Springlike on North Buttress, Buachaille Etive Mor

For Andrew's final day, we felt that we had got every last drop of winter out of Ben Nevis, so we changed tack slightly and enjoyed a springlike ascent of North Buttress on Buachaille Etive Mor. It's a great route at any time of the year, with plenty of mountaineering to get to the 3 or 4 steeper pitches and plenty more mountaineering above to reach the summit of Stob Dearg.

There was still quite a bit of snow in the back of the chimneys and as a result of the clear skies overnight, the snow (and water and turf) had refrozen, by radiative cooling, quite well and was very firm on northerly aspects, including for 100m or so down Coire na Tulaich. Were it not for the big steps in the snow, from the previous few days, we would definitely have needed our crampons to descend the snow safely. Where the snow had caught the sun, it had softened up.

The fact that the snow has firmed up on northerly aspects is a slightly promising sign, as hopefully, it will withstand the warmer conditions over the weekend before things cool down again on Sunday night.

Plenty of other teams enjoying the sunshine and dry rock on D-Gully Buttress, Curved Ridge, Crowberry Ridge, Crowberry Tower and North Buttress.










Tower Ridge hanging on to the snow

For our fourth day, Andrew and I found winter on Tower Ridge on Ben Nevis. We put crampons on at the foot of the Douglas Boulder and required them for the whole ascent. The East Gully of the Douglas Boulder was still complete, the steep pitch out was on bare rock and we were on a fair bit of snow thereafter. In fact, there was more snow on the ridge than a couple of weeks ago.

The Little Tower was still mostly banked out, as was the Eastern Traverse. The Leaning Block Chimney required climbing on the outside, as it was blocked with snow. If you were enthusiastic enough, you could tunnel through the soft snow!

The gangway to the gap was again, covered in snow, although the step into and back out of the gap was on dry rock. The final slopes still had the rain crust from the other day, which was protecting the snow somewhat and preventing it from becoming too saturated.

We popped to the summit before descending No. 4 Gully, at which point, the clouds lifted, revealing a rather spring looking Ben Nevis. Still, Scottish winter is a changeable beast and we should see some cooler conditions early next week.

We still have the following spaces on our courses in March:
*Winter Mountaineering Course 4-8 March -1 SPACE
*Introduction to Winter Climbing Course 11-15 March -1 SPACE
*Winter Mountaineering Course 18-22 March -1 SPACE









SW Ridge of the Douglas Boulder & 1934 Route, Ben Nevis

Despite a bit of thaw happening the Highlands right now, there's still a reasonable amount of snow and climbing to be had. Andrew and I made a bee-line for the SW Ridge of the Douglas Boulder, which seems to have been a popular options over the past few days, as the snow has clearly been packed down by the passing of climbers. The rock on the steeper sections was more or less bare.

After completing the route, we abseiled down into the Douglas Gap and down-climbed the West Gully. I had spotted that 1934 Route was complete, so having only abseiled it after finishing Vanishing Gully in the past, we headed over and climbed it in two long pitches, before abseiling back down the line. The snow in 1934 Route was quite soft, but there was still some useful blobs of frozen ice and turf in places.

We still have the following spaces on our courses in March:
*Winter Mountaineering Course 4-8 March -1 SPACE
*Introduction to Winter Climbing Course 11-15 March -1 SPACE
*Winter Mountaineering Course 18-22 March -1 SPACE






Raeburn's Route, Stob Coire nan Lochan

Today brought with it a rise in the temperatures, but at least the day started off dry. The great thing about turf is that whilst it can take some time to freeze, once it is frozen, it takes a little while to become soggy again once a thaw sets in. With that in mind, Andrew and I headed to Stob Coire nan Lochan, where we climbed Raeburn's Route. The first pitch takes a series of vegetated grooves and it's essential (for safe climbing, ethics and the environment) that the turf is fully frozen before climbing it.

After testing a few patches of turf low down, I was happy that the turf was still completely frozen, so we continued on up. After the first pitch, the route takes a short ridge that overlooks NC Gully, before disappearing behind a huge pinnacle and gaining a series of ledges to gain the second belay. By the time we were on the third and final pitch, the rain had set-in. A number of short, rocky steps brought us onto the plateau, where we didn't hang about!

Chucky was just behind us on day 2 of our Advance Winter Climbing Course, the only other team climbing up there went to Dorsal Arete. Few hillwalking and skills team on Gearr Aonach.

Just a reminder that we have one space left on our winter mountaineering course 4-8 March: https://www.westcoast-mountainguides.co.uk/…/winter-mounta…/








Central Gully R/H & Thompson's Route, Ben Nevis

With views up to the summits for much of the day and with cold, calm conditions, it was a great day to be out on Ben Nevis today. I was out with Andrew, who is looking to develop his winter climbing. With the forecast looking to deteriorate a bit over the next couple days, we decided to make the most of today and squeeze in as much climbing as we could by climbing Central Gully R/H, before down-climbing No. 3 Gully and making an ascent of Thompson’s Route and finally descending No. 3 Gully once again.

Both routes were a little on the lean side (think icy-mixed), but provided plenty of interesting climbing. It isn’t possible to place many ice screws at the moment though! The snow on the pitches above the top of the main chimney of Thompson’s was particularly awkward, with a thick but breakable icy crust covering deep, unconsolidated snow.

