlike the Summer Mountain Leader training course Navigation did not have much emphasis on this course as you are already expected to know it, as we did. We did have a day focussing on navigation in the winter environment, and although we didn’t get to experience a full winter white-out it was a great learning experience. For most of the day we were up in the mist locating from point to point. Just before making our way up to Cairn Lochan the clouds above us parted and the sun came blasting through. This then led to some incredible views across the Lairig Ghru to Braeriach.

Day 5 and 6: Snowholing Expedition and Night Navigation

This is one of the most anticipated parts of the course. Most people had not even dug a snowhole before, let alone slept in one overnight. With our big expedition packs on we made our way up from the Ski centre to the Ptarmigan Station. From there we dropped down into Ciste Mhearad  where we would dig our holes for the night. After having been briefed on the best method on how to dig a Snowhole the night before we got straight to it. We dug away clearing away loads of snow, and 2.5 hours later we had an impressive cave for the night. The BBC were also in the Ciste filming som footage for an upcoming Winter Watch programme!  After a short break inside we had our head torches on and were on our way out to do some night navigation. This was one of my favourite bits of the course as for some reason I have a strange, masochistic liking to Night Nav. During this session I managed to bag myself another Munro as we made our way up to the summit of Cairn Gorm. A few hours passed with us wandering about the mountainside in the drizzly mist and then we returned to our Snowholes. We had a brief discussion before entering them for the night about what to happen if they were to ‘slump’ in the night. Despite having this slightly concerning conversation before heading to bed I still got a very healthy 9 hours sleep! It was a great experience spending the night out in the snowhole, one that wasn’t actually as cold as I would have expected. We woke to a stable snowhole, and after having some breakfast left the Snowholes for a little bit more group work before descending back to the Ski Centre for the final time.

With the course over we all had a debrief with Pete, and now it is over to be to get out practising for my assessment which I plan to take in 2014.