Mountain Training in Ireland by Bren Whelan

Mountain Training In Ireland

As the number of people becoming involved in outdoor pursuits steadily increase year on year. More and more members are getting involved in some form of training schemes, but how many of these new or even the exsisting adventurers are aware of the differences in the types of training that are available?

Mountaineering Ireland (MI)

MI is the national representative body for the sport of mountaineering in Ireland. It covers the full spectrum of mountaineering activities including hillwalking, rambling, rockclimbing, alpinism and indoor climbing. The work of the MI includes: promoting mountaineering activities in Ireland; providing a range of services to members; promoting safety and training to walkers and climbers and encouraging responsible use of the mountain environment.

Membership is open to both clubs and individuals. At present the MI has over 11,000 members – made up of 120 member clubs and 1200 individual members.

The MI produces a quarterly magazine – the Irish Mountain Log.

Who is BOS?

BOS is a subcommittee of the MI. BOS develops and administers training schemes for hill walking and rock climbing. It sets the standards and validates course providers, but it does not run any training directly. Each one of its training schemes includes an element of formal training as well as a requirement for candidates to gain a specific amount of experience. BOS only has remit over training run in the South of Ireland. The board is comprised of representatives from the MI, Mountain Rescue, VEC, Youth Services and other interested parties. The training board meets about 7 times a year, usually at the Mountaineering Council of Ireland’s office at Sport HQ in Dublin.

Mountain Leader Award Training. The format and requirements for this scheme differ in the South of Ireland from the scheme run in NI & UK
Single Pitch Award Training & Assessment
Multi-Pitch Climbing Award Training & Assessment

Personal Proficiency Training: Mountain Skills Training (MS)

Is the bench mark personal proficiency training course for anyone who travels in the mountains of Ireland or else where. This scheme was introduced in around 1990 and has evolved over the years. Over the duration of the training course (usually 4 days and normally run over 2 separate weekends) candidates are introduced in a relaxed and progressive manner, to the essential skills required for safe and enjoyable travel in the hills. This course provides instruction in day navigation, night navigation and travel through steeper broken ground, and the course has a continuous environmental theme.  Training also includes group discussions on route planning, mountain hazards, emergency procedures and mountain walking equipment. Training is open to anyone who has an interest in hill walking, and the course is of benefit to everyone who wants to enjoy the mountain environment in a safe and responsible manner. The scheme is very effective in making individuals and club members safer in the mountains and it helps raise the personal skill level of candidates progressing onto the Mountain Leader Scheme. Candidates with substantial experience receive an exemption from training (but not the assessment) if they can provide evidence of at least 28 hill walks.

Mountain Skills Assessment (MSA)

The MS scheme concludes with a two day hillwalking assessment during which candidates are assessed in the skills of day & night navigation, personal equipment, mountain safety, knowledge of the mountain environment and personal movement through steeper terrain. There is also a (short) written paper element to the assessment. Candidates should have at least 14 personal walks completed and these should be presented in logbook form, in addition to holding basic first aid certificate.
The MSA forms part of the BOS Mountain Leader Scheme and it is a compulsory requirement for every candidate who wishes to register on the BOS ML scheme.

Leadership opportunities
The Walking Group Leader Award was adopted by BOS without change from the MLTUK in 2002.

MIC Assessment 2003 by Bren Whelan

MIC Assessment 2003

Mountain Instructor Certificate (MIC) Assessment 2003…by Bren Whelan

The Mountaineering Instructors Certificate (MIC) is the highest instructional qualification available in Ireland and the UK. Award holders are qualified to instruct, train and assess all aspects of rock climbing, mountaineering summer / winter and winter climbing.

This is a reflection on my assessment at the Lodge, plus some useful information (I hope?) for the keen and sweaty!

Between training and assessment…

Don’t mess about; if you want to get that nice yellow page in your logbook then you need to start working early. Do as much preparation as you can outside of the winter season. Get to grips with winter rope work systems and sort out your parallel rope work on the warm sunny rock with two students who can bask in the sunshine while you sort out the tangles. Get changeovers slick and quick as well as the organizational skills that go along with moving swiftly and efficiently in winter. This sort of mileage can help make an assessors x-ray eyes seem less penetrating?
Crank up your short roping skills with one or two students and work on things like multiple lowers down sections of broken ground, also practice abseiling off routes with clients and its variations.

This period of preparation is also perfect for fine-tuning how much equipment you really need on the various days. Stream line your equipment, it’s not an assessment of how much you can carry or how much bright and shiny gear you own. So leave the expedition rucksack in the closet and pack everything small and compact.

Of course the assessment is a lot about the hard skills you need as an MIC, but don’t miss the other softer side of it. Get current with coaching processes and how students learn, so you can meet the needs of their individual learning style. The canoeing world have been taking fantastic steps forward in this area and plenty of AMI members are level 5 coaches, so track them down and get talking (bring your wallet!).

Work on your diversionary tactics i.e. the verbal banter that fills in the quiet times. You can upload all sorts of good info on geology, flora / fauna, place names, mountain and climbing history (this list is endless!) into your head which you can fire out at anytime.

Read the MIC booklet and be very familiar with it and what is required of you as an MIC.

Now for the fun part…

The assessment is 4 days, the 5th day is built in for bad weather and debriefs. If the weather hasn’t thrown a spanner in the works then you receive the result but not your debrief on the Thursday night (just so it can all sink in!). There are no written papers, night nav’s, lecturettes or snow holes (unless you really screw up!).
Have your logbook up to date and as fat as it can be, not with flowers, photos or stories! Fill it up with a broad range of winter related work and play days, double the minimums and then some! Spend as much time as possible on the bigger terrain, the Northern Corries are super, but aim for a lot more variety.

Oh, yeah…have your first aid cert with you, photocopies are fine, but make sure it has a completion and expiry date on it, make sure you have all the paper completed, in order to avoid that painful technical deferment!

Day 1…General Mountaineering

9.00am kick off. We meet with George Mc and Jules Fincham. The boys are nice and friendly and lay it all out for us. George explains that there’ll be no tricks up their sleeves or any screw gate magic during the week and that all scenarios will have a clear start and finish. Plus clarification can always be sought on what you are being asked to do (hum! sounds fair!)

We’re given about 8 mins 30 seconds to get packed and on the fun bus to Coire Cas. As we pull up something comes floating into my mind, someone once said…‘they can tell who is going to pass or fail just by the way you get ready at the minibus’, but that’s just bull?

As we make our way towards Sneacdha, George pulls out his mental probe and starts to use it on our tiny little minds. It’s straightforward approach stuff; he’s trying to see how aware we are of the terrain, snow pack and its relationship with the weather.
Stopping at the flat ice and this time George wants action not words. He’s looking for us to demo techniques that relate to the terrain e.g. ‘good role model stuff”. The stuff that sets MIC’s apart from the mere WML (whoops, sorry!).

Moving up broken ground we blend into route finding some scenarios i.e. broken crampon, a client unable to complete an exposed move etc. Some blue-sky nav takes us to the top of the Feithe Buidhe, looking at short roping and safe travel under the Lum, from there it’s up to Coire Domhain and on over towards the top of the Vent, for lowers down that nameless bowl between the Fiaciall ridge and Lochan. Then it’s over to the broken ground below the Twin Burns here we do 4 very fast pitches up grade 1ish ground, dragging 2 bodies. A quick lower and some short roping see us heading back to the car park for 16.45.

Individual feedback from George finishes what was a very pleasant day and he stuck to his word and didn’t pull any funny stuff.

If you want to settle into the assessment week then make sure you can cruise through day one. You need to be comfortable on grade 1 / 2 ground, plus you need to look stylish using only one axe. Expect everything to be thrown at you during this day, so be prepared!

The snow pack can present plenty of headaches; expect this central theme to raise its ugly head many times during the assessment. Get practical experience, the SAIS is more than happy to allow experienced mountain people to tag along when they’re profiling (book ahead!). Dealing with a variable snow pack requires knowledge and experience, so be comfortable with this subject. The SAIS provides a good daily forecast and Mother Nature supplies the current conditions.
But it’s up to you the MIC to assimilate the information on offer, remember most avalanche victim’s trigger the avalanche themselves! So if it doesn’t feel right then you need to speak up and act.

