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!



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

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

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.

Bit of a thaw: Number 2 Gully, Ben Nevis

Overnight, the freezing levels sneaked up to about 1150m, a bit higher than some of the forecasts were suggesting, causing the snowpack to start to thaw at most levels.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as it may refreeze before the next dump of snow, giving the well needed consolidated base for new snow to lie on.

Ben Nevis conditions

I was out today with Joe and Kirsty. For Kirsty, it was her first time winter climbing, and for Joe an opportunity for some coached leading, so we headed up to No. 2 Gully, as having been up there yesterday, I was sure that it would be fine for today.  There was quite a bit of fresh snow in Coire na Ciste and on the approach to Number 2 Gully, so we went up cautiously, but the gently thawing snowpack was fine throughout, with no tail-tale signs of insatiabilities, even if it was hard going at times!

Number 2 Gully, Ben Nevis

Despite the slightly damp conditions, both Joe and Kirsty remained enthusiastic throughout, and did a good job at leading themselves up the route. Whilst at the foot of the route, we were passed by three Swiss mountaineers, who all soloed the gully sans crampons. Unfortunately for them, I don’t think that they have as yet sampled the best that Ben Nevis has to offer.

Wild day in the hills tomorrow, time to batten down the hatches!


Winter’s back! No. 2 Gully, Ben Nevis

It was pleasing to see that sometime this morning, winter had made a return to the Highlands, a theme which continued throughout the day and will do for the rest of the week.

Winter conditions Ben Nevis

I was out with Ceri and Richard who both had climbed in winter before. They were after a refresher and a kick-start to their winter season, so we ventured up to Coire na Ciste on Ben Nevis, one of the few winter climbing venues that has managed to hold on to the snow over the past week, and made our way up to No. 2 Gully. Throughout the approach, fresh snow was falling and settling on the rocks, as far down as the CIC Hut, making for a welcome wintry sight. Something we’ve not had for what feels like a wee while.

First pitch No. 2 Gully, Ben Nevis

Travel up to the foot of No. 2 Gully was fairly straight forward, as the snow apron had softened quite a bit over the past few days. There was also a thin layer of soft fresh snow on the surface, allowing a quick but safe approach up to the mouth of the gully. From here, Ceri and Rich led themselves up the route, with me alongside offering coaching.

Belay, No. 2 Gully

The route has suffered a bit from the recent thaw, but despite a bit of soft ice, and a couple of avoidable holes, was in reasonable condition throughout.  The pair did a fine job in all the technical and physical aspects of safely getting themselves up the route, and today proved to be more of an MOT for them, with a few minor pointers and areas for refinement thrown in. I was working for Peak Mountaineering today.

Final pitch, No. 2 Gully

topping out of No. 2 Gully

Very quiet today on the mountain, one pair soloed past us, and we bumped into a couple of Swiss climbers on the summit plateau, who were out enjoying the weather. That was all we saw, but then again, visibility was quite poor.  Further snow fall on the cards for tonight, tomorrow night and Wednesday, which will all be very welcome.

Winter conditions, Ben Nevis

Winter returns to Ben Nevis

Icy in No. 2 Gully, Ben Nevis

I was back out with Gareth, Mike and Matt, and for day two, we thought that we should make the most of the great weather and go high on Ben Nevis. Unfortunately, with the current conditions, this didn’t give us many options, so on arriving into Coire na Ciste, we decided to go for No. 2 Gully.  The snow on the approach had morphed into firm névé, giving the lads a great opportunity to really put their footwork to the test up to the gully.

With a number of teams in the area, I guided the lads up the gully, but en-route, we were able to look at a variety of belays, made somewhat slightly limited with the amount of ice in the cracks. The trio enjoyed the climbing, which in current conditions was more involved than normal, but found the continual front-pointing hard work on their calves.  So a great intro to ice climbing then!

