3rd August 2017

And breathe….

The summer season has been a busy one, my busiest yet, which makes me really happy, but a little tired!

July was a bit mad, only 3 days off – not something I aim for, I normally like to achieve a better work / play balance, but I’ve had an absolute blast at work!alpine preparation north Wales

The work numbers:
61 days teaching / coaching lead climbing
15 days working on Mountain Leader courses
14 days directing our Single Pitch Award courses
11 days teaching roped scrambling & alpine preparation
5 days running Mountaineering Instructor Award refreshers
5 days working with a school group
4 days DofE work – I used to shed loads of this!
4 ML refresher days
4 SPA refresher days
2 Self rescue for climbers days

The personal numbers:
89 routes (up to E4 trad, 7b sport)
72 sessions down the wall
6 days of continual professional development courses

Phew!

It’s not all about the numbers though… All our clients have been flipping ace and made each and everyday a pleasure. We’ve had people from 18 (Lewis getting his first trad leads) to 69 (Jeremy training for the Matterhorn), and courses from the navigation stuff through to people wanting to take their climbing grade to the next level. We’ve had wet days with water running down our arms in the mountains, we’ve had scorching days slapping on the sunscreen whilst climbing on sea cliffs, an amazing variety of weather, location, people and courses.

We’ve had some great feedback too, which it’s a real privilege to receive – check out our testimonials page.rock climbing improvers course

I’ve got another two very busy weeks, and then I’ve got two weeks off for climbing, to try and put some of this training to good use. After that we’re pretty busy right up until the end of November, after which it’s off to Spain for a month or two for some (hopefully) sunny sport climbing.

Massive thanks to everyone who’s been part of this year so far!

We do still have some space for bookings, so check out our courses or give us a shout.

As usual check out our Facebook and Instagram pages for more regular updates.

mountain leader refresher course north Wales

Whether it’s a mountain skills course, a scrambling course or an alpine preparation course there’s always chat about what we’ve got on our feet. Personal choice plays a big part in choosing your footwear, fit is always key, but to choose appropriately you must consider what you’re going to use them for.

Do you need them to be light, waterproof, crampon compatible, stiff, soft..?

Our options:

Approach Shoes, eg. Adidas Terrex Solo. When I can wear approach shoes, I will, they’re light, breathe well and have nice “sticky” soles. Being light means your legs will get less tired and you’ll have a nicer day out! The sticky rubber soles means these shoes are great for scrambling on dry rocky routes such as that found on Tryfan in the summer, however if you’re going to encounter any bogs or much rain, you are going to get wet feet. Whilst some approach shoes are waterproof, the low cut means they’re definitely not bog proof and you’ll lose the breathability. Whilst once upon a time I may have told you they don’t give you any ankle support, there’s a lot of research out there that shows boots don’t either…
Pros – Light, sticky, super comfy
Cons – No stiff edge, not usually waterproof

Bendy Boots, eg. Scarpa R-evolution Pro GTX. Still pretty light but these kind of boots will normally have a waterproof lining so are a better option than approach shoes if you’re expecting some bog trotting or bad weather. This kind of boot will be well suited to general hill use such as exploring the Brecon Beacons for example.
Pros – Waterproof, comfy
Cons – Not so good for kicking your feet into soft ground

Mountain footwear boots shoes

Boots, boots and shoes!

B1’s, eg, Scarpa SL Active. Are you after something a bit stiffer that will help you dig a heel into soft turf when descending “off piste”, or something that will occasionally be used with a pair of crampons? Then a B1 type of boot could be the right choice for you. They’ll be waterproof and a bit more sturdy, they’ll also be fine for walking in with a suitable crampon, but not really for mountaineering.
Pros – Will take a crampon, ok for edging on scrambling routes
Cons – Not so good for proper winter mountaineering on graded routes