Day 2…Personal Climbing (04.25am)

Hum! Crack of sparrows. Today the fun bus is leaving for the Ben at 05.30am. Conditions are lean in the Northern Corries and so we head to the west where conditions are just as lean, but we’ll have the added bonus of cloudy skies and maybe rain! Before setting off George makes it nice and clear what the day is about and what the lads need to see.

We’re off… leaving the bus at a jog and Jules is up for a nice swift approach. We have about 7 or 8 routes in mind (not to do in one day!). We explain to Jules that we want to have a nosey once we get into Coire Na Ciste. After a quick scan, our sights are set on Green Gully. By the time we’ve reached the top we’ve each lead 3 pitches using parallel. Plus we’ve done ledge cutting, stance management, gear placement and also the much watched belay plate orientation! Along the way there was plenty of probing questions but it was also kept very social. We descended down No.3 doing stompers along the way.

After a couple of swift lowers, Jules passed on a neat way of dealing with the slack line between the 1st and 2nd client and the stomper. He showed a way of using an Italian hitch off the 2nd’s harness (or client nearest you). This maintains tension between the 1st & 2nd client. A couple more top tips from Jules, plus some feed back on the day saw us cranking it back to the car park for 15.30.
Remember a lot of candidates struggle on this day because they aren’t climbing at the grade; everything else is MIA stuff with gloves, axes and crampons on!

Day 3…Client Day 1

The night before George handed out some background information on each of our guinea pigs (GP’s). He stressed that this information had been gleaned from the GP’s booking forms, so it could be real or imagined!

8.00am kick off. George reinforces what he said the night before re: the GP’s info and also makes it clear what the assessor’s roles and responsibility’s are for the two days. It boils down to this: they need to hear what your saying and they need to be able to see if the clients are being kept safe and if that’s not the case they’d step in to make them safe. At the same time they’d try to let your day flow as much as possible, as long as it’s safe!

Approaching the corries it was time to start finding out what the lads had really done, plus what they wanted to get out of the two days. Their aspirations for the two days where way more then I could cover in the time we had and after some discussion a much more achievable list was drawn up.

After some ground work and coaching on all things climbing we popped up Jacobs Ladder looking at more things climbing. Our day finished off with some tricky navigation back to the car park in the blistering sunshine!

During the day Jules floated around, checking things out. He was keen to ask the GP’s questions (to check belays & instructions) whilst I was busy setting up belays, he also had the craic which the boys liked. I rounded the day off by debriefing the two boys and gave them some handouts in an effort to do some front loading for day 2. Some feed back from Jules finished the day off nicely.

Remember when planning the client days to think flexibly and to leave the blinkers at home.
Don’t be afraid to look the assessor in the eye (or in the mirrored sunglasses!) and say that you don’t have a plan, but that you have several plans and that you’ll only reveal your hand once you’ve got your nose inside the corrie.

Avoid the clutter of the trade routes; there’s plenty of adventure beyond the honey pot areas. Be confident you’re an MIC! Don’t repeat a route you’ve done a million times. You get fewer points for sloppy work on familiar ground and more points for keeping it real!

Day 4…Client day 2

No freeze over night!!! Conditions are thin (even in the gullies) it’s raining, thawing and there’s plenty of rock fall on the cards, ‘and today we need to see a…progression!’ So how do you work that? You’ve got clients that want to lead, rock that doesn’t want to stay together and only vertical porridge on the menu. With thawing conditions firmly in mind my plan was to avoid the obvious areas, which of course presented the obvious hazards. We headed for an area that offered solid bedrock and not the janga type stuff that you’re going to find on the head wall during a major thaw cycle.

It’s about showing how you as an MIC make the best of the conditions that are on offer. Think out loud and pass on what you are seeing and how you are judging it. Do this in an effort to help coach the little piglets, so they can start forming their own judgments? During these two days there are no scenarios only the ones that occur naturally!

• Try to avoid the “paralysis by analysis” type session, teach and coach on the hoof and deliver the information in memorable chunks and formats.
• Don’t go over old ground and keep it flowing and going in the right direction.
• Aim to tick off the topics on your client’s wish lists.
• Remember your job is to make them better winter climbers, not to turn them into instructors!

For me it seemed like my two GP’s were happy to let the wheels keep on turning, they didn’t want to make waves whilst the assessor was close by plus they tended to hold back on the esoteric questions until the coast was clear (are these sensitive new age guinea pigs?). I finished the day of by debriefing the lads and by passing on some more winter related handouts.

After a word with Jules about the day it was off to the bar to meet with the other 3 lads. The plan, to get drunk before getting our results!

In relation to the GP’s, don’t expect to be handed a nice evenly matched pair. The difference in their experience and aspirations could be massive, so be prepared to deal with that. Avoid assumption it can lead you on the slippery road to hell!
Both of the client days are about picking the right location i.e. one that is safe and offers scope to educate the clients. Do what you would do normally when working outside of the assessment situation. You want to be true to yourself, don’t try to second-guess the assessor, you’ll never know what their thinking!

The Standard, Assessment-itis and an overview…

Can anyone ever answer the question of standard? What you need, is to have a good solid base in all things winter.

• You can get away with some things and you don’t need to be “a super slick years of experience lodge type” but you do need to look like you’re getting there.
• You need to be consistent on each day.
• You are marked simply; your day has been poor, average or good.
• That’s based on an overview, try to remember that it’s a 4-day assessment and the process is “holistic”.

But if there’s a common thread weaving its way through your performance over all then…
In terms of stress, put in the mileage to help avoid it, you’ll only get out what you put in (remember the “rule of p’s”!).

Turn up with only one result firmly fixed in your mind (that should be to pass, yeah!). Do the AMI winter workshop, it offers you a no holds barred chance to ask all those questions you we’re afraid to ask on the training course (thanks Jaz!). Get out and climb with real climbers, not just instructors, you can learn a lot from them (the real climbers that is!).

And lastly the assessors…

There was no messing and they are definitely human! I’m sure I saw them sweating? (that’s an unconfirmed sighting!). The lads always made it clear what they wanted and were open to questioning (but not answering! ah no they were!!). They certainly put in the long hard hours each day both with us and behind the scenes. Plus they didn’t pull any strange or funky stunts during the week, be prepared for plenty of mental probing, you know the questions when you really don’t want questions sort of thing! Have fun; it’s a really good week?

Ps. If anyone wants more info then drop me a line at

PPS. Remember it’s not based on luck!!!

Climbing in the New Zealand Mountains by Bren Whelan

Climbing In Aotearoa / New Zealand by Bren Whelan

“The land of the long white cloud”, is the Maori name for New Zealand (NZ). Flying high above the Southern Alps you gain a sense of understanding of this translation. As the long line of snow capped peaks snake their way in a sinuous and alluring fashion below, you can’t help but want to get amongst them.

Aoraki, Rakiora and Tititea names such as these will mean very little to most, but when translated into Mt Cook, Mt Tasman or Mt Aspiring interest levels should be stimulated!

Mountaineering on NZ highest peaks and our own Emerald Isle are undeniably linked. This is due to the fact that in 1882 William Green, an Irish clergyman, travelled there, intending to climb Aoraki (Mt Cook) meaning “the cloud piercer”. Green’s attempt on the peak failed 50metres below the summit. With night fall approaching the party turned back in the face of a fearsome northwest storm. Green felt that he had as good as climbed the mountain. However other mountaineers with aspiration of achieving the first ascent had their own opinions.

Adventure central…
With over 225 peaks above 2300metres and some 360 glaciers, the longest of which is the Tasman Glacier (29km). NZ has earned a reputation as the “adventure sports capital of the world”. But as the wise man once said “be careful when you go in search of adventure, because sometimes it is easier to find than you may wish!” This is especially true if you are considering venturing into the Southern Alps.

The weather…
This is an area of highly changeable weather and the extremes define the region. Such as winter conditions in summer, rains that wash out roads and northwest storms that peel the roofs off houses.

NZ is an isolated landmass that is surrounded by hundreds of kilometres of ocean. Normally moisture laden winds from a westerly quarter are blown across the massive Tasman Sea. When they encounter the jagged Southern Alpine chain they unload with full force.

