NAVIGATION MADE EASY 2: FEATURES

 

 

NAVIGATION MADE EASY 2: RECOGNISING FEATURES ON A MAP

 

The last blog in this series dealt with grid references as an effective and safe way of  navigating from point to point. It stressed the importance of being able to read a map, identify potential hazards, and plot a safe route accordingly.  This blog looks at features as an essential part of  route planning.

The first part –Identifying Features looks at how features are represented on a map. The second part – Navigating using features –looks at we use features to plan a route and navigate “on the run.”

 

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The blog will look at features in and around Loch a’ Duin, an area that is used regularly by members of Tralee Mountaineering Club (TMC) to practice navigation skills.

 

WHAT DO WE MEAN BY A “FEATURE”?

A feature is a distinctive detail in a landscape that can be easily identified on a map and given a grid reference (plotted). Some features are easy to spot on the the Ordnance Survey Ireland (OSI ) 1:50,000 maps because they are represented by a combination of symbols and colours –  a trail (—), a wall (––), a river  (––), elevated ground or spot height (•73),  a summit (brown circle, spot height, and name where relevant), Special features like archaeological sites () are also marked. Some maps (Harvey) have symbols for crags, cliffs, boulders, scree, and other features.

The full list of symbols is given at the bottom of the 1:50,000 map and it is important to be familiar with the key features that are used for navigation in the mountain – tracks and trails, walls, rivers/streams, lakes, spot heights, and summits and so on.

 

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This is the easy bit.

Most features in the mountains are described by contour lines on a map. Contour lines are the continuous lines that represent changes in height in the landscape. Being able to read and interpret contour lines is an essential part of safe navigation.

 

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Contours-and-relief (1)
Source: OS Great Britain
Topographic Maps
Source: Topographic Maps YouTube

 

The section of map above shows contours as they appear on OSI Map 70. The diagram below it shows how contours represent changes in the height and profile of mountains. The third image is a useful representation of the relation between contours and the landscape. Map reading involves using changes in height and profile on the map to identify features in the mountains and vice versa.

This video by Steve Blackhall of the Ordnance Survey office in Great Britain is a good introduction to the contours, just be aware that the maps used in the video are British maps.

 

 

 


 

NAVIGATING WITH CONTOURS PART 1: IDENTIFYING FEATURES

 

Navigating with contours involves thinking about the relation between contours and characteristic features in mountain landscapes. There are two aspects to this, knowing where you are and  avoiding hazards. The first has to do with being able to read a map  and the second has to do with planning and following a safe route (navigating).

Lets look at the first part –  using contours to identify features. To begin, how do you know whether you are

  • at sea level or on top of a mountain?
  • on level ground or a steep slope?
  • on the top of a hill or in the bottom of a hollow?
  • in a valley or on a spur?

The answers are fairly obvious: Just look around you.  What if

  1.  you are planning a recce and need to plot a route through unfamiliar terrain?
  2. you are in the mountains and the weather has changed, leaving you with little or no visibility?

Take the following scenario. You are heading into to Loch An Duin from Kilmore Cross (Q52294 08919), intending to climb to An Starraicín (Q52769 06407) at a height of 456 metres (see map below). Visibility is less than 20m and you have to navigate by map. You have reached the edge of a lake but the map shows two lakes, one on either side of  An Starraicín.

 

How do you know whether you have reached Loch an Dúin or Loch Chom Calláin?

 

Loch A Duin Contours

 

Loch an Dúin is approached along ground that lies between the the 100m and 120m contours, rising 20 metres over a distance of one kilometre approx. The contour formed by the edge of the lake is given as 116 metres; the height of every lake is indicated by the blue coloured number on the “surface” of the lake. To reach the lake you will climb 1m in height for every 50m in horizontal distance travelled,  a gradient of 1:50.

Loch Chom Calláin is approached along ground that rises from 100 metres to 230 metres over a distance of 1.3 kilometres approx. The contour formed by the edge of the lake is given as 231 metres. The key feature here is middle section of the route. The contours between 130 metres and 230 metres are closer and more or less evenly spaced over a distance of 600m approximately. This means that you will be climbing 1 metre in height for every 6 metres in distance travelled, a gradient of 1:6. This is a very different profile to the approach to Loch An Duin.

