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Late start, nice day: Dorsal Arete, Glencoe

Despite a pretty wild start to the day, it was a case of trusting the forecasts and having an intentionally late start to avoid the worst of it. All of our teams did just that this morning, and were treated to dry and reasonably clear days in Glencoe and the Mamores.

For the past couple of days, I’ve been out with George, who has a couple of attempts on Mount Everest under his belt. He was keen to get back into winter climbing, and so yesterday, with plenty of lying snow, not wanting to spend too much time wading, we made an ascent of the aesthetic and striking line of School House Ridge, above Ballachulish. It must be one of the most accessible routes in Lochaber! Plenty of other folk on the route. There was plenty of snow on the ridge, very little of it consolidated, unsurprisingly, as it had only fallen the day before. We topped out in good time, and bagged Sgorr Dhearg. After a clear, dry day, the weather turned rather abruptly at 3pm.

Glencoe Winter Climbing Course

Wintry in Glencoe

School House Ridge, Winter Climbing Course

Snowy on School House Ridge

Today, our late start meant only walking in the rain for 45 minutes or so. Thereafter, the day turned much cooler and drier and altogether very pleasant. George and I walked up along side a raging torrent, up to Coire nan Lochan, where we climbed Dorsal Arete. The rain had stripped a lot of the snow off the route, leaving it quite lean, but with a bit of care, it made for a fun climb. The turf up high was still frozen, and we did have a couple of snow flurries throughout the afternoon.

Dorsal Arete, Winter Climbing Course

‘Bow in the Coe.

Dorsal Arete, Winter Climbing Course

George above the crux

 

Bidean and Stob Coire nam Beith

Bidean and Stob Coire nam Beith

Andy and Anthony enjoyed dry rock lower down on Curved Ridge today, meanwhile Dave, Stu and their two teams, as well as James with Clive and Philip opted for the East Ridge of the North Buttress of Stob Ban. Again, the snow had suffered, but this didn’t detract from the teams enjoying themselves. Finally, Henry was out with Rob and Kyle. They spent their day focusing on a variety of mountaineering skills with the aim of becoming more independent.

The thaw last night and this morning did strip a bit of snow, but it wasn’t too devastating, and with the temperatures now dropping, this will help to finally consolidate what’s there. The forecast for the foreseeable future looks quite favourable, with

wintry conditions on the cards.

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

Sheltered on Dorsal Arete, Glencoe

Last night was supposed to bring with it plenty of snow, and whilst it did precipitate quite heavily, the winds were so strong that much of the snow seems to have be sent back into the atmosphere. For Stuart’s second and final day, we drove down to Glencoe under what seemed to be quite clear skies, however, on arriving at the car park for Stob Coire nan Lochan, a fairly fierce squall of hail had us delaying our departure by five minutes. And that was it. Thereafter, whilst it was a little breezy for a couple of moments on the approach, overall, it was remarkably calm, helped by the fact that the crags of Stob Coire nan Lochan are very well sheltered from most winds.

Stob Coire nan Lochan, Winter Climbing Course

Snowing in Glencoe this morning

We climbed the classic Dorsal Arete, and whilst the direct start wasn’t quite frozen enough to climb, we took in all the awkward and tricky steps on the buttress above, and after the crux fin, climbed up a final groove on the left, which gave some fun chimneying before pulling into a narrow hanging groove which featured great hooks for the tools. Again, Stuart was keen to focus on building belays and ropework, but also got to practise his newly found mixed climbing skills in a variety of situations.

Dorsal Arete Winter Climbing Course

Clear day on Dorsal Arete

 

Dorsal Arete Winter Climbing Course

One of the upper grooves

 

Dorsal Arete Winter Climbing Course

Stuart about to start the crux

 

Dorsal Arete Winter Climbing Course

The left hand variation finish

 

Plenty of action! Glencoe, Ben Nevis & Beinn Dorain

There’s no denying that this winter, we’ve been lucky to enjoy plenty of cold, clear days. Yesterday was no exception.  However, the SE winds were due to be quite bracing at times, so seeking shelter seemed to be part of most teams’ plans. For Nick, Keith and myself, as well as our Advanced Winter Climbing team; Mark, Jon and Spenser, Stob Coire nan Lochan was to provide that shelter for the day.

Stob Coire nan Lochan, Glencoe

The cliffs of Stob Coire nan Lochan

Both teams started up the classic route of Twisting Gully, which whilst being a bit on the lean side, provided some great mixed climbing. We continued up the true line, whilst Mark and his team peeled off to finish up the upper chimneys of Twisting Grooves. Nick and I then went on to climb Pearly Gates, which starts part the way up Broad Gully. This gave us a couple of enjoyable and atmospheric pitches, with a grandstand view of the multiple teams on Dorsal Arete.  From the top of Pearly Gates, with such clear skies, we couldn’t resist the temptation to head to the summit of Stob Coire nan Lochan to take in the views.  Amazingly, despite some strong gusts whilst on Twisting Gully,  it was completely still on the summit.

