New Website, New Look, New Year!

New Look for Snowdonia Mountain Guides 2013

Well first off, a belated Happy Christmas and I hope you have a great evening. Personally I am hoping for a drier year ahead and some great cragging beyond that I don’t care.

I was thinking for a while my Snowdonia Mountain Guides website is a little old and that I’d like to re-brand it inline with iCoach Climbing. Hopefully, you like the new look, it was a happy workaholic christmas for me putting it all together. Hopefully managed to SEO the site and make my courses more discoverable by google at the same time.

Anyway, hope to see you all in the new year.

Why I think we should ban Large Charity Expeditions

I have of course slated charity expeditions in the past, most notably is of course Bear Grylls when he broke every rule in the book when it comes to an expedition in Antartica and then of course his collar bone. The resultant insurance bill cost the BMC aorund £200000 in lost profits from their insurance scheme. More notably his planned £1 Million fundraiser, that amounted to a little over £20000 most of which was donated by the sponsors a venture capitalist company. I guess the venture wasn’t that good for them.

The reason that I am bringing this up now is the news that Ranulph Fiennes is embarking on a ‘charity’ expedition to cross the south pole in winter. When I first heard this I was suitably impressed, however I then learnt he was taking a bulldozer, and towing two houses and several fuel sleds. So in essence he is going on an elaborate caravaning holiday with a large team of people. I might suggest the most useful person on the team will be the mechanic.

Even driving to a pole is not new, Top Gear did it years ago, across a frozen sea in a pick up truck. So if two celebs can drive to the north pole, how hard will it be for the great ranulph fiennes to make it across the south pole. Remember though, Scott took a tracked vehicle to the south pole over 100 years ago and look at the good it did him and his team. They were not only beaten to the pole by Amundsen, who hadn’t set off till after Scott’s team arrived in Antartic but he also made it back safely.

So whilst on the one hand I see this expedition as an ultimate folly, I am interested to find out who is financially backing his expedition. In total there are 12 partners organisation, with some big names, who I won’t mention. But one is a big parmacutical, another a software company plus a one I’ll mention later. But it doesn’t end there in total there are over another 180 sponsors, Its no wonder he needs to tow two houses, as how else is he going to fit all those logos on.

In contrast to this farce, Leo Houlding has small expedition down their to climb a very very remote big wall. His sponsors logos can probably fit on one side of one of the tents he is in as I type. Although he is their in the summer, none the less I respect his efforts more than Fiennes’. Leo hasn’t dressed his exped up as a charity event, as he is under no illusion. He is down there because he wants to be there, it is billed as the Last Great Climb, one that he showed me the pictures of some 15 years ago. A dream he has had and built towards ever since. Whereas if you believe Andy Kirkpatrick it was just a crazy idea he shared with someone as a joke.

So is ranulph kidding himself by dressing up his extreme sunday drive as a charity expedition. He aims to raise $10 million for Seeing is Believing. Although even that seems to vary when you visit the donation site it says only $5 million. So far they have raised nearly $12000, with a few big donations, which if you take the name add the main backers name (Standard Charter) to a google search, then you find they are big names in this company.

If you don’t know anything about standard charter then I bring to your attention the article that one of those big givers name brings up in Google. Which is from the Mail Online (I do apologise for linking to the Mail) that highlights how Standard Charter shares plummeted 16% ($6 billion loss) when claims were made that the bank, Standard Charter was laundering money for Iran and Hezbollah.

My point with these type of expeditions, are that if you want to raise money for charity, then donate it to the charity. I suspect the expedition will cost somewhere in the region of $1 million, given all the equipment they are taking by boat to the area. Better still you could do what american climber Timmy O’Neil has be doing recently and actually helping out at a eye clinic in a developing country and giving poor people back their sight. Or like a friends son, actually going to Congo Republic and help set up pop up clinics in a war zone.

I hope Fiennes does raise at least $5 million, i suspect they won’t raise enough to effectively cover the actual cost of the expedition and instead Standard Charter are using him to develop some better PR than funding terrorist by involving a former great explorer. Now I don’t want to sound agist but Ranulph is 68 years old and I cannot help feeling that this is a great man trying to hang onto the former great days. I guess I can but hope I grow old that disgracefully. The expedition does require two skiers to scan the ground ahead with radar for crevasses, I am woindering just how many stints he’ll do. Or whether he is just their to be a great british face when they turn on the satelite uplink and give us daily reports as to how fast there caravan is travelling. Allowing us to be grateful of at least one thing, that he took the caravan to Antartica and didn’t clog up our roads.

