Tuesday, March 31, 2009
I have spent the day at the Llanberis Mountain Rescue Team base today helping to provide a day of infotainment to a group of 22 doctors studying a high altitude diploma. The diploma provides doctors with the mountain knowledge they need to work on remote high altitude expeditions. Our brief for the day was to show them how Mountain Rescue operates in the UK. We started off with a Search Dog presentation and demonstration, followed by a presentation on how the Llanberis team operates. We then showed them our First Aid facilities, equipment and vehicles and then rounded the day off with a crag rescue to demonstrate stretcher use, rigging etc. A fine meal in the Vaynol brought a great day to a fitting end. A great group of people and I wish them all every success in their diploma, and more importantly their mountaineering!
Sunday, March 29, 2009
These last few days have had a strong mountain rescue theme to them! I have been out all day with the Llanberis Team today on a team training day. We headed to Fach Wen and looked at rigging for stretcher lowers and did some lowers down the crag and some hauling up it. Within minutes of getting home for tea the pager went off and we went to the assistance of two stricken walkers who had come to grief on the snow and ice near the summit of Snowdon. The helicopter was on a exercise in the area so we had a beautiful flight under clear blue skies with some stunning views and two grateful casualties.
Saturday, March 28, 2009
I have been out with SARDA Wales again today, this time behind the PYG Hotel at the foot of the Glyders. As you can see from the photo the snow line has dropped again overnight and it has been very cold again today so winter kit will be required on the hills.
Friday, March 27, 2009
I have been out with SARDA Wales today on a Mountain Rescue Search Dog assessment. I spent the day lying under a boulder in the Llanberis Pass whilst the dogs took turns finding me and the other bodies! Its all glamour! There has been a light dusting of snow overnight and the tops are sparkling white and its been chilly in the Pass today.
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
Friend of mine Twid Turner (IFMGA Guide) has had a client drop out of a guided climbing trip to Alaska. If you fancy a trip of a lifetime climbing in one of the worlds last unspoilt wildernesses then visit his website here: http://climbwales.co.uk/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=93&Itemid=105
The trip is running from 18 April to 3rd May and costs approx £2200 to include Guides fees, travel expenses etc.
Monday, March 23, 2009
I was joined for the day by Emma & Richard for a day of advanced scrambling. It has been cold, wet and very windy today so we headed into Cwm Idwal and did North West Face Route before abseiling off and doing some skills in the descent. It is due to get much colder for the rest of the week so conditions will be improving for winter climbing in Scotland again.
Sunday, March 22, 2009
The boys and I headed up Snowdon today. Plan A had been to ascend the Gribin Ridge but knee trouble in the party meant that a group decision was taken to head up via the easier Miners Track and descent of the PYG track. The wind has switched to a NW which means it felt a lot colder today and the cloud was also down meaning no summit views. A dry and fresh day and much more in keeping with the time of year than the warm weather of last week.
Saturday, March 21, 2009
I have been joined by Brian, Mark and Darrel this weekend for 2 days of private guiding. The guys wanted to do some scrambling so we headed up the North Ridge of Tryfan. It was a beautiful day with crisp, clear blue skies and some atmospheric cloud surrounding us as we reached the summit. There were plenty of other folk out enjoying the mountains but it was by no means busy. A lovely day.
Thursday, March 19, 2009
It has been a stunningly beautiful day here in Snowdonia with temperatures a balmy 18c, blue skies, sunshine and warm rock. I enjoyed a spot of bouldering this afternoon and there were plenty of folk out in the Llanberis Pass. The weather looks set to stay nice for the weekend and into next week so get out and enjoy it!
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Last year I was joined by Simon and his wife on an intro to scrambling course here in Snowdonia. Since then Simon has joined several other courses and become a friend of mine. At some point I was foolish enough to admit to him that I was not keen on flying, foolish since he is an instructor on the Hawks at RAF Valley.
