Category: Places

February 13, 2016

Ice Climbing Course in the Cairngorms

I recently wrote that I was going to be attending an Introductory Course on Winter Climbing in the Cairngorms which is in the Scottish Eastern Highlands just south of Inverness. Last weekend it all happened and I have to say it was one of the best experiences of my life and truly enjoyable for many reasons. Here’s just a few:

  • The Cairngorms National Park where the course was run is a truly stunning location. It ranks right up there with one of my other favourite places in the UK, Snowdownia National Park in North Wales.
  • Glenmore Lodge was a great choice of training centre for this particular type of activity. Everything just seemed to run very well.
  • The instruction we received was really good. I’ve certainly broadened my climbing skills and reinforced other skills I already had. Our instructor, Karl Atherton really took the time to explain various climbing techniques as well as the conditions in which we were climbing.
  • The conditions were extreme and I found this a nice challenge.

Here’s a quick overview of the trip:

I flew up to Inverness via Easyjet on Friday afternoon and having hired a car was able to get to Glenmore Lodge within an hour. By the time I entered the Cairngorms National Park it was starting to get dark but even then I could see what a beautiful place it was. After checking in at the lodge I went to pick up my kit from the stores. This consisted of crampons, karabiner and sling, ice axes, springer (for attaching the ice axes to your harness) and plastic boots. Additionally I was supplied with specific equipment to deal with avalanche rescue, namely a probe, transceiver and spade.

Glenmore Lodge Ice Climbing Kit

After receiving my kit I went to try out the lodge climbing wall which was quite quaint. What I really liked is that I got to do my first indoor crack climb

Glenmore Lodge Climbing Wall Crack ClimbGlenmore Lodge Climbing Wall

Day 1

After an early morning briefing and breakfast we met up with our instructor and got kitted up. Before leaving for the crag we assessed the weather conditions, there was a reasonable amount of snow but we knew the main issue would be the wind which was clocking speeds of 30-40mph.

We arrived at the car park and proceeded to walk the crag we intended to climb, namely Central Gully. It was probably one of the toughest walk ins I’ve ever done to the crag as it was really windy and this contributed to a significant drop in temperature. The ground was quite slippery and walking on it in plastic boots was pretty hard work - it took us two hours to walk two miles. The clip below gives a brief look at what the conditions were like

Once we arrived at the crag we donned crampons and harnesses and started to climb up. We had a quick practise session with our crampons and ice axes and then undertook a multi pitch ascent. We managed to do three pitches and then abseiled down rather than climb all the way to the top as it was felt the windy conditions might make a walk off rather difficult.

Cairngorms Climb Central Gully Belay PointCairngorms Climb Central Gully SecondingCairngorms Climb Central Gully Ice ClimbCairngorms Climb Central Gully Abseil

The pic below shows the route detail provided by my Garmin Fenix 2 watch overlaid onto Google Earth – the total elevation of our climb was 140m

Cairngorms Ice Climb - Garmin Fenix Google Earth Elevation Profile

Day 2

Ice Climbing Training Wall Glenmore LodgeOn the second day conditions had become much worse as more snow had fallen overnight and the wind was now blowing even harder than the day before. There was also significant risk of avalanche. For this reason we climbed lower down in an area called Central Couloir and did a small pitch. We spend most of the day learning additional techniques and considerations for ice climbing as well as practising some skills like fall arrest and crampon use. Lastly, we got to learn how to use a transceiver and probe which is used to undertake a rescue of anyone trapped in an avalanche.

Having finished the course I then stayed in Inverness for the Sunday night and flew back home early Monday morning.

After this experience I find myself having a new found respect for people like Ueli Steck who are just so incredibly fit and tough that they can do this kind of thing all the time.

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February 2, 2016

PADI Deep and Wreck Diving Specialties at Stoney Cove

In October 2014 I passed my PADI Deep and Wreck Diving Specialties having completed the required dives at Stoney Cove near Leicester. I had previously attained my PADI Advanced Scuba Diver Certification which qualifies you to Dive to 30m but I was quite keen to have the possibility of diving deeper as the Deep certification allows you to Dive to 40m. Furthermore, I’ve always wanted to have the opportunity to Dive wrecks in various locations around the world.