I guess there is no real conclusion as I have just pulled off a rather random rant. Although I would like people to admite that if you are going on expedition be honest, you aren’t doing it to raise money for charity you are doing it because you want to and there is no harm in being a little selfish from time to time. If you are going to raise money for Charity do something that you don’t want to do, run a marathon, eat spiders or take a bath a baked beans. Don’t spend hundreds of thousands of pounds to polish your ego and then raise less than you spent in an attempt to make you and your sponsors feel good about it. Maybe that should be the criteria for a charity expedition, you can only call it a charity expedition if you spend less on the expedition than you are likely to raise online.

Bad Science for Good Marketing?

I am not sure what or why Lyon have posted this video online other than to try and show that they did some rather complex experiment for no real significant outcome. At the end they claim the La Sportiva Batura 2.0 offers the best value for lightness, breathability, durability and insulation.

The video goes onto the 250000 data points they took, all the scientific measurements they made. Yet it failed to say what they tested these boots against. There is no sign of another make or model of boots in this test. So regardless of great measures, i my mind unless you have either a control group or a other models to test your own against you have essentially dressed up in science an experiment with no real results whatsoever.

So have La Sportiva dressed up a pointless experiment to look like a good marketing ploy? I think they probably have unless they can show that they tested their boots against another.

It is like the claims that lucozade makes you last 33% longer, if you ever follow the links suggested on the side of the bottle. If you are sad like me then you will have. The research doesn’t actually use lucozade. Instead its says that sweet favoured drinks make you go 33% longer, and the results suggest that it is not neccessarily the sweetness or the calories, instead it is simple people drank more of the favoured water and just water.

Crazy isn’t it. If Lyon or La Sportiva read this and want to put me right I will edit this post. If they can show me how they tested their product against other brands in particular. Sadly the video was of a over complex research by someone who probably knows they proved nothing, but by giving lots of scientific techno babble and of course a nice graph at the end they reached their own conclusions.

Anyway, if you watch the video and look here you can win a two day holiday with Andy Turner winter climbing.

20% off Blizzard Survival Bags

The Blizzard Susvival Bag

Many years ago I used to work in the factory at Blizzard Survival Systems, suffice to say it was not my true calling. However I still maintain a nice link to the owner and developer Derek Rydan who I did blog post on a few months or even years back now.

Recently I was asked if I would like to provide my readership with a fantastic offer of a 20% reduction in retail value of the Blizzard bag which normally sells at £29.21 in retail stores. Instead you can get it for £19.47 (ex VAT) or around £23.50 inc. VAT.

One question you may ask is why spend so much on a survival bag when you can get a orange plastic bag for a couple of quid. The answer to me is simple, I want the best ‘survival’ chances out there and as such I want the best solution for what is essentially an emergency piece of equipment.

With the winter season now upon us ask yourself give hte option of sitting a night out in a plastic bag or the equivalent of a 2 season waterproof sleeping bag what would you choose?

To redeem this offer you need to visit the blizzard website and purchase a Blizzard Survival bag from their online store, sorry but this offer is not valid on other products. Once in the store you’ll get the oppotunity to enter a promotional code which is icoach123.

I have had my Blizzard bag for several seasons now and it lives in the bottom of my rucksac next to my first aid kit. Whether you are an outdoor professional or a just an enthusiast I cannot recommend these emergency sleeping bags highly enough, they come packed down to the size of an old VHS tape yet expand to be a two season sleeping bag. This piece of equipment could well save your life or the life of an injured climber or hillwalker this winter. The design won the Queen’s Award for innovation back in 2009

Unexpectedly Wintery

Since last weeks mini blast out in the white stuff, I have mainly been hitting the lemsip as I seem to have developed a cold. The met office have been promising freezing levels above the summit and heavy rain has stripped most of the snow. So I headed out today with Brendan to walk up Snowdon. From the Bangor road the mountain looked like there was still some snow up there but not too much.

Looking for more guidance I went onto the metoffice website and looked at the ground conditions that the National Park contribute to the mountain forecast. Which again said there was no adverse conditions on the mountain. How wrong were they, I suspect they have either not bothered to update the site and it has instead got a default setting, or they posted factually wrong information.