 

The question now is this:

Did you approach the lake by travelling along relatively flat ground or by climbing a moderately steep slope?

 

This scenario demonstrates how you can use information provided by contours to identify features and confirm your location. This is a fundamental part of navigation. Certain features have characteristic contour profiles that make them easy to identify,   incorporate into route planning, or use when navigating “on the run.”

 

Here are some examples:

 

Features

 

 

Here are some standard descriptions of each of the features shown above. All the features are on routes used regularly by members of Tralee Mountaineering Club (TMC). 

 

Summit / Peak

This is the top of the mountain. It is a point on a surface that is higher in elevation than all points immediately adjacent to it. It is usually marked with a brown circle, a spot height, and sometimes, a name – not all spot heights are summits and not all summits have names, Unnamed summits are usually referred to by the number (elevation) given as the spot height.

Ridge

a continuous elevated crest running for some distance between summits. The sides of the ridge drop away from a narrow top.

Spur

Ground that runs down from a hill to lower ground. A spur is an erosional feature that usually forms the side of a valley. Spurs provide access to and escape from the high ground for mountaineers.

An aréte is a narrow rocky spur which separates two valleys. It is typically formed when two glaciers erode parallel U-shaped valleys.

Cliff

A vertical, or nearly vertical, rock exposure. Cliffs are a real hazard but can be very useful as a “handrail,” a feature that you can follow, at a safe distance from the edge of course.

Col

The lowest point of a ridge or saddle between two peaks, typically providing a pass from one side of a mountain range to another.

Slope

This is the side of the mountain, running from the summit to the foot. Slopes can be convex or concave.

 

A convex slope is rounded like the outside of an upturned bowl, i.e. it goes from less steep at the top to more steep at the bottom; the space between contours gets narrower as the elevation reduces.

A concave slope is rounded inward like the inside of a bowl, i.e. it goes from more steep at the top to less steep at the bottom; the space between contours gets wider as as the elevation reduces.

Re-entrant

a small valley like formation formed by parallel spurs. The low ground between the spurs is sometimes called a draw and is usually associated with drainage or a rivers/stream.

Gully

gully is a long narrow valley with steep sides.

 

 

CONCLUSION

There are two types of features that can be used to navigate in the mountains. The first type is marked on the map using a combination of symbols, colours, and numbers and includes tracks/trails, rivers/streams, spot heights etc. The second type consist of formations that are characteristic to mountain landscapes and include summits, ridges, spurs, cols and so on. These features are described by changes in height and profile (shape) that are represented on the map by contour lines.

 

 

THE NEXT BLOG IN THIS SERIES LOOKS AT NAVIGATION USING FEATURES (JUNE)

 

PREVIOUS BLOGS IN THE SERIES:

 

NAVIGATION MADE EASY : WEB RESOURCES

 

NAVIGATION MADE EASY: GRID REFERENCES

 

 

END

 

 

 

 

 

NAVIGATION MADE EASY 1: GRID REFERENCES

 

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Catherine McMullin, Dáithí Ó Conaill, and Monica Dillane of TMC investigating a megalithic tomb in Loch a’Duin.

 

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The above photo shows members of Tralee Mountaineering Club (TMC) examining a megalithic tomb in Loch a’Duin on the Dingle Peninsula. The tomb was placed in the valley using an ancient navigational system that was, apparently, centred on the Spring Equinox.

It is located on a small plateau east of An Scoraid river, about 900 metres southeast of the Kilmore junction on the Conor Pass road. The location is marked by a red dot on the 1:50,000 Ordnance Survey map; red dots signify the location of archaeological features in the landscape.

