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Advanced Navigation in the Trossachs

March 18, 2014 at 7:49 pm

I first worked with John around 6 years ago when we had some great adventures in Glen Coe and I guided him and some friends on some classic scrambling routes including the Aonach Eagadh and Curved Ridge on Buachaille Etive Mor.  Since our last adventures John’s been really active in the mountains and has also taken himself down the route of gaining mountaineering qualifications.  John contacted me because he wanted some training in advanced navigation and to really polish his navigation skills (which as we found out are already very good).



John contemplating a tricky micro navigation leg in the Trossachs


Mission accomplished after finding a difficult contour feature. Advanced navigation in the Trossachs


There are some great venues in the Trossachs for practicing navigation, and at John’s request training and practicing Advanced Navigation.  John asked for a full day’s training on advanced navigation techniques and so we spent all day on micro navigation, navigating between obscure and very small features including contour features.  Training including journeying and linear navigation, map memory and a whole lot of large scale features.  After this we moved on to look at micro-navigation navigation and looked the skills needed for micro-navigation legs.  Contour interpretation, map to land relationships, compass work including taking bearings and walking on them, timings, pacings, relocation techniques, slope aspects and the concepts of putting individual techniques into practice and linking them together as part of a journey.  We even managed to practice river crossing techniques and both got wet feet!


A ‘bonus’ river crossing after advanced navigation in the Trossachs

John’s navigation was very good to start with and has now been highly polished to an excellent level.  As with all navigation, John now just needs to find the time to practice and keep his skill set sharp!  A busy and productive day and all delivered in the Trossachs from a venue close to Callander.


New routes at Mclaren Community Leisure Centre Climbing Wall

March 5, 2014 at 9:25 pm

Mclaren Community Leisure Centre in Callander has a great little climbing wall that’s perfect for beginners or a half day climbing session.  The climbing wall is part of a wider leisure complex but offers a great variety of climbs with around 30 climbing routes from around 4+ to around 7a+ with lots to do around 6a-6c.  If you’ve never been have a look next time you’re passing at http://www.mclarenleisure.co.uk/climbingwall.html

I have a contract in place with Mclaren Leisure that allows me to provide ‘Technical Advice’ to them for the climbing wall and its management.  This includes regular inspections and checks at the wall and on its management, changing climbing routes, delivering training and providing advice whenever needed to make sure that the wall and it use is all up to date with best current practice across the industry.

I’ve just spent two days in the climbing wall with a team of people working for Trossachs Mountain Guides re-testing all the climbing lower off points, and all the lead climbing bolts.  We’ve also re-routed most of the climbing wall.  Have a look if you’re passing and let me know what you think of the new routes, there should be lots to go at

Training for Go Ape treetop adventures

February 17, 2014 at 5:14 pm

Go Ape is the UK’s number one tree top adventure and they have 40 adventures activities at 29 locations at forest sites across the UK . These sites “take one lush, green forest and a healthy dollop of breathtaking scenery; blend with a smattering of tree-top high wires, tricky crossings (using ladders, walkways, bridges and tunnels made of wood, rope and super-strong wire) and wind-in-your-face zip wires “ to give a fantastic experience – see http://goape.co.uk/

I have worked for Go Ape for several years and am really pleased to be back with them.  I am contracted in as a Mountaineering Instructor to deliver staff training for the staff in rescue techniques and to deliver very specific training protocols to the staff  – just in case they ever have anyone get stuck on a course and need to perform a rescue.  In the very unlikely event this happens to you or anyone you know you are in safe and well trained hands!  I have delivered this training and on-going training and assessment regularly over the last few years at all the Scottish sites and I am delighted to be back there this week. I think that the site they have built over at Peebles (Glen Tress) is a really great site and if you haven’t been to see it yet its well worth a visit.  Highlights of it for me are the super high (and long) zip lines across the loch and the way that the course is built around, through and over the mountain bike tracks.  Really good course design.

