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Busy June on Skye & in Lochaber

We’ve enjoyed a busy June, with a number of teams out and about, both on the Isle of Skye and in and around Lochaber. Here’s a quick summary of what’s been going on…

Despite a rather damp and windy day at the back end of May, Michael and I still enjoyed ourselves on a traverse of The Cobbler, one of the finest Corbetts in the Highlands. We took the classic route, ascending the SE Ridge of the South Peak, abseiled the Original Route, wandered over to the Central Peak where we climbed The Arete before snaking our way down the Doorway Route, before threading the needle and gaining easier ground. To complete the traverse, we also bagged the North Peak too.

Cobbler Traverse Guide

Cobbler Traverse Guide

Cobbler Traverse Guide

Cobbler Traverse Guide

 

Ian was out guiding Steven at the beginning of June. They had a couple of brilliant days on Skye, where they tackled the Dubh Ridge on Sgurr Dubh Beag and Pinnacle Ridge on Sgurr nan Gillean. The former is often said to be the best easy climb on Skye and a contender for the best easy climb in Britain. The latter is often compared to Tower Ridge on Ben Nevis for it’s scale and challenge.

Scott was out with Peter and Martin. Over four days, they reached the summit of all 11 of the Munros that lie along the main Cuillin Ridge. One of the challenges of these 4 day courses is picking the right route for the right day, particularly with a mixed forecast, but Scott and the team played their cards perfectly and made the most of the first couple of dry days, leaving them with the slightly easier Munros for when the conditions turned damp.

Skye Guide

Skye Guide

Skye Guide

Skye Guide

Meanwhile, Steve was out with John, Mark, Jacqueline and Donald. They had two contrasting days, with blue skies and dry rock for the Inaccessible Pinnacle, Sgurr Mhic Choinnich and a descent of Bomb Ally on their first day and a rather wet ascent of Bruach na Frithe on the second day. It doesn’t matter what the weather does on Skye, there are always great adventures to be had!

Cuillin Guide

Cuillin Guide

Cuillin Guide

Cuillin Guide

Both Caspar and Ian were then out guiding the In Pinn. Ian was out with Yael and Andrew, who were over from Germany, Caspar was out with Manus. Caspar and Manus then went on to complete the Laggan Round ( in reverse, which considering the conditions, was a sterling effort on both of their parts.

Steve was then back out out for us, this time guiding John in the Cuillins, Skye. For them, the weather improved throughout the day and they made the most of it by climbing Pinnacle Ridge on Sgurr Nan Gillean. They continued down the West Ridge before tackling Am Basteir and descending the atmospheric King’s Cave Chimney.

Lena returned again this year to the Highlands, and was out with Scott again. They made their way up Coire Leis and up to the summit of Ben Nevis. This was a step up from what Lena had done in the past, and she took it easily within her stride. Curved Ridge or Ledge Route next Lena?

Finally, this weekend gone, Dave was out with Phil. Phil, who is originally from Utah, had two goals in mind. Firstly to reach the summit of Ben Nevis and another Munro, and secondly, to spend a day on a classic scramble and a day on a classic rock climb.  Dave and Phil achieved both, by climbing Tower Ridge on Ben Nevis on day one, and the classic Agag’s Groove on Stob Dearg (Buachaille Etive Mor, Glencoe) on day two.

Tower Ridge Guide

Tower Ridge Guide

Glencoe Guide

Glencoe Guide

Glencoe Guide

 

 

 

 

 

Raeburn’s Arete and North East Buttress

I was back out on Ben Nevis today, this time with Andy and his brother Dave. Both have many years of winter climbing under their belts, but as yet no summer rock climbing experience. Today we changed that by climbing the brilliant Raeburn’s Arete (AKA the sit down start to North East Buttress) on Ben Nevis. This fine route gives five long pitches of good quality climbing on rough rock, before reaching the First Platform. Both Andy and Dave adapted well to smearing and using their fingers. Whilst on the route, we were in and out of the sun, but even in the shade, it felt very pleasant, and probably quite a contrast to what Andy and Dave normally experience when winter climbing up here!

From the First Platform, we swapped rock shoes for big boots and continued up North East Buttress, which was largely snow free, aside from a small patch at the foot of the 40 Foot Corner and just before the final exit groove.

It was amazingly quiet on the north side of the mountain today. We saw one team climbing on Tower Ridge, and a few folk hanging outside the CIC Hut, but I’m not sure what they ended up doing.