Weather forecasting here is notoriously difficult. Rules of thumb don’t tend to work in these mountains; sometimes witchcraft and intuition can be more useful. On average, in summer, there is about one good day in three in the high mountains. But don’t despair if the mountains are closed as there are many excellent rock-climbing venues throughout the islands.

When to go…
The seasons are reversed in the Southern Hemisphere so their summer is our winter etc. And remember it’s the classic South Faces that you climb down here! Good summer months can be December to March.
However this is an unpredictable mountain arena so expect anything!

In winter the weather tends to be a little more stable and long fine periods are not uncommon. Climbing during June to September is a very serious undertaking. This requires excellent equipment plus a sound understanding of avalanche conditions.

Sunburn is a major problem because of the relatively clean air and the thinner ozone coverage in this part of the world. This problem is exacerbated on the glaciers and at altitude. Dress smart, wear light colours and long sleeves. Use peaked caps and wear a neck scarf. Eye protection and plenty of sunscreen are a must in order to stay comfortable!

These higher temperatures also have a major effect on the condition of the snow pack and glaciers. Bear in mind that if the previous winter did not produce a lot of snow, then the crevasses will be a lot more open and the snow bridges less extensive. As the summer temps soar and the solar radiation further breaks down the glacial cover, travel in the high mountains becomes much more difficult.

Many NZ guiding companies only operate on Aoraki via the Linda Glacier (the normal approach or exit route, Grade 3/PD) from December to January. This is because the crevasses become open and extremely treacherous to navigate. There is also the problem of prolonged exposure to the massive seracs of Silberhorn, Vancouver and the Gun Barrel. These constantly threaten mountaineers with aerial bombardments at every stage and from every direction!

Respect and excellent judgment are required when you climb in these mountains. Another tricky spot to watch out for is the crossing of the Linda Shelf. You may have to cross this slope once or twice during an ascent.
The Shelf always requires caution. Many Guides and mountaineers will use a planned bivouac during descent in order to allow some re-stabilization of the snow pack in this or other critical areas.

A stable geological environment..?
The stature of these peaks may not compare with other well known and much more frequented areas. Aorkai is only 3754m, Mt Tasman 3497m and Mt Aspiring 3033m. But they certainly have an interesting geological make up!

In December 1991, as many climbers prepared to depart Plateau hut for an attempt on Aoraki, the top 10 metres of the summit separated from the rest of the mountain and travelled down the East face to the Grand Plateau at 2100m, passing within 300 of Plateau hut. The 80,000 tones of debris continued up over the Anzac Peaks, 2528m. It then fanned out over the Hochstetter and Boys Glacier, continuing down to the Tasman glacier at 850m. However the journey did not stop there. It then travelled across the width of the glacier (2km) and climbed back up the hill on the far side gaining another 500m. It finally came to a stop at 1400m and measured 3.8 on the Richter scale. Amazingly no one was injured and funnily enough no climbers left the hut that night!

One of the predominant rock types is greywacke, which is sandstone. It is a hard but brittle rock and is generally grey in colour; however it can be pinkish, orange and red in colour – all indicating good rock.

Argillite on the other hand is the ugly sister. It is a mudstone and typically black or brown and green. It has a slate like appearance and shatters…very easily. New Zealand climbers politely call it “weetbix”.

NZ does have an undeserved reputation for poor quality rock. This isn’t reflective of the area or the whole country. So don’t be put off by the rumours, just choose wisely where you intend to climb.

Avalanches and the Snow Pack…
Summer or winter the snow cover is extremely varied in these mountains. If you feel as though you have plenty of European summer or Scottish winter snow pack analysis experience, please don’t make the first big mistake of overestimating the snow pack or more importantly your ability to evaluate it!

The NZ snow pack is unpredictable at times. So much so that it has caught out and killed many experienced guides and mountaineers. New Years day, 2004 a party of 3 guides and 3 clients were swept off Mt Tasman by a small avalanche. 1 client and all 3 guides died; including Paul Scaife one of NZ’s most experienced guides. The snow pack shows no mercy to those who don’t read the signs of instability. It deserves your ultimate respect. Don’t let “summit fever” cloud your better judgment!

Remember most avalanche victims trigger the avalanche themselves!! Avalanche transceivers are a common piece of equipment for both summer and winter mountaineers in NZ and so too is the ability to use one!!!

Alpine huts…
The high huts are managed and serviced by the Department of Conservation (DoC). The New Zealand Alpine Club (NZAC) also owns a number of huts throughout the mountains. You receive a fifty percent discount with a reciprocal rights card, normal price before discount is $10 NZ.

These huts differ from the European huts. There are no guardians or cooked meals available. Kerosene stoves were once provided, but have now been removed for safety reasons. Most huts tend to have the other essentials such as pots, pans, mattresses and blankets etc.

If you intend to use an alpine hut then your first point of call should be the local DoC office. They will know how many beds are available, take a note of your intentions and will have an up to date weather forecast.
These offices also provide plenty of other excellent information on the local area.

Every evening at a set time DoC broadcast via a radio service the latest weather forecast to all the huts in the local area. They also try to ascertain the names and location of all the parties sleeping in or near the hut. A radio is provided in each of the main alpine huts, as well as clear instructions on how to operate it.

Ski planes and helicopters are used heavily in the Southern Alps for access and egress. Many of the walks into the popular huts are major undertakings when carrying food and equipment.

Aircraft offer the luxury of scenic flights, fresh food and fresh legs! Plenty of newcomers waste good breaks in the weather tackling the tricky approach route to the hut, instead of the climb! When weighed up against the cost of a flight and the fact that you can bring ten days of food, flying can be a real winner. Of course aircraft are affected by the weather! The local companies offer an excellent and very professional service.

East coast entry…
A good staging post and entry point into the Southern Alps is Mt Cook village (on the eastern side of the range). Check out Charlie Hobbs excellent new café “The Old Mountaineers” and tell him I said hi! There is very little in the way of shopping available, so stock up in Christchurch, which is around 4 hours away or Twizal, 50mins. Christchurch also has a good selection of outdoor shops for specialist equipment, maps and guidebooks.

Accommodation options in the Mt Cook village range from a basic NZAC hut to a Youth Hostel right through to the world famous Hermitage Hotel.

If you can’t get into the mountains then rock climbing is available close by at Sebastopol Bluffs. The climbing is either single or multi-pitch and the routes tend to be bolted. A little further down the road is an awesome area called Twin Streams.

Eastern Promise…
From here you have a few good choices that will allow you to get acquainted with the mountains.

The Muller Hut and the Annette Plateau area can be reached within 4 hours walking and offer amazing views of Aoraki. Unfortunately the ease of access attracts a lot of walkers. The approach is via a steep but tame path. Nonetheless it is a good area for gaining fitness and acclimatization.

If you would prefer more glaciated terrain, then take a flight into Tasman Saddle and Kelman hut. Ski planes are generally used for this trip and cost between $430 and $860 (Cessna 185 or Pilatus Porter) which will take either 3 to 6 climbers plus gear. This area offers an excellent range of climbing and should allow you to get to grips with the NZ alpine scene.

The Plateau hut area is where most climbers will start their assault on Aoraki. The hut holds around 35 climbers and is located underneath the Eastern faces of Aoraki and Mt Tasman. It’s an awesome situation!
If you intend to climb Aoraki via the Linda Glacier, Zubriggans (Grade 3+/Diff) or the classic East Ridge (Grade 4+/TD) then this hut makes an ideal base. The Maori people consider the summit of Aoraki to be a sacred summit. Therefore many climbers will only climb to the point known as the “Chandelier”, which is about 50m below the true summit.

Helicopter flights cost around $820 and can take 4 climbers plus gear. For $350-$700 you can take a ski plane, which can take 3 to 6 climbers plus gear. Planes depart from Mt Cook Airport and helicopters from Glen Tanner a little further down the valley. Please note that, depending on glacial conditions ski planes, maybe unable to land at either Plateau or Tasman Saddle.

Plateau is also the starting point for the Symes Ridge on Mt Tasman. In order to reach the start you need to negotiate the “Mad Mile”. This can be like a game of Russian roulette with seracs as bullets!
Dixon and Silberhorn are also approachable from Plateau hut. These are both very nice mountains. However they also have some serious objective hazards, but what doesn’t in NZ! Walking out from Plateau is a major undertaking. If you really must do it, then going via Cinerama Col is the best option. The route description and photos of this and other routes are posted in the hut.