In practice this work involves a lot of hanging around in trees, training, watching, discussing and training some more until the staff have the protocols absolutely sorted.  Lots of hanging around the trees  and not moving much makes it a really cold day for me.  Lots of clothes worn (way more than when I am ice climbing) and the occasional trip back to the site office for a cuppa!  Good times, cold but not too windy and the returning staff have all passed their reassessments.  Well done!


Returning staff concentrating on rescue reassessments


Yes, I agree. It’s time to change this karabiner!

February 13, 2014 at 10:56 pm

Part of the work that I do at Trossachs Mountain Guides is to provide Technical Advice and consultancy to a wide range of clients.  Most of my clients are in the leisure market and are looking to provide adventurous activities for their clients.  Sometimes the activities are being run out on the hill, or in remote wilderness environments and sometimes they involve being at height either on natural or man-made structures.  Very often my clients are giving really successful and enhancing outdoor adventurous activities, but sometimes they need a little extra bit of expertise, technical advice and training to help them provide a better service.

At the moment my clients include various small businesses, leisure centres with climbing walls, local education authorities who have to conform to specific regulations for working with people under the age of 18, and some of the largest providers of high ropes adventure activities within the UK.  Technical advice work typically involves providing consultancy on risk management, consultancy on processes and procedures that often take place behind the scenes of the activity, providing staff training when needed for the activities and anything else that my clients might need to provide better activities and services.

My technical advice  work also usually involves inspecting my clients PPE (personal protective equipment) such as climbing harnesses, ropes, karabiners and metal ware etc   Last week when consulting for one of my clients I was presented with this karabiner along with the comment “we assumed that this wasn’t in the best condition so we’ve taken it out of use, what do you think?”  and of course I told them that “in my opinion they had made a great decision and that I agreed it should be taken out of use” (notice the wear marks on the left of the picture).  Of course we joked about this conversation and the karabiner had been retired long before, but what on earth do you think they had been doing to create this wear in a steel karabiner?  Answers on a postcard or an e mail……


Notice the wear on this steel karabiner on the left hand side

Winter Skills

February 11, 2014 at 10:29 pm

Sometimes I am asked ‘what’s the biggest difference between summer navigation and winter navigation in the mountains?’ This picture probably sums up what winter can be like (although you’ll have to imagine the wind!)  White out conditions when you can’t tell where the land stops and the sky starts, where it all looks white and grey, where you’re not sure if you are going uphill or downhill and where you can’t see what you are about to step on.

Winter Navigation

Whiteout in the Trossachs. Notice the old fence line top middle of the photo about 15 meters away

White out conditions can happen on any winter mountain (this picture is in the Trossachs this winter)  and make navigation really difficult.  Many experienced hillwalkers book onto winter skills courses to make sure that they have all the winter skills you need for the Scottish mountains in winter, or as an opportunity to practice existing skills.  Winter skills courses running in the Trossachs and surrounding areas.  Contact me if you’re interested or want more info.


Winter in the Trossachs Mountains

February 8, 2014 at 11:18 pm

January has been a bit of a blur for us as a family and with the business.  Lots of change all around and lots of exciting things on the go.  New mountaineering projects almost up and running (watch this space for more details) and generally this year feels full of excitement and potential.  It’s going to be a good one!  Throw into the busyness of January Helen (my wife)  finishing her current contract, the busyness and fun of kids and their weekly routines and a few extra curricula activities such as parents evenings and it certainly feels like things have gone by quickly!

Not many photos from working in January. Every time I have been in the hills it’s been stormy, white, windy and generally fairly challenging with snow conditions and weather conditions.  So not too many inspiring photos at the moment!  This was one taken this morning on a quick jaunt up Ben Ledi.


Left home at 6.30, at the car park for 7.00, through the crazy fallen tree carnage by head torch that took a little longer than usual!  Onto the hill and then breaking trail through fresh snow between calf depth and mid-thigh depth in mostly white out.  Great fun and home by 11.00 for a day with the family including watching the rugby with the kids (who definitely consider themselves Scots when it comes to sport!)