No. 2 Gully, Ben Nevis

Icy in No. 2 Gully


Ben Nevis plateau

Clear on the plateau


Walking over towards No. 4 Gully

Walking over towards No. 4 Gully

We topped out into the sunshine, before making our way over to No. 4 Gully and descending that, which again, is a lot less forgiving then it was a couple of days ago.  Other teams making the most of the weather by making ascents of Gargoyle Wall, which looked a bit black lower down, North Gully (delicate first pitch), No. 3 Gully and I bumped into Jamie and Mo as we were walking out, who had climbed NE Buttress, and reported ok conditions throughout, so good going on their part to stick their noses in it and succeed. Sometimes, that’s exactly what it takes!

The north face of Ben Nevis

The north face of Ben Nevis

The mid-range synoptic charts are showing a bunching of the isobars over the UK and cool conditions as the middle of the month approaches, which will hopefully give us the stormy weather and heavy snow that we’re needing right now… Fingers crossed!

Great conditions on Tower Ridge, Ben Nevis

Today, Simon and I were treated to some great views of the north face of Ben Nevis this morning on our walk in, with views all the way to the summit.  Unfortunately, the views didn’t hang around all day, but the deteriorating weather did enable Simon to have a taste of more traditional Scottish conditions, for every time he had been up in the past, he had enjoyed good weather.  Lucky chap!

Simon had booked a second day on a 1:1 basis, so that he could push himself, and have a crack at Tower Ridge, one of the finest winter ridge climbs in the UK, so that’s exactly where we headed to.  On our approach, we could see teams on Minus 2 Gully, Orion Face Direct, Orion Directissima, Point 5 Gully and Match Point.  One team also possibly headed round to Zero Gully.

Tower Ridge is as snowy as it has been all winter, and much of that snow has consolidated into firm snow/ice, allowing for solid first time axe placements for much of the ridge. The weather closed in as we made steady progress, obscuring any views, but I did catch a brief glimpse of a team topping out of Tower Scoop.

We topped out into almost white-out conditions, with fresh snow falling, but as we made our way to the summit, the weather did clear just momentarily.  Plenty of wind-blown snow made for a nice descent of the Red Burn, well most the way, the lower reaches are quite bare now.  I was working for Atlas Mountaineering.

I’m off to Skye tomorrow to deliver some ‘summer’ mountaineering this coming week, I wonder if all the snow will have melted by then…

Indicator Wall with Intermediate Start, Ben Nevis

Today was my last scheduled day of winter work, which is rather convenient, as the weather is turning as of tomorrow.  I was working for Abacus Mountain Guides, and out with Peter, who was keen for a classic ice climb on Ben Nevis.  We walked in with an open plan, but knowing that there was a fair amount of awkward crust on a lot of the steeper ice, and on entering Observatory Gully, and seeing teams veer off to Hadrian’s Wall, Point 5, Tower Scoop and Smith’s Route, an ascent of Indicator Wall seemed to make perfect sense.

I did have in the back of my mind that having a look at one of the ice pitches directly below Indicator Wall (Lower Indicator Wall) would be a nice start, however, only the Intermediate Start (as per Godefroy Perroux’s excellent guidebook) was thick enough to climb.  It gave a nice, and quite steep, pitch of ice (a bit cruddy on the surface in places) for starters.

We then crossed the snow slopes to gain Indicator Wall itself, which was in reasonable condition, if again, a bit cruddy on the surface in places, and just required a bit more work to secure tools and feet.  It sounded like folk were experiencing similar conditions on Smith’s Route too.  One of the things I love about Indicator Wall is that it is the highest route in the UK, and tops out metres away from the summit cairn, which is then used as the final belay, much to the intrigue of folk who have walked up the mountain track.

Quite a few folk out making the most of the last good day for a while, with people on Smith’s Route, Tower Scoop, Hadrian’s Wall, Point 5 Gully (not sure what conditions it’s in), Tower Ridge and a fair few heading into Coire na Ciste too.

Do I think winter is over?  I doubt it, the upcoming milder air and rain will strip a lot of the loose snow, of which there is lots, and start to erode the ice,  but there are hints of cooler air sneaking in for the following weekend (…  Temperatures will still remain reasonably low, with the freezing levels hovering just above the summits, so the ice (where thicker) should survive until it cools down again… Time will tell!