Winters back.

Be careful the winter is back I travelled down to Ayr yesterday early morning there was fresh snow on tops.on the way back there was heavy snow on the hills and as darkness fell the hills were very white. On my last bit of the journey the Dava Moor was very icy under the snow and wind was moving the snow high up. This will lead to whiteout conditions at times on the mountains. Goggles will be essential.

Cairngorm weather today.

Do not forget to check the Avalanche and weather reports they are very relevant. Also ice axe, crampons and winter hill bag is essential.

Avalanche hazard Cairngorms

Take care of out as the snow will be on the mountains and lower for a few days. As they say winter is not over yet!

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Jimmy Marshall – The Maister” King of The Ben.

I met Jimmy Marshall on a few occasions and he was already called “the Maisters” we I am sure we had a great night in Fort William after his presentation of the Mountain Culture Award in Fort William. Looking back I wished I had taped his words about the routes, characters and tales of some of his classic routes. In Feb 1960 on the Ben with Robin Smith was his famous cache of new high class routes on Ben Nevis including the Orion Face . We are so lucky that with his partner Robin Smith both of them were also good writers who detailed their climbs and the adventures they both had when putting them up. They have become classics of mountain literature and were first put in the SMC Journals and re published and are a must read for all winter climbers. Below is one of the tributes to Jimmy from the Fort William Mountain Festival. There is a link below that is worth watching.

Jimmy Marshall

The very sad news about Jimmy Marshall Passing away is another loss to Mountaineering. What an incredible mountaineer in the Golden Age of Mountaineering. An icon and one whose legacy of breakthrough routes especially on Ben Nevis pushed Scottish winter climbing to a new level. He was held awe by the many small climbing groups who were pushing the standards of the time. What he did with the equipment of that period was incredible. In these days a fall meant serious injury or death. His legacy is in his routes and writing. Another wonderful mountaineer gone . I doubt we will see his likes again?

A tribute from the Fort William mountain Festival.

“Having heard the sad news of the passing of Jimmy Marshall, everyone connected with the Fort William Mountain Festival would like to send their heartfelt condolences to Jimmy’s family, friends and loved ones.

Jimmy won our 2010 Scottish Award for Excellence in Mountain Culture for his incredible achievements in Scottish and UK mountaineering.

You can watch his award film here:”

A cracking poem by Bobby Motherwell.

A tribute by Bobby Motherwell “

“Saddened to hear of the passing of “The Maister” Jimmy Marshall. A true legend in the Scottish Climbing community, a trailblazer and one of the greatest climbers of his generation. I never met him, but felt that I knew him somehow as we shared a love of, and climbed in the same cathedral that is the Buachaille.

Over the years, I watched on repeat The Edge video which celebrated 100 Years of Scottish Mountaineering. In his early 60’s he revisited a classic rock climb he established on Slime Wall called Bludgers Revelation with his old climbing partner John McLean. I was in awe of these “old guys” climbing this hard classic route. I always wanted to climb it. Never did.

Now in my 60’s, I can reflect and be in greater awe of just how easy the pair made that climb look, and I am filled with an even greater respect for the man they called The Maister.

I wrote a poem called Old Boots a few years back which mentions Jimmy and other legends. I posted it on a climbing site and his daughter contacted me to say that she loved it. As you can imagine, that was quite something for me.

I’ll think of you Jimmy as I always do, next time I lay hands on that red rhyolite in Glen Coe.” Thank you Bobby

As Bobby says if you can have a look at the Edge on UTube or video it’s classic with a climb by Jimmy Marshall and his friend John McLean.

Posted in Articles, Books, Mountaineering, People, Recomended books and Guides, Scottish winter climbing., SMC/SMT, Views Mountaineering | Leave a comment

A winters tale – Request for a Tope rope on Braeriach to Tower Ridge !

Every year the RAF Mountain Rescue would hold its Annual Winter Course which ran for two weeks in Scotland. It was based in the Cairngorms and Fort William. In these days there were 6 RAF Teams in the UK each team would send 2 instructors and 2 pupils. In all with a few extra we could have 36 – 40. It was a great but hard two weeks with one day off. Yet it was a huge privilege to chosen for the winter course there were some great instructors and we met so many of the other team members from far and wide.

I went on my first course as a pupil in the 70,s and had a great time. In these days the Northern Corrie’s in the Cairngorms were pretty quiet unlike nowadays. Of course there was no responsibility them for me, it was just getting out and climbing with many of the stars of that era. I found it very hard physically out every day no matter the weather and often getting involved in climbing accidents at the end of day.