Not sure this kind of selfie will ever catch on…………..

Peak Performance !

January 21, 2014 at 7:40 pm

I’ve been running lots of climbing wall sessions in December and January which have kept me fairly busy (and dry!)  The sessions have been great fun and have included introductory climbing sessions and more advanced coaching sessions on movement, technique and learning to lead climb and other advanced skills.  Sessions like these are always varied and really interesting and I get to work with lots of different clients which is always good fun.

Kenny and Karen

Kenny and Karen looking pleased with themselves as they become registered as competent climbers!

Most of my climbing wall sessions are half day sessions, or even just a couple of hours when clients can fit them in around work so if you’re looking for short climbing wall session (or sessions) to fit around your work diary just let me know.   I use local climbing walls for these sessions, sometimes the wall at Mclaren Leisure Centre (Callander) and more often the wall at the Peak Sports Village in Stirling.  If you’re looking to experience indoor rock climbing for the first time, want to be able to register yourself as competent or even want some more advanced coaching let me know.

Old Mountain New Lessons

January 5, 2014 at 3:00 pm

I’ve spent a lot of time in Glencoe and every winter at University we used to have our Winter Meet encamped in the Laggangarb hut beneath Buachialle Etive Mor.  I have climbed Buachaille Etive Mor (the Buachaille) more times than I can remember and I must have climbed Curved Ridge somewhere between 15 and 20 times.  In summer I have guided it any times, climbed it with friends, climbed up it and down it, used it as a way to get to rock routes and have even been involved in taking an adventure race over it. I have been on it in sunshine, rain, storms and high winds!

In winter I have again guided it and climbed it with friends in what I thought was every condition possible.  In fact curved ridge was my first ever winter climb back in the day.  Since then I have climbed it under verglas, under decent snow ice, climbed it with no ice on it at all, climbed it more like an Alpine climb with completely dry rock and not putting the crampons on until the top snow slopes, climbed it in the rain, climbed it in sunshine, in cloud (lots!) and generally in every condition I thought was possible – that is until last Saturdays adventures .  Last Saturdays adventures taught me new lessons.  Memo never think you’ve got it all sorted and never stop learning  – the mountains always got more lessons to teach you.

John about to set off on our mountaineering adventure.  Curved ridge high above John

John about to set off on our mountaineering adventure. Curved ridge high above John

Johns been in Scotland for over 10 years, but for some reason he’s just never got around to doing curved ridge.  We’ve talked about it for a while and I thought it would be a good option for last Saturday.  I had been on the hill recently, had a handle on the snow conditions to some extent, the forcast was good, it was set to freeze Friday night with freezing level down low on Saturday and I was fairly confident that I knew the route well enough for it to be a good option.  We decide we’d go for it.

Early start on Sat got us up to Glen Coe for around 8am where it became apparent that the freezing level was not very low at all.  Somewhere around 4-5 oC at the car!  (Mental note 1 taken – this isn’t what was forcast and in fact its very different)   We walked in anyway, along the path, past the waterfall, round the corner and then zig zagging up loose scree and loose snow towards the base of the route.  We walked up past a fairly big avalanche debris that had come out of Crowberry basin and then geared up at the usual place somewhere near the top of the scree slope.


Avalanche debris below Crowberry basin, Curved Ridge


Avalanche debris below Crowberry basin, Curved Ridge. Lots of large debris!

