Great day on Curved Ridge, Glencoe

 

Plan A for today had been Tower Ridge on Ben Nevis, but on seeing the avalanche forecast, which indicated that there would be a high avalanche hazard on NW-NE slopes above 900m, we decided to change plan, and headed to Glencoe instead, where we climbed the classic Curved Ridge on Buachaille Etive Mor.

On the walk-in, we spent some time talking about heuristic traps, which seems wholly appropriate. If you haven’t heard of heuristic traps when it comes to avalanches, it’s well worth reading the following articles:
http://www.northernmountainsport.co.uk/index.php?/eng/content/download/1533/7517/file/Avalanche%20article.pdf
https://www.glenmorelodge.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/Avoid-Being-Avalanched-AH-TGO-Nov-2013.pdf
https://www.glenmorelodge.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/Talking-Yourself-Out-of-Avalanche-Trouble-AH-TGO-Dec-2013.pdf

Curved Ridge, Glencoe

The snow on Curved Ridge is starting to consolidate and good in places, but still quite loose in others, which enabled Jess and Rich to get stuck into a variety of mixed climbing techniques. Above the crux, they took turns on the sharp end before we reached the summit of Stob Dearg, amazingly with not a breath of wind. It has been another great day with the pair from Yorkshire.Curved Ridge

Curved Ridge

Curved Ridge

Quite a few teams on North Buttress, as well as a couple of teams on Shelf Route. One team did attempt the NE Zig Zags, but retreated after the third pitch, reporting poor conditions.

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

 

Finally, snow! Castle Ridge, Ben Nevis

Firstly, it has been snowing fairly constantly last night and through much of today, turning the hills white above 400m.  It’s the dump of snow that we’ve definitely been missing recently.

Ben Nevis conditions

Ben Nevis looking a bit more how it should

Allan decided to have a day off, so it was just Nick and myself. As Nick hadn’t climbed Castle Ridge before, we decided that it would make for a good day.  The ridge was completely devoid of snow yesterday, but overnight, had turned into a brilliant winter mountaineering route, which Nick enjoyed.  The two main cruxes on Castle Ridge are as tricky as anything on Tower Ridge, but the ground in-between is generally a little less sustained. That said, there are plenty of tricky little steps throughout the ridge, and it maintains interest throughout. Steve was behind us for most of the day with his client. Other than that, we didn’t see anybody on the mountain all day, although I think that a number of teams went into Coire na Ciste.

Castle Ridge

Nick above the first tricky step on Castle Ridge

 crux of Castle Ridge

Nick on the crux of Castle Ridge

We chose not to hang around at the top, and made a fairly direct descent down the NW flanks of Carn Dearg. This is a quick, if a little awkward, route down, and certainly a bit easier with a bit of snow cover, as it had today.

Meanwhile, just around the corner, Max was also out for us today. He was out on Ledge Route with Stephen and Jardine. They are looking to build up their winter climbing experience with the aim of climbing Tower Ridge in the future.

Nice day on No. Three Gully Buttress, Ben Nevis

An intentionally relaxed start for Nick, Allan and myself meant missing the early rain and strongest winds of the day, and also gave the crags a chance to re-whiten as fresh snow fell first thing this morning. Nick and Allan were up last year and we had three stunning days out, so I was a little worried that today wasn’t going to be quite on par, however, it evolved into a pleasant, dry and cold day.

It was quite busy in Coire na Ciste by the time we arrived, with many skills and mountaineering teams making use of No. 4 Gully and it’s adjacent ‘Descent Variation’ as listed in Godefroy Perroux’s guidebook. Fortunately, with clear views to the summit plateau, we could clearly see a steady streak of ice at the base of No. Three Gully Buttress, which we made a beeline for.  The ice isn’t fat, but is very climbable, with options to either step onto mixed ground to the right or to stick to the steeper ice on the left.

No. Three Gully Buttress

Alan on pitch 2

 

No. Three Gully Buttress

Nick just after the tricky step on the third pitch

We took the direct variation at the top, which gives some interesting mixed climbing up to the plateau. The rocks were much more bonded together by ice today, which was reassuring. Cooler tomorrow, and we’re due some much needed snow, looks like a promising weekend ahead.

