Posts

Storm Doris brings welcome snow

It was quite clear on waking up this morning that more snow had fallen than the forecasts had suggested, but I must admit, I was quite surprised when I saw exactly how much on the approach to Ben Nevis this morning. Clearly Storm Doris had pushed a bit further north than we had expected.

Castle Ridge, Winter Climbing Course

A winter wonderland on the approach this morning

Castle Ridge, Winter Climbing Course

German team breaking trail this morning

Wes, Sean and I had a number of ideas as to what to climb on Ben Nevis today, but as it dawned on us exactly how much snow had fallen and drifted on fresh winds, it was clear that progress into Coire na Ciste was going to be tough work and potentially avalanche prone, and so we quickly changed our plans to climb Castle Ridge instead. Both Wes and Sean had climbed Castle Ridge in summer conditions last year, and so having been transformed overnight into full winter garb, it was a logical choice.

Not wanting to snow plough uphill for too long, we opted to cut beneath Carn Dearg Buttress. The turf was starting to freeze, and there were quite a few dribbles of ice on the rocks throughout the route. None of which was particularly solid just yet. The majority of the route was as snowy as I’ve seen it this year, apart from the upper crux, which was quite clear of snow compared to the rest of the route. For Wes, this was his third of Ben Nevis’ ridges climbed in winter, whereas for Sean, his first.

Castle Ridge, Winter Climbing Course

Above the first groove

Castle Ridge, Winter Climbing Course

Sean on the crux of Castle Ridge

 

The descent down the northern flanks of Carn Dearg was straight forward, as we found a great line of soft snow to wade down.

Meanwhile, just around the corner, Steve was out with John and Gavin. They were on Ledge Route and getting some mileage in, in preparation for a trip to summit Mount Elbrus later this year. The Scottish Highlands are a great place for training for the Greater Ranges.

Hannah was out with Julia, who is over from Spain, preparing for her Winter Mountain Leader Assessment. They had a great day on the Ballachulish Horseshoe, and also got to enjoy wading through deep snow. It’s nice to finally have some snow again.

Winter Skills Course

Julia navigating

Early bird catches the worm: No. 3 Gully Buttress

We’ve just had a cold snap, which started yesterday afternoon, and finished at about midday today. So with an earlyish start, Stuart and I made the most of the cold weather

window, and had fun climbing No. 3 Gully Buttress on Ben Nevis. On the approach, the sky had a reddish tinge, which is normally a sign of inclement weather in the pipeline.

Overnight, a light dusting of snow had fallen and things were looking a bit more wintry this morning as we approached Coire na Ciste. Whilst visibility was still quite poor once in the corrie, the icefall at the foot of No. 3 Gully Buttress was just about visible. Stuart was keen to step up his winter climbing and so we tackled the icefall direct, giving a brilliant step of grade 4 ice, which was in good condition. The ice on the shallower sections above was a bit hollow in places, but much of it could be avoided.

No. 3 Gully Buttress, Winter Climbing Course

Good ice on the fist pitch

 

Winter Climbing Course

Stuart above the icy step on pitch 1

 


After the crux step, we climbed the direct finish, which gives a fun pitch of mixed steps, grooves and corners, before a final squeeze chimney marked the end of the difficulties. It was all wintry enough from the overnight snow. We topped out just as the freezing level met the summit plateau, so aware that the winds were going to pick up, we descended No. 3 Gully, and spent some time looking at various snow and ice screw belays throughout our descent.

No. 3 Gully Buttress, Winter Climbing Course

Looking down the direct finish

True to the saying ‘red sky in the morning, shepherd’s warning’, the winds and rain picked up dramatically early afternoon, but it’s going to turn quite wintry again this evening, and looks to stay cold for the foreseeable future… Winter’s not over yet!

 

 

Up No. 3 Gully, down Tower Gully, Ben Nevis

Today I was joined by Daniel and Peter, with the aim of reaching the summit of Ben Nevis via a fun, wintry and adventurous route. An ascent via No. 3 Gully seems to fit the bill nicely, and so we ventured up into Coire na Ciste and up No. 3 Gully, which was in good nick, with some firmer snow towards the top.

No. 3 Gully

On the way up to No. 3 Gully

No. 3 Gully

Ascending No. 3 Gully

No. 3 Gully

The final steepening of No. 3 Gully

We wondered over to the summit, which felt like it could pop out of the clouds at any minute, but alas, it wasn’t clear enough, so we spent our time on the summit under a watery sun. That said, it was quite dry on the summit.

Ben Nevis

On the summit of Ben Nevis

On the way back, we had a peak down into Tower Gully, which looked quite inviting, with only faint steps in soft snow, so made our way down there.  With the snow being quite soft underfoot, if felt very friendly. We were able to remain on the snow until quite low down in Observatory Gully. The combination of ascending No. 3 Gully up to the summit and then descending Tower Gully gave Peter and Daniel a great day of winter mountaineering, and allowed them to fully explore one of the finest mountains in the UK.

