Proper winters day on Comb Gully, Ben Nevis

Uncertainty, adventure, spindrift, strong winds, snow, poor visibility, good ice, bad ice, firm snow, soft snow. Yep, we had it all today and it was great to be out in it.

I was out with Chris, who was keen to climb Tower Ridge and the forecasts were such that there was a chance that it could have been fine, but whilst gearing up, the winds picked up a notch and served as enough of a warning for us to change our plans. We skirted around the base of the Douglas Boulder and underneath the western flanks of Tower Ridge, before making our way up towards Comb Gully, our plan B for the day. I've always enjoyed the journey from the western flanks of Tower Ridge back into Coire na Ciste, as it feels like a cunning route through an otherwise very steep-sided gulch.

Comb Gully was good fun as always, although it is quite lean, with only just enough snow-ice to make steady progress. Whilst I had a set of ice screws with me, the snow-ice just wasn't dense enough to allow for good enough placements. That all said, the snow-ice was generally excellent for axe placements.

We had torrents of spindrift piling down at times, giving us the full Scottish winter experience and topped out into strong winds and poor visibility, with rime building on our kit and clothing. We descended via the Red Burn, which was largely full of helpful snow.

Mike, of Abacus Mountain Guides, who I was working for today, was next door, on Clough's Chimney and reported it to be good fun too.





Up Tower Ridge, Down Ledge Route

I was back on Ben Nevis today, this time with Stephen and Jardine. Fortunately, things have cooled down quite a bit since I was last up there, on Thursday and with a fresh dusting of snow, things were looking much more wintry. The old snow, which was saturated, has firmed up well, particularly above 900m.

Stephen and Jardine have had Tower Ridge on their bucket list for some time and over the years have put in the mileage on easier routes to set themselves up well for one of the finest ridges in the UK.

We weren't alone, with three other teams all setting off at about the same time. Everyone was climbing well and so progress was fluid. Quite a bit of the snow on the lower half of the ridge had melted away since Wednesday, but there's still plenty left. From the top of the Little Tower, things hadn't been affected quite so much. There was also plenty of rime above 1000m.

Stephen and Jardine both moved well and we found ourselves at the summit of Ben Nevis in good time and made our way down via Ledge Route (and traversing over the top of Moonlight Gully Buttress). We had a look at No. 4 Gully, but it's still got some fairly large cornices above much of it.

A number of teams were also enjoying this latest cold spell, with teams on Comb Gully, Green Gully and around Two-Step Corner. All of these routes will be much leaner than usual, so don't expect them to be easy at the moment. We could also see the West Face and summit plateau of Aonach Mor, both of which are very bare now.










NE Buttress, Tower Ridge and SW Ridge of the Douglas Boulder

With a rather sustained thaw in progress, we opted for ridges to stay out of the way of falling debris. Phil and Diggy made a quick ascent of NE Buttress, which they reported to be in reasonable condition, although the 40 Ft Corner was quite bold, with a thick layer of refrozen (and slowly thawing) rime ice.

Myself, Linnea and Andrew were on Tower Ridge and found it to be in good nick as well, with enough firm snow along the crest. The Little Tower was still fairly well banked out and the Leaning Block Chimney is still buried.

We topped out in good time, descended Coire Lies, before Andrew and I nipped up the SW Ridge of the Douglas Boulder, which is largely snow free now.






Making the most of it on Ben Nevis

Yesterday, Phil took Diggy and Devon up Tower Ridge, whilst I was on Castle Ridge with Linnea and Andrew. Castle Ridge was covered in deep snow, and the first crux groove was only a couple of metres rather than its usual eight. We descended the northern flanks of Carn Dearg, which was very easy going, with plenty of snow snow.

A thaw arrived yesterday afternoon and continued through the night, but it remained dry for this morning, therefore limiting the effects of the thaw. Both teams headed into Coire na Ciste, with Phil, Diggy and Devon making an ascent of Thompson's Route whilst myself, Linnea and Andrew climbed No. 3 Gully Buttress. We found great snow ice in a steep groove on the first pitch.

On topping out, we wandered over the summit and down Coire Leis, before making a quick ascent of the East Ridge of the Douglas Boulder, which was great fun, but the route is starting to look a bit sorry for itself now.






Fawlty Towers and East Ridge Ridge of the Douglas Boulder

We're up at the CIC Hut on Ben Nevis this week, and thought we should make the most of the cooler weather, by squeezing a route in this afternoon. Phil took Devon and Diggy up the East Ridge of the Douglas Boulder, whilst I climbed Fawlty Towers with Linnea and Andrew.

Fawlty Towers was fairly icy in places, but a bit soft in others. We descended Tower Ridge and abseiled back into the Douglas Gap.

The cliffs of Ben Nevis are plastered in snow and rime ice, but getting around is going to prove a bit tricky for the next couple of days due to the sheer volume of snow. There are also some huge cornices over a number of routes on northerly through to easterly aspects at the moment.

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Social on the West Face of Aonach Mor

After encountering firm snow/ice on the western flanks of the north ridge of Stob Coire nan Lochan yesterday (and plenty of deep, soft snow on