B2’s, eg, La Sportiva Trango S Evo. For me this is the best sort of boot for all round mountain use, be it a day on the Bochlwyd Horseshoe in July or a day on the CMD Arete on Ben Nevis  wearing Crampons in January. I’ve done pretty much everything in B2 boots from backpacking across the hills to low grade ice climbing. These days, B2 boots are so comfortable that they are my go to boots most of the time – if I’m working in the mountains on an ML training, an advanced scrambling course or leading a group over Crib Goch I’m probably wearing B2’s.
Pros – Good for winter mountaineering, great for edging on scrambling or kicking into soft ground
Cons – The stiffness can be tiring for your feet if you’re not used to it

alpine climbing boots

Sitting on the edge in the Alps, Scarpa Phantoms & Rebel Carbons

B3’s, eg, Scarpa Phantom Techs. Stiffer than B2’s and often with some level of insulation, these are a specific winter boot. You’ll have warm, dry feet and be able to wear crampons on any grade of winter climbing. They’ll usually be a bit heavier so we won’t use these year round and they take a bit of getting used to walking in if you’ve not worn them before. That said, B3’s get lighter and comfier year on year – my La Sportiva Trango Ice Cubes are mega comfy and very light.
Pros – Warm, dry feet! Take a climbing crampon
Cons – Usually heavier, less feel through the sole, not so comfy for walking in

The B rating relates to the type of crampon they’ll take – C1, flexible walking crampons like the Grivel Monta Rosa, C2, semi rigid like the classic Grivel G12’s or C3, rigid (although modern C3’s aren’t as rigid as they once were), like the Grivel Rambo. A B1 boot will only be compatible with a C1 crampon, a B3 will take C1, C2 or C3 – you get the idea! You’ll have to consider which binding type is appropriate for your boots too, but that’s another blog…

If I could only ever own one boot ever again, it’d be a pair of La Sportiva Trango S Evos, they really are brilliant all rounders – as long as they fit! If they don’t fit, but you like the concept, check out the Scarpa Charmoz which are pretty similar. That said the boundaries are blurring and there are all sorts of specialist boots out there, they all have their strong and weak points.

My top tip is to try on as many boots as you can and visit decent outdoor shops to do this, their staff will have lots of experience fitting boots and will have a good knowledge about the boots suitability for your needs. Take along the socks you’ll use on the hill and go in the afternoon because your feet swell slightly during the day. You want them to fit without any internal movement of your foot, but with enough room for your toes not to hit the end during descents. Remember, footwear is such a personal thing, not only in fit but in terms of preference, just because a boot is perfect for me, doesn’t mean it will be for you…

Hopefully this all makes some sense! If you’re doing a course with us we’re always happy to give kit advice beforehand, and even if you’re not, feel free to get in touch!

To see what we’ve been up to lately, check out our Facebook and Instagram pages.

Well it felt like spring in the run up to this weekend’s Intro to Scrambling Course, but come the weekend it felt very much like winter!

I was joined by Tavish & Colin for this course and it turned out that flexibility was key, as is often the case. 

ice axe arrest winter skillsWith snow on the ground we packed crampons and ice axes to give us some more options and headed into the Ogwen Valley, after the standard start – coffee in the Siabod Cafe! We went up the side of Clogwyn y Tarw which gave us the opportunity to start thinking about movement and how our boots worked on the slightly damp rock, before continuing on to the False Griben Ridge where we picked out good lines, making the most of the scrambling on it.
Near the top just before it joins the main Griben Ridge we found the perfect snow slope to get the ice axes out and have a play. We looked at how to use them including having fun practising ice axe arrests.

As we topped out on the ridge the weather got really grim so it was decided a hasty retreat was the best plan so we headed back to the cafe at full speed, where we took the rope in and looked at a couple of knots in readiness for day two’s plan.