Twisting Grooves

Spenser in one of the twisting grooves on Twisting Grooves

 

Twisting Gully

Nick on Twisting Gully

 

Stob Coire nan Lochan

Clear views from Stob Coire nan Lochan

Further down Glencoe, Henry and his Introductory Winter Climbing team climbed Curved Ridge, which they reported to be in good condition. Whilst Stob Coire nan Lochan had lost much of its rime ice overnight, particularly from easterly aspects, Buchaille Etive Mor still seemed to be holding onto it well, particularly in sheltered locations such as in the vicinity of Crowberry Gully.

Andy was out with Ali and Max on the first of two Private Guiding days. They climbed Fawlty Tower on Ben Nevis and again, reported good conditions with plenty of frozen turf.

Fawlty Towers, Ben Nevis

Good conditions on Fawlty Towers

 

Fawlty Towers

Descending Tower Ridge after climbing Fawlty Towers

Lastly and by no means least, Hannah was out on a personal climbing day with Duncan and Steve. They headed down to Beinn Dorain, by the Bridge of Orchy, where they climbed the brilliant 3 star VII,7, The Messiah. You can read more about their day on Steve’s blog. Sterling effort by the trio, and a good decision to head south, as the mixed routes on Stob Coire nan Lochan were no longer in condition.

The Messiah

Hannah leading up to the crux pitch of The Messiah

 

The Messiah

Steve on the crux pitch

 

The Messiah

Duncan on the final pitch

3* Climbing to Ourselves: Shelf Route

It’s been another stunning winters day in the Scottish Highlands, with clear skies and cold temperatures. When it’s like this, there’s no where else I would rather be. I was out with one of my favourite regulars, Nick. Favourite because he has always brought with him good weather and great climbing conditions, and today was no different.

Nick doesn’t mind a bit of adventure and so with the forecast looking great and with it being the start of half-term week, we decided to pick a route that was hopefully going to be away from the crowds, and Shelf Route on Buachaille Etive Mor seemed like it might fit the bill. As we drove through Glencoe this morning, most of the car parks were filling up fast, and the one for the Buachaille was no different, but despite this, we saw very few folk on the approach. By the time we reached the foot of Crowberry Gully, it was clear that we were at least the first team to head for Shelf Route. Perfect.

Shelf Route

Looking up the first chimney of Shelf Route

 

Shelf Route

The route ahead

Shelf Route

Looking back down

The route is quite long, and largely consists of short, steep chimneys interspersed with easier sections. There’s fun to be had on every pitch, particularly the final crux, which is a bit more sustained than the chimneys before it. We were largely sheltered from the wind, but Nick didn’t appreciate the spindrift picking up just as he was ‘in the zone’ on the final pitch. The route thoroughly deserves three stars, it’s an excellent route and very atmospheric.

Crowberry Tower

Crowberry Tower

Plenty of teams on Curved Ridge and we could see a steady stream of folk heading up to North Buttress.

 

Buachaille Etive Mor

Views from the summit

Hannah and Lucy were out with a returning group from Essex, who are on their second attempt at summiting the three national peaks (Ben Nevis, Scafell and Snowdown) in one weekend, in winter. They will be heading south now, starting the night shift. All the best to them.

Lou was out with Steven, who is keen to reach the summit of the local Munros via mountaineering routes. Today, they tackled Ledge Route to get to the summit of Ben Nevis.

Finally, Tom was out with Jan and Ariana, on the first of their two day winter skills course. They had a look at core winter skills on Aonach Mor.

It’s great to see so many folk making the most of the great wintry conditions we have right now. Long may it last!

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.

Day of leading: Dorsal Arete, Glencoe

Jess and Rich are both great students to be out with. They are super enthusiastic, keen to learn and realise that the best way to develop is to step out of their comfort zone and to rise up to new challenges, which is what this week has been about so far. We continued that theme today, by heading up to Stob Coire nan Lochan in Glencoe to climb Dorsal Arete, with them taking turns on the sharp end.

Winter Climbing Courses

Stob Coire nan Lochan this morning.

Dorsal Arete lends itself well to this, as it has ample gear placements and very convenient belays throughout. The exact line on this route can be varied depending on conditions and desired level of challenge, but I always think it’s a shame to miss out the pièce de résistance, the narrow fin of rock high up, that gives the route its name.  As Jess had to sit out yesterday, Rich, being the gentleman that he is, offered up the  crux pitch to Jess. Fortunately, Jess was up for the challenge, so with plenty of gear placed ahead for her to clip into, she made short work of the couple of steep moves required to gain the crest of the fin.  Nice work and great leading from both of them!