West coast pleasures…
You can also enter the Southern Alps from the Western side, but not for an ascent of Aoraki. This is a good side to climb Mt Tasman from and there are also some safer type peaks over this side. The best base is Fox Glacier, but make sure and arrive fully stocked up! NZAC have a hut in the village, there’s a DoC office, eating joints and helicopter companies! Walking from the west (sea level) and climbing a peak is an extremely serious undertaking. Flying from this side is cheap! Average costs are around $470 for a helicopter holding 5 plus gear. Pioneer and Centennial are the best huts to head for. Pioneer is the starting point for the excellent North Shoulder route on Tasman (Grade 3+/Diff), plus a host of other great climbs. When the forecast is favourable this can be a very popular hut and with only 14 beds it fills very quickly.

Grading and Equipment…
For rock climbing, NZ uses the open ended Ewbank system which goes from 1 to 31 at present. Very Severe comes in at 13 to 16 or Hard VS at 16 to 19, For mountaineering routes the system is from 1 to 7, but they also tag on a plus or minus to help further define the grade (Tres Diff is 4+). If you are ice climbing then the WI water ice grade is used.

You’ll find that most of the usual equipment works fine here. There are, however, some new additions such as the “Snow Pig”. Buy one of these plus a snow stake and carry them with you all the time (except in the villages!). Snow shoes are easier to manage than skis and transceivers are always a good idea! Don’t bother bringing a “dead man” as they tend to fail in the NZ snow pack with alarming ease! A word of advice on compasses, purchase a new one when you arrive and read the map key for information on magnetic variation etc.

These mountains are as serious as you want to make them. Climb wisely and savour the delights of this antipodean paradise!

Useful Websites… – This will find anything! – Provides up to date costs etc. – Information on flying from the East or West. – Dept of Conservation. – Large shop located in Christ Church. – order maps, guidebooks online and they’ll ship then to Ireland. This is also an excellent Queenstown based store check it out! Another great store is Alpine Sports in Queenstown. – Excellent mountain guiding service in the Queenstown area. – Excellent day out in the Queenstown area! – Info and links. – NZ weather service. – An excellent weather site. – NZ Alpine Club. – Needs no explanation! – Excellent New Zealand guide. – Charlie Hobbs awesome site.

Guide Books

Aoraki/ Mt Cook by Alex Palman (NZAC 2001) ISBN 0-9597630-1-5

The Mt Aspiring Region by Allan Uren & Mark Watson (NZAC 2000) ISBN 0-9597630-9-0

South Island Rock by Ivan Vostinar & Tim Wethey (2000)
ISBN 0-473-0781-2

Wild Camping in Mountains by Bren Whelan

Wild Camping

The Over Night Experience by Bren Whelan

We’ve all felt the pull of that next peak in the distance or the allure of that beautiful mountain lake, but as the sunsets and the darkness falls we are forced reluctantly to descend back towards normal valley life.

Spending a planned night out in the mountains gives you the freedom to enjoy the sunset/sun rise or the freedom to explore and travel deeper into larger more remote areas which tend to be impossible to cover in a single day. You can also gain freedom from the confidence that your home for the night is never far away.

It does how ever take time to learn the necessary skills that are required to evolve from a single day hiker, into a competent multi day hill walker and there is course a draw back to this kind of freedom. An increase in the load carried can mean a decrease in the speed that you can travel through the mountains, but not always!

In order to enjoy any over night experience you need to follow the rule of P’s…which state’s, that…Prior Planning and Preparation Prevents a Poor Performance!

So let’s see if we can help you along with that…

Prior Planning

This is the key to the journey and with out prior planning you won’t get yourself any where.

Objective planning is always required for a successful overnight experience.

The following should always be considered…

1. The weather- as this has such an impact on everything that we do in Ireland it is a fundamental part of planning any over night. In this modern age good weather forecasting information is easily obtained and interpreted. The following are a list of web sites that you should check before setting foot on the hill.

Wind Speed & Direction

The wind speed that is given during a TV or Radio forecast is based on the wind speed at sea level. Hill walkers need to double this speed in order to get a more accurate figure for what it will be like at altitude. Plans may need to be changed if a route has you walking into a head wind of 50mph, this can make progress painfully slow. Coupled with wind speed, is wind direction, a high wind speed combined with a bitterly cold North or North West wind will have a major effect on body temperature and performance.
In addition to this, low cloud will reduce visibility and your navigational flow through the terrain. Low cloud can also mean precipitation and depending on the volume of the rain, hail or snow that you get, morale levels can drop and an over enthusiastic plan can go out the window.

2. Selecting a sensible route

Much of the success of a journey hinges on this element of the pre-trip planning. Everything looks straight forward when it’s being planned in the comfortable surroundings of your own home. Always plan a route which is suitable to the weather, the experience of the party, equipment and the terrain.

Factor in the weight of the back pack (always weigh the final load) and your ability to carry it. Day hikes are great for building a pack carrying fitness level to a weight of 5kilo’s, but an over night camping back pack will double or sometimes triple in weight.

Measure the total distance you intend to travel and the overall height to be gained in during the journey. This is best achieved by using Nasmith’s Rule, which will allow you to gain a realistic idea of the amount of effort that will be required to complete the trip.

During this phase, it’s wise to start small and work up to a bigger and more committing journey in more demanding terrain.

Break the journey down into progressive and manageable sections. Select a gentle start which will allow you to acclimatise to the heavy pack, terrain/navigation and the current weather conditions. Factor in the best possible escape routes, these should be considered with care. A good escape will allow you descend back to a track or road in a safe fashion via terrain which is easily manageable in poor conditions or when the party is feeling weary.

Choose a camp site which is within an achievable and manageable distance. Select a site which has water nearby and appears to be flat. Consider the likely weather conditions and select a site which will provide shelter from the wind. All of the above can be gauged from the map and once you reach the predetermined site, you can make a judgement on the best location to spend the night. Get an early start on the first day, factor in the time of year and the number of daylight hours that you’ll have to reach the campsite. Adopt a ‘Leave No Trace’ attitude to camping, remember that you will be travelling in a very sensitive environment, carry out what you carry in.

3. Equipment & Packing

The next thing that must be added into the mix is the appropriate type and amount of equipment that will be needed to complete the journey. Balance is the objective here, just because you own a massive amount of equipment which has never been used, that doesn’t mean that you need to bring it with you on the trip.

Consider all of the above and pack in a slow and sensible fashion, of course you need to take the essentials, but you don’t need to take every possible essential. Reduce weight where you can, start by trying to pack everything into the smallest back pack you can get away with. On a 3 day journey, carrying my own tent, stove etc I pack everything into a 35/40 litre pack. I also religiously check that every piece of equipment that I intend to carry with me on the trip is in perfect working order and walking poles are a must to help ease the effort.

4. Food & Drink

Age, sex and body weight will affect the amount of energy you will require to complete the planned expedition. Carrying a heavier then normal back pack, ascending variable slope gradients will all also effect energy expenditure in the mountains. Normal daily calorific intake requirements for male adults are 2500calories and 2000calories for a female adult (this is a base line figure for a normal day of activity). When planning a menu for an over night, a good figure to begin with is around 3500 calories, with adjustments upwards for those who are of larger stature. Overall you should aim to carry around 1kilo of food per day, don’t go over board! At some stage before setting off on the expedition, you should consider cooking (on the stove you intend to use) and eating the full menu that you plan to use throughout the expedition. This can give you some insight into the cooking times required and the overall feeling of satisfaction that you’ll get from planned the menu.

Re-hydration is vital, without regular fluid replacement, hydration levels drop and the on set of exhaustion is increased. By adding small amounts of glucose and sodium chloride (salt) to drinking water you can help the replacement of salts lost through perspiration. Use sweetened fruit squash, with a pinch of salt as a cheap alternative to those sometimes expensive Isotonic drinks. When travelling in the mountains, use common sense when obtaining water from lakes and rivers, if in doubt boil the water or add some sort of water purification tablet to it, in general the water in the Irish hills is generally ok, as along as you take it from a sensible location…

Lastly, this can be a hugely rewarding extension to normal hill walking activities, it does of course require new skills and it definitely can present new challenges. But when done in a sensible and progressive manner it can be an unforgettable experience!