 

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There is a more precise way of describing the location of the tomb. View Ranger gives its position as Q 52763 08134. This is called a grid reference, which is  an alpha-numerical set of geographic co-ordinates that is used to locate a feature on a map. Grid references are the basic unit of a navigational system that divides the country into twenty 100 X 100 kilometre zones. This is called the National Grid

Loch a’Duin is located in Q, one of two squares in the National Grid that cover the Southwest. This is the first element of every grid reference. It is followed by two set of numbers. The first is called the Easting (52763). The second is called the Northing (08134). These allow the navigator to zoom in on each zone, pinpoint the location of a feature on the map, and navigate towards it with confidence.

 

THE GRID

 

UTM and National Grid

 

This diagram shows the national grids of Ireland and Great Britain superimposed on a global grid, which is known as the Universal Transverse Mercator or UTM for short. It is named after Gerardus Mercator, a Flemish map maker who invented a system of world wide navigation in 1569.   The UTM was adapted to provide an agreed system of  geographical co-ordinates that could be used in global positioning systems ( GPS) like View Ranger.

The Ordnance Survey offices of Ireland and Northern Ireland adopted a modified version of the UTM in 2001. This was done to increase the accuracy of GPS measurements by minimising distortions in mapping across the island as a whole.  This is called the Irish Transverse Mercator (ITM) or, simply, the Irish Grid

The Irish Grid provides the organisational and geographical basis for navigation in Ireland but mountaineers usually use 1:50,000 maps. The ground covered by these maps is not the same as the area in each zone of the grid; each zone contains more than one map and many maps extend beyond the boundaries of individual zones.

 

Grid100km & Q
The Irish Grid (left) and a section of the grid superimposed on the corresponding 1:50,000 maps issued by Ordnance Survey Ireland (right).

 

Loch A’duin is positioned on Map 70 in zone Q of the national grid. Iveragh is located in zone V, the dividing line running along the southern shore of the Dingle Peninsula. Grid references for Iveragh – maps 78 and 83 – begin with the letter V. The zone is clearly identified on each map and the boundary between zones is clearly shown.

 

 

THE MAP

 

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Each map in the 1:50,000 series uses a grid made up of 30 by 40 squares measuring 2cm and representing one kilometer on the ground. Each square is defined by a vertical and horizontal blue line. The vertical lines are called Eastings and the horizontal lines are called Northings.

Eastings measure distance from west to east. The line dividing East and West is called the prime meridian.  This was  agreed in 1884 as the line of longitude running through the Greenwich Observatory, near London.  Anyone who has visited the Observatory will recall a metal strip in the ground that marks 0º Longitude; the line dividing East and West and the first of the Eastings. The prime meridian used in GPS is approximately 102 metres East of this line. This will read as 0º on satellite based systems.

 

Meridian
An aerial view of the Greenwich Observatory. The dotted white line represents 0º Longitude and the solid white line represents the line that divides East and West in modern global positioning systems. Source Why the Greenwich meridian moved.

 

Northings measure travel northwards from the equator.

 

Every Easting and Northing on a 1;50,000 map has a value between 00 and 99. On Map 70 the Eastings run from 20 to 60 while the Northings run from 88 to 99 and 00 to 18. Grid references contain two sets of numbers (co-ordinates) that define the position of a feature on a map in relation to Eastings and Northings, the Easting are always given first.

Q 52763  08134 is given as the grid reference for the tomb in Loch a’Duin.  52 refers to the Easting and 08 refers to the Northing.  These define a one kilometre square, which is read from the right (East) of the Easting and above (North) of the Northing. The point where these lines intersect –the bottom, left-hand corner – is called the origin and all travel eastwards and northwards within the square is measured from this point.

 

Easting Northing
The square formed by Easting 52 and Northing 08. Q 52000  08000 is the grid reference for the  origin, the point where the two lines intersect..

 

There is a problem with a grid reference that merely identifies a square on the map. It presents you with a square kilometre of ground to search for a feature that may only be three or four metres in size. The solution is simple. Each square is divided into a grid made up of 100m units. These are numbered 0-9 and are represented by the third number in the Easting and Northing component of a grid reference –  Q 52763  08134. This grid reference puts the position of the tomb in a 100m square that is 700m east of  line 52 and 100 metres north of line 08 on the map.

