East Ridge, Stob Ban & Winter Skills

After a busy week running a Winter Mountaineering Course for Moran Mountain in the NW Highlands, I was back on home turf today with Mike & Tony.

Our plan A was to catch the gondola at Nevis Range this morning, along with a few other hopefuls, but the strong winds put a quick lid on that plan, so we headed round to Glen Nevis and made our way up to the East Ridge of the North Buttress of Stob Ban.  There was a layer of saturated thawed snow sitting beneath a layer of freshly deposited snow on the approach, and the  turf lower down was still a bit soggy, but improved with height, particularly where exposed.  The climbing itself was as good as ever, giving a nice variety of situations, which Mike and Tony enjoyed.  We were somewhat exposed to the SE winds, but besides some blowing spindrift, the winds didn’t hinder our progress.  One team of two ventured up towards South Gully, but turned around, and one other team were making their way to the base of the route quite late in the morning, other than that it was very quiet.  The main north ridge of Stob Ban was quiet sheltered, so we made the most of the day by ticking off the Munro, before descending the north ridge.

Low down on the East Ridge

Low down on the East Ridge


On the crux

On the crux


On the summit of Stob Ban

On the summit of Stob Ban

Tim was out running the first of two skills days with Claudia and Pavel.  They had caught the overnight sleeper train from London, so with a late start, they visited the impressive north face of Ben Nevis and were introduced to some core winter skills, in between the gusts!  Their day today must have felt a million miles away from this time yesterday!

Dave was also out running an introductory winter hill day, with Mark, Reece and Louise.  For their first winter hill day, they visited Buachaille Etive Beag in Glencoe, and guess what, battled with the wind.  They did have a good day, and started getting to grips with the necessary skills required to explore the hills in winter.

On Buachaille Etive Beag

On Buachaille Etive Beag


Traverse of Beinn Alligin & School House Ridge.

Today, Tom was out working for West Coast Mountain Guides, with Ali, Gary, James and Matt. They climbed the brilliant mountaineering outing ‘School house Ridge’ in Glencoe. Looks like they had a great day, and a brilliant weather window to boots.

Meanwhile, I was out running day one of a mountaineering course in the NW Highlands for Moran Mountain. We made a classic traverse of Beinn Alligin, and didn’t see another soul all day.

Konrad was also out with Adele and William, they enjoyed some mixed climbing on the SW Ridge of the Douglas Boulder on Ben Nevis.

Storm Henry will be gracing us tomorrow, but the thaw doesn’t look to be too severe, and will therefore really help with the building of some well needed ice.


Eastern Slant & North Buttress, Glencoe

With another day of strong westerly winds on the cards, Adele, William and I climbed Eastern Slant on Far East Buttress on Aoanch Dubh, which gave us reasonable shelter from the winds, which were strong enough to repel a few teams heading up to the higher cliffs of Stob Coire nan Lochan.

For Adele and William, it was their first taste of mixed climbing, and although some of the turf wasn’t quite fully frozen, the route lent itself well to our objectives, giving three varied pitches of interesting climbing, with a thought provoking crux chimney right at the end.

Meanwhile, further up the glen, Matt was out with Oli again, and the made their way up North Buttress on Buachaille Etive Mor, which again with it being low down on the mountain, and on a NE aspect, was protected from the worst of the winds.

Winter returns to The Highlands

Yesterday was wet, and there was almost nothing other than the calender date to hint that it was winter.  I was out working for High Mountain Guides, with Grant, and we enjoyed, no really, we did, a wet and snow free Curved Ridge, Buachaille Etive Mor, in Glencoe.  It was well sheltered from the strong southerly winds.  On topping out, we braced ourselves, and made our way over to and down Coire na Tulaich.  The torrents coming down the north face of the Three Sisters was quite impressive!

Wet, wet, wet, I felt it in my fingers and my toes.

Wet, wet, wet, I felt it in my fingers and my toes.