Despite my reservations we have enjoyed chatting about the different perspectives with which we each view the mountains of Snowdonia, he was not entirely happy with the exposure that we as climbers enjoy whilst I was not thrilled with the prospect of the speed and potential for going very green! Having gradually converted him to appreciate the climbers perspective Simon felt it was time he did the same for me from the back seat of a Hawk and this week that promise became reality with two days at RAF Valley.
It is probably worth mentioning at this point that I used to get travel sick in my Dads car driving from home to the shops and back. I was very young though and as an adult have always been fine.
Monday morning saw me driving in beautiful sunshine to the base on Anglesey. I think that as climbers we have a real ability to block out the past and the future and live purely in the present when we need to. Its how we cope psychologically with climbing at out limit, if you read climbing magazines they call it getting in the zone. I was in the zone!
I pulled up outside the base and joined the jet spotters in the small car park next to the runway and took some rubbish photos of jets taking off and landing and the line of jets behind a wire fence, still not thinking about the fact I would be in one. As the clock ticked by I headed onto the base at my allotted time and was greeted by a smiling Simon, resplendent in RAF uniform which somehow took me by surprise - what was I expecting, leather jackets and Ray Bans?!
First job of the day was to get me fitted out with a flying suit. This took well over an hour and included thermals, an immersion suit, flying overalls, gloves, helmet, mask/radio and of course boots. It all needed to fit well and by the end of the session I was knackered already! For a worrying minute or two I thought I was stuck in the immersion suit until the kind lady that had been given the job of kitting me out reminded me about the zip at the back. There was a notice on the wall that warned flammable lip creams were not a good idea. OK.
Next was a safety video that taught me how to eject, how to parachute and how to ditch in sea or on land in 4 easy steps. It also taught me how to manually eject if the seat failed. All in 20 minutes. Simon filled the gaps in afterwards, explaining how to fly the plane if he got knocked unconscious by bird strike in the front seat. I was comforted by the fact that there had only been 1 bird strike in the last few weeks and that no one had been forced to eject from a Valley Hawk for nearly 3 years. I headed home that night still in the zone, tomorrow was a whole new day that did not need to be considered until it happened.
Tuesday morning saw me back at the base for 8:00am for my medical. It was another beautiful morning so there was no excuse with the weather. The nurse and Doctor checked my blood pressure, took a sample from me (what they did with it I don't know), measured me to check I would fit the ejector seat and checked my general fitness and ability to clear my ears. There was an awful lot of effort going into my flight involving a great deal of people.
I was then given a guided tour of the base by Doggy, a trainee on the Hawks until Simon was free from his morning meetings. Everyone I met was incredibly friendly, and passionate about the job that they did. As I sat in the instructors lounge a group sat eating chocolate cake that one of them had made at home and brought in for his colleagues. One of them remarked that it wasn't at all like Top Gun, and he was right. There was not an ego or a swagger in sight, no mirrored sun glasses, no motor bikes roaring down the runway. It was a great place to be, with motivated people taking their job seriously and professionally but in a relaxed and friendly manner.
Simon and I then prepared our flight route using the military equivalent of multimap. We decided to head across the North Coast to fly over my house and give Kate a wave before flying round the Orme, down the Conwy Valley and into the Ogwen Valley. A low level pass of the Ogwen valley would take us back over Bangor and then we would head down to mid Wales taking as much low level as my body would handle. Speeds at low level would be over 300mph and we could hit 4G. Still in the zone. Time to get dressed.
I swaggered onto the tarmac of the runway feeling like Tom Cruise, helmet tucked under my arm, sun on my face and still very much enjoying the moment. Doggy strapped me into the seat after the obligatory lean on the wing photo pose and pointed out the buttons that under no circumstances should I touch. He also pointed out the buttons I could fiddle with. These included oxygen flow levels, intercom/radio volume, the pins I needed to safely remove and then re-stow at the end of the flight to arm and then disarm my seat, (I was asked several times not to drop these as it meant the seat would remain live when I needed to get out) and the seat lower and raise button. I was also shown the rudder pedals and joystick and how to radio the tower should I need to take the controls in an emergency. The canopy closed and the engine fired up.