Tower Gully

Looking up Tower Gully

Tower Gully

Descending Tower Gully

Great day on Curved Ridge, Glencoe

 

Plan A for today had been Tower Ridge on Ben Nevis, but on seeing the avalanche forecast, which indicated that there would be a high avalanche hazard on NW-NE slopes above 900m, we decided to change plan, and headed to Glencoe instead, where we climbed the classic Curved Ridge on Buachaille Etive Mor.

On the walk-in, we spent some time talking about heuristic traps, which seems wholly appropriate. If you haven’t heard of heuristic traps when it comes to avalanches, it’s well worth reading the following articles:
http://www.northernmountainsport.co.uk/index.php?/eng/content/download/1533/7517/file/Avalanche%20article.pdf
https://www.glenmorelodge.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/Avoid-Being-Avalanched-AH-TGO-Nov-2013.pdf
https://www.glenmorelodge.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/Talking-Yourself-Out-of-Avalanche-Trouble-AH-TGO-Dec-2013.pdf

Curved Ridge, Glencoe

The snow on Curved Ridge is starting to consolidate and good in places, but still quite loose in others, which enabled Jess and Rich to get stuck into a variety of mixed climbing techniques. Above the crux, they took turns on the sharp end before we reached the summit of Stob Dearg, amazingly with not a breath of wind. It has been another great day with the pair from Yorkshire.Curved Ridge

Curved Ridge

Curved Ridge

Quite a few teams on North Buttress, as well as a couple of teams on Shelf Route. One team did attempt the NE Zig Zags, but retreated after the third pitch, reporting poor conditions.

Sticking to the ridges

With all the fresh snow that has recently fallen and blown about, Jess, Rich and I decided to make life easier for ourselves and stick to climbing ridges over the past two days.

Yesterday, with a deterioration in the weather due for early afternoon, we opted for an early start and climbed the East Ridge of the North Top of Stob Ban. Even with an early start, the winds were still quite bracing, but manageable. It wasn’t a day for hanging about, so we made a fairly swift ascent, before we made a sharp right turn at the top and descended the north ridge. Steve was out shadowing us, as he had not been along the ridge before. Thanks to him for the photos.

Today, Jess wasn’t feeling great, so decided to give today a miss. That left Rich and I breaking trail to Castle Ridge. As the freezing levels had risen but not quite to the summits last night, before dropping back down again, we found the lower two thirds of the ridge to be in much better conditions, with frozen turf and consolidating snow, than the top third which where the rocks weren’t well bonded together and the snowy very dry and powdery. That all said, Rich enjoyed every minute of the route, and found the crux, which is quite a bit harder than anything else on the route, quite challenging. I hope that he didn’t come to Scotland expecting an easy ride!

We’ve got a mass of cold polar air moving over the UK as of this evening, so it’s going to be a cold, but fairly settled period ahead, which is great news.

 

Blustery Day: South Gully, Ben Nevis

Steve and I headed out early this morning up to Ben Nevis for a day of personal climbing.  The mountain was looking brilliant this morning, with clear views to the summit, so we headed up high to have a go at a mixed route that both of us have had on our radars for some time now.

Unfortunately, despite the crags looking white, it was clear from the first few moves that the rocks weren’t bonded well due to the lack of ice holding it all together, so rather than force our way up on wobbly hooks and blocks, we decided to change tact. Having heard that both Central Gullies had been climbed quite a bit recently, we thought that South Gully, a route that neither of us had done, might be worth investigating. However, on starting up the second pitch, which is quite tricky to see into from below, we found it to be rather lean, and required a bit more mixed climbing than snow/ice climbing as we had expected. Good to climb it, but I wouldn’t rush up there if I were you.

Winter conditions Ben Nevis

Clear on Ben Nevis this morning

Quite quiet on the mountain today, with only a few teams out, climbing Ledge Route, No. 3&4 Gullies, North Gully and Central Gully R/H. The winds picked up quite a bit as the morning progressed, forming noticeable wind slab in a number of sheltered areas. Temperatures are slowly rising this evening, which will help consolidate the snow and start binding the rock together when it cools back down.

South Gully Ben Nevis

The lean second pitch of South Gully

South Gully Ben Nevis

Me setting off on the final pitch of South Gully

South Gully Ben Nevis

Steve on the final slopes of South Gully

Meanwhile over on the East Face of Aonach Mor, it seems that with the face catching a bit more morning sunshine, the ice up there has formed much better in places than on Ben Nevis.  Hannah, Lena and Dave enjoyed a couple of unnamed ice routes at about grade III/IV, and reported good ice. Looks like we should have gone there instead!

East Face Aonach Mor

Dave enjoying good ice on Aonach Mor

Ice East Face Aonach Mor

Lena getting stuck into great ice on Aonach Mor

Winter returns! Dorsal Arete & Pincer

Finally, it’s what we’ve all been waiting for, snow! And a reasonable amount of it at that.  As we drove through to Glencoe this morning, it was actually a little disappointing to only see the lightest of dustings on the Pap of Glencoe, but as the morning progressed, the snow continued to accumulate and by the time we got up to Coire nan Lochan this morning, it felt like winter had properly returned.