The second day was supposed to be a grade two scramble on the East Face of Tryfan, using the rope and pushing Tavish and Colin a bit further, but with the face plastered in snow, plan b was enacted! Good delaying tactics in the cafe gave us the opportunity to talk through some map and compass techniques in the warm and dry! We then went over to Tryfan Bach for some roped scrambling which was really good, if a bit damp, and enabled the guys to get used to clipping in to belays with clove hitches and trying some harder moves. At about lunch time we decided to change venue and head over to the Crimpiau area to look at the navigation tactics we’d talked about earlier.

intro to scrambling course wales ogwenIt will probably take me a couple of days now to dry out all my wet kit!

Colin had this to say about the course:
“Thanks a lot for this weekend. I had a really good time, whilst still learning new stuff under top notch instruction!
If you have availability for advanced scrambling in about a months time I will book on the course.
Thanks again for a great weekend!”

As usual, check out the Facebook and Instagram pages for what else we’ve been up to.

 

In my last blog I looked at what goes into my pack for a day in the mountains, which was really a generic day pack type affair that you can read about here. When I’m out running advanced scrambling courses and planning to take a rope, the pack and contents stay much the same, but there’s a few extras that I need to get in there…

guiding scrambling snowdonia

Bilberry Terrace, III, on Lliwedd, amazing route!

Rope, for me it’s going to be a skinny single rope of about 30m long, my preference is for the DMM Crux which handles really nicely and seems to wear quite well for this type of rope. I don’t want a heavy rope as it will spend a fair amount of time in the pack and I don’t need a full 50m of rope as the idea is to keep moving nice and quickly, if I pitch anything I’ll keep the pitches nice and short. Efficiency creates speed when scrambling.

Harness, I’m not going to be carrying a big rack when scrambling so a lightweight sport climbing harness is the order of the day, again it may spend a lot of time in my pack. Currently I tend to grab my DMM Maverick – you can definitely get lighter though, something like the Petzl Altitude weighs a tiny 160g..! It’s always going to be a trade off to some extent, between lightness and toughness and whether you want a specific scrambling harness, or a do it all one.

Helmet, it’s a no brainer to wear a helmet when roped scrambling in my opinion, but again I want a nice light one, I use a Black Diamond Vapor. I have however broken a Vapor before, no exciting tale of an heroic ascent sadly, it fell out of my bag on the walk in to a crag. These are not built to last, but they fit me so much better than any other helmet, so I bought another. Check out the Black Diamond Vector, Petzl Meteor or the odd looking Petzl Scirocco, all lightweight options that may last a little longer. You can get much tougher helmets, but you’re getting the gist by now I’m sure, light is right!

alpine climbing, preperation courses

Climbing in the Alps wearing my Rebel Carbons

Footwear, notice how I haven’t written boots… For me the perfect scrambling footwear is a decent approach shoe like the Adidas Terrex Solo, mega comfy, light and with sticky Stealth rubber from Five Ten. However if the day is going to be wet or involve some bogs the boots get the nod and my go to scrambling boots on my shelf are the Scarpa Rebel Carbons. These things are flipping ace! I’ve climbed up to HVS in the Alps with these on my feet, they’re so comfy, precise and, wait for it… light! Sadly they’re no longer made 🙁 You can’t go wrong with a pair of Sportiva Trangos though as a great all round mountain boot.

advanced scrambling course rackRack, ask 10 different Mountaineering Instructors what rack they take and you’ll get 10 different answers and it also depends on the route, but this rack would work on pretty much anything for me I reckon…
Nuts, DMM Wallnuts 4-11 on a DMM Phantom
Cams, DMM Dragon 1,2,3,4 on a Phantom each
Slingdraws x 4 (60cm slings, with Phantoms)
Skinny 120cm slings x 3 with a Phantom snapper each
Skinny 240cm sling with a Phantom snapper
Black Diamond ATC guide belay plate with DMM Sentinel screwgate
DMM Boa, DMM Sentinel, DMM Phantom screwgates
DMM Phantom with 2 x prusiks
DMM Phantom with a nut key

It wouldn’t be a bad idea to chuck some hexes in there, but I don’t feel the need, the cams give me more flexibility, but obviously cost lots more. You can definitely thin this lot out a bit, depending on your ability, route and conditions, but this is my typical work rack.