Climbing Mont Blanc by Bren Whelan

Climbing Mont Blanc

Mont Blanc

Words and pictures: Bren Whelan

Standing proudly summit and shoulders above all the rest, at a height of 4808meters is the highest point in the Alps, Mont Blanc. Not considered by geographers as the highest point in Europe. This privilege they reserve for Russia’s Mount Elbrus (5642m). The French of course believe otherwise! An ascent of this moody summit of dreams is the desire of many an Irish mountaineer. So this month Outsider is here to help you realise your summit of dreams this summer.


On the 7th of August 1786, Jacques Balmat and Doctor Gabriel Paccard left the Chamonix valley. Their equipment was minimal given that they planned to spend the night out high on the mountain. It wasn’t the first time the pair had made an attempt on the mountain. They had been involved in the race for the summit for sometime, along with many others…fame and a reward of 20 gold thalers (offered by the Geneva scientist Saussure) awaited the first successful summiteers. At 04.15 hrs on August 8th the pair walked away from their bivouac at the ‘Gite a Balmat’. After many hours struggling upwards through steep terrain and difficult snow, Balmat started to lag behind. The time was 15.30hrs. Paccard who was feeling stronger, talked Balmat into continuing and at 18.23hrs on the 8th of August 1786 the pair made history. The pair had claimed one of the most sought after prizes in mountaineering history as well as a fine bounty!

Why the Gouter route?

There are many routes to the summit of Mont Blanc, so why chose the Gouter route? Surprisingly it is extremely beautiful, despite what you may have heard. Of course there is a serious amount of human traffic on the route. You’ll just have to put up with.


1. Technically, this is the easiest route to the summit of Mont Blanc. Grade (PD/Peu Difficile/Not very difficult).
2. It is possible ascend/descend the mountain over up to 4days which allows for better acclimatisation. Day 1: ascend to the Tete Rousse hut. Day 2: ascend to the Gouter hut. Day 3: final ascent to the summit of Mont Blanc, return to the Gouter hut. Day 4: descend to the Nid d’Aigle.
3. The routes difficulties increase with height, the Bosses Ridge provides some of the most difficult climbing.
4. The summit day from the Gouter Hut involves only 990meters of ascent. This is the shortest summit day of any of the classic routes to the summit.
5. The Bosses Ridges is an extremely beautiful ascent route.
6. Depending on conditions, glacier travel between the Gouter and the summit can be relatively straight forward.


1. It is the route by which the greatest amount of people summit and is VERY popular in the summer.
2. The Grand Couloir, which must be crossed beyond the Tete Rousse hut whilst on the way to the Gouter hut must be crossed extremely careful and very early in the day either on ascent or descent.
3. The Gouter hut is uncomfortable due to overcrowding and is often impossible to get a place in during peak times.
4. It can be difficult for many people who aren’t properly acclimatised to spend at night at nearly 4000meters.
5. Many objective dangers on the Gouter route are masked by the routes APPERENT ease.
6. The Bosses Ridge is steep, exposed and narrow in places. The ridge can also be very icy at times.
7. The mountain can be extremely cold and windy. Watch for the locally known ‘donkey cloud’ which forms over the summit. Once wind speeds exceed 55kms per hour summit attempts should be postponed.

The Ascent…
The following breakdown is based on the standard two day ascent of the mountain, using the Gouter hut as a base. You can of course slow your ascent down and opt for 3 or 4 days using the Tete Rousse hut on the ascent and then stay a second night in the Gouter on the descent. This has the advantage of allowing time to study the Grand Couloir on ascent as well as taking the sting out of that massive 2436meters of descent after you’ve summited.

Stage 1: Valley to Nid d’Aigle- There are two possible starting points for the Gouter route. The first option, for those based in Chamonix, is the Bellevue cable car. Arrive early for the first lift at 8.15am. There are free and secure parking spaces at the station. Les Houches is 15mins drive south of Chamonix just off the motorway. From the top station at Bellevue a short walk of 100meters too link up with the Tram Mont Blanc (TMB). Purchase a new RETURN ticket for the TMB. The tram will take you up to the Nid d’Aigle. The first tram may be extremely busy.
The second possible start point is from Le Fayet which is further south of Chamonix and Les Houches. This the starting point for the TMB. Starting here will ensure that you get the first tram to the Nid d’Aigle. If you’re based in Chamonix, Les Houches is an easier option. Keep Le Fayet in mind if for some reason there’s a problem at Bellevue. At the Nid d’Aigle check if you need to book a place on a return tram.

Day 1 = 5 Hours (+1445meters)
 Nid d’Aigle (2372m) -> Baraque des Rognes (2768m) = 1hr (+396m)
 Baraque des Rognes (2768m) -> Tete Rousse hut (3167m) = 1hr 30mins (+399)
 Tete Rousse hut (3167m) -> Gouter hut (3817m) = 2hrs 30mins (+650m)

Stage 2: Nid d’Aigle to Tete Rousse glacier & hut- From the Nid d’Aigle, go south along a wide track. After 50meters, take the path on the left (watch for red marks) ignore the path on the right which leads to the Bionnassay Glacier. Follow the zig zags up to the ridge line and to the Baraque des Rognes hut (2768m). Once on top of the ridge follow the path, cairns, red markings and at times short sections of cable towards the Tete Rousse Glacier and hut (3167m).

Stage 3: Tete Rousse to the Gouter hut via the Grand Couloir (GC)- From this point the route becomes much more interesting. This section should be considered a climb in its own right due to its overall difficulties. Above the Tete Rousse hut go up the left bank of the Tete Rousse Glacier. There is a possibility of stone fall from this point, wear a helmet!

WARNING! Some guidebooks suggest ascent via the Payot Ridge (on the left-side of the GC) or the Rochers Rouge Ridge (on the right bank of the GC).

DO NOT! Take either of these routes as you risk dislodging even more rocks on those following the standard route.

Approach the GC area slowly. Look, listen and get a feel for the crossing as well as the route above. On the left side of the GC you can shelter safely and watch other people crossing. Take time here to understand the crossing. It’s best to reach this point early in the morning when it is in the shade. Do not clip into the cable strung the GC. Wait, look and listen. When it’s safe, cross quickly (watch out for others coming in the opposite direction!). Go towards the sheltered rock on the far side. From here follow the cables and red markings upwards. This section of the route is very steep in places, you might want to consider wearing a harness and clipping into the cable with sling and a karabiner. The route above weaves its way steeply upwards towards the Gouter hut. This section is given Grade II alpine. Take whatever safety precautions you and your party deem necessary. Be aware at all times of people moving above you. The potential for rock fall is enormous here!

Warning! If there is a lot of fresh snow below the Gouter hut, there is a potential avalanche hazard.

Stage 4: Gouter hut to the Vallot hut- Familiarise yourself with the start of the route the day before so you know where you’re going in the dark (and to acclimatise). From the hut gain the snowy crest (axe/pole & crampons from this point). The first part of the route is almost flat, head south-south east towards the Dome du Gouter (4304m). From here the terrain is straight forward. Follow the track that heads towards the Dome (4304m). The glacier is generally straight forward and friendly. From the Dome descend into the Col du Dome (4258m). This can be good place to take a rest. Go south-east to the lower slopes of Bosses Ridge. On the left will see two huts. The lower hut is the Vallot Observatory, which is closed to the public. The upper hut is the Vallot bivouac hut and is open. Take care as you approach the hut as the slopes are often icy. Approach on the left (down hill-side) and enter via a ladder and hatch at the far end of the building. Many mountaineers will rest and take shelter here during their summit climb. You can of course by pass it. If you arrive early you may find the hut full of sleeping climbers who couldn’t get a space in the Gouter and who were not willing to camp lower down.

