Good conditions on No. 3 Gully Buttress, Ben Nevis

After a rather awkward approach into Coire na Ciste on Ben Nevis today, Renee and I found great conditions on No. 3 Gully Buttress. The first pitch sported some good and some not so good ice, but enough solid stuff for it to feel secure. Thereafter, there was plenty of névé, which is particularly helpful when climbing the crux on the third pitch. We then continued directly up to the plateau. For Renee, it was her first time on Ben Nevis, so we continued over to the summit, before descending the mountain path.

The ice is building well above 1000m, but things are a little lean below that, and we could really do with some snowfall to cover up the scree and boulders, as well as to feed the drainage lines.

Very quiet on Ben Nevis today, but one team did make a quick ascent of Gargoyle Wall.







Nice on Ben Nevis today

I was out with Cornelius, Niko, Gero and Ivo, who are all over from Germany. They're only over for the weekend, but cramming as much adventure into their short stay as possible. To kick off their adventure, they caught the sleeper train from London to Fort William, which arrived at 10am. I then whisked them away to the Achintee Inn, from where we started our ascent of Ben Nevis.

The weather really couldn't have much kinder to us today, with fairly settled conditions for much of the day. A nice change to the stormy weather of late. We encountered snow from just above halfway. Towards the top, the snow was consolidating well, and there was plenty of rime ice on the rocks.

We reached the summit in good time and were down before the light faded. I left them at the Achintee Inn, from where they were going to head to Steall Hut (by the waterfall) to spend the night.

If you fancy tackling Ben Nevis this winter, we've got guides available right through the season, so for more info, head to https://www.westcoast-mountainguides.co.uk/…/guide-ben-nev…/.





Sheltered on The Spur, Sgurr an Fheadain, Skye

It's that time of year where winter is with us one minute and gone the next, but this is very typical for this time of year.

Today, I was out on Skye with Sophie and Stefan. They're on holiday on Skye, and were keen for a day of any-season mountaineering, and so with a rather windy day on the cards, we sought shelter in Coir' a' Mhadiadh, where we climbed The Spur on Sgurr an Fheadain. This is one of the longest scrambles on Skye (and the UK), and gives an excellent and fairly direct journey to the summit of Sgurr an Fheadain. It's also fantastically sheltered from the prevailing winds. As you can see from the photos, the weather did nothing to dampen Sophie and Stefan's spirits!

Rolling back to last weekend, when it was much more wintry, Guy was out guiding Oli up Deep Throat in Coire an Lochain in the Cairngorms. Oli is one of these super keen winter climbers, that is more than happy to make the drive from London for a single route. This sort of dedication has enabled him to climb plenty of brilliant winter routes over the years despite living down south.

Whilst Guy and Oli were climbing last weekend, I was down in Buxton, attending a workshop focusing on trekking and mountaineering at high altitude. It was run by the charismatic Dr Jon Dallimore, as part of the British Association of International Mountain Leaders' AGM. The photo, taken by Gary Hodgson, is of myself in a Portable Altitude Chamber, which due to the pressure, reduces the altitude inside the bag by at least 1000m. That said, that's the only time I hope to ever be in one of those things!




British Association of International Mountain Leaders










Another snowy day on Ben Nevis

Yesterday brought further snow to Ben Nevis, and it's really whitened the crags and started filling in the gullies. The snow is still largely unconsolidated, and unfortunately, we're due a bit of a thaw tomorrow, which will strip much of it away. That said, winter normally has a couple of false starts each season, and we should be grateful for how good it's been over the past week or so.

I was out with Marc, Alex, Ian and Adam, and was also joined by Harry, who I was out climbing with yesterday. Harry holds the Winter Mountain Leader and Mountaineering Instructor Award, and was intrigued by what a day as a Mountaineering Instructor Certificate holder entails. That said, there's no such thing as a typical day in this line of work!

Marc, Alex, Ian and Adam are good friends from their school days, and had managed to find the time to come up together and tackle Ben Nevis. They were after something adventurous, so we made an ascent of Ledge Route, one of the best mountaineering routes in the area. The weather was near perfect for much of the day, and the recent snows have covered many of the icy patches that were starting to form on the approach to the route. Crampons weren't required today, but an axe was helpful, as many of the handholds were buried.

We wandered over to the summit, and caught a glimpse of the only other team on the north face today; Malcolm and Phil (both fellow Mountaineering Instructors and regularly work for West Coast Mountain Guides), who were half-way up Gargoyle Wall. They reported good conditions on the route but commented that the approach was tough going.











Shark's Fin Soup, Mess of Pottage, Cairngorms

Harry and I decided that a trip over east would be worthwhile to squeeze in a day of climbing before the weather changes this weekend. For this time of year, the crags are well rimed up, and in reasonable climbing condition. Don't expect much in the way of névé though!