What you learn in the Deep Speciality Course

Your training starts by reviewing reasons for deep diving and how important it is to know your personal limits. During four deep dives with your instructor, you’ll go over:

  • Specialized deep diving equipment.
  • Deep dive planning, buddy contact procedures and buoyancy control.
  • Managing your gas supply, dealing with gas narcosis and safety considerations.

What you learn in the Wreck Specialty Course

There are many different types of wrecks, some of which are protected by laws that guard their historical and cultural significance. Your training starts by reviewing guidelines for researching and respecting wrecks. During four dives you’ll learn:

  • Safety considerations for navigating and exploring wrecks.
  • Surveying and mapping a wreck.
  • Using penetration lines and reels to guide exploration.
  • Techniques to avoid kicking up silt or disturbing the wreck and its inhabitants.

I really enjoyed doing these two specialties and I also got to do my dives on Nitrox having passed that specialty two weeks earlier. The Stoney Cove Dive Site has plenty of features and wrecks to explore as shown in the map below

Stoney Cove Dive Site Map


1 Viscount Aircraft Cockpit
2 Nautilus
3 Archways Beneath the Pub
4 The Wessex
5 The Bus
6 The Monster
7 The Galleon

8 Aircraft Wreck
9 Deep Hydrobox
10 Submerged Trees
11 Tower (pole)
12 Blow-Off Preventer (BOP)
13 4-metre Block House
14 Wooden Boat

15 Stanegarth
16 FV 432 APC
17 Landrover
18 Block House
19 The Winch
20 Work Frame
21 Small Hydrobox

22 MG Cars
23 Anchor and chain from Stanegarth
24 Tug Boat Defiant
25 Trawler MV Belinda
26 Gresham Ship c1570

For my wreck certification I explored an old Tug Boat called the Stanegarth.

Richard Byrom undertaking his PADI Wreck Dive Specialty Stanegarth at Stoney Cove

As part of my Deep Certification I got to dive down to the deepest spot at this particular dive site and managed to get down to 35m. Here’s the dive profile provided by my Suunto D4i Dive Computer

Richard Byrom's Dive profile from the Suunto D4i at Stoney Cove

Once you pass the PADI course you’ll obtain a card in the post which looks like this. Of course you can always have an electronic copy via the PADI App. I certainly recommend these two certifications if you want to take your diving to the next level.

Richard Byrom's PADI Wreck Dive Specialty CardRichard Byrom's PADI Deep Diver Specialty Card

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February 1, 2016

Glenmore Lodge - Introduction to Winter Climbing

This weekend I fly up to Inverness to undertake an Introductory Course in Winter Skills with Glenmore Lodge. This trip ticks the boxes for me in many ways: -

  1. I’ve always wanted to visit Inverness
  2. I’ve always wanted to climb in the Cairngorms
  3. I’m keen to broaden my climbing skills

Winter Climbing at Glenmore Lodge

Source: Glenmore Lodge

The main topics covered in the course will be: -

  • Recap of core winter skills, such as using ice axe and crampons, for approaching climbs
  • Basic rope work (tying into multi point anchors) and belaying both leader and second
  • Use of technical ice tools and crampons on a variety of mediums (rock, ice, snow, turf)
  • Escaping from winter multi pitch climbs (including abseiling from a variety of anchors).
  • Avalanche awareness and its implications for safe route choice.
  • Evening sessions may include an avalanche awareness talk and a general interest talk.

I chose this location (as opposed to Wales) since I figured there’d be more snow in Scotland at this time of the year. It looks like I’ll be in luck as judging by the Glenmore Lodge Facebook Page there’s a suitable amount of snow and ice around.

I came across this climbing video the other day which features Russell McIntyre and Richard Horsler climbing with Mark Chadwick from Glenmore Lodge in January 2016.  In Day 1 of the clip they climb Coire an t-Sneachda Fiacaill Ridge and on Day 2 they climb Coire Laogh-Mor and Ciste Crag. I’m assuming I’ll be doing something similar. Will certainly be writing about my adventures.

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