Day 2 = 10 Hours (+996m) Height loss (-2436m)
 Gouter hut (3817m) -> Shoulder below Dome du Gouter (4260m) = 2hrs (+443)
 Shoulder below Dome du Gouter (4260m) -> Col du Dome (4255) = 15mins (-5m)
 Col du Dome (4255) -> Vallot shelter (4362m) = 30mins (+107)
 Vallot shelter (4362m) -> Mont Blanc (4810m) = 2hrs (+446m)
 Mont Blanc (4810m) -> Nid d’Aigle (2372m) = 6/7hrs (-2436m)

Stage 5: the Vallot hut to the summit of Mont Blanc- Leave the hut and head towards the Bosses Ridge (these slopes are often very icy). You are now at an area known as the ‘Dromedary’s Humps’ which has two humps instead of one! Go over the Grande Bosses (4513m) and then the Petite Bosses (4547m). Be careful of the cornices. Now a fabulous whale back ridge now leads to the summit. This ridge is steep, narrow and seriously exposed in places. The snow is often wind scoured and extremely icy. Also there is the added danger of people bumbling their way up and down the route. Extreme care is required as you approach the summit as people will possibly try and pass you as they descend.

Stage 6: the summit of Mont Blanc to the Nid d’Aigle- During the ascent you should take stock of the terrain behind and around you. Note features, cairns and false trails which may either help or hinder you in descent. From the summit reverse the route taken in ascent. Before descending, check that crampons etc are securely fastened. Extreme care and steady foot work are now required. The descent route is very exposed. You now have to descend 2436m back to the tram station at Nid d’Aigle. Good luck!

Mountain Rescue Contacts

Mountain Rescue in France:- Dial 112
PGHM (Pelotn De Gendarmerie De Haute-Montagne) Chamonix
Dial:- 00 33 4 50 53 16 89

Once connected:-
• Qui? :- Give your name & the phone number your calling from (including international dialling codes)
• Pourquoi? / What is the problem? :- what type of accident, number of victims, how serious / types of injuries (level of consciousness)
• Ou? :- Where? :- exact location : route – altitude
• Quand? :- When? :- give the time of the accident
• Meteo :- Weather conditions? :- wind speed, direction, visibility

Always be as safe and self-sufficient as possible in the mountains. Know your limits, carry basic survival equipment, but don’t carry too much! Make sure your mobile phone is fully charged before going on the mountain.

Local Mountain & Weather Information (Chamonix)

Visit the Mountain Office in Chamonix for first class information on current mountain conditions. They have a full 3D display of the Massif, the huts and lifts in the Chamonix area. In the same building is the Chamonix weather office which also has a fantastic array of information on display.
Current weather reports are posted outside this building on a notice board each day in French (more detailed) and in English. To find this building, go to the main tourist office and look over at the church, to your right is the Bureau the Guides office and on the top floor the Mountain Office.

Local web addresses:

Address: Maison de la Montagne, 190 Place de I’Eglise – 74400 Chamonix.
Website details: / Phone 00 33 4 50 53 22 08
Information on avalanche conditions across the alps is available on the web. Check (Swiss site) and for other countries

Hut contact info…

Advanced booking is compulsory in the high mountain huts. Don’t attempt to make your way to one without a booking. There will be no squeezing in, sleeping on the floor etc. You will be asked to leave! The Gouter hut is ridiculously busy from the moment it opens till the time it closes. You are advised to book months in advance if you are to have any chance of getting a bed. Book a number of nights (using two different names) over a week long period. Then if the weather is poor you can chop and change the bookings. If the hut is fully booked, you can phone on the day you wish to arrive, in case of a cancellation. For about €35 you get a bed, dinner and breakfast. Extra food and water is always available (at a cost).

Tete Rousse hut: Altitude 3167meters: 68 beds: Open June to September: 3hours from the Nid d’Aigle: Ph: 00 33 4 50 58 24 97.

Gouter hut: Altitude 3817meters: 108 beds: Open June to September: 6hours from the Nid d’Aigle: Ph: 00 33 4 50 54 40 93. Getting to this hut can be very dangerous! You must cross the Grand Couloir (GC). Timing and understanding is critical for a safe crossing of the GC. A helmet is also required. Many people have been seriously injured or killed crossing the GC. Take your time. You also have to cross it on the way down. It might be worth booking a second night in the Gouter in case you are slow on the summit day.

Vallot shelter: Altitude 4362meters: 15places MAX! : Open all year: This is an emergency shelter. Official hut information reads ‘you put your life in danger if you sleep in this hut with-out being properly acclimatised’. This shelter is often used during an ascent to re-warm and rest. It is very basic. There is a crude toilet and a small sleeping area. It is not designed for normal overnight usage, only for EMERGENCIES. You are not guaranteed finding a place in this hut!

Speed ascents…

The Mont Blanc ascent record time is based on the round trip time from the Place de I’Eglise in Chamonix. Racing to the summit is been a tradition that dates back to 1864. Try not to dwell on the following times as you struggle to the summit…

18th August 1864 – F.Morshead leaves Chamonix at midnight and reaches the summit at 10.10hrs. He then returns to Chamonix by 16.30hrs.

1865 – T.S Kennedy, Mc Cormick, Charles Hudson and Robert Hadow do a round trip in 16hours.

1968 – Jean-Marie Bourgeois and Rene Secretan reduce the record to 8hrs 48mins. This is achieved by the pair following a specific training programme to help them cope with the strain on their record breaking attempt.

30th July 1975 – Louis Bailly Bassin brings the time down to 8hrs 10mins. Competition heats up and tactics evolve. Support teams are used to provide refreshments and equipment during record breaking attempts.

27th July 1986 – P. Cusin and T. Gazan: 7hrs 56mins

13th July 1988 – P. Lestas: 6hrs 22mins

26th July 1988 – L. Smagghe: 5hrs 29mins

20th July 1990 – Current record 5hrs 10mins 14secs! Pierre-Andre Gobet reaches the summit from Chamonix in an amazing 3hrs 38mins and descends back to the valley in 1hr 32mins. Awesome!

GPS Waypoints…

Gouter Route:

Nid d’Aigle: 32T E 0329 065 N 5080 736

Baraque des Rognes: 32T E 0329 795 N 5081 225

Tete Rousse hut: 32T E 0330 590 N 5080 275

Gouter hut: 32T E 0331 510 N 5080 139

Vallot shelter: 32T E 0333 185 N 5078 418

Mont Blanc summit: 32T E 0334 118 N 5077 668

*Points are based on IGN TOP25 no 3531 ET map format UTM

*WGS 84 geodesic system

GPS is merely an extra tool to be used in conjunction with the basic navigational trilogy of 1:25,000 scale map, compass and altimeter. Points quoted are reference points for huts, cable car stations and characteristic summits. GPS is accurate to +/- 40meters, you must account for this margin for error when navigating.

Guided Ascents

You greatly increase you’re chance of getting to the summit if you hire a fully qualified UIAGM Mountain Guide. Statistically non guided parties have a 30% chance of success and guided parties have a 50% chance of summiting.

Check or email for information on guided ascents of Mont Blanc with Robbie Fenlon.

Maps & Guide books

Mont Blanc 4808m 5 Routes to the Summit –
Francois Damilano: ISBN 2-9521881-0-6

Mont Blanc Massif (The 100 Finest Routes)-
Gaston Rebuffat: ISBN 0-906371-39-2

The Alpine 4000m Peaks (by the Classic Routes)-
Richard Goedeke: ISBN 1-898573-13-1

IGN carte tourisitique 1:25,000- Map 1 Chamonix-Mont Blanc & Map 2 St.Gervais les Bains
All of the above are available at www.cordee

Top Tips for Coaching Mountain Skills by Bren Whelan

Top 30 Instructing Tips

Mountain Skills Club Trainers

This day is aimed at making Trainers aware of the techniques that need to be taught during MS 1 and later MS2. It’s also about generating discussion on methods of teaching the techniques. The use of a systematic multi-level teaching frame work, like the 4 D’s is to be encouraged and developed.