We decided to head up to the Mess of Pottage, where we climbed the lesser-travelled Shark's Fin Soup, which takes a fairly direct line, firstly into a short chimney, bound on the right by the shark's fin. The route then follows a series of grooves/mini corners and features a number of awkward steps, often with hard to reach footholds. Fortunately, the gear is pretty good throughout, but solid axe placements were less abundant and took a bit of work to find. The route really is just the one pitch, so we continued up the final pitch of The Messenger, which was also great fun.

Another team was on Melting Pot, and Rich and James looked like they were having fun on Mixed Message.

A great day to be out, and a nice (and early) start to the winter climbing season.












Yet more snow on Ben Nevis!

We've had a further overnight flurry of snow in the Highlands, and it seems that someone has flicked on the ice making switch on Ben Nevis, as the ice is rapidly forming. Routes like Compression Cracks, Boomer's Requiem, The Shroud and the Curtain are all forming well.

I was out with Phil and his son; Oscar, and together, we made an ascent of Ledge Route. It was impressive to see how much more snow had fallen overnight, and how much more ice had developed over the past couple of days. We took crampons and ice axes with us, but didn't require them. It wouldn't take much of a thaw and refreeze to change all that though.

It felt quite a bit cooler today, and not a day for hanging around, so we made swift progress up Ledge Route, and over to the summit.

The cold weather looks to be with us for the next two or three days, before a thaw sets in over the weekend. After that, there's a good chance that things will cool back down again.

Ledge Route is a brilliant way up the north face of Ben Nevis, and is suitable for those with a bit of hillwalking experience. It involves a little bit of easy scrambling (using your hands) and a small bit of exposure. If this interests you, or you would like more information, visit:














Early start to winter: Ledge Route, Ben Nevis

Winter has arrived early this year, and Candice, Aileen and myself were on Ledge Route on Ben Nevis, making the most of the snow and sunshine.
Candice and Aileen have come over from Singapore, so the cold temperatures came as a bit of shock for them, however, they were expecting wet and windy conditions whilst visiting Scotland, so they can't really complain!

The snow is down to about 500m, but with it being soft and unconsolidated, there was no need for an axe or crampons for our ascent of Ledge Route today. There is a surprising amount of ice forming down the drainage lines, which is quite amazing to see for this time of year. The crags are well rimed, but with this being the first cold snap, there will still be plenty of loose rock about.

We made good progress up the snow-covered crest of Ledge Route, and were soon joining the mountain path, which has become quite slippery and even icy in places as the snow has been compressed with the passing of many walkers. We wandered over to the summit before descending the mountain path.

With the cold conditions set to continue, we could see some ice climbing in November, but I won't be counting my chickens just yet.












Sheltered on Ledge Route, Ben Nevis

Back on Ben Nevis today, this time with Chris, Andy and John. We experienced a few strong gusts whilst walking up to the north face of Ben Nevis this morning, but fortunately, once tucked in beneath North Trident Buttress, we were well sheltered from the prevailing winds.

The route proved to be no problem for Chris, Andy and John, and we made good progress up it. Needless to say, it was quite damp underfoot! On reaching the summit of Carn Dearg, we were exposed to the full force of the winds, which remained with us as we headed over to the summit of Ben Nevis.

Despite the conditions, plenty of people battling their way to the summit via the mountain path.









Vratsa, Bulgaria & The Aonach Eagach

I'm recently back from a climbing trip to Vratsa in Bulgaria, which was nothing short of fantastic. The weather was perfect, climbing was very varied and super accessible (5 mins drive from the town of Vratsa) and the food and drink very cheap. There's a reasonable guidebook available, which contains everything from single pitch bolted routes right through to big trad adventures. The area isn't particularly huge, but there's plenty for a week or so, and it makes a nice change from heading to Spain at this time of year.

Back in Scotland, I was out with Eileen along the Aonach Eagach in Glencoe today. The weather was great all day, and the rock reasonably dry, giving us an enjoyable day out.

Now, Eileen is in her very early 70s, and whereas many people her age are taking things easy, Eileen, in her own words, is addicted to being in the mountains and despite having taken hillwalking up fairly recently, has racked up a fair few Munros, Corbetts and Grahams, and can now add the Aonach Eagach, her first serious scramble, to the list. I'm forever inspired by people like her, who are proof that age is simply a figure and that if you're dedicated and motivated enough, you can stay fit and healthy, and continue to seek new challenges in the mountains whilst well into retirement.

2019 dates for our open Aonach Eagach Courses (£99/person) are:
18th May 2019
1st June 2019
15th June 2019
13th July 2019
3rd August 2019
31st August 2019
14th September 2019

If you would like more info, head over to:
https://www.westcoast-mountainguides.co.uk/…/aonach-eagach…/












Beat the weather on Am Bastier and Sgurr Nan Gillean

I was out with Jean and Hilda today, and today’s plan was to tackle their final two technical Munros (or final two Munros in Hilda’s case) on Skye; Am Bastier and Sgurr nan Gillean.

We made an early start, so as to avoid the worst of the…

More