Now at this point I would like to take you back to the first time you ever went abseiling. You know the bit when you walk back to the edge, still full of bravado, smiling at your mates and then you reach the edge and you have to lean back. And you see the drop. And the rope seems very thin. And the ground seems a long way off. Just trust the gear.
Back to the Hawk. I was leaning over the edge. Shit. I must be mad. I hate flying. This thing looks old. Those are dials not digital readouts. The GPS looks distinctly like a Tom Tom sat nav from Halfords bolted onto the dash as a concession to modern technology. Simon looks relaxed. He does this twice a day. Lots of people do this twice a day. Its fine. It will be great, its a once in a lifetime opportunity. I am very lucky. We are moving. Shit. Breathe normally. Simon goes through all his checks, I can hear him and the tower over my headphones. The cloud has lifted off the mountains so we will be good for low flying. I bravely wave to a jet spotter as we taxi down the runway. We turn a corner, stop and then boomf we are off. Shit. Woo hoo this is awesome. F*** Me!!! This thing can shift. Nose up and we are airborne. Wow this is brilliant, breathing seems OK, its actually pretty smooth and what a view. I am going to enjoy this, I am so lucky. We bank left. Hurggh. That was exciting. I take some photos and view my cottage from above at 400mph. We bank left around the limestone crags of the Orme pulling 2G. My god that feels more than 2G surely! We gain some height and head towards the Ogwen valley. I feel ill. I have been told that if I make a mess in the cockpit it will put this multi million pound aircraft out of service for a week and Simon has to clean it up.
The remainder of the flight is all a bit of a blur. I remember trying to switch off my voice mike whenever I was ill so as not to fill Simons ears with the noise. I remember switching to full Oxygen to try and ease the nausea. I remember grunting in reply as Simon pointed out Tryfan, Cloggy, Tremadog and Moel Siabod. I remember Simon saying we can go down now. Thank You. We circle the Main Cliff at Gogarth and I wish I was on it. We land. I am helped out of the plane. I have not made a mess. I collapse on the grass at the side of the runway. I have lost that loving feeling.
It took me 18 hours of sleep to recover from the experience. Would I do it again, no way. Did I enjoy it? It was an awesome experience that I shall never forget. I loved the whole thing in a funny sort of way and have a massive respect for the men and women that master these machines to defend us and our country in times of war.
Simon has become a keen and regular climber and last week one of his colleagues, Carlos, joined me winter climbing in Scotland. They have made a much better job of adapting to my environment than I have to theirs!
A very big and heartfelt thank you to Simon and all of the men and women at RAF Valley who made my two day visit possible and who do such a fine job on our behalf.
You can view more photos here:
Sunday, March 15, 2009
The cadets and I headed up Snowdon today in the sunshine. The top was just in the clouds as we approached but as we sat down to an early lunch on the summit the clouds parted and we enjoyed some stunning views. We made good time and so stopped at Glaslyn on the way down for a quick paddle, the braver members of the team even managed a swim! A lovely day with a promise of spring in the air.
Saturday, March 14, 2009
I have been working with Old Swinford Hospital School Combined Cadet Force this weekend through Blue Peris Mountain Centre. The cadets have joined us for a weekend in the mountains and today we headed up Moel Siabod looking at navigation and scrambling. It has been a pleasant day and stayed dry throughout. The cadets are a great bunch so we have had a fun day!
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
We joined the rest of the West Coast instructor community at the Ice Factor today. Soaring temperatures, high winds and persistent rain combined with a cat 4 avalanche forecast to make the indoor ice wall the ideal venue choice!