Guidebook, you want to know where to go, lightweight though so maybe take a photo of the appropriate pages on your camera or phone.

There you go! Scrambling is such a fun thing to do, part of the joy is covering ground quickly and efficiently which uses some different techniques to rock climbing.

If you want to attend a course to learn these skills then get in touch!

Three top scrambles to use this kit on:

North Wales, Ogwen link up – Idwal North West Face Route II, Cneifion Arete III, Dolmen Ridge III
Lake District, St Sunday Crag, Pinnacle Ridge III
Scotland, Skye, The Cuillin Ridge III

As usual, check out the Facebook and Instagram pages to see what we’ve been up to lately.

When I was a teenager I was lucky enough to be brought up to North Wales by my brother for a weekend in the mountains, it was the start of my obsession with climbing and mountaineering. I loved being in the mountains straight away, but I definitely preferred scrambling to slogging up hills (the afternoon we arrived, my brother took us up the South Ridge of Pen yr Ole Wen, a slog if there ever was one!)

Day 1.
The best mountain in North Wales? Has to be Tryfan! Despite not being massive, it looks like a proper mountain with all it’s rocky buttresses flanking it’s North to South ridge. Tryfan has many classic scrambles and rock climbs on all sides and can be a great day out in it’s own right, or form part of a longer day, such as the superb Bochlwyd Horseshoe.

Scrambling course tryfan

Jumping Adam & Eve

This consists of ascending the North Ridge of Tryfan, where cunning route finding can either keep you on easy Grade 1 terrain or you can hunt out trickier Grade 2 sections, maybe passing the Canon, which will eventually lead you on to the summit where Adam and Eve reside – are you brave enough to take the jump…? From the summit the descent along the South Ridge is still scrambly in places and requires concentration to stay heading in the direction of Bwlch Tryfan, the col between Tryfan and Glyder Fach. Here you have a choice of tackling Bristly Ridge, which is a step up in terms of scrambling and although still a Grade 1, can feel closer to a Grade 2, it’s a bit steeper and has the odd bit of loose rock, helmets would not be unwise, or tackling the scree to it’s left which is a loose slog but thankfully not too long. If you’re confident in your ability then Bristly Ridge is definitely the better option. Once through the initial gully section (Sinister gully left of a dry stone wall) you arrive onto the ridge, passing over the Great Pinnacle Gap,  leading onward to the Glyderau.

scrambling course griben ridge

On the Griben Ridge in sub optimal weather..

Up here you’ll have to pause to get your photo taken atop the Cantilever Stone, before continuing across the plateau, where you’ll need to use your navigation skills, especially if the visibility is poor, with lots of big drops around this is not a place to be “navigationally challenged”. Hopefully the weather will be clear and you can get the classic view of Castell y Gwynt with Snowdon in the background, as you make your way towards Glyder Fawr. Now this is where your navigation must be super precise as you’ve got to find the top of Y Griben Ridge, easy enough if you can see it but requiring good skills if you can’t. This marks your descent route back down towards the valley and is another Grade 1 scramble, stick to the ridge for fun and a bit of exposure or stay just left of it to make life a little easier. Once you’ve reached the large flat grassy area known as the football pitch, the difficulties are over but keep concentrating as there still a way to go back to Llyn Bochlwyd, down the knee jarring steps and eventually back to the car. Time for tea and cake at the Moel Siabod Cafe in Capel Curig.

You can make this day longer by taking in Glyder Fawr and then descending via Twll Du – The Devil’s Kitchen, or even further still ascending Y Garn as well, it depends on how much the cafe is calling your name….