4 D’s…Direction…Distance…Description…Deadline

Day 1

 What is a map? The map’s legend and man made symbols (MS1)
 Principles of contour lines and how contours are more reliable than man made features etc. (MS1)
 Mountain features i.e. summit, col, spur etc. (front load slope aspect / direction slope faces) (MS1)
 Mountain Skills standard is, a feature over 3 contours in size (MS1/2)
 How to find North on the map i.e. top of the letters or red strip of tape (MS1)
 Map setting / orientation (two methods land & compass) visual tools i.e. jigsaw (MS1)
 Self locations i.e. draw in surrounding information (MS1)
 Feature recognition i.e. where am I, move outwards in the direction of the feature (MS1)
 Scale i.e. football pitch 100m’s (MS1)
 Route selection, a logical approach to getting from A to B (MS1)
 Standard of features and distance between them 300m’s to 800m’s?to clear and large objects (MS1)
 The 4 D’s as a multi-layer system for teaching students at all levels (MS1)
 Discuss grid lines and rough distance measurement and timing (Naismith, timing card) (MS1)
 Pacing, discuss pacing over different types of terrain i.e. 4/5 slopes, angle of slopes based on the number of contours (MS1)
 Tactics i.e. hand rails, aiming off, attack points (MS 1 & 2)
 Escape routes (MS 1 & 2)

Teaching compass use…
1. On safe ground (use flat terrain) walk 100m’s with eyes closed to a point straight ahead (MS 1&2)
2. Types of bearings i.e. grid and magnetic
3. How to hold and use the parts of a compass and factors that effect the needle (MS1 & 2)
4. Compass as an aid to feature recognition (MS1 & 2)
5. Walking on a bearing i.e. looking out along the line of travel & wiggly waggly (MS 1 & 2)
6. Out and back on a back bearing (MS 1 & 2)
7. Pacing out a square, first 50m X 50m, then 100m X 100m over different slope angles (MS 2)
8. Boxing round an object (MS 2)
9. Line search / sweep search (MS 2)
10. Slope aspect (MS 2)
11. Aspect or feature i.e. spur, river junction, track junction (MS 2)

Night Navigation

 Application of skills used during the day, honed to a higher level (MS2)
 Confirm standard i.e. big features, tops, slope changes, very big re-entrants (MS2)
 Distance between features 300 to 500m’s? to clear and large features (MS2)
 Use of torches i.e. on / off, use to show shape of the land or track or river bend / junction (MS2)
 Discuss escape routes (MS2)
 Discuss general bearing to assist escape when lost i.e. go EAST to a road, hit it anywhere…(MS2)

Other stuff
 MCI’s ‘Good Practice’ guide, toileting on the hill, waste, rubbish
 Leave no Trace & flora, fauna etc
 Mountain Rescue, time frames etc.
 Other mountain users i.e. farmers, forest services, national parks

Day 2

Steeper, broken and varied terrain (this is not Scrambling) and macro navigation

This is another navigational day, which includes travel in broken terrain, so all the previous skills of navigation should be continued, the new skills below should be introduced and developed.

In relation to navigation:-

 Distance recognition of steeper terrain, cliffs, gullies and boulder fields (MS 2)
 Discuss the 3 types of slopes i.e. convex, concave and uniform and how they affect travel in steep and broken terrain (MS 2)
 Discuss the impact on time when traveling on this type of ground (MS 2)
 That this is training if they end up on steeper terrain, when approaching or descending during or at the end of a walk (MS 2)
 Point out the dangers and impact of returning to the venue used, later on with friends or at a later date (MS 2)
 Discuss the wild birds etc which live in these areas (MS 2)
 Set a leg / feature to work towards it during the day (MS 2)

Movement skills & body management:-

 The standard, awareness of dangers, personal movement, useful member of a group
 Discuss injuries or conditions that might affect participation
 Venue selection & the role of the rope
 Good footwear is essential, walking poles & ruc-sack problems
 Discuss and walk using poor foot work
 Discuss edging skills versus toe & heel
 Discuss and walk using poor balance, stance, lean forward etc
 Develop on to good body position & balance (stones on back of hands etc)


Progressive terrain, with-in all clients comfort level, don’t put across a we can go anywhere we want picture, remember the rule of S.E.L (safe, enjoyable & learn something) (MS 2)

Group members leading to predefined points (not navigational legs) (MS 2)
Developing route choice & route finding skills (MS 2)
Pace setting and it’s impact on members of the group (skill level drops) (MS 2)
Discuss group awareness, your limits maybe higher than another group members, be considerate and safe (MS 1 & 2)
Ascend, traverse and descend discussing the differences of each (MS 2)
Discuss rock types and characteristics of each, friction & lack there of (MS 1 & 2)
Discuss judgment / effects of loose rocks and scree(MS 2)

Risk Assessment:-

 Standardize terms such as, ‘likely hood & consequences’ etc.
 Safe size of a step or problem, skill level to read the moves, exit (seen or unseen?)
 Spotting, positioning
 Safe havens
 What is competence on steep ground?

Learn to Via Ferrata by Bren Whelan

A Brave New World! by Bren Whelan

For those who consider themselves too sensible for rockclimbing, there is something else out there, something that will stimulate you, whilst still allowing you to feel alive and in control of your own destiny!

All across Europe and around the world VIA FERRATA are attracting people young and old. So what is this new foreign craze which is gaining such a huge following?

In an effort to help you understand this confusing world of cable, Outsider has gone out and about in foreign parts to investigate.

In the Beginning…
The first Via Ferrata were created by the warring Italian and Austrian armies in the early 19th century. They were built in an effort to increase troop mobility in order to gain maximum tactical advantage in the mountain areas.

Then in 1936 the Italian Alpine Club created the first tourist friendly version in the stunning Dolomite area of the Italian Alps. The Dolomites are generally considered to be the Via Ferrata capital of the mountaineering world.

What’s a Via Ferrata?
Via Ferrata is an Italian phrase meaning “Iron Way”. The Austrians and Germans call them call “Kletterstieg”, but the world over; Via Ferrata is the generally excepted term. They consist of fixed cables, metal rungs, various types of bridges and pig tail pitons! Via Ferrata generally weave a line through what would normally be considered as rock climbing terrain. Cables, metal rugs and some pretty funky bridges are very securely anchored to the mountain. (See picture 1)

Pulling on the cable or standing on the equipment is not considered ‘taboo’ when climbing on a Via Ferrata as it would be when rock climbing. On a Via Ferrata the next massive hand or foot hold is never usually far away!

Who Can Do A Via Ferrata?
Anyone and everyone, as long as you have the right equipment, a good level of fitness and head for heights! There is Via Ferrata to suit both young and old. If you lack experience and equipment, you can hire an instructor or guide who will supply all the essential equipment as well as lead you safely up and down the route.

Are Via Ferrata a Hazard Free Zone?
NO! Definitely not. If you are considering tackling a Via Ferrata you must use specialised equipment. Although you are constantly connected to a cable the points at which that cable is fixed to the mountain might be anywhere from 4 to 10 metres apart. So, if you slip or fall off on a tricky vertical section you will still fall down to the last point where the cable is anchored.

The Essential Kit!
A certified Via Ferrata energy absorbing self belaying system must be used in order to stay safe. This will in the event of a fall help, reduce the ‘impact force’ on the body as it comes to a sudden stop. The system consists of dynamic rope and two ‘cows’ tails’ with a specialised karabiner at each end. These allow the user to leap frog safely over the points where the cable is anchored to the mountain. In between anchor points it’s always best to keep both karabiners connected to the cable (See picture 2). There is also a specialised energy absorbing brake as part of the system, through which the rope is thread. This brake normally has a sling connected to it which should be ‘larks footed’ on to a climbing harness. Adults will often wear a full body harness, children should always wear one.

There are many Via Ferrata systems on the market and companies like Salewa and Petzl have put a lot of time, effort and of course money into developing some of the most efficient kit available. Prices range from €60 to a €100. Always read the instructions on new equipment carefully and if in doubt seek guidance from a suitably qualified instructor or guide.

Don’t do this!
Often climbers will try to improvise by using normal climbing slings or a short piece of climbing rope and two climbing karabiners connected to a climbing harness. This is a dangerous practise, although this system will keep them connected to the cable. In the event of a fall this improvised system will not absorb the energy of a fall, which could lead to horrific high impact injuries.

Other Essential Kit…
A normal climbing helmet is essential when journeying along a Via Ferrata route. Often there will be other parties operating above you, which means there is always the possibility of a rock being dislodged or you just banging your head.

Also essential are finger less gloves (the best kind are ones which provide grip, woolly ones won’t do!) as the continuous use of the cables or metal rugs can be hard work on the hands.