's Arete and North East Buttress

's Arete and North East Buttress

's Arete and North East Buttress

's Arete and North East Buttress

's Arete and North East Buttress

's Arete and North East Buttress

's Arete and North East Buttress

's Arete and North East Buttress

Aonach Eagach & Tower Ridge

We’re enjoying an amazing spell of good weather in the Scottish Highlands at the moment, with plenty of blue skies and sunshine. For those after adventures in the mountains, it’s definitely a case of making hay whilst the sun is shining!

Guiding the Aonach Eagach

Yesterday, I was out with Heather, who was over from Australia, visiting her motherland. She was keen to sample a classic mountaineering day in Glencoe, and with such good weather, we decided to traverse the Aonach Eagach, one of the finest ridge traverses on the mainland. It proved to be a social day, with a number of other instructors choosing the same objective. Great minds and all that… Despite everyone setting off at more or less the same time, there were no hold ups, and everyone made steady progresses over the ridge. For Heather, it was her first proper taste of scrambling, which she took well within her stride, and enjoyed the movement and exposure.

Guiding the Aonach Eagach

Guiding the Aonach Eagach

Guiding the Aonach Eagach

Today, I was out with Andrew and Anne on Tower Ridge on Ben Nevis. The rock was dry throughout, although there were a couple of patches of firm snow, particularly at the end of the Eastern Traverse, up the Fallen Block Chimney and on the exit scoop, which could be largely avoided by steep scrambling immediately to the left of the snow. Andrew and Anna flew up the route, without much hesitation, and we were soon basking in the sunshine on the summit plateau. Today, I was working for Atlas Mountaineering.

Guiding Tower Ridge

Guiding Tower Ridge

Guiding Tower Ridge

Guiding Tower Ridge

Guiding Tower Ridge

Guiding Tower Ridge

That’s a wrap! Tower Ridge

Today was my second and last day with Paul, and my last day of winter work this season.  The spell of good weather finally broke last night, with cloud cover through the night, which meant that the snow and ground didn’t lose heat through thermal radiation, which it had been doing recently. This in turn meant that the snow and ice didn’t firm up quite so well overnight, so whilst the overnight summit temperatures were much lower than of late, it wasn’t quite cold enough.

Tower Ridge Winter Climbing Course

Much more moody this morning

We decided that Tower Ridge would be the best (and possibly safest option) for today. The East Gully of the Douglas Gap was pretty much full, but thereafter, the ridge was quite rocky for a while.  There was good snow cover up to the Little Tower, and again for the section up to the Great Tower, but the Eastern Traverse was a fairly thin band of snow, and the tricky step to gain the Great Tower was bare, as was the approach and exit out of Tower Gap. Only one axe really needed throughout.

Tower Ridge Winter Climbing Course

Approaching Tower Gap

 

Tower Ridge Winter Climbing Course

View to the summit from Tower Gap

 

Still, like yesterday, the lack of winter didn’t detract from a great outing, and another classic Ben Nevis ridge in the bag for Paul.  We did see a team just above the steep first pitch of Glover’s Chimney/White Line area whilst we were crossing the gap, but with the clouds swirling around today, we couldn’t see much else.

Tower Ridge Winter Climbing Course

Looking down Glover’s Chimney

 

And that’s it, the end of another great winter. It’s not been without challenging conditions, but overall, there’s been enough to climb for much of the season. This winter has presented some great opportunities to think outside the box and climb lesser travelled routes, I’ve certainly enjoyed it! Thanks to all those that have worked for us and climbed and walked with us this winter.

I’ve got a day off to pack tomorrow, before heading to Nepal to lead a trip in the Himalayas on Friday. Can’t wait!

Just about hanging on: NE Buttress

It certainly feels like winter is trying to make a sneaky exit now, but it is hanging on, just. I was out with Paul today, and he was keen for an adventurous route and hadn’t climbed on Ben Nevis before, so we decided to go for NE Buttress, which had seen ascents over the weekend, and I thought would be just about holding on.

North East Buttress Winter Climbing Course

Views south

The approach slopes were still mostly on snow, but with a few gaps of rock and vegetation now showing. The first snowy left trending ramp was thinning in places, but he pitch leading up to the second platform was mostly on good snow and ice, with the odd rocky step. The second platform was still quite snowy, with some good consolidated stuff in places. From here on, the crest was in not bad shape, but the Mantrap was completely dry, and the 40ft Corner was mostly dry for the first 30ft or so, but still had some useful snow on the upper ledges.