 

Grid 2&4

 

This still leaves us with a large area of featureless terrain to search but the last two digits of grid reference Q52763  08134 tell us that we have to walk 63m eastwards and 34m northwards from the origin of this square to locate the tomb. This coincides with the red dot that marks the location of an archaeological feature that is identified as a Tuama Meigiliteach.

 

CONCLUSION

Grid references are an essential part of your navigational skillset. They enable you to locate your position on a map, pinpoint features in the landscape, and navigate safely from feature to feature.

 

PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT

Grid 4

 

Use this system to generate grid references for the following features:

  1. The Gallán (Standing Stone) north of the tomb.
  2. The point at the edge of the forestry where a stream enters An Scoraid.
  3. Spot height 73.
  4. The start of the track leading into Loch a’Duin, from the Conor Pass road.
  5. The point where the track crosses the 100m contour.
  6. The point where the track meets An Scoraid.
  7. The point where An Scoraid crosses the 100m contour.

Handy hint:

You can use the 1:50,000 scale an your compass (Silva Expedition) to quickly and accurately establish a grid reference. Here’s how:

 

Romer IMG_8481

Q 52763 08134

Q (NATIONAL GRID) 52 (EASTING) 7.63 (100M GRID)  08 (NORTHING) 1.34 (100M GRID)

 

Here is another type of navigational problem.

There is another  way of navigating to the location of the tomb. Open View Ranger, place the red dot marking the position of the tomb at the centre of the crosshairs and mark with a Point of Interest (POI). Then activate the Navigate To function. View ranger will present you with an onscreen,  point-to-point route to your objective and will guide you along it in real time. Simple!

Here is the problem.

An Scoraid river lies between the track into the valley and the tomb. To reach the tomb by this route you will have to cross the river. River crossings are one of the most dangerous aspects of mountaineering.

Find the spot where the track is closest to the tomb and read the course of the river in relation to the contour lines. The river is flowing through a fairly narrow  re-entrant. Would you consider crossing the river at this point?

Have a look at the flat area north of this, where the river drops from the 100m contour to the 90m contour over a distance of approximately 200m. Does this look like a better option? Remember a 10m drop is equivalent to the combined height of 5 very tall people.

The river is a very dangerous feature between you and your objective, the tomb. You need to navigate to a safe river crossing first, then from the river to the tomb. If you can’t identify a potentially safe crossing, don’t go to the tomb by this route.

The point is this; grid references allow you to pinpoint the position of a feature but you still need to (1) understand the nature of the terrain in which that feature is located and (2) be capable of assessing the risks and the opportunities presented by it. That is where skilled map reading contributes to safe navigation.

 

Previous: Navigation Made Easy: WEB RESOURCES

Next: Navigation Made Easy: FEATURES (May 2018)

 

End.

 

 

Italia 2018: TMC is taking part in Mountaineering Ireland’s Alpine Meet

 

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Gerry O’Sullivan taking part in Mountaineering Ireland’s Summer Alpine Meet in 2017. Gerry and Nuala Finn will be leading the TMC team taking place in the 2018 meet.

 

TMC IN ITALY 

TMC members have been climbing in Italy for years. The Dolomites was a favourite spot for some members while Edolo was the base for four expeditions to the Adamello-Presanella Alps and adjacent areas like Val Camonica. One of the highlights was an ascent of the Pizzo Badile by a combined group (Level 2 and Level 3) of club members.

 

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Pizzo Badile Camuno, Val Camonica.

 

Another highlight was the ice-climbing workshop in Valbione in 2009, in which all sections of the club were represented. This is a short video made on the day (apologies for the quality but it was made long before HD was available on YOUTUBE).

 

 

 

The snow in the Reeks in  February and March got us thinking seriously about a return to Alpine mountaineering and Gerry suggested that we take part in the Mountaineering Ireland Summer Alpine Meet in Val Di Mello, which is very close to where the club had been previously.

The decision was made. TMC is going back to Italy and will be participating in the Mountaineering Ireland Alpine, which runs from July 7 to 21. The trip will be led by Nuala Finn and Gerry O’Sullivan – Gerry has participated in four previous meets.