Winter Conditions Glencoe

A welcome sight this morning in Glencoe

I was out, working for Hebridean Pursuits, with Ruth and Rob, who were part of a large contingent from the University of Manchester Mountaineering Club. They had both rock climbed quite a bit in the past, and were keen to transfer those skills to Scottish winter climbing. On gaining the corrie floor, we decided that the turf would be frozen enough to warrant an ascent of Dorsal Arete, which after the cold, clear days of late, it was. The climbing still required a bit of care as some of the blocks were still a bit loose. Ruth and Rob did a great job of leading themselves up the route, with me climbing alongside, coaching en route. We topped out into fairly fresh winds, which were transporting the snow and causing rime to build on the rocks. It all felt rather wintry, which was reassuring!

Winter Climbing Course

Rob enjoying the route

Winter Climbing Course

Ruth belaying

Winter Climbing Course

Rob on the final pitch

Plenty of teams in Broad Gully. The fresh snow has covered any patches that have survived, so expect hidden patches of icy snow lurking beneath the fresh, particularly in gullies and east facing slopes.

Winter Climbing Conditions Glencoe

Rob and Ruth at the top of the route

Hannah and Mark had an adventure on Ben Nevis today, where they climbed Pincer, which is mentioned as a good early season route in Chasing the Ephemeral. They said that finding the start was a bit tricky, but once on it, by following your nose, it was fairly straight forward route finding, and that conditions were quite good. Quite a few teams on Creag Coire na Ciste and Trident Buttresses, as well as rocky, mixed routes on the East Face of Aonach Mor.  All things considered, it’s shaping up to be a pretty good weekend for winter climbing.

Ice to be found on Little Brenva Face, Ben Nevis

Despite the lack of recent snows, Stu Lade, who worked on one of our CIC Hut Weeks last winter, found some good ice high on Ben Nevis, on Little Brenva Face. The face can turn into rather undefined dribbles of ice, so route finding isn’t always straight forward, but he thought that they started up Bob Run, before finishing up, or very near to Moonwalk. They also climbed a couple of 30m of steep ice, one of which was Final Buttress. A number of British Mountain Guides were also enjoying the ice up there whilst on their winter induction and climbed Cresta along with the other routes. Looks like a great find given current conditions! Cheers to Stu for the photos.

Reports of other teams on The Web and Right Twin on Aonach Mor, both of which were thin but climbable.

Little Brenva Face

Little Brenva Face

Little Brenva Face

Little Brenva Face

Little Brenva Face

 

Another stunning day in the Highlands

It proved to be another stunning day in the Highlands, so long as you were prepared to head up to 800m.  Aonach Mor proved to be a great place to enjoy being above the inversion, particularly as the effort of getting above the clouds was lessened by the gondola.

Cloud inversion in the Highlands

The start of another great day in the Highlands!

Views towards Carn Mor Dearg and Ben Nevis

Views towards Carn Mor Dearg and Ben Nevis

Buttresses to the north of Easy Gully

Buttresses to the north of Easy Gully

Descending into Easy Gully, Aonach Mor

Descending into Easy Gully

Buttresses to the south of Easy Gully

Buttresses to the south of Easy Gully

Looking down Easy Gully

Looking down Easy Gully

Left Twin looking lean

Left Twin looking lean

The snow on the East Face had firmed up quite a bit with the clear skies overnight, giving good, stable conditions in Easy Gully. Many of the routes on the East Face (particularly those to the north of Easy Gully, that are a bit more exposed to the sun) have suffered with the lack of snow and mild temperatures, but Forgotten Twin was good enough to climb today.  Unfortunately, the thin section at about mid-height is probably no longer feasible after our ascent.

We bumped into Euan, who had soloed a couple of unnamed gullies to the south of Homo Buttress, but care definitely required in these lean conditions.

This weekend will see more of the same conditions, so overall little change.

As a side note, the current thaw has unearthed and loosened a pile of loose blocks at the top of No. 2 Gully on Ben Nevis.  The sun will be beating down on the surrounding snow this weekend, loosening the pile even further. It’s worth avoiding at the minute, as it could prove to be catastrophic.

Cloud Inversion on Ben Nevis

Fairly good conditions holding on in Number 2 Gully on Ben Nevis today. Much of the day was spent in the clouds, but the summit of Ben Nevis was just poking out above a fairly dense cloud inversion.

Quite busy in Nos. 2,3&4 Gullies today, as well as teams on Tower Ridge. Tower Gully looked like good fun too. Plenty of rime ice forming on the rocks and on the ground above 1100m.  It’s going to remain fairly cold up high for the next while.

Conditions in No. 2 Gully

Good snow in No. 2 Gully

Rime forming on the rocks

Rime forming on the rocks

Cloud inversion on Ben Nevis

Above the clouds

Gardyloo Gully and Indicator Wall

Brockenspectre above Gardyloo Gully

Cloud inversion on Ben Nevis

Looking towards Carn Dearg

Cloud inversion on Ben Nevis

View from the summit