Other teams on North East Buttress, Platform Rib, Point 5 Gully, Tower Ridge, SW Ridge of the Douglas Boulder, Fawlty Towers, Cornucopia, The Curtain, Ledge Route, The Shield Direct, Gemini and a steep line of ice to the left of the CIC Cascades.

We have one space on our final two Winter Mountaineering Courses running 4-8 and 18-22 March, so please get in touch if you’re interested.












The Promise (III,4), Sron na Lairig Summit Buttress

One of the great things about the job that I do is the opportunity to explore new places whilst working, today was one of those exploratory days. I was out with Nick, Allan and Andy for their final day. We've climbed many of the classics, so thought that it was about time to try somewhere different.

I've looked down onto Summit Buttress of Sron na Lairig a few times but it's quite hard to gauge the feasibility or quality of climbing from above, but having stumbled across a blog entry about it on Simon Richardson's Scottish Winter, I thought it would be worth a look.

The approach was a bit awkward as we stayed low and traversed right, above Eilde Canyon, before making our way up. In hindsight, starting up the main ridge of Sron na Lairig, then cutting off right after a little way would have been much easier.

The route itself takes a turfy slab for the first pitch, giving reasonable climbing, before gaining a right trending groove, with a number of steeper icy steps. After passing a final chockstone on the left, the route eases off up to the summit of Sron na Lairig. The rock in the area is very compact, so don't expect too much in the way of gear.

A great job by Nick, Andy and Allan, who all climbed the route well and enjoyed the adventure!









Not that bad: East Ridge of Beinn a'Chaorainn

The forecasts for today were suggesting similar winds to yesterday, but cooler and drier conditions. After quite a bit of thought, I decided that Nick, Allan, Andy and I should seek shelter on the East Ridge of Beinn a'Chaorainn (with possible descent options of climbing back down the ridge or dropping into Coire na h-Uamha). When we have strong westerly winds, the ridge is on the leeward side of the mountain and is very well sheltered. We were buffeted a bit as we left the sanctuary of the woodland, but on gaining the ridge, the winds markedly dropped.

The ridge was in great condition, with plenty of useful snow and well-frozen turf. We took in all the grade II sections along the way and were soon at the summit of Beinn a'Chaorainn and as expected, in the brunt of the winds, which were strong and constant, but very manageable and so we descended the southern flank of the mountain.

The surface of the saturated snow had refrozen, creating an awkward icy crust, but considering the weather over the past 24 hours, the snowpack was quite reasonable and mostly firm enough to easily walk on.









Mixed weather: Western Rib, Aonach Mor

Today, I was out with Nick, Andy and Allan, who I've been out with a number of times over the years. We decided that Western Rib on the west face of Aonach Mor would give us a good mountaineering day out. It also gave us a good deal of trail breaking to get round there! Fortunately, the snow was quite firm for the final 100m of ascent up to the base of the route.

The route is quite snowy at the moment and in good condition. There was very little bare rock visible for much of the route and some sharp crests of snow on some of the upper sections, all adding to the atmosphere.

The day started off quite clear, with great views across to Carn Mor Dearg and into Glen Nevis. By the time we topped out, the winds had picked up and the clouds had descended, so we didn't hang around on the summit. We were all pretty pleased to descend into the ski area to find plenty of skiers about and more importantly, the gondola still running!







Stob Ban – White Peak

For Peter's final day, we decided to go for a journey and headed up Stob Ban, which translates as white peak, which it definitely is at the moment. We had a thaw last night and into the early hours of today, which stripped some of the lower-lying snow and saturated the snowpack to about 800m. Once this re-freezes, it will firm up well. Above 800m the snow was much drier and consolidating nicely.

We reached the summit via the mountain's east ridge, where we were treated to some brilliant views over towards Ben Nevis, the eastern Mamores and towards Glencoe.

After reaching the summit, we descended the north ridge, which features a brilliant section of exposed ridge, before descending rocky steps. Whilst descending, the weather closed in, bringing with it clouds and snow.

If you fancy being guided up some of the surrounding Munros in winter (or would like to learn the skills to enjoy the Munros in winter independently), please get in touch: https://www.westcoast-mountainguides.co.uk/mountain-guide-…/








A day of two halves: SW Ridge of the Douglas Boulder

Today started off very clear and crisp, with great views right up to the summits. There was a hint of red in the sky, adding to the ambience, but you know what they say… 'red sky in the morning, winter climbers' warning'.

Peter and I planned to be on our way out by the time the freezing level rose and the rains arrived, so we decided to go for the SW Ridge of the Douglas Boulder. Plenty of other teams attacking various other routes on the Douglas Boulder, but only Mat and Esther ahead of us on the SW Ridge.

The snow is starting to take axes in places and this current thaw-freeze cycle will help.

The great thing about the SW Ridge is that it involves a bit of everything, including an abseil descent down into the Douglas Gap, from where we walked down the East Gully, which is full of snow.

As expected, the winds picked up on our descent and the rain started. These mini-thaws are hugely helpful in consolidating the snow and forming the ice on Ben Nevis.

Not many other teams about, but The Curtain was climbed and looked to be in good nick.