 

Anyone who is interested in taking part should contact Nuala or Gerry by email before April 27.

 

ITALIA 2018: AN OUTINE

 

Snow Ice Italy 650
Alpine Guide Italo Menopace keeps an eye on Gerry O’Sullivan and Nuala Finn as they descend an ice wall during a training session in Italy in 2009. Photo Ciarán Walsh

 

The Summer Alpine Meet, as the title suggests, is for members who are interested in Alpine mountaineering.  It takes place in the Val di Mello in Northern Italy,  about two hours East North East of Milan, not far from Edolo.

 

Val dI Mello map

 

The Val di Mello offers lots of hiking opportunities, some via ferrata, snow and glacier routes, and is very good for rock climbing.  Basic rope skills will be an advantage and we will be organising workshops and training climbs in preparation for the trip. There will also be opportunities to learn these skills on courses organised by Mountaineering Ireland during the meet.

The meet tends to be very informal and the emphasis is on peer led mountaineering and socialising with mountaineers from other clubs. The food is very good in this part of Italy and will be a big part of the experience.

 

THE ALPINE MEET 

The meets are organised by Mountaineering Ireland and, according to Gerry, they are good fun and cover a wide range of mountaineering activity; everything from walks along valley floors, hut-to-hut ridge walks, snow and ice routes that require crampons and ice axes, and rock climbing.  They are usually attended by anything between 20 and 50 mountaineers. Some stay for a few days and others for the full two 2 weeks.   

 

WHAT HAPPENS?

This depends on the weather and on the area but, generally speaking, the meet involves a mix of peer led mountaineering, organised climbs, and courses in a wide range of mountaineering skills.  Have a look at the information booklet produced by Mountaineering Ireland for the 2018 meet.

 

MI 2018 Alpine Meet Cover.png
Click here for PDF 

 

Most of what happens during an Alpine meet is organised informally. People get together and plan daily routes or more extended trips. Flexibility and improvisation are the key elements in planning each day.

TMC members will be organising some activities but there will also be plenty of opportunities to link up with other mountaineers and get involved in alternative activities. 

 Mountaineering Ireland will also offer a hut-to-hut trek (see the above brochure).

 

TRAINING (BEFORE THE MEET)

 TMC and Mountaineering Ireland will be organising pre-meet training. TMC Members will be informed of training events once we know who is taking part. It will cover scrambling, rope work, teamwork, and will involve climbing the Hags Tooth and Howling Ridge.

Mountaineering Ireland  will be organising a pre-Alpine prep and training day on May 25, 2018. The workshop takes place in Wicklow and costs €50. For info/booking contact Jane Carney at Mountaineering Ireland, tel 016251112.

 

COURSES (DURING THE MEET)

 

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Learning about avalanches. Italo Menopace (Alpine Guide) leading a workshop for TMC members in risk assessment and rescue techniques.

 

There are a range of subsidised courses that will be provided by Mountaineering Ireland during the meet. These will cover a range of activities to suit walkers and climbers who want to learn new skills or improve existing skills. They will also cater for people who want to climb or walk independently (see the information booklet).

The multi-day courses must be booked in advance. They are good value and places are limited so early booking is advised.

 The half-day courses can be book during the meet.  

 

GETTING THERE

Val di Mello is a two hour drive East North East of Milan.

 The meet will be based in a campsite (camping jack) about a mile outside the village of San Martino, Sondrio (link to Google Maps).

 Flights to Milan

Dublin: Aer Lingus and Ryanair fly to Milan 

Cork: Ryanair flies to Milan on Sundays and Thursdays

 Milan to San Martino

Car Rental and pooling is very straightforward.

There is also public transport from Milan (3 hours by train and bus)

 

 ACCOMMODATION

 Hotel and guesthouse accommodation is available in San Martino.

Air B&B is very limited.

There is a campsite about 2km from the village, it’s basic but has hot showers, a small shop, and wifi.

