Comb Gully and School House Ridge

Ken: Fortunately, it was quite a dry day today, and so as a result, the thaw took far less of a toll on the snow than yesterday.

Caspar enjoyed a day of classic Ben Nevis ice climbing with Shaun today. they climbed Comb Gully, which whilst a bit damp, was in good condition.

I was back out with our Winter Mountaineering team. We climbed School House Ridge, above Ballachulish, with Giles and Dave taking turns on the sharp end. The ridge was almost split right down the middle, with the right hand (north) side offering a snowy winter ascent, and the left hand side offering a rocky summer ascent. We were treated to a brilliant and direct descent, on soft snow, down Coire Riabhach.

We’re due a welcome return to wintry conditions tomorrow, which looks to stay with us throughout next week, with things ramping up a notch on Tuesday. The never ending winter?

First proper thaw of winter

Ken: We’ve had a couple of temperature blips this season, but nothing so far that could be described as a proper thaw. That was until today.  The day started off dry and cold, but quickly deteriorated, with the freezing levels shooting up above the summits and plenty of rain. That said, it did nothing to knock our teams’ enthusiasm!

I was out with our Winter Mountaineering team, and we headed up to Stob Coire nan Lochan, where we spent some time developing Giles, Paul and Dave’s mountaineering toolboxes, with various snow anchors, a recap on ice axe arrests and abseiling down the steeper steps on the Zig-Zags of Gearr Aonach.

Steve was also in Glencoe, with Neil. They snatched an ascent of No. 6 Gully on Aonach Dubh. The ice was in good condition for axes and ice screws, if a little stepped out (unsurprisingly given the recent conditions). It gave Neil a great introduction to grade IV ice.

Despite the thaw, the more established ice climbs will last until the temperatures drop again as the weekend rolls in. The mid-range forecast is looking excellent, and there’s not really any sign of winter letting go of its grip just yet!

Another tremendous day in the Highlands!

Ken: It seems like days of good weather are like buses; you wait a while, then two come at once. Today was another stunning day in the Scottish Highlands, with similar conditions to yesterday, with maybe a little more wind on the summits. For day two of our Winter Mountaineering course, we headed to the West Face of Aonach Mor, where we climbed Golden Oldie. The crux today was probably the approach slopes, which were as icy as I’ve ever known them. The team certainly had a great introduction to front-pointing!

The route felt quite alpine today, with some sections almost completely bare of snow. Due to needing to pitch the approach slopes too, the route felt longer than usual, and gave the team plenty of time mountaineering on a variety of terrain.

On the summit plateau, we popped over to the East Face, to have a look a the crags. There’s a huge contrast between the dry rocks of the buttresses to the north of Easy Gully versus the rimed up and very wintry buttresses to the south.

The Highlands at their Best

Today was possibly the best day of the season so far, with wall to wall sunshine and barely a breath of wind. When it’s like this, the Scottish Highlands really are at their best, and quite possibly one of the best places in the world. Ken kicked off our final Winter Mountaineering Course of the season, with an ascent of Sron na Lairig, with Dave, Paul and Giles. Movement was the focus of the day, and with the snow being so firm, good and steady movement was essential, both in ascent and descent. They also bagged the summit of Stob Coire Sgreamach as well. The only other person they bumped into all day had walked over from Bidean nam Bian.

Steve and Neil also had solitude on Aonach Mor, with just two other teams for company they climbed Western Rib, which was baking in the sunshine all day. The route is however suffering in the spring heat , with turf getting softer with height and rime falling off the rocks throughout the day. What an amazing day to be outside!

Proper Scottish Winter: Bidean nam Bian

(Steve): Having evacuated the CIC Hut early yesterday; Stu, Pat and Ian took a leisurely approach with some coaching in the Ice Factor. My team mates Finn and Philip were super keen so we went for an adventure on Bidean nam Bian. Needless to say it was blustery on the walk in but psyche was high so we stuck with it knowing we could get shelter once close to church door buttress. We climbed the classic West Chimney in three pitches before making an exciting abseil through the great arch. A proper Scottish Winter experience for Finn and Philip, who took it in their stride and embraced every minute of it.

High winds on Ben Nevis

Up on Ben Nevis, our two CIC Hut teams were doing their best to avoid high winds. Steve, Finn and Philip went for an adventure and climbed Lost the Place high up in Coire na Ciste. Whilst normally known as being an interesting (and underrated) mixed route, at the moment it’s pretty much an ice route and not quite so easy to protect. The top chimney is actually an overhanging icicle which was great fun and warrants V,6 overall.

Stu, Pat and Ian made short work of SW ridge of the Douglas Boulder, climbing it in 4 pitches before escaping into West Gully.

Beinn Udlaidh and Ben Nevis

Ken: The ice is holding on on Beinn Udlaidh, but only just. Dave and I had a quick hit today, and climbed Ramshead Buttress. The ice on the steeper sections was generally fine, but the snow lying on the easier angled ground, between the steeper ice, was variable, and required a bit of care. Only one other team in the corrie today, and they made fairly short work of Quartzvein Scoop. The ice should survive the next wee thaw.

Meanwhile, our CIC Hut Teams have been getting stuck into classic ice climbs on Ben Nevis. Steve and his team climbed Green Gully, which was in great conditions, and left them with smiles all round. Stu and his team were firing on all cylinders and climbed Sickle, Central Gully and Central Gully Right-Hand. Not a bad haul at all.

Also climbing on the Ben were Andy and Jon. They climbed Glover’s Chimney, and continued up Tower Ridge to the summit.

It felt like spring in the valleys, but with all the ice that’s around up high at the moment, this promises to yield great late season ice climbing, well into April and possibly beyond!

Day 1 CIC Hut week

Stu and Steve are up at the CIC Hut this week running our March 5 day course. Steve was out with Philip and Ian who made the most of a truly alpine ascent of Tower Ridge which is in perfect condition. There is a track along what is now a narrow crest of snow, there’s even a steep ice pitch before the little tower to contend with. They descended Ledge Route which made of the perfect day of mountaineering.

Stu, Pat and Finn made short work of Observatory Buttress before traversing over to indicator wall. Ice is brilliant at the moment with all the classics getting ascents including Orion Direct, point five, Astral highway, hadrians direct, slave route and sickle.

Skiing at Nevis Range

Ken: A slight change of tact today. With such a promising forecast and with good snow cover on the hills, Hannah and I decided that today couldn’t be wasted, and so we spent most of the day skiing at Nevis Range. Sure enough, we soon popped above the clouds and enjoyed skiing in the sunshine.

I’ll let the photos tell the rest of the story.

Over on Ben Nevis, our CIC Hut Team, ably led by Steve and Stu, also made the most of the brilliant weather and climbed Tower Ridge and Observatory Buttress/Indicator Wall. Tomorrow will bring more of the same conditions, so get out there and make the most of it. This is when the Highlands are at their very best!

Windier than expected on Stob Ban.

Ken: Today turned out to be far wilder than the forecasts suggested, with the winds gusting over 60mph at 900m. Jon, Phil and I climbed the East Ridge of the North Top of Stob Ban, along with another West Coast Mountain Guides team, led by Jamie.

Needless to say, it was a touch breezy at times. Conditions on the route are generally pretty good, with plenty of consolidated snow throughout. We didn’t hang around on topping out, and made a fairly swift exit down the north ridge. The weather seemed to ramp up a notch at about 3pm, as the winds and precipitation increased. It’s looking to be far more settled over the next few days though.