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
It has been a lovely day here today with blue skies, sunshine and very little wind. Carlos, Paul and I headed into Stob Coire nan Lochan and broke trail into Dorsal Arete. We are getting good at wading! We then waded up the route enjoying beautiful views and covering lots of skills along the way. On the way down we headed to the side of the Coire to look at snow anchors and Paul and Carlos lead some simple pitches on a snow slope before looking at a snow bollard for abseiling off again. We finished the day in the Clachaig for a beer and meal. Perfect.
Monday, March 09, 2009
I have been joined by Paul & Carlos for a 3 day winter mountaineering course. With a cat. 4 avalanche forecast, 70 mph winds, heavy snow and blizzards forecast the route choice was difficult! We headed for the East Ridge of Beinn a Chaorainn and had a great day out. It took a bit of wading to get to the route but fortunately there was a party ahead of us putting a trail in. The route itself was nicely sheltered from the wind and by sticking to the crest of the ridge we avoided the large accumulations of snow. The summit saw us looking at navigation skills for real in white out conditions. A great day that allowed lots of teaching of avalanche avoidance techniques, ropework for ridges, snow belays and navigation. It snowed heavily in frequent showers during the day and there was a strong Westerly wind with the freezing level around about 800m.
Sunday, March 08, 2009
Gaby, Paul & I headed up onto Stob Ban today on the 2nd day of our winter skills course. It started off bright with the odd patch of blue sky but by about 10:30am it had started snowing heavily and did not stop until late afternoon. It was also pretty windy on the summit ridge so it felt like a real Scottish winter summit day! We were able to practise the skills we covered yesterday in context and experience the full might of winter conditions!
Saturday, March 07, 2009
Today I have been joined by Paul and Gaby for a winter skills weekend. It has been a thoroughly wet day and we headed up onto Aonach Mor in light rain and got wetter as the day went on! We had a good day though looking at avalanche avoidance, movement skills, ice axe and crampons and snow shelters. There is still lots of deep snow about that is now saturated and some cornice collapse was evident. It is due to get cold overnight and tomorrow so it could be good if the snowpack freezes. There is also more snow forecast so again keep your eye on the avalanche forecast.
Thursday, March 05, 2009
Jason needed to head off home at lunch time today and was keen to get some movement coaching on steep ice so we headed to the Ice Factor at Kinlochleven. This indoor ice climbing wall is great for looking at movement skills and for getting the arms burning! There was a nother good dump of snow overnight down to the road and it has been snowing on and off during the day. There is a lot of snow on the mountains now so check the avalanche forecast before heading out.
Wednesday, March 04, 2009
It has been a stunningly beautiful day here in the Cairngorms with blue skies, sunshine and little wind. What a contrast from yesterday. Jason and I waited for the ski road to open this morning as the snow ploughs were clearing the road after a good dump of overnight snow. We then enjoyed a mountaineering day heading up Fiacaill a'Choire Chais, down to Loch Avon and under Hells Lum before heading back onto the summit plateau. We were very envious of the many ski mountaineers out enjoying the fresh powder as we waded through up to our waists at times and they glided past effortlessly!
Tuesday, March 03, 2009
Jason and I headed into Coire an Lochain today and climbed the Milky Way (II/III). We have had quite a bit of snow overnight and it was snowing all day so we had to work hard cleaning the route and making safe avalanche decisions on the approach and descent. It was definitely a day for goggles with high winds and snowfall making blizzard conditions on the tops. A proper Scottish winter day out, great fun! We were told that Y Gully avalanched today and there is more snow due tonight.
Monday, March 02, 2009
I have been joined for 4 days private guiding by returning client Jason for some winter climbing. We headed East to the Cairngorms today and enjoyed some sunshine and blue skies with the occasional snow shower and temperatures hovering just above freezing. The snow in the gullies is great with hard neve and we found good ice in the Couloir. There were folks climbing most of the major gullies and Invernookie had at least 4 parties on it.