No. Three Gully Buttress

Nice afternoon light over Loch Linnhe and Loch Eil

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

Ledge Route & Tower Ridge, Ben Nevis & The Guardian, Aonach Mor

It’s been another great day in the Scottish hills today, and the snows continued to fall, albeit only lightly, through the day. First up, Steve was out working for us today. He was out with Lucien, who hadn’t climbed on Ben Nevis before. With much of the rock covered in soft snow, the obvious choice was an ascent of Tower Ridge, which Lucien thoroughly enjoyed, and felt that he couldn’t have asked for anything more. There’s no finer way to be introduced to winter climbing on Ben Nevis!

Next up, Hannah, Lena and Mark enjoyed another day of fun climbing. After a long day yesterday, they opted for the gondola served East Face of Aonach Mor, where they climbed The Guardian IV,5. They reported good, absorbing climbing and an interesting off-width chimney on the second pitch.  Seeking out lesser known routes in the current conditions is no bad thing, as it will probably mean avoiding loose debris being knocked down from above.

The Guardian Aonach Mor

Mark setting off up The Guardian

The Guardian Aonach Mor

Hannah emerging from the off-width chimney.

Lastly, I was back out with Rob and Ruth from the University of Manchester Mountaineering Club, working for Hebridean Pursuits. Ironically, we chose to not seek out a lesser known route, and climbed Ledge Route, whilst focusing on alpine ropework. Actually, despite quite a few teams in the vicinity, there were no hold ups, and everyone climbed efficiently and courteously. We then descended into No. 4 Gully by abseiling in off a snow bollard, and found a good boss of ice to practise placing ice screws.  Over the weekend, Rob and Ruth have been able to add many more skills to their climbing and mountaineering toolbox, which I’m sure they’ll look forward to putting into practise in the future. Thanks to both of them for a great couple of days!

Winter conditions, Ben Nevis

Ben Nevis looking good this morning.

Winter Climbing, Ledge Route

Rob and Ruth by the gravity defying block on Ledge Route

Winter Climbing Ledge Route

Snowy on Ledge Route

No. 4 Gully

Descending No. 4 Gully

Plenty of teams out and about, mainly sticking to the ridges and easier gullies. We did see a team low down on Green Gully as we left the corrie this afternoon. It looked fairly lean. There was significant rock fall in No. 3 Gully this morning, reinforcing the need to be aware as we’ve not had any freeze/thaw cycles since the fresh snows arrived, so many blocks aren’t well bonded in place yet.

Ben Nevis conditions

Nice end to the day

Winter returns! Dorsal Arete & Pincer

Finally, it’s what we’ve all been waiting for, snow! And a reasonable amount of it at that.  As we drove through to Glencoe this morning, it was actually a little disappointing to only see the lightest of dustings on the Pap of Glencoe, but as the morning progressed, the snow continued to accumulate and by the time we got up to Coire nan Lochan this morning, it felt like winter had properly returned.

Winter Conditions Glencoe

A welcome sight this morning in Glencoe

I was out, working for Hebridean Pursuits, with Ruth and Rob, who were part of a large contingent from the University of Manchester Mountaineering Club. They had both rock climbed quite a bit in the past, and were keen to transfer those skills to Scottish winter climbing. On gaining the corrie floor, we decided that the turf would be frozen enough to warrant an ascent of Dorsal Arete, which after the cold, clear days of late, it was. The climbing still required a bit of care as some of the blocks were still a bit loose. Ruth and Rob did a great job of leading themselves up the route, with me climbing alongside, coaching en route. We topped out into fairly fresh winds, which were transporting the snow and causing rime to build on the rocks. It all felt rather wintry, which was reassuring!

Winter Climbing Course

Rob enjoying the route

Winter Climbing Course

Ruth belaying

Winter Climbing Course

Rob on the final pitch

Plenty of teams in Broad Gully. The fresh snow has covered any patches that have survived, so expect hidden patches of icy snow lurking beneath the fresh, particularly in gullies and east facing slopes.

Winter Climbing Conditions Glencoe

Rob and Ruth at the top of the route

Hannah and Mark had an adventure on Ben Nevis today, where they climbed Pincer, which is mentioned as a good early season route in Chasing the Ephemeral. They said that finding the start was a bit tricky, but once on it, by following your nose, it was fairly straight forward route finding, and that conditions were quite good. Quite a few teams on Creag Coire na Ciste and Trident Buttresses, as well as rocky, mixed routes on the East Face of Aonach Mor.  All things considered, it’s shaping up to be a pretty good weekend for winter climbing.

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