Fresh overnight and early morning snow magically, and thankfully, converted the hills back to their winter garb, and with a calm start,things were looking far more promising. Grant and I took the gondola up and ventured round to the West Face of Aonach Mor, our intentions were to climb Golden Oldie, however, not feeling on top of his game, Grant decided that climbing might be pushing it a bit, so we headed back along the Allt Daim and back up to Nevis Range.

Summit Ribs on the West Face of Aonach Mor

Summit Ribs on the West Face of Aonach Mor

Meanwhile, Chris was out with Tim on Ben Nevis, which again, had recovered reasonably well, given the short recovery time.  He climbed No. 3 Gully Buttress.  Plenty of steeper lines were getting climbed by the BMC International Meet teams, who after the past couple of sub-optimal days, must have been chomping at the bit.

Early morning light on Ben Nevis

Early morning light on Ben Nevis (Photo: Chris Thorne)


Welcome snow on Ben Nevis (Photo: Chris Thorne)

Welcome snow on Ben Nevis (Photo: Chris Thorne)


Reasonable climbing conditions (Photo: Chris Thorne)

Reasonable climbing conditions (Photo: Chris Thorne)

Finally, Hannah, along with Scott, were out working with students on the Adventure Tourism Management degree at the University of Highland & Islands.  They looked at the planning of a winter hill day, and put their plan into action by going for a journey around the Nid Ridge area of Aonach Mor, looking at various winter skills en route.

Good views from Nevis Range (Photos: Scott Kirkhope)

Good views from Nevis Range (Photos: Scott Kirkhope)


Winter journeying (photo: Scott Kirkhope)

Winter journeying (photo: Scott Kirkhope)

Surprisingly pleasant: East Ridge of Beinn a’Chaorainn

With strong SW winds and the freezing level above the summits forecasted, Donna, Caroline and myself headed east to climb the brilliant East Ridge of Beinn a’Chaorainn.  It’s a route that is often well covered in snow through the winter, as our prevailing winds pile snow over the summit plateau of Beinn a’Chaorainn and onto the east facing corries and ridges.  The ridge is also quite sheltered from strong SW winds, and so whilst the final approach to the ridge can be exposed to gusts, once on the ridge, it can be remarkably serene by comparison… until reaching the top.

The approach to Beinn a’Chaorainn is a good test of one’s climbing abilities, with a few fallen trees to clamber over.  On reaching the ridge, which always feels like it takes longer than it does, it was clear that the recent thaw had taken quite a toll on the unconsolidated snow, leaving the crest lower down quite bare.  However, we found a handy and interesting snow filled gully just to the right of the ridge and so made an ascent of that until the snow reappeared on the crest higher up.  We continued to look at being slick but safe on alpine style mountaineering terrain.

Part the way up the ridge, the clouds cleared, leaving us with rays of sunshine and clear views, which stayed with us until the top, where the fresh winds joined us too.  We made our way down the southern flank and were back down before the next bout of rain.  Perfect.

Alpine Stylin’ on School House Ridge, Ballachulish

Despite a rather unfavourable forecast, particularly following such a good spell of cold, and relatively calm weather, and the odd gust, today wasn’t bad at all.  I was out with Caroline and Donna, who are up for a couple of days to squeeze in as much winter mountaineering as possible.  With a rather colourful avalanche forecast, and dampening snow pack, we decided that School House Ridge (ENE Ridge) of Sgorr Bhan would give us a quick and safe access to the snowline, and maximise time on the ridge itself.

Caroline brought with her plenty of hill experience, but mostly in summer, so for her the day was all about becoming more confident in the use of crampons, and particularly on steeper terrain and beginning to understand basic ropework as she is working towards quite an amazing goal, to climb 5 of Europe’s 6 highest peaks.  I couldn’t name them!  More info on her Five summits and a Bike Ride Facebook Page.