Day 2.
Hopefully you’ve still got some gas left in your legs, because day 2 is a big one! Remember looking over to the Snowdon massif yesterday? That’s what day 2 is all about, but not by one of the walking routes, but by the ridge everyone’s heard about… Crib Goch. The Snowdon Horseshoe, it has to be done, preferably on a quiet midweek day when Snowdon is not covered with people, on a quiet day the atmosphere is altogether different. For that reason when I’m guiding it I always start from the Llanberis Pass rather than the Pen y Pass car park.

camping in cwm glas mountain scrambling

Camping in Cwm Glas looking over at Crib Goch

Park or get dropped off near the Climbers Club hut Ynys Ettws and meander your way up along the stream (you’ll need to break left at the last steep section) to the beautiful Cwm Glas which is simply a stunning place. Have a break here, you’ll have earned it and it’s too nice not to take some time to soak it all in. From here you’re going to break out in an Easterly direction to pick up the North Ridge of Crib Goch which is such a quiet and lovely easy scramble leading to the main ridge itself. You probably won’t have met any other people yet, but you probably will do about now!

You’ve read the articles and seen the pictures and now you’re here, on the knife edge, death defying ridge. It’s not quite that bad! But it is exposed and you wouldn’t want to slip, the terrain is easy, take it steady and you can always use your hands, if it weren’t for the drops you wouldn’t give it a second thought, but look left, look right and embrace the position you’re in, stunning! As you get to the end of the ridge the scrambling gets a little trickier, with one particularly exposed step but all too soon Crib Goch is behind you. The grassy area of Bwlch Goch is another good spot for a break and gives you opportunity to collect your thoughts and regain your composure if Crib Goch proved a little nervy!

Crib Goch scrambling course

A busy, misty day near the end of Crib Goch

Onward and upward though! Garnedd Ugain next, with a little more scrambling thrown in, as you reach the top here, you’ll probably see lots of people to your left on the Pyg Track and plenty more coming up the path from Llanberis, you may also scoff at the people sat on the train getting an exercise free ascent of Yr Wyddfa, not for too long though, it’s still a long way to go! As you continue now, on towards the highest point in Wales, you’ll be on the much busier path up from town and it won’t be long before you’re at the top, take a quick photo, enjoy the view if there is one, but this is often a busy place so not somewhere I stay longer than necessary. Anyway, the quieter Lliwedd is the next mountain on the list and daylight is being burnt…

As you approach Lliwedd check out the size of the cliffs on it’s side, these really are the preserve of climbers and mountaineers, home to the amazing but very adventurous Bilberry Terrace, Grade 3 and climbing routes such as the almost 300m long route Avalanche, V Diff. If the cafe was calling you yesterday, after today’s long day so far it’ll calling you loudly now, but don’t worry, as you drop down from Lliwedd the terrain gets easier and easier, and before long you’ll be on the mini motorway back towards the Pen y Pass car park. Once you get here you can either walk back down the Pass to your car, hitch or get a bus down. Either way, you’ll have certainly earned your tea and cake after this mega day out!

advanced scrambling course snowdon

The adventurous side of Lliwedd…

North Wales has loads of great scrambling, we really are spoilt but these two days are a couple of the best easier scrambles. Because they’re so good it’s rare for them to be quiet, unless you can get here midweek and even then in good weather you’re unlikely to be alone – but that’s great, I love seeing people enjoy the outdoors! If you want those quieter scrambles, they are there to be found as long as you’ve got a sense of adventure and are keen to get exploring, but you’ll have to find them yourself, I’m not sharing all my lesser known gems…!

These two days left a lasting impression on me, they quite literally changed my life, after these two days all I wanted to do was be a mountaineer and scrambling was the gateway to a life of climbing and travelling all over the world to climb. I bought a book by Steve Ashton called Scrambles in Snowdonia, which I still use today, and I just worked my way through nearly all of the routes. These days I love passing on my knowledge and enthusiasm and will never forget the influence of those early scrambling days out.

If you want to get into scrambling but are unsure you have the skills, we run various courses to help get you up to speed: Intro to and advanced scrambling courses

As always, check out our Facebook and Instagram pages to stay up to date with what we’re doing.