The club has reserved an 8 bed dorm (3+5 beds in two rooms) in a rifugio in the Val Di Mello and spaces will be allocated on a first come first serve basis. 

 

CONTACTS

nualafinn@hotmail.com

gosullivan@gmail.com

 

 

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Navigation Made Easy: WEB RESOURCES

 

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Nuala Finn and Gerry O’Sullivan navigating during the Joey Glover Walk in 2017.

 

WHY LEARN TO NAVIGATE?

Navigation is an essential skill for mountaineers. Indeed, one could argue that it is the foundation of all mountaineering.

An ability to navigate fosters independence, guarantees safety, and is a very enjoyable aspect of our sport. The first mountaineering club that I joined – the Feale Ramblers in Listowel – insisted that every new member learn how to navigate and organised a series of workshops to facilitate that. When I joined TMC –a long time ago– it was expected  that every leader would have a proven ability to navigate, usually by way of completing  Mountains Skills 1 and 2 and applying that training in practice in the mountains.

 

MAPS

IMG_8246-1 (dragged)

 

Apps like View Ranger  have transformed navigation but the basic skill remains an ability to interpret a map and relate it to the terrain in which you are climbing.  The most important components of this skill are

  1. being able to recognise features.
  2. being able to apply that recognition to map reading.
  3. being able to plot a safe and enjoyable route on the map with reference to features.
  4. a good map memory, knowing what to expect without having to look at the map.
  5. good situational awareness, being able to relate map memory to the terrain around you.
  6. navigating from the moment you set foot on a mountain, rather than when you get lost.

The paper map, laminated of course, remains the most important instrument of navigation. View Ranger is a valuable navigational tool but a mountaineer should always carry a map as back up. The Ordnance Survey Discovery Series is a remarkably accurate guide and good map reading skills will enable you to confirm your position on the mountain and navigate safely from feature to feature.

 

THE COMPASS

A compass is not much use without a map, unless you are on a mountain ridge like Brandon, which has a definite North – South orientation. Most of the time you will need both map and compass to navigate.   There is only one compass if you are serious about navigation, the tried, tested, and trusted Silva Expedition.

 

Compass-names

1. Base plate. 2. Compass housing. 3. Compass needle. 4. Orienting lines. 5. Orienting arrow. 6. Index line. 7. Direction of travel arrow. 8. Compass scales. For more detail,  go to to the UK Ordnance Survey site:  Map reading skills: How o use a compass.

 

NAVIGATION MADE EASY

There is only one way to learn how to navigate and that is to navigate for real in the mountains. Before that you will need to learn the basics. The TMC navigation workshop scheduled for April 18  will introduce you to the basic elements of navigation but you will need to build on this by navigating in the mountains. There are a lot of resources online that will help you with this. The Mountaineering Ireland weblsite features a really useful set of training videos by Jane Carney. Have a look at the following videos:

 

USING A MAP

 

 

 

 

 

TAKING BEARINGS

 

 

 

DISTANCE, TIMING, AND PACING.

 

 

Next blog in the series:

 

Grid References made Easy

 

Other web resources include:

 

Hill Skill Series – Understanding grid references 

How to Use Map Scales and Grids / OSI 

How to Use a Map and Compass / OSI

 

 

Training Matters in Mountaineering

P1140508
Members of Tralee Mountaineering on a training run across Crib Goch, Snowdon, 2014.

 

Does training matter? Do challenging days in the mountains enhance members’ experience and contribute to the development of the club? Should the club calendar have all of those elements built into to it?

I come from a tradition within the club that says yes to all of that. In 2014 I led a group of Level 2 Climbers across the Crib Goch in Wales and, with that experience under our boots, we climbed Tryfan on the following day. The Crib Goch is a challenging prospect at the best of times and most of the members involved on the day would never have been considered capable of climbing those routes. Conditions were perfect for a spot of training and everyone completed the routes safely. We repeated the exercise a year later.