I would have loved to have crampons and my main ice axe today in these conditions. Instead I had a ski mountaineering axe and a pair of good all-round boots the Scarpa Chamois. As such I was kicking and cutting steps for my client up the zig-zags in soft snow warmed by the sun. On the ridge to the summit the snow was still frozen bullet hard and step cutting and boulder hoping continued. I suspect the the main gullies on the trinity face were in good nick today and will be tomorrow as the temperature has dropped this evening.

I guess we all make bad calls, but as you can see from the met office screen grab, the conditons were not meant to be like this. You live and you learn.

Anyway we made good time, and so headed up Y Gribau and along Lliwedd to finish the day off. So we had a rather great day out in the sun, snow and ice. I’ll put some photos from the day up on my snowdonia mountain guides facebook page.


Apple Maps + North Wales Rock App = One Great Christmas Present

I updated to iOS 6 when it initially cmae out and was like many people appalled with what I saw in terms of quality. Especially in North Wales. The app I had worked so hard to make along with steve golley at theSend was really badly effected with bad mapping. We had been thinking about a workaround or getting the OS (Ordinance Survey) mapping for the area to replace it.

The problem was it seemed that Apple had forgetten to link the hires images of some of area covered by the guuide, inparticualr snowdon and parts of teh cost seemed to suffer from really poor resolution. I have been checking as regularly as I could, but without any climbign weather I had not looked at the maps for around an month. So I was really happy to see today that the mapping gliches apple had are being sorted out.

For me that is of course not a moment too soon, as I am hoping to make another update in the spring and of course I am hoping that any of the good boys and girls out there who get a smartphone for christmas might want to buy the app ready for the new year.

Anyway, the app is available in the App Store or google play via the links in the sidebar. There are also a growing number of both free and paid guide that are being developed over on theSends platform. Hopefully it will be a bumper year for releases.

Eric Jones: 75 Not Out

Everytime I go to Tremadog I love calling in for coffee, Eric doesn’t know me from Adam, other than I am there a lot teaching and climbing. He is a legend. So for any young climber who stops at Tremadog and wonders who that man who often serves there with a smile is then this is a video of the edited highights of his amazing career in adventure.

RIP: Maurice Herzog one of my inspiratrions

As anyone who reads this blog will know, my writing when done in such short quick burst is appalling. I was as a teenager something of a non-reader, no books ever inspired me to pick up a book and read it cover to cover. I was going to fail GCSE English and so my parents decided to get my neighbour a retired school teacher to tutor me. He essentially tried to teach me to write properly and found several books that I still have to this day.

One was ‘We Die Alone‘ a true story that makes touching the void look like your average walk in the park. Another was Annapura by Maurice Herzog, I wasn’t even a climber back then but there was something about it that instantly capture my teenage imagination. It is one of my favourite quotes from any books I have read and it happens to be a preface to his book about the expedition. It has been years since I read it but his passing away means I may try and dig out the copy I have for a walk down memory lane.

The quote is:

“In overstepping our limitation, in touching the extreme boundaries of man’s world, we have come to know something of its true splendor. In my worse moments of anguish, I seemed to discover the deep significance of existence of which till then I had been unaware. I saw it was better to be true than to be strong. The mark’s of the ordeal are apparent on my body. I was saved and I have won my freedom. This freedom, which I shall never lose, has given me the assurance and serenity of a man who has fulfilled himself. It has given me a rare joy of loving that which I used to despise. A new splendid life has opened out before me.”

I will of course never be able to match a man like this in words or deeds, but the joy of reading and exploring the world through literature is something that I, in part owe to him. I do get a joy from my writing and I hope as I draw ever closer to finishing my first non-fiction book of all words and no pictures that some of you out there enjoy those words as well.

If you have not ever read Annapura, then maybe it is time that you did.

A friend of mine Ed Douglas has written a obituary on Maurice Herzog for the Guardian on him. You can follow Ed on twitter @calmandfearless

It’s Not the Knot or…

Guns don’t kill people, rappers do, I seen it in a documentary on BBC2!