While we geared up another fairly large avalanche came down out of Crowberry basin and made me shudder slightly.  I know Crowberry basin avalanches fairly regularly but this was the first time I had actually seen it happen.  Sobering.  I was reminded about the good old avalanche awareness ticklist (available in MC of S literature among other places) that always seems to contain the criteria of ‘things just not feeling right and trusting your gut’ when considering potential avalanche risk.    Mmmmm Mental note 2. Glad we were well away from that (as planned) but starting to feel that things might not be right……

I decided that we would still go or a look and see what it was like so we set off up the variation scrambling pitches that lead directly up to the ridge and don’t need you to go anywhere near crowberry basin!     The snow was generally rubbish for climbing, lots of it, super saturated as last week and not attached to the underlying rock!  Not nice.  I fought my way up to the base of the first steepening of the ridge with John on the other end of the rope.  A mixture of short pitches, on loose unconsoldoted wet snow, and some moving together.  A few belays and bit of gear dug out as we went.

John in soft snow curved ridge

John in soft snow on curved ridge

We climbed the first steepening of the ridge (the one that brings you up to the flattening that looks across to Rannoch wall if you know it) in a single 60 m pitch and what I have only ever soled before was suddenly turned into a loose and unconsolidated snow over rock type experience with nothing to purchase on and absolutely no gear.  The kind of climbing that gives me nightmares!  I extracted a belay (of sorts) at the top and brought John up.  He appeared sometime later and climbed over the top of the pitch to utter in a brilliant way ‘this is only grade 2 right ?’ how often have you heard similar things climbing in Scotland!

We sat for a while at the top of this pitch looking upwards towards more unconsolidated nightmare ish climbing and contemplated.  I have climbed curved ridge many times and I was fairly sure I could climb the rest of it (if I had too!)  What I wasn’t at all sure about was the top snow slopes and what they would be like, and after realising that the snow was not anywhere near frozen anywhere, wasn’t consolidated or even stuck to the ground, and after seeing an avalanche nearby I was reasonably confident that I didn’t want to be crossing that top snow slope.  Also I didn’t want to have to descend all of curved ridge after getting to the snow slope and deciding I didn’t’ like the look of it! Mental note 3 – change the plan before you have an epic and are forced to change the plan!

And so we did something brand new to me on a route that I know very well.  We abseiled off, and then down climbed back the way we had come to the bottom of the route and in doing so I think we probably avoided an epic!  Overall  I was delighted with my mountaineering decisions and think that I got the decisions right for us on that day – but of course I am also very disappointed that I didn’t get John up the route.  Next time!  And the point of the story is that when it comes to the mountains that we’re always learning new lessons.

Mountain Days and Bothy Night!

December 29, 2013 at 2:47 pm

Dave and I have had  it in out diaries for a while to get a couple of days out on the hill (preferably climbing!) in the Christmas hols.  In the absence of anything like ice anywhere, with warm wet fronts blowing through regularly and with lots of storms and rain at all altitudes we quickly made a second plan  – a second plan A that would go whatever the weather and conditions.

Biking in to the Tarf Hotel

Biking in to the Tarf Hotel

There’s something about travelling in the mountains and using bothies.  Some of my happiest memories and mountain experiences involve a night out somewhere, often in a bothy.  Memories of good journeys, interesting places, great craic both with old friends and just made friends, fires, candlelight,  warmth, the damp smell of drying gear, whiskey, laughter and generally lots of good times and memories.  I love bothy trips – although I do seem to mostly save them for when there’ nothing to climb and conditions are poor……..

So we decided on a bothy trip, with the criteria of not going to far (no climbing so no need to start too early) and of having an adventure.  We decided to walk into the bothy affectionately known as the Tarf Hotel near Blairgowrie.  I have been meaning to visit this bothy for a while, ever since I read a book called ‘Mountain days and bothy nights’ that shares some memories of great nights and adventures here.  It’s a great book written by ‘normal’ Scottish mountaineers – not ‘superhero climber’ types and from memory the books as much about the adventures and craic that most if us in the mountains can easily identify with.  Well worth a read.