As I progressed to a winter leader the responsibility got greater we often climbed a one two one ratio. After a few days of winter skills the new troops were put at some easy gullies for many a big change. It was worrying at times watching them find protection and belays which only come as your skills improve. After a good day out the troops would have to navigate back. Later on some would move onto Hells Lum and a long journey back across the plateau would test most folks.

If the weather or snow was limited we would look at the weather forecast and maybe go bothying. On my first winter course we had a few days into Corrour via a route Brairaich, Cairntoul and Devils Point. From a night in Corrour heading over Ben MacDui and Cairngorm carrying a lot of gear. As they say “ character building” in the early days there was no Avalanche forecasts and the weather information was basic.

After a nights snow hole which was epic at times but that’s another story. Many of the pupils had not done a winter in there area so it was full on learning, there were many eye opening days. Carrying a big bag was hard going every day add in maybe a Callout of which there were many that again opened the eyes of the young team members. At night we had lectures on Area knowledge, Avalanche awareness by The late Blyth Wright, and many other subjects. You were tired by the end of the day getting an appraisal of your efforts if you were a student and getting your gear dried and sorted out for tomorrow.

Go forward and it was the Team Leader at Kinloss that ran the course. In 1989 that was me. The responsibility I really felt as many of the instructors were pushing their grades. In the morning we would after breakfast have a brief and weather and avalanche update. I and a few others would have looked at what the plans for routes for the day would be. This was before Risk Assessments. I always had a good look what the younger leaders were up to as a few times ambition can overtake ability.

I was usually the last off the hill ensuring all were safe like a mother hen. I remember a few epics which we sorted. It would be long waits in car parks or at the top of routes to check everyone was okay. It was a lot easier to do in the Cairngorms where the car park is high. Of course we had our radios and if a wee epic was happening we could go to our military frequency.

The second week was on Ben Nevis and Glencoe and to many of the pupils and newer instructors the Ben is the classic Mountain as are the routes. Often some would stay in the CIC Hut giving a easier walk in.

On one course one of my star pupils from Kinloss who we had spent time training on the Ben was partnered with a young instructor. I had just done a route high on the Ben we watched the weather come in as was forecast. I held a couple near the summit to ensure all was okay as there was a pair of my troops going slowly on Tower Ridge. It’s cold hanging about on the summit then later on just as darkness was falling I heard a radio call.

Tower ridge

“ Any Alpine party ( our winter course call sign) we are on Tower Ridge and need a top rope. “ There was a reply before I could get them to go to our military frequency on the radio. The reply “ I would love to but on Braeraich finishing a climb” I knew Lochaber and Glencoe would be about so at least I had some time to sort things out.

Tower Ridge

I spoke to a very worried instructor he was near the famous Tower Gap and was like many before a bit gripped. His pupil was a great young troop we will call him “Stormy” he had climbed Tower Ridge in summer and winter with me. I spoke to him and asked was he okay. He said he was happy to lead the gap so I said go for it. We would descend to the Gap from the summit just in case . We had done it before and we’re glad to get going. We only had climbing ropes so we added ropes together as we sent a troop down to the gap.

Our hero Stormy was already passed the Gap bringing his Instructor up. All was good and they were both soon at the top. It was then a descent of the hill after a sort out of gear. On the way off the hill I got a call from Lochaber MRT asking if we were okay I was pleased to say yes thanks.

Waiting at the CIC hut for an overdue party

Of course there were many other epics or learning from mistakes. The odd walk out from Creag Mheaghaidh to Roy bridge and Glencoe after climbing ending up in Glen Etive. It was all part of the Mountaineering apprenticeships and valuable lessons were learned.

At the end of a days climbing we often helped the local teams with evacuation of fallen climbers never easy after a long days climbing.

I was glad my few years of running the winter course were accident free and we trained a lot of young team members who became Team Leaders of the future.

Maybe we did a lot of things right ?

Comments as always welcome.

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Koflach Boots a piece of history.

Kenny wearing his trusty Koflach boots.

I bought my first pair of Koflach in the early 80’s for a ice climbing trip to Canada. What a huge difference they made. Despite temperatures of minus 25 I had no more cold or wet feet. They also had an inner boot which was a great asset at the time. The inner boots were ideal to wear in Bothies and in huts. They were hard to break in you never broke them in they broke in your feet but in my mind they were so worth the cost.