Donna brought with her a solid platform of hillwalking, both in summer and winter, and rock climbing, so today was about transferring those skills to a winter mountaineering context.

School House Ridge is a very aesthetic ridge, that is almost completely uniform in it’s angle to the summit of Sgorr Bhan, with a number of short rocky steps.  Donna led the whole ridge, with Caroline seconding and we pitched the steeper sections and moved together on the easier sections in between, and so made good and steady progress.  On finishing the ridge, we decided that a visit to the summit would top the day off nicely, and despite some early gusts, the winds didn’t really amount to much.  A great first day.

The upper layers within the snow pack had become saturated by the afternoon, however, there was still a reasonable amount if ice on the decent path, down to about 450m.

Latest Scottish Winter Newsletter and Availability Update

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Plenty of snow!

After a rather frustrating start to winter, things have settled down.

There’s been no shortage of snow as of late, with quite regular snow fall down to the glens over the past couple of weeks.  All of which has given the mountains of the Highlands, and across the UK, a substantial winter coat.  What has been lacking is typical freeze/thaw cycles, so whilst the mountains are very white, the ice is taking a while to form, particularly on the higher cliffs, which have remained below freezing for some time now.  That said, Point 5 Gully has seen it’s first ascent, on Saturday, and reported to be climbed on reasonable, but not fat, ice.  Plenty of mixed climbs and classic ridges seeing ascents at the moment, including Tower Ridge and Castle Ridge on Ben Nevis, North Buttress on Stob Dearg (Buachaille Etive Mor) and a number of mixed climbs on Stob Coire nan Lochan.

So things are taking shape, and with a slight thaw moving in this weekend, this should only go to help consolidate things.  UK Weather Forecast have an interesting article, predicting that the mid-range weather (over the next 2-4 weeks) should be dominated by high pressure systems, giving us cold and dry conditions, and will be a pleasure to be out in, whether you are winter walking or climbing.

Availability Update

Below is an update of availability on our open walking and climbing courses.

It’s been a busy start to the season.  We have been out running privately guided days for a number of folk, both familiar and new faces.  Ken has been out with Tim, and they climbed Thompson’s Route, Ben Nevis, Morwind on Aonach Mor and Dorsal Arete on Stob Coire nan Lochan.  He has also guided Tower Ridge, Castle Ridge and Thompson’s Route again.  Meanwhile, Matt has been out and guided Raeburn’s Route and Sabbard Chimney, both on Stob Coire nan Lochan in Glencoe.

We have limited availability for Private Guiding throughout the season, so please get in touch to see what we can do for you.  We can deliver winter skills tailored to your requirements, ascents of Ben Nevis via the mountain track through to guiding on Grade V+ winter climbs.

We also have limited availability on the following courses:

Winter Climbing Advanced 22-26 Feb £675

Winter Skills & Summits 15-19 Feb £450

Winter Skills & Summits  22-26 Feb £450

Winter Skills & Summits  7-11 March £450

Winter Skills & Summits  21-25 March £450

CIC Hut Week 6-11 March £750

CIC Hut Week 20-25 March £750

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If you have been guided or have received instruction in the past, either in the UK or the Alps, by clicking the Trip Advisor logo below, you will be able to submit a review of your experiences, which of course we will appreciate!

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Conditions Blog

The West Coast Mountain Guides blog will also be kept up-to-date throughout the winter season.

Please feel free to email us with your own conditions updates and pictures that we can then include on our blog.

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Introduction to Ben Nevis: Castle Ridge

It was very quiet on Ben Nevis today.  I was out with Arran, who had yet to experience winter climbing on ‘the Ben’, so today we rectified that by climbing the brilliant Castle Ridge.  The track up to the top car park had turned to slush, so even with winter tyres, we couldn’t quite make it to the top car park, and with tonight’s freezing levels dropping, it will be fun and games on the track tomorrow.