What I am referring to is the explosion on the interweb about bowlines and its not the knot but the person who tied it. The news broke a few days ago and having a few climbing friends stateside I tried to ignore threads amounting on Facebook until the real detail came out. So yes a well known highly experience climber had a bowline fail, although by all accounts John admits to having had a small break in concentration that maybe means he didn’t finish the knot. John Long was on the first team to climb the Nose in a day in 1975 the year I was born. His book How to Big Wall Climb was responsible for me getting into big wall adventures. He is a hero, who after many years climbing made one mistake, a big one.

However there has been loads of stuff in forums about how bad the Bowline is and although it not linked to the incident as it predates this event one blogger for Rock and Ice named the bowline as “the instrument of death”, after the latest annual volume of Accident in North American Moutnaineering was published. As well as this sound bite that is currently doing the rounds he also points out quite rightly that in essence you could probably take the covers off the last edition and put it on the new one as climber and mountaineers seem to make the same mistakes over and over.

This is reflected in the death of a 73 year old climber in the UK in November 2011, the cause of which was a bowline that was either not finished properly or mysteriously undid itself?

My point is one that Mick Ryan has tried to drum into the thread over on UKC about climbers are not infalible. Human error is involved with many climbing accidents, none more so than those involving a bowline or any other knot you choose to tie in with.

I have seen arguments that the bowline is too complicated, but it can be tied in one motion unlike the rethreaded figure of 8. I contest the second part, yes you can tie the first bit of a bowline in one, but you then need to add the stopper knot. Incidentally I teach a figure of 8 with a stopper knot, as a kind of belts and braces approach, although if someone already climbs I don’t tell my students to not use a bowline, I just check they tie it right.

What we need with all knots is to check them and then turn to what has helped keep many divers alive and have our buddy check it. You face one of two consequences dying of embarassment because your a big bad ass climber who is too cool for skool has to show their knot to their belayer for checking or potentially actually die or have horrendous injuries as you go the length of an indoor wall or outdoor crag.

I know what I’d prefer, and it is something that as an instructor and coach I shall continue to drive home to my clients. Perferably from the very first moment someone climbs so it becomes second nature.

However I think it is also important to bring up that annual report into Accident in North American Mountaineering. I have read a few copies and yes they are all very similar and as the blogger noted no one ever seems to learn, or they forget momentarily. There are no such statistic for the UK, neither in my professional life, although I do work at centres where it is common and encouraged to report near misses or in the wider world of recreational climbing. The wider sporting side is partially due to the seperation between the BMC and the individual Mountain Rescue Team and a seemingly unwillingness to admit that at times we all make mistakes and of course avoid a blame culture. The only time the BMC seems to get involved is with suspected equipment failure, which again is usually down to misuse and abuse by the user.

I feel it is a shame and that an anonymous report system doesn’t operate in the UK, or there is no way to highlight common rock climbing accidents in the UK. Maybe that’s another book for me to write as my time on a rescue team I have came across many silly mistakes that lead to dire consequences?!

Anyway in the US there is no free medical cover as such it is common for climbers to set up places to donate to climbers who have had injuries whilst climbing. If you’d like to give some support to John either buy one of his many books or by donating money to help him pay for his treatment.

Ladies Gully

Well after doing a few easy gullies around Clogwyn Ddu on tuesday, I teamed back up with Dave to climb Ladiers Gully on the Trinity Face on Snowdon. I have over the years soloed nearly all of the grade I/II on the face, but never been bothered to drag a rack all the way upi there.

So with Dave, I did just that and we finally got to the racking up spot at the same time that all the locals who are constrained with the School Run. It was like a busy evening in the Beacon with lots of familiar faces all getting ready for some pleasant gully action on approaching perfect hero neve.

Dave climbed the first wee pitch about grade II to reach the base of the main event in our gully. I then had the joy of climbing this most amazing gully with great neve and some rock for protection. After I lead the pitch we were passed by Tom Ripley on a soloing mission. Before topping out.

As I was walking out I started to feel, pretty tired and larthargic, to the extent that I needed about ten minutes sat in the car before I could drive home. Once there I totally crumbled and appeared to have come down with some form of bug. Which was gutting because today I had eyes on Y Gully Left hand on Clogwyn Ddu, as I had never seen so much ice in it on Tuesday.

With meltdown about to happen tomorrow, I gues I will have to wait another 10 years for it to form as well as it had. Hopefully a few people went up there today to reap the rewards. A couple of friends did it yesterday and it sounded awesome, as most of the ice routes up there were in condition.

As for me its bed time again.