1985 Koflach boots in Canada

From Scottish Mountaineering Heritage Collection. “Plastic boots came upon the mountaineering world like a rash in the late 1970’s and within a couple of years just about everybody had a pair. Scottish bog trotters said it was the first time they’d had dry feet for a hundred years,Himalayan climbers didn’t get frostbite and boot polish dried up in the tin – redundant. Unfortunately, there was a down side – condensation made your feet look like wrinkled prunes with blisters popping up on each wrinkle! Blisters appeared round the ankle where the boot top rubbed and if water did get in, it couldn’t get out. Some folk loved them, others hated them, but as if by magic, they almost totally disappeared from the scene sometime in the late 1990’s.
Koflach were one of the main producers back in the 70’s, using technology gleaned from making ski boots and we’ve got a prime example of their ‘Ultras’ here in the collection. They were probably the most prolific boot on the market at the time. We are not sure where this pair came from, but Mick Tighe thinks one of his mountain guiding clients donated them – thanks to whoever it was.”This warning was made in 2008 about Koflach boots.

Andy Sallabank, Mountain Instructor, was working with a couple of students in the Cairngorms when the old plastic boots of one of his students literally cracked and fell apart This not the first time I’ve heard of this happening. If you have any doubts about the age or quality of your plastic boots, Andy advises they are put in the freezer overnight and then hit with a hammer the next morning! It’s got to be better than them cracking and falling apart on the back doorstep than half way up the Ben.

Koflach boots
Posted in Friends, Gear, Mountaineering, Scottish winter climbing., Views Mountaineering | 6 Comments

The high cost of mountaineering gear?

I was shocked at the price of mountaineering gear recently as I wandered round the climbing shops . Yet much of the clothing is now a fashion item worn by many in the High Street. Many tell me good gear has always been expensive.

Of course there is lots you can buy on eBay and other sites second hand saving a lot of cash. I WOULD BE WARY of buying second hand ropes or climbing gear unless you knew the history of it.

The old days.

When I started mountaineering as a very young lad I saved my paper round cash to buy a smock jacket with a map pocket on the front. Everything else I wore was my day to day clothing. I wore shoes on the hills on my Duke of Edinburgh Award later buying Hawkins boots which cost a fortune. I was lucky to join the RAF and get gear from the Mountain Rescue team. Sadly none of it fitted so the slow process of buying gear that fitted. I must have spent thousands of pounds over the years. At least I had dry boots for a Callout after a day on the hill and a long night search or assist if we got back to change and eat.

To winter climb now is so expensive crampons, axes, ropes. Helmet and protection are so costly I wonder how many would be climbers are put of by the costs?

The Classic line “all the gear and no idea spring to mind”. The modern clothing is comfortable so light and warm huge advances have made things better. Yet looking back at the photos in the early days many had little gear. After the Second World War ex military kit was in abundance much was adapted to climbing. Things like vibrame soles made big changes in mountaineering and old MOD crampons helped improve the climbing of that era.

What is the current cost to clothe and equip a winter climber nowadays ? Has anyone got the figures? I used to have a guide but it’s so out of date now.

Is mountaineering becoming a very middle class sport? Has it always been apart from after the war when folk fled from the cities to seek adventure. Our history is full of tales of working class climbers like the Creag Dubh who pushed standards in the 50’s. Will the cost of equipment change things .

Comments welcome as always.

Posted in Clothing, Gear, Views Mountaineering | 13 Comments

A few comments on my Bog about staying safe on the hills . Comments always welcome.

