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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

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

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.

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.

 

Eagle soaring over Stob Ban

For Nick and Allan’s final day, we decided to play it safe after the rapid build up of fresh wind-blown snow over the past 24 hours, and headed to Stob Ban to climb the brilliant East Ridge of the North Buttress.  I was hoping to follow a trail through the snow this morning, but no such luck, but we did spot what I thought a juvenile Golden Eagle soaring above the East Ridge, which was quite a majestic sight.

After a fair bit of wading, we reached the foot of the East Ridge, and made our way up the numerous tricky steps and sections of exposed ridge, all of which were covered in deep snow.  The climbing is never particularly difficult, although some variation is possible on a number of the steeper rocky steps, however, the route flows nicely, is great fun and tops out on the north top of Stob Ban, a short distance from the main summit. With Nick and Allan making the drive back down south this evening, we made a sharp right turn at the top, and made our way down the north ridge.

East Ridge of North Buttress

Great conditions

 

East Ridge of North Buttress

On the crux corner

 

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

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!