 

P1140622 copy
Ann O’ Donoghue on Tryfan

 

Thats how we progress, that’s how the club works for the benefit of all members. All it takes is some leadership, training, a bit of teamwork and, of course, appropriate conditions.  For the past three weeks there has been lots of snow in the mountains, conditions that would have provided many opportunities for similar skills development in the area of winter mountaineering.

To take advantage of those opportunities requires a culture of progression in sport, a commitment to training, and, of course,  leadership.  Leadership has been identified as one of the main challenges facing TMC and mountaineering clubs in general. To meet that challenge we need to look at the skills within the club and the quality of leadership that those skills make possible.

We also need to make an audit of mountains skills appropriate to leadership at each level, including associated skills in first aid and rope work. Any gaps that emerge need to be filled by access to training, either on courses or through participation in club activity that has an inbuilt element of training associated with it – rope days, navigation days, or the application of those skills as a routine part of club walks and taking advantage of the opportunities presented by the current snowy conditions.

IMG_8160
An introduction to windslab, O’Shea’s Gully, March 4, 2018.

We also need to look  at the way the calendar is put together, making sure that walks  are pitched at an appropriate level and ensure that nominated leaders have the necessary skills to ensure an enjoyable, safe, and, where possible, challenging day in the mountains.  Challenging is main word here.

Attendance on club walks is increasing – there were 25 people on a recent level 2 walk –and it may be that the same walk does not fit all members at a given level. We may need to look at a wider range of levels, intermediate levels with varying degrees of challenge for instance.  We would need to train up even more leaders, encourage greater participation in mountain skills training programmes.

That represents a challenge in itself.

One way of getting around that might be the introduction of a Club Leader’s Award, as a first step for members engaging with the various Mountain Skills and Climbing awards schemes. The rewards are obvious.

 

P1140659 copy
TMC on Tryfan 2014

 

 

Next A chance to develop new skills: theAlpine Summer Meet 2018

Mountain Log: Corran Tuathail, Macgillycuddy’s Reeks: March 4, 2018

 

A Quality Mountain Day

Three weeks of snow promised unprecedented opportunities for winter mountaineering. The worst of the weather had passed and the way was open for a day spent practicing on snow and ice in Macgillycuddy’s Reeks

 

 

The Weather

This walk was all about the weather, coming shortly after a red snow and ice alert had been  lifted, and before a widespread thaw had set in.

The forecast was a for slight rise in temperature and,  although temperatures would remain low, a thaw would set in, with rain moving in from the West in the afternoon. Winds would remain light. In the Reeks this would mean continued snow cover, though no consolidation, light falls of snow and uncertainty over visibility.

It was a day for ice axes and crampons.

 

The Team

There were four of us. Bertie Hickey, Andrew Kelliher, John Laide, and Ciarán Walsh. Nuala Finn had to pull out due to illness in her family.  We had done a lot of training in snowy conditions over the past three weeks and were looking forward to a challenging and rewarding day in the mountains.

 

summit 4

 

Conditions

Conditions were perfect. Access roads were clear of snow, except for the final 500m or so up to the carpark in Lisleibane. A number of cars turned around but we reached the carpark without difficulty in  a couple of 4X4s (one was a Honda!).

There was a lot of snow in the Glen. On the last club walk the snow started above Coomeenapeasta Lake. Today, however, there was 3 or 4 inches of snow in Lisleibane, with deeper drifts. It was very mild and there was no wind. As a consequence visibility was very poor and we opted for a straightforward run to the summit

 

The Route

We went straight for O’Shea’s Gully, across the rocky, southern  edge of  Beenkeragh Ridge, and on to the Summit, followed by a straight run (almost) to the Devils Ladder , and down.

 

Route March 4

 

Coimín Íochtarach (1st leve) and Coimín Láir (2nd level) were full of deep snow and visibility was very limited. Dave McBride, Sheila O’Connor, Richard Doody, and Richard Cussen were ahead of us and left a lovely trail of compacted snow. We met three Italian on Level 2, they didn’t have any gear with them and were retreating from O’Shea’s. We geared up at the step below Coimín Uachtarach (3rd level), left the trail and headed up O’Shea’s.