You don’t need any specialised climbing shoes, sturdy shoes or boots are perfect, although you might want to consider the approach and exit from the Via Ferrata. If you finish on a high mountain top boots would be more suitable than runners for the descent.

A small rucksack, a spare fleece, a bottle of water, some food, a small first aid kit and depending on the time of year a head torch can prove very useful! And always bring the guide book with you!

To Rope or not To Rope?
If you feel as though you need security beyond the equipment already mentioned, you can use a rope. In order for a rope to increase a party’s safety on a route, at least one member of the group must be familiar with the skills of knot tying, belaying and the skills that are normally required when leading a rock climb outdoors. If in doubt hire a qualified instructor or guide to take you on the route, or select a route which is well within your experience or capabilities.

The Setting…
Stunning usually describes the setting of most Via Ferrata. Although they started out in the mountain environment they have now spread to cities, towns and ski resorts.

You can Via Ferrata your way up along side the edge of a 100metre waterfall or use one to scale a high altitude summit in the Alps.

The grading of Via Ferrata presents an immense problem. Currently there are a couple of grading systems in use. Always read the guidebook carefully as it will usually explain how the particular system it uses works.

Guide books in English are widely available through outdoor shops or via the internet.

One system which is used is the Alpine Grading system. The system only gives an overall impression of the routes technical difficulty as a whole. The system doesn’t take into account any of the individual crux climbing sections or esoteric features which you may encounter enroute.

At present routes area graded from F to ED, which means:

F = Facile (Easy)
PD = Peu Difficile (Not Very Hard)
AD = Assez Difficile (Fairly Hard)
D = Difficile (Hard)
TD = Tres Difficile (Very Hard)
ED = Extremement Difficile (Extremely Hard!)

Another one which you will also see uses a two tier system. A number from 1 to 5 is used to give over a technical difficulty, followed by either the letter A, B or C to give an overall impression of the seriousness.

Technical Difficultly…
1. Easy
2. Straightforward, but you need a head for heights
3. Difficult and not intended for a novice
4. Demanding, the route involves the ascent of steep rock faces
5. A route of the highest technical standard, only for the most experienced user

A. Straightforward outing in unthreatening mountain terrain
B. Routes which require a degree of mountaineering experience
C. Routes only for the experienced mountaineer

So if you are a complete novice, you would select a route from the guidebook graded either Graded Facile or Grade 1 A for maximum pleasure.

A good guide book will also help over the come problem of trying to interpret the grading system, by the use of pictograms to highlight individual difficulties on the route.

Be safe. If in doubt hire an instructor or guide and use only certified Via Ferrata equipment.

Safe Rope work for Rock Climbing by Bren Whelan

Learning the ropes by Bren Whelan

The vertical world can present many new challenges to the unfamiliar, so in an effort to reduce at least some of those troublesome tangles. Outsider is starting a new rope work series that will examine the techniques of single and multi-pitch rock climbing. They are aimed at those of you who think that you need a magic flute in order to replicate the type of belays, which experienced climbers appear to pull off with such apparent ease. Over the next number of issues we intend to look at safe rope work, from the basics right through to improvised rescue systems.

Let’s start by looking at what you need to know when purchasing a new rope. Basically you have two different rope types, DYNAMIC (for climbing) and STATIC (used for abseiling, rigging etc). Under the title of Dynamic rope, there are a number of different rope styles. Each one has different performance related characteristics. Purchasing a second hand or nearly new rope is not recommended, due to the fact that the ropes history cannot be guaranteed. The following points are worth considering when purchasing a new rope from a recognised retailer.

Dynamic Ropes

Single Rope: A rope that is independently suitable for lead climbing. A length of 50metres is the standard, but it might be worth purchasing a rope of 55m or even 60m. This extra length will give you more options when setting up a belay at the end of a longer pitch. If you are concerned about the increased weight, diameters are now as low as 9.0mm. However, these ropes do have a lower fall rating. E.g. Mammut Revelation 9.0mm 54g Falls 5-6.

Half Rope: One half of a pair. These must be used in conjunction with at least another half rope in order to be suitable for lead climbing. They help increase the usefulness of either good or dubious protection; they also help reduce the amount of rope drag on a lead climber. Each rope is clipped individually into an alternative piece of protection. Great for climbing technical single or multi-pitch routes, but they tend to be harder to manage than a single rope. Always purchase two completely different coloured ropes to help avoid confusion!

Twin Rope: Rapidly becoming obsolete, due to the reduction in the diameter of modern half ropes. They must be used like a Single rope; both ropes must be clipped into the same piece of protection. They are more suited to ice or alpine climbing.


Labels: There are two possible standards that are shown on rope labels. Manufactures make ropes to the European standard (European Norms EN 892) and some also use the older UIAA standard.

Diameter and Weight: A rope with a larger diameter generally has a longer active life, but on certain routes this extra weight can be a problem. If you’re local area is roadside and you enjoy low-grade classic climbs, then a fat 10.5mm rope will be fine. But if you’re into climbing challenging multi-pitch test pieces, then a Single 60m, 9.0mm or a set of lightweight half ropes might be more suitable. It’s worth comparing other ropes of a similar diameter, as you can often get a lighter rope from another manufacturer. E.g. Beal Stinger 3, 9.4mm 57g

Impact Force: The force transmitted to a climber at the moment the fall is arrested. Choose a rope with a LOW IMPACT FORCE for reduced stress on the safety chain.

Number of Falls: Purchase a rope which holds the highest possible number of falls, at present this is up to 12.

Number of Bobbins: The ropes sheath is the visible part; it encircles and protects the ropes core. It is formed by a group of filaments: each woven from a bobbin. For an equal diameter, a larger number of bobbins will give better dynamic characteristics, and a smaller number will give better abrasion resistance.

Sheath Slippage: The core and the sheath of the rope are two independent components, which have a tendency, if the construction is not carefully matched, to dislocate and slide against each other. The sheath deforms and little by little under the effect of the belay device it bunches, creating a slack zone around the core and bulge points, creating a shock effect, this results in more rapid wear. Choose a rope with low sheath slippage or better still 0%, to avoid jamming.

Dry Treatment: A wet rope is unpleasant to handle and is prone to freezing. Various chemical and physical treatments exist to reduce the amount of moisture absorbed. Dry treatment helps increase the life of a rope by reducing the amount of dirt that enters into the weave, but the dry treatment does wear off after prolonged use. Great if you like winter or alpine climbing or even if you have a penchant for climbing in the rain!

Managing the ropes…

Good rope management is essential for safe and enjoyable climbing. All too often it seems as if the rope has a mind of its own! You need to take control of that multi coloured monster from the word go!

Uncoiling the monster…
When you uncoil the rope make a nice neat pile, with the bottom and top end clearly separated from the main pile. The top end is for the Leader and the bottom end for the Second, don’t mix them up! By using a rope bag at the bottom of a route, you can protect the rope from dirt and grit. This can help extend the life of your rope. You might want to consider marking one end of the rope a different colour. This will allow you to alternate which end of the rope you tie into for leading, and will allow for a systematic amount of wear on each end of the rope.

Tying on (a good foundation for the future)…

Both climbers should always tie in to their respective ends of rope, especially when one is intent on leading a climb. When you tie in, thread the rope through your harness as per the manufactures instructions. By tying in with the rope, you create what is known as the “Central Loop”. This is a dynamic rope loop, which can have many karabiners clipped into it. These might be coming from either a belay device or from multiple anchor points. By attaching via the “Central Loop” you can make life easier and safer for yourself, should either the leader or the second get into difficulty. This is a safer practise than the one of belaying off the “Abseil Loop” on your harness. The “Abseil Loop” is made from webbing, which doesn’t absorb dynamic forces. This loop is designed for static loads, such as the ones that are created in an Abseiling or Bottom Roping situation. A rethreaded figure of eight knot or a double bowline (with a stopper knot), are the most appropriate knots for tying in with. When tied, the “Central Loop” should only be fist sized!

Never allow yourself to become distracted whilst you are either putting on your harness or tying in. I have witnessed a number of incidents where leaders have lead crux pitches with buckles undone, knots unfinished or tied incorrectly. Not a desirable situation in such an unforgiving vertical world!

Bren Whelan is a member of the
Association of Mountaineering Instructors (AMI)
and holds the Mountain Instructors Certificate(MIC).