North East Buttress Winter Climbing Course

Leading up to the second platform

North East Buttress Winter Climbing Course

Views across the north face

North East Buttress Winter Climbing Course

Paul enjoying the situation

 

North East Buttress Winter Climbing Course

40 Foot Corner

Regardless of conditions, we needed axes and crampons throughout, had great fun and it gave Paul the perfect introduction to climbing on Ben Nevis. The weather, once again, was nothing short of amazing. Very quiet on the mountain today, but a pair did climb Point 5 Gully, and reported it to be ok, if a little soft for reassuring ice screws. I could see a couple of teams on Tower Ridge and a few on Ledge Route.

North East Buttress Winter Climbing Course

Climbers in Tower Gap

The Cascade and Expert’s Choice were both climbed yesterday, and looked ok today, but that might all change tomorrow afternoon as this great spell of weather is due to come to an end.

North East Buttress Winter Climbing Course

Looking up Observatory Gully

Great conditions on NE Buttress

After a couple of days off, I was back out on Ben Nevis today, with Ken & Glenn. Ken and I climbed the SW Ridge a number of years ago, and ever since then, we’ve tried to fit in a day on NE Buttress, but for one reason or another, the opportunity hasn’t materialised, until today.

It was clear when walking in this morning that today was going to be brilliant, with cold, calm conditions, rime on the upper cliffs of the mountain, numerous dribbles of ice and consolidated snow on the approach. In fact, this must be my favourite time of the year in the Highlands, when the days are longer, the mountains quieter and options to either rock or winter climb, as well as ski and bike, oh and before the midges arrive.

There was a track on the approach to NE Buttress, and although there were pillows of windslab about, much of it was avoidable. The route itself had some very useful patches of ice and plenty of consolidated snow, allowing for efficient progress, with plenty of ‘first time’ axe placements. Ken and Glen have climbed a lot over the years, and so found much of the climbing straight forward, although both paused for thought at the Mantrap (completely dry) and 40 Foot Corner (thinly iced, with some useful snow on the ledges). We descended via Coire Leis, which again, with all the snow, was very straight forward.

NE Buttress Ben Nevis Guided Winter Climbing

Glenn above the Second Platform

NE Buttress Ben Nevis Guided Winter Climbing

Ken in the 40 Foot Corner

The ice is forming higher up, but it’s still tricky to tell from a distance whether Indicator Wall and Hadrian’s Wall are climbable. Point 5 Gully was climbed, and Smith’s looked ok, if thin. Ditto for Tower Scoop. Plenty of mid-grade routes in Coire na Ciste looked fine from a distance too. The weather this weekend looks very promising, but an early start will prove worthwhile to make the most of the cooler temperatures.

NE Buttress Ben Nevis Guided Winter Climbing

Success!

 

NE Buttress Ben Nevis Guided Winter Climbing

NE Buttress to Tower Ridge

 

NE Buttress Ben Nevis Guided Winter Climbing

Coire na Ciste

Surprisingly pleasant on Comb Gully

With ferocious winds forecast for first thing this morning, Matt, Dave and I had a slightly later start, and despite the odd squally wind, had a fairly reasonable walk up to Coire na Ciste this morning.  There had been some overnight snow, but only the lightest of dustings.  The slopes leading up to Comb Gully had refrozen well through the night, making travel up to the mouth of the gully quite straight forward, although there was an icy crust in places.

Comb Gully Ben Nevis Winter Climbing Course

Ben Nevis this morning

Once established in the gully, it was clear that spindift was going to be a constant feature of the day, but asides from that, the gully gave an enjoyable climb, with good axe placements where it really mattered.  There was a bit more ice (and snow) than when I climbed it the other day, but overall, it felt quite similar (bold yet fun and steady climbing).

Comb Gully Ben Nevis Winter Climbing Course

Above the first steepening

The final pitch of Comb Gully was cornice free, so again, very straight forward. A French team, staying at the hut climbed Green Gully and reported it to be fine after a thin (for 5m or so) first pitch. Other than that it was very quiet up there today.

Comb Gully Ben Nevis Winter Climbing Course

Final steepening

Another fun day on Tower Ridge

Normally, by this point in the winter, I would have worked on Tower Ridge a number of times, but for some reason, yesterday was my first time this season. Today was my second.