 

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O’Shea’s was full of snow which had formed wide bands of solid windslab.  It was perfect. In some places it felt like a 45° climb, perfect training conditions. A day spent in the Ice Factor in Kinlockleven last October paid off.

Beenkeragh Ridge had deep drifts on the Caher side so we stuck to the rocks. They were covered in hoar ice but going was good. There was some corniching but nothing major. We saw the marks of Dave and Co’s crampons at the top of Curve. They were still ahead of us. There was one other climber on the summit but he returned a short while later with a friend. That was it on the day.

 

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Visibility was vey poor and deep snow covered the trail. We headed down and took a slight detour to the right, corrected and navigated to the Devil’s Ladder. The snow in the Ladder was deep and wet and the ice was thawing, but otherwise descent was straightforward

 

Stats

Stas March 4

 

 

Verdict

A quality Mountain Day.

 

Comments

We have had three weeks of snow in the Reeks, with a lot of opportunities for challenging winter mountaineering and training, skills development and progression. The sort of thing we used to go to Scotland for. Magic.

 

 

Next: Training matters. Taking advantage of snow

 

 

What makes a QUALITY MOUNTAIN DAY (QMD)?

 

 

ANDREW MAP  ANDREW WALK STATS

 

 

These images record the TMC Level 3 Walk led by Andrew Kelliher on Feb 11, 2018. The route took us from Lisleibane, up a spur to Coomeenapeasta, across the Reeks to the Devil’s Ladder, out the Heavenly Gates and back to Lisleibane, a total distance of 13.39 Km, over 5 hours and 40 minutes, with a total height gain of 1184m.

The conditions were fantastic. The forecast (BBC) was for snow, which fell in bursts as pellets/graupel, and lay as powder snow. There was some pack on the ridges and a few patches of ice. The wind was light but gusting in snow bursts that reduced visibility on an otherwise bright and sunny day.

 

 

It was a fantastic day in the mountains and the question is this:

   does it qualify as a QUALITY MOUNTAIN DAY?

or

   would it be classed as a Quality Hill Walking Day (QHWD)?

 

A QMD matters if you wish to progress in the sport. The ML or Mountain Leader award requires that you log at least 20 quality mountain days. A QHWD, on the other handis the cornerstone of the award for group leaders. More about that in a later post.

 

DEFINING A QUALITY MOUNTAIN DAY:

According to the Irish Mountain Training Board, a broad definition of a QMD is one which presents new experiences and challenges. Such a day would generally consist of the following:

  • The candidate is involved in the planning and instigation.
  • The walk would last at least 5 hours and take place in an unfamiliar area.
  • The majority of time should be spent above 500m, distance should be over 16km with over 600m of height gain during the day, and cover a variety of terrain.
  • The use of a variety of hill walking techniques.
  • Adverse weather conditions may be encountered.
  • Experience must be in terrain and weather comparable to that found in the Irish and UK hills.

 

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Then there were six, approaching the top of the Heavenly Gates. Bertie is behind the camera. Connie and Billy headed for the summit.

 

Does Andrew’s walk qualify?

Six of us were involved in doing a recce with Andrew under very similar conditions, which qualifies as being involved in the planning and instigation of the walk. The conditions were challenging, cancelling out familiarity with the terrain, although there was still no need to navigate. The snow meant we had to carry extra  equipment, although the quality of the snow (pellet) meant that ice axes and crampons weren’t much use. That required other techniques. We were well over 500m for most of the day and our total ascent of 1184m was almost twice the minimum requirement of 600m. We covered 13.39Km, a good bit short of the 16Km recommended but we did have to use a variety of hillwalking techniques, especially going down the Heavenly Gates, which were full of powder snow.

 

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Generally speaking – and the Irish Mountain Training Board has given a broad definition  that generally includes the above – Andrew’s walk would have to qualify as a QMD. It certainly did present new experiences and challenges. That is why TMC has always  climbed in snow, and there is no better place for a quality day in the mountains than the Reeks on a snowy day.

For more on quality mountain days have a look at this forum or this blog.

 

Next: Far Away Hills Are White!