Anyway, back to the interesting stuff.  So as to minimise the risk of being caught by anything sliding out of either of the Castle Gullies, we made our way across from the foot of Carn Dearg Buttress, which also enabled Arran to catch a glimpse of some of the other cliffs on the north face.  The deep snow on the route was starting to soften lower down, in many instances making progress a bit easier, with the wetter snow giving a bit more resistance when stepped on.  A good freeze should really help, which should happen overnight.

Arran did well, and cruised his way up, whilst we looked at keeping thing slick but safe enough.  The crux high up, which is quite out of character to the rest of the route, and in a sensational position, gave Arran a good challenge, which he coped well with.  So, that was Arran’s first foray on one of the finest winter climbing venues in the UK.

Going back to Saturday, it turns out that the brave and clearly hardy team did climb Point 5 Gully, and reported that whilst the ice wasn’t fat, it was in reasonable condition.  Sometimes, you just have to stick your nose in it.

In other news… This link is well worth a read, the general gist being that high pressure should dominate over the next 2-4 weeks, which could well give us clear and cold nights, which would be nice.

Social day on East Ridge, North Buttress, Stob Ban

Nice social day on the East Ridge of the North Buttress of Stob Ban today.  I was working for and with good friend Scott Kirkhope today, between us, we had the pleasure of leading Angus, Gary, Tom and Gam.  For Tom and Gam, who I was with, it was their first winter experience, and for Angus and Gary, a chance for a nice day out, so the East Ridge of the North Buttress fitted the bill perfectly, with enough space to enjoy social belays, a mixture of varied terrain, and not another soul about.  We did see one lone walker on Sgurr a Mhaim, and that was it.

The approach did involve a fir bit of wading, particularly up to the buttress, but climbing conditions were great, with plenty of frozen turf and consolidating snow, and with next to no wind, and clear views all around, it has probably lured Tom and Gam into a false sense of security!  It’s not always quite like this, but when it is, it’s great! We topped out together, and enjoyed a snowy descent of the north ridge.

Matt was back out with Oli today, and they ventured back up to SCNL, where they climbed Scabbard Chimney.


Pedal to the Metal: Tower Ridge, Ben Nevis

Clear skies above Ben Nevis this morning, on our way to Tower Ridge.

Clear skies above Ben Nevis this morning.

I was out with Wes today, and with the choice of mid grade routes being limited, we decided to go for Tower Ridge on Ben Nevis, a route he’s done in summer, but not yet in winter.  I knew from the start that a) conditions would be a bit tricky, with so much unconsolidated snow about, and b) it could be busy, so we had an early-ish start and kept the pedal on the metal all day.  Luckily, Wes is the sort of chap that likes to push himself.  We walked in with clear views to the summit, which we thought would remain with us for longer than they did.

Conditions on the route were a bit awkward, which is a bit of theme at the moment, with plenty of unconsolidated snow, making the going a bit tougher than usual I.e. hard to find axe placements.  But we kept the pace up throughout the day, and soon found ourselves at the Eastern Traverse, as the weather closed in a bit.  The traverse isn’t banked out yet, so whilst gear is hard to find with the amount of rime and snow about, it’s fairly straight forward, however, the Fallen Block Chimney is not quite buried, but would be tight enough that a big step out right is required.

Wes enjoyed Tower Gap, but perhaps more in retrospect, and was happy to finally find some névé to pull on in the exit gully.  A grand day out.  Plenty of teams on Ledge Route, at least one other on Tower Ridge, and one brave team heading onto Point 5 Gully, which was a torrent of spindrift in the afternoon.

Meanwhile, Matt was out with Oli in Stob Coire nan Lochan, where they climbed a snowy Raeburn’s Route.

Oli swimming up Raeburn's Route

Oli swimming up Raeburn’s Route

and Phil & Lucy (our neighbors) were out too enjoying a snowy School House Ridge on Sgorr Bhan.