I was out with Matt and Dave, who both have quite a bit of rock climbing experience, but were keen to climb a classic route and learn a thing or two along the way, and in particular how to climb efficiently yet safely in winter and still be down before dark. Luckily, it’s late in the season, and doesn’t get dark until 7pm, so the odds were stacked reasonably in my favour to be down without needing to use a headtorch…

The overnight thaw was still on-going as we walked in this morning, which didn’t quite match up with what some of the forecasts were suggesting, and I was quite surprised at how much snow had been lost overnight on the approach slopes to the East Gully of the Douglas Boulder. Fortunately, thereafter, there was very little change to yesterday, and if anything there was a bit more snow on the ledges above the Little Tower.  As we approached Tower Gap, the freezing level dropped beneath us, icing up our gear and refreezing the soft snow, which was starting to form a crust.  On the summit plateau, it was almost eerily calm and almost felt like the sun could burst through the cloud.

Eastern Traverse, Tower Ridge Winter Climbing

Eastern Traverse

No other teams on Tower Ridge today, and one team made an ascent of No. 2 Gully Buttress. Comb Gully, Green Gully, No. 3 Gully Buttress and NE Buttress all reported to have been climbed yesterday.

Tower Gap Tower Ridge Winter Climbing

Tower Gap

The Indecisive Winter Continues…

It seems to me that winter has been indecisive this season, with things looking promising one minute and then a substantial thaw setting in the next, quite often during the same day.  Today was no exception to that pattern, with plenty of snow down to 500m overnight and cold conditions first thing this morning, before the freezing level once again rose, bringing with it rain to the summits. It was certainly a day of two halves.

Sw Ridge Douglas Boulder

Wintry this morning

This pattern will play havoc with cornice collapse and triggering wet sluffs, so Katie, Austin and I decided to play it safe and climbed the SW Ridge of the Douglas Boulder for the last day of their five day winter climbing course. We weren’t the only ones on the Douglas Boulder today, as other teams made ascents of the East Ridge and Gutless. For both Katie and Austin, it was their first proper taste of mixed climbing, and so both of them took a bit of adjusting to get into the swing of hooking and torquing their axes and trusting their crampons on small edges. This adjustment phase is no bad thing, as it will enable them to progress their winter climbing techniques for the future and to tackle a more diverse range of routes.

South West Ridge of the Douglas Boulder

Katie on the ridge, smiling as always!

We witnessed quite a sizeable sluff pouring down Vanishing Gully, which does have some ice on the second pitch, but not enough to climb at the moment! It’s looking quite wintry for the beginning of next week, so fingers crossed.

SW Ridge of the Douglas Boulder

Team selfie

Comb Gully before the thaw

This week, I’m running a five day climbing course, with Katie and Austin. Conditions since the weekend haven’t exactly been what I would describe as stellar, but we’ve had a productive three days so far.

On Monday, we made an ascent of No. 3 Gully Buttress, which was as reliable as ever. The first pitch of ice is now shorter than it was a couple of weeks ago, due to recent snows, and the final pitch of the direct finish is a bit easier now too.

With a rather wild forecast yesterday, we thought we would go into Coire na Ciste to see how wild it was, and whether we could find shelter somewhere… The wind was howling, so rather than press on into the foul weather, we changed plans and after coffee and cake at the Pinemarten Cafe, we went to  Glen Nevis to look at gear placements, belays and personal abseiling.

Today was all about starting (and finishing early), as the forecast was for a marked deterioration and thaw from late morning onwards. Along with a number of others, we headed into Coire na Ciste in the hope of seeing what the previous day’s thaw had done. Unfortunately, the cloud base was about level with the base of The Comb, so we decided to wonder up and have a look in Comb Gully.  The entry pitches were quite promising, filled with firm snow, so we pushed on and found the climbing to be great fun, with enough reasonable ice and firm snow where necessary. The ice wasn’t good enough for ice screws today, but axe placements were mostly ok. With verglass on the rocks, spindrift funnelling down the route and being enclosed in one of the finest gullies on Ben Nevis, it all felt like a traditional Scottish winter day, until the freezing level shot passed us on the final pitch. Then it felt wet. This was Austin’s first taste of grade IV climbing, and there’s no better route (or mountain) to sample it on! Katie also enjoyed herself and couldn’t stop smiling throughout.

Comb Gully Winter Climbing Course

First of the steeper pitches

 

Comb Gully Winter Climbing Course

Looking up the gully

 

Comb Gully Winter Climbing Course

Austin enjoying the steep climbing

 

Comb Gully Winter Climbing Course

Katie above the crux pitch

It was quite still in the corrie early on, so we could hear Mike and his team on The Cascade, and Steve with Marie on Glover’s Chimney, which he reported to have a mushy and serious first pitch. There were a couple of teams making their way up No. 3 Gully as well.

Mike Thomas was also out for us today. He was with another Mike, and they climbed No. 3 Gully Buttress, again with an early start.