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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.

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.

NC (Not Complete) Gully, Stob Coire Nan Lochan

First things first, Happy New Year to you all! I hope that you all enjoyed yourselves whatever you did. Fortunately not working on the 1st meant a nice night out with friends to see the New Year in.

No. 3 Gully Buttress, Ben Nevis

No. 3 Gully Buttress was climbed by a few teams.

I was back to work yesterday, and out with Darren and Jackie, who were looking to develop their winter mountaineering skills with a trip up Mont Blanc on the cards for later in the year. With a favourable forecast, we decided to head up to Coire na Ciste on Ben Nevis, where we focused on movement skills, before making an ascent of No. 3 Gully, which was in very friendly condition, with no cornice at the top. We then made our way over the plateau and down No. 4 Gully, which again lacked a cornice.

In No. 3 Gully, Ben Nevis

In No. 3 Gully

Good conditions in No. 3 Gully

Good conditions in No. 3 Gully

No. 3 Gully, Ben Nevis

At the top of No. 3 Gully

Steve was also out working for West Coast Mountain Guides. He was out with Kieran and Richard, they had a productive day on the other side of Tower Ridge, in Tower Gully.

Many folk out yesterday, but unfortunately it’s rather slim pickings at the moment with the lack of snow and ice. Teams on Tower Gully, Tower Ridge, Gardyloo Gully (reported to be about grade IV and requires ice screws at the moment), No. 2 Gully, No. 3 Gully Buttress, one team backed off a very lean Thompson’s Route, Hobgoblin and multiple teams in No 3 Gully.

Gardylook Gully, Ben Nevis

Gardyloo Gully looking sporting, and certainly NOT grade II (thanks to Andy Wyatt for the photo)

Today, I was out with Gareth, Mike and Matt for the start of their Winter Mountaineering Course. With a slightly less than ideal forecast, but with another thaw due for later in the week, we decided to go for something in Glencoe, as nothing there (apart from Board Gully) is likely to survive another thaw.  It turns out that we may already have been one or two days late, but after recapping on movement skills, and bringing some these movement drills and skills to their conscientiousness, rather than doing things without realising, we made for NC Gully, where the effects of the thaw are making themselves known. The lads led where suitable, but I took over for the more exposed rocky steps.  We finished off by descending Broad Gully, which is complete. Some more unsettled weather next week, which fingers crossed, brings with it some well needed snow.

Glencoe Conditions

A rather black Stob Coire nan Lochan

Ptarmigan

White ptarmigan looking rather out of place.

NC Gully, Glencoe

Matt nearer the top of NC Gully

NC Gully, Glencoe

Mike and Gareth near the top of NC Gully

Scott was out with Darren and Jackie, they enjoyed a productive day covering further winter mountaineering skills around the Nid area of Aonach Mor. Good luck with Mont Blanc you two!

Another stunning day: Dorsal Arete, Glencoe

It’s been another stunning day in the Outdoor Capital of the UK, with wall to wall sunshine, firm snow and amazing, it was quite quiet on the hills today.

I was back out with Kevin and John, for their final day of coached leading, and we went to Stob Coire nan Lochan to climb Dorsal Arete, which I had heard was still in good nick.  It was.

We were the first of only a few teams in the corrie, and therefore had Dorsal Arete mostly to ourselves, the only others to climb the crest were Si and Becky (also part of Team Lowe Alpine), who soloed past with skis on their back, on their way to find a nice descent off Bidean.  What a great day for it!

The snow had once again firmed up overnight, and remained firm where in the shade, giving secure climbing all the way.  With the crux fin just in the sunshine, it would have been a shame to miss it out on such a day, so we took that in too, adding in some variety to an already great route.

It’s been a productive couple of days for Kevin and John, who have really got to grips with pitched climbing.  We’ve been able to look at a variety of belays and runner placements, they’ve now got a good understanding now of ropework and knots, and we’ve climbed two brilliant routes.

Very little in condition on Stob Coire nan Lochan now, Boomerang Gully looked ok, Langsam might be climbable, Forked, Broad and North Gullies are all complete.