Eye sight

The point you make about eyesight is a good one. I have been using differential contact lenses now for many years and several other members of the Kintail team do the same. This is where the dominant eye has a lens for the distance prescription and the other eye has a lens for the reading prescription. Your brain sorts it out! This also works with correction by laser eye surgery but it doesn’t work with glasses. For those with normal distance vision whose arms aren’t long enough (!) the answer is simply to use one disposable contact lens to their reading prescription in the non-dominant eye and then maps and compasses come back into focus. There are also multi-focal and other specialist contact lenses that can make this easier if they suit you. Fortunately, particularly in the hills, the outdoor environment is cooler and more moist for comfortable contact lens wear.
TELL SOMEONEThere are now lots more ways to tell someone where you are going thanks to social media apps and email calendars. Email client apps such as Outlook or Thunderbird have calendars where you can invite contacts to events: invite them to check you are back safely!
IF IT GOES WRONGThe matter of what happens if it all goes wrong is one that you and I have given much thought to over the years Heavy. Here’s my latest take on some of that.
Being found is key. Roger Webb and Neil Wilson did a good talk on this at Craigdon a few years ago and that should definitely evolve into a training video! So, the bright colours like you mention but taking shelter from wind and rain will often obscure you so that has to be considered. You are just a little spec on a big hill.
We shouldn’t have to keep banging on about carrying a torch but unfortunately it’s a relevant as ever. A headtorch can help to get you off the hill before it all goes wrong but many modern LED ones have an extra utility. Some will illuminate, all be it at a low intensity, for 100 hours, so you can leave it on and even if you are asleep or unconscious anyone looking for you should find you during the first night.
Double-check your smartphone settings to ensure that AML/Emergency Location Services are ON. AML automatically sends a data stream with your location alongside any 999/112 call made from your phone. Check the EENA website for more info.
Next year, when the new UKSAR2G SAR helicopter contract commences transition-in, it is expected that Smith-Meyers Artemis mobile phone detection will progressively be introduced to the SAR helicopter fleet. This means that every person carrying any kind of mobile phone is carrying a rescue beacon. Every phone that is switched on is detectable, regardless of network coverage, and can be interacted with. Police authorisation in the case of genuine SAR ops will be necessary for searches for specific phones. Smartphones are at a disadvantage of course because of battery life when compared to a Nokia 800 that has a standby time of weeks. Smartphone users should probably take a small powerbank with them on the hill. In areas with no network coverage, power consumption can be reduced by switching to 2G only and engaging any power-saving mode.
Another techie solution is satellite beacons. We have had PLB use legalised in the UK for eleven years now. The latest stuff with high spec GNSS and MEOSAR are excellent. There are no subscriptions to pay but battery servicing every few years costs maybe half the price of a new unit. Many other types of beacon with messaging services and tracking are available and too numerous to mention. These will usually require payment of a subscription and regular attention to batteries.
Thousands will disagree but I still say that hillwalkers in Scotland, particularly lone hilwalkers, should be wearing helmets. If something bad happens then you will need your head to be in working condition.
Keep safe out there old gits!

Thanks Jim Fraser as always some great information

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Gear – how did we cope without Buffs ? Buffalo gear who still has one?

The Buff – a simple garment that can be used as a bandanna or face neck protector. It has many uses. I bought my first Buff many years ago and had to use it as a bandage for a casualty in Skye. As normal I never saw it again but what a great piece of cheap simple gear. You can support your local Mountain Rescue Team and SARDA but buying a Buff from them. Our new-design, genuine “Buff” is an essential and very versatile item for having with you when exploring the mountains.

There’s no better way of showing your support!

Our new design, genuine “Buff” is an essential and very versatile item for having with you when exploring the mountains.

Environmentally friendly, our Buff is manufactured from polyester microfibre, made from recycled plastic bottles. It has a UPF 50 sun protection rating, good thermal insulation and moisture management.

The famous Buffalo jacket

We bought Buffalo jackets when they came out what a robust bit of gear. They were a bit heavy but superb in winter and as they got older they packed down in the rucksack a lot easier. Many swore by them some wearing them next to the skin I liked to wear an undergarment though. The name meant a lot as they were made in Scotland by Hamish Hamilton. I also had the Buffalo salopettes which were so warm but I used them on Denali with Ron hills underneath and they saved the day when caught in a big storm.

In the years to come you could tell an older mountaineer by its fading ~ buffalo special 6 shirt (UV faded), koflach boots and alpinist rucksack. The boots went in the bin many years ago but still got the rest !


About Buffalo

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I still see folk wearing them on the hill you certainly get your moneys worth out of them. The good thing is you can still purchase them. I found them great on long searches after a day on the hill I was rarely cold in the jacket. They also made a great pair of trousers that I had in Canada in winter ice climbing and the Himalayas. I have my gear to the Sherpa cook on Everest in 2001 I wonder whether there still going?

My mate Terry Moore and his trusty Buffalo

As always comments and photos welcome.

Posted in Clothing, Gear, mountain safety, Mountaineering | 4 Comments

Wandering alone on the hills.A few tips.

Over the last few years I really enjoyed being alone on the hill. My last big day was before winter on the Fannichs. I could go at my own pace, stop when I wanted and admire the views. You see so much more on your own and as like to go into the remoter places were I can stop and look at the corrie and spot the odd climbs.

Safety: I do leave what hill I will be on with a friend I trust and o lots send a text on the summits with an updated time due back. I know my family worry and as I get older I take it a lot easier. As you get older your reactions are not as fast so I take it a lot slower.

Pushing it: I do not have the ambition to do lots as age catches up. If the weather is wild I am a lot more aware of my limitations.