Dave and I cycled up Glen Tilt as far as possible, and then dragged our bikes for about another kilometre over the snow  – just in case the track cleared further up and we could be able to ride again…………..  about the time we stashed the bikes (my old black bike just abandoned, Dave’s very new and very red shiny bike carefully camouflaged with heather and rocks) the promised horrendous storm arrived, the wind picked up and the rain started flying horizontally.  We began walking up and over the hill towards the bothy with that nagging doubt that often creeps in when visiting a new bothy  – like I hope it still has a roof etc

It was hard going, the snow was completely saturated, wasn’t bonded very well and was definitely not attached to the underlying heather.  Every step resulted in sinking somewhere between the top of the boot height and mid-thigh and there were many occasions when we resorted to crawling across snow patches after we had fallen in again to make sure we redistributed the weight  across more of the snow and didn’t sink again.  Truly hard and difficult conditions to be out in the mountains and the occasional laughs and sniggers at ourselves quickly stopped as things became more difficult, the going became harder and steeper and the wind speed increased causing the horizontal rain to sting any exposed skin.  We both retreated within as many layers and hoods as we could and concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other as we were battered on the hills!  It took us an hour to walk one kilometre because of the conditions (and an admittedly steep uphill!).  Slow going.

Wet and Wild

Dave’s still smiling!

Not even slightly frozen!

Not even slightly frozen!

Eventually we reached the summit of the hill we were heading over, took a bearing from the summit and descended to find the bothy, the ‘Tarf Hotel’ that used to be an old shooing lodge for one of the Dukes of Atholl.  We got to the bothy after various other snow sinking moments, one of them that involved me going up to my waist in a bog and after a river crossing that ensured we both definitely had wet feet.  There was so much water and saturated snow about that the bothy almost seemed to be floating in a small lochan formed by the bog, half melted snow and the water from the burns.  We were thankful that there was a big step up into the bothy  – that the water would still have to go up at least another 30 cm before it would creep into the bothy.

The bothy was in good order, some snow had been blown in in the gales and so we moved it back out and then picked the dry room to bed down for the night.  As always about this time I became really glad of the extra effort of carrying in coal as the fire sprang into life and gave us some warmth (not really enough to dry clothes, but definitely warmer than it would have been outside….) A wild night outside matched by fairly mellow night inside.  Good food, good craic, whiskey, fire and then into bed by 8!

Warm and dry, fire, whiskey and good craic.  What else would you need?

Warm and dry, fire, whiskey and good craic. What else would you need?

Long night of sleep, out of the bag around 9 the next day, leisurely breakfast (really no rush to get   out) and then decided on the easiest way out because we were well and truly tired of poor underfoot conditions.

Me thinking about leaving the Tarf hotel

Me thinking about leaving the Tarf hotel

A couple of navigation legs on the way out, back up and over the hill but this time mostly on a track (or the firm verges of the track) and then back to the bikes  (Dave’s shiny red bike still there) Back down Glen Tilt and back to the car at a reasonable time and back to Stirling in time to put the children to bed.  Great adventure all around!

Rebuilding the bikes for the cycle back to Blairgowrie

Rebuilding the bikes for the cycle back to Blairgowrie

There’s snow on them there hills…….

November 6, 2013 at 2:43 pm

It’s been a beautiful few days, cold nights, frost in the mornings, blue sky days with sunshine and of course there’s snow on them there hills!  Working around the Loch Tay area today on a project.  Mostly working on the side of the loch, but with lots of longing glances up to the hills and onto Ben Lawers.  The Mountains are looking great with an amazing contrast of colours at the moment.  Autumnal browns and oranges contrasting vividly with the pristine white of the snow on the tops.  Snowline seems to be down to about 700m and it’s looking really beautiful (really wish I had my camera or at least my phone!!).  Sign of a good winter or just early season offerings.  Inevitably lots of theories and thoughts about what this winter will be like based on a range of things from the number of Rowan berries out, scientific predictions and my personal favourite the friend who bases his winter predictions on his chickens winter plumage (you know who you are!) AS ever, uncertain predictions but what is certain is that I will have my axes sharp and will be out soon…….