Dorsal Arete

Rich belaying on Dorsal Arete

Winter Climbing Course

Jess on the crux fin of Dorsal Arete

 

Conditions were not too dissimilar to yesterday, with again, less consolidation from the corrie floor upwards than lower down. The final gully of Dorsal Arete, which had been scoured, was slighty lean, but what snow was there was in surprisingly good condition compared to lower down. It was very quiet up there today, with one team ahead of us, and one team who started up Raeburn’s (Ordinary) Route on Central Buttress, before binning it. I’d imagine that the turf on the first pitch is still unfrozen.

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.

Lost the Place, Ben Nevis & East Ridge, Stob Ban

We’ve had a few brilliant days recently, and we’ve been out making the most of it.  Yesterday, Hannah was out on a personal climbing day with Mark. They decided to head up to Coire na Ciste and climb the neglected gem that is Lost the Place, a mixed route high on Creag Coire na Ciste. The route doesn’t really see the attention it deserves, particularly as it’s probably one of the best mixed routes of it’s grade (V,5) in the region.  The final chimney wasn’t particularly iced up, but they climbed it reporting it probably a grade harder than normal.

Heading up to Lost the Place, Ben Nevis

Heading up to Coire na Ciste

Han on Lost the Place, Ben Nevis

Han enjoying herself

Final Chimney, Lost the Place

Mark on the final chimney

Meanwhile, Steve, Rich and I had a bit of an exploratory day in Glencoe. We spent a bit of time looking at options on Far East Buttress, before making our way up to Stob Coire nan Lochan. By the time we had reached the crags, geared up and I had led the first pitch of East Face Route, time was slipping away, and coupled with not quite perfectly frozen turf, we decided to ab off.  Nice to get a steep pitch of mixed climbing in though.

Pitch 1, East Face, Stob Coire nan Lochan

Me heading off up pitch 1 of East Face

First pitch of East Face Route, Glencoe

Steve looking up at Rich climbing the first pitch

Today was another fine day, and I was back to work, this time with Colin and his son Alistair, working for my good friend Kirkhope Mountaineering. They had attempted the East Ridge of the North Buttress of Stob Ban last year, but were defeated when Alistair developed blisters on the walk-in. This time, armed with new boots, there was nothing to hold us back.  Having climbed the route a couple of days ago, little had changed, although there was a little less snow on the rocks higher up. Both Colin and Alistair rose up the the numerous challenges along the ridge, and we topped out in sunshine, with expansive views across the West Highlands.  A great day to be out!

East Ridge of the North Buttress of Stob Ban catching the sun

The East Ridge catching the morning sun

Great situations on the East Ridge

Great situations on the route

Crux of the East Ridge of the North Top of Stob Ban

Alistair and Colin on the crux

Brilliant day in the Scottish Highlands

Brilliant views to the north west

Alpine conditions on the East Ridge of the North Top of Stob Ban

Alpine conditions on the East Ridge

Final fin of the East Ridge of Stob Ban

The final fin of rock on the East Ridge

Descending the North Ridge of Stob Ban

Father and son

East Ridge of the North Buttress, Stob Ban

After sitting out a rather stormy day yesterday (amazingly a hardy team of visiting Swiss climbers managed to climb Green Gully, but reported that the ice wasn’t good for ice screws), I was back out with Joe and Kirsty for another day of coached lead climbing.  Despite the promise of snow yesterday, with the strong winds, much of it dissipated back up into the atmosphere, so the real saving grace was some overnight fresh snow, which fell down to sea level.

East Ridge Stob Ban

Stob Ban this morning

We decided to head up Glen Nevis, and make our way up to the East Ridge of the North Buttress of Stob Ban, a great, and often neglected grade II/III mountaineering route, with plenty of varied climbing and situations.  I was happy for Joe to lead the whole route, with Kirtsy following, so that’s exactly what we did.  This was the first time for either of them to climb mixed terrain, but with both of them having a solid back ground in rock climbing, they took to it like ducks to water and were soon hooking, torquing and bridging up the corners and grooves.

Kirsty on East Ridge, Stob Ban

Kirsty seconding

Couple winter climbing on the East Ridge of the North Buttress of Stob Ban

Happy couple enjoying the winter conditions

Joe enjoying the East Ridge of the North Buttress of Stob Ban

Joe also enjoying the situations

On finishing the route, after the final knife edge ridge, we made our way back down the North Ridge of Stob Ban. We saw a couple of hillwalkers, but asides from that, it was a quiet day. We were nicely sheltered from the westerly winds today.

Final ridge of the East Ridge of the North Buttress of Stob Ban

Kirtsy negotiating the final ridge

Kenny was also out, with returning client John. They climbed Scabbard Chimney on Stob Coire na Lochan, and reported good conditions for mixed climbing up there. Winter’s back!