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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

 

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

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

More chimney action: The Guardian, Aonach Mor

Nick wanted  a slightly shorter day than yesterday, as had to get down to Glasgow this afternoon in order to catch an evening flight, so we settled for climbing on the East Face of Aonach Mor.

Coire Lochan, Aonach Mor

Another glorious day

Surprisingly, it was very quiet as we geared up on the summit plateau of Aonach Mor, with just Mark with two friends who went on to climb Grooved Arete. From the bottom of Easy Gully, we went the other direction, to The Prow area, where we climbed The Guardian. The route, whilst fairly short, packs a lot of high quality climbing into it’s two steep, contrasting pitches. The first follows a corner groove steeply, before a series of turfy ledges out right lead up to a steep step to gain a rocky slab, which has just enough turf dotted here and there to allow secure progress. From here, the route enters the main event, a wide and steep off-width chimney, which is surprisingly accommodating with plenty of good hooks and ledges for feet. It’s also very well protected. On exiting the chimney, easy snow slopes and a final steepening leads to the exit slopes. Today, a few moves to the right avoided the small cornice that’s present at the moment. The turf is well frozen (which it needs to be) but there is some cruddy ice low down. Overall, the climb is excellent, and quite reminiscent of Deep Cut Chimney on Hell’s Lum.

The Guardian Aonach Mor

Top of pitch 1

The Guardian Aonach Mor

Looking up at the chimney

The Guardian Aonach Mor

Looking down the chimney

Nick found the climbing challenging, but enjoyed it throughout. We did contemplate a second route, but thought we should quit whilst we were ahead, so that he wouldn’t have to rush for his flight. Thanks to Nick for a great couple of days. Unfortunately, it looks like he’s taking this cold, clear weather away with him.

The Guardian Aonach Mor

Topping out

Meanwhile, Lou and Steve were also enjoying the good weather, whilst climbing Curved Ridge to the summit of Buachaille Etive Mor. It seemed that it was windier in Glencoe than in and around Ben Nevis today, but they were on their way down before the winds really picked up. Tom was out again with Jan and Ariana. They too were in Glencoe, and had a productive and enjoyable day on Meall a’Bhuiridh. Lastly, Hannah was out with Chris and Andy on the Ballachulish Horseshoe.

 

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!

Another fine day: Morwind, Aonach Mor

For Jess and Rich’s final day, they wanted to climb something challenging, and with the need to get away fairly swiftly for their drive back to Yorkshire, we made use of the gondola at Nevis Range, and made our way up to the East Face of Aonach Mor. It was completely still on the summit plateau, which boded well for the day ahead. Abseiling into the East Face, via the line of Morwind, gave us the opportunity to have a look at abseiling off a snow bollard and setting our personal multi-pitch abseils up with a cow’s tail and a means of back-up.

The initial chimney of Morwind, may well be graded for a greater accumulation of snow. Currently it’s quite a long and tricky step, and got both Jess and Rich thinking and having to work quite hard to unlock the sequence of moves required to escape it.  Both managed to find ways to rest whilst in the chimney, and managed to use traditional back-and-foot techniques to thrutch their way up. Jess and Rich enjoyed the remainder of the route, which doesn’t ease up until the upper snow slopes.

East Face Aonach Mor

South of Easy Gully today

 

Morwind

Jess clearly enjoying herself

Conditions on the route were pretty good, with the turf well frozen and some useful ice. Again, a bit of consolidation would help the snow to no end, but all things considered, we can’t grumble at the prolonged dry and cold spell we’re currently enjoying.

Henry, Alun and Clive climbed Left Twin and reported it to be thin (particularly on the first pitch) but climbable. Another team were slowly making progress up Tinsel Town.

Clear views to Ben Nevis

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.