 

Escape from Colditz, Blaven & catch-up

So, what’s been going on since the last post?  Quite a bit, which probably explains the lack of blogging over the past few days.

I’ve been running an Intro to Winter Mountaineering course for Moran Mountain, up in the NW Highlands.  On Sunday, we chose to stay low, to avoid the worst of the winds and made an ascent of the brilliantly named Six Track Mono Blues Gully on Meall Gorm, which must be contender for the most accessible winter climbing cliff in the UK.  Being in the lee of the mountain gave us plenty of shelter, and Sele, Gavin and Dave (who joined us for the day) enjoyed their first foray in NW Highlands.

Hannah wrapped up a Winter Skills & Summits course by making an ascent of Stob Coire Raineach in Glencoe.

Rod and his team of mountaineers were also out in Glencoe, and made an ascent of the Zig-Zags in order to stay out of the worst of the winds.

On Monday, Chris kicked off our Advanced Winter Climbing Course by climbing Scabbard Chimney on Stob Coire nan Lochan.  Chris and John then had enough time to fire up Dorsal Arete too.  Not bad going for day 1!

I headed round  with Gavin to climb the ever faithful George, which is more often in condition that not through the winter.  It’s worth noting that the tunnel through route has collapsed recently, and so the options are to climb on the right, up awkward slabs, which are better and more secure when well iced (which it wasn’t today), or a short chimney slightly further to the right. Umbrella Falls was climbed that day and reported to be in good nick.

On Tuesday, Chris and John, on the Advanced Winter Climbing Course were joined by Mike, and they climbed Morwind on the East Face of Aonach Mor, whilst I was out with my Intro Winter Climbing team sampling the delights of one of the deep, atmospheric gullies of the NW Highlands, Deep North Gully on Beinn Alligin.  We continued over the Horns to give a brilliant day out.

Today, Hannah enjoyed a day of personal climbing with Steve.  They stayed low on Ben Nevis, to avoid the suspect slopes, and climbed Gutless, an under-graded and under-rated chimney on the West Face of the Douglas Boulder.  Chris and his team climbed Castle Ridge. Several other teams also out enjoying the good weather by making ascents of The Curtain, Waterfall Gully, Tower Ridge, Vanishing Gully and possibly Stringfellow.  Still quite a bit of avalanche prone slopes though, so care and careful route choice required.

Finally, I decided to venture to Skye with my team, and climbed the short but good value Escape from Colditz III, on Blaven.  The route takes a deep leftwards trending fault on Winter Buttress, and follows a narrow, icy ramp, underneath a curtain of icicles.  We climbed the route in two pitches, offering interesting climbing all the way on dribbling ice.

White Cliffs of Stob Coire nan Lochan, Glencoe

I was back out with Ben today, working for Moran Mountain.  After Ben’s success of yesterday, and with strong easterly winds due, we decided to seek a bit of shelter in Coire nan Lochan, which is quite well enclosed by the summit and adjoining ridges.   From the road, with low cloud obscuring the views high up, it was hard to make out how wintry things were, and with steady drizzle and not particularly cold temperatures in the valley, neither of us were expecting things to be so white on gaining the corrie floor.

I don’t think I’ve seen the crags of Stob Coire nan Lochan so white before.  We didn’t get close enough to examine the rocks, more about that later, but it seemed to be from wet snow blown in on fresh SE winds.  The snow had started to consolidate nicely, and although there is far less snow than usual for this time of year, it did feel like a winter wonderland up there, and completely unexpected too.

Whilst gearing up to head up Broad Gully, Ben voiced that he wasn’t feeling on top of his game today, so despite some encouragement, and hints that he might be keen to continue and give it a go, we decided to leave it for another time.  In order to still make the most of the day, we traversed across to the broad ridge of Gearr Aonach (translation: the short ridge), and made a descent of the zig-zags (not wintry at all), which Ben enjoyed.   The snow line was at about 750m.

The long term forecasts are looking very promising, with some overdue snow coming in tonight and again early next week.  Plenty of light wind days in the pipeline too, brilliant!