Navigation; if your out alone your navigation has to spot on. Another tip is many older walkers are wearing glasses for the first time. As a specs wearer since very young they are restricting to day the least. Many need them and few carry them. I wonder how many epics/ accident are caused by this ?

Kit : I carry the usual gear plus a bothy bag and all my kit is brightly coloured. It’s far easier to see on the hill and better for photos.

Top Tip: Most of us as we get old still think we can still charge around as we did 40 years ago bear that in mind.

Sadly due to health problems I have not been out this winter. I cannot wait to get better and have a wander.

Comments as always welcome.

Posted in Friends, Gear, mountain safety, Mountaineering, Views Mountaineering, Well being | 5 Comments

Grand days with the dog on the hill. The South Clunnie Kintail. The Saddle a classic .

I don’t have a dog now but I have friends who let me look after them now and again. A great photo came up recently of my Dog Teallach on the South Clunnie in Kintail. A grand outing in summer and even better in winter. When we did it frequently we always did The Saddle and Sgurr Na Sgine. It was early starts and mostly up the Forcan Ridge on the Saddle to start. The Forcan ridge in summer is a great scramble and opens your eyes to this underestimated mountain. There are climbing routes in the Corries and lovely ridges giving unsurpassed views on a good day. In winter it’s majestic wee route and shows what a big mountain it is.

The Saddle and Sgurr Na Sgine classic

The Saddle is the finest of the Kintail peaks and one of the most magnificent mountains in the Highlands. Its ascent via the Forcan Ridge is a difficult but classic scramble; the scrambling can be avoided if needed and the walk still has fantastic views. The normal walking route takes you onto the far shoulder of the Saddle where nearby there is a big wall. I have been told it is can anyone fill in the gaps?

End of a long day for these young team members.

What a grand hill the Saddle is. When you add these two it gives a classic 9 Munro day in the summer a wonderful experience. My dog did it at least 10 times he loved these hills and to see him in his prime in the photo below brings a tear to my eye. Leaving early was a secret in summer getting on the tops before the heat came up. Even more important in winter where daylight is short. We always took the young troops on these days and it would be a test piece for many. Teallach would check the party regularly going to the back then waiting on the summit getting food from other Munro baggers. He was well trained never chased anything and did a stock test as a young puppy. He knew when to be patient and a had a hill sense that undoubtedly saved my life on a few occasions. You cannot take a dog out in my view on the big mountains unless they are well trained. Looking back he probably did 150 hill days a year including call outs. I doubt there are many other dogs at that time who were out on the hill as much?

Teallach waiting for us to catch up enjoying the view.

I will always have special memories of these days. Kintail and these great hills. There are so many ways up these hills and by only visiting these areas do you see the beauty of these places.

The Saddle – how I enjoy the scrambling never to hard but such fun on the Forcan ridge.

Sgurr na Sgine : ‘peak of the knife’

Sgurr a’Bhac Chaolais : peak of the hollow of the narrows’

Creag nan Damh : ‘peak of the stags’

Sgurr an Lochain : ‘peak of the small loch’

Sgurr an Doire Leathain : ‘peak of the broad oak grove’

Maol Chinn-dearg : ‘bald red head’

Aonach air Chrith : ‘ridge of trembling’

Creag a’Mhaim : ‘rock of the large rounded hill’

The Forcan Ridge the views of the Corries and glens are classic.

Once your past the Saddle and Sgurr na Sgine to me this is some of the best ridge walking in the UK.

Steve Fallon writes “the South Glen Shiel Ridge is a superb range of peaks stretching for 13km in a continuous chain. More peaks lead westwards, ending with The Saddle and its famed north-eastern spur, The Forcan Ridge.” Steve’s website is a great source of information.

So many great days with so many folk I did the South and North Clunnie plus a few others as training for my attempt on the Tranters Round. Of course my trusted companion would be Teallach.

As always comments and photos are welcome.

Classic updated version by The Scottish Mountain Trust.

Reference: SMC App, Scotlands Mountain Ridges – Dan Bailey. The Munro’s SMC publications.

Scotlands Mountain Ridges
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Sad news my thoughts are with the family and those Agencies involved .

Highland and Island Police “Around 2.15pm on Saturday, 25 February, 2023, the bodies of a man and a dog were recovered by Mountain Rescue Teams and HM Coastguard in the Glencoe Area.

Formal identification has yet to take place, however the family of missing man Kyle Sambrook have been informed.

They wish to thank all involved in the search and have requested their privacy be respected. Our thoughts are with Kyle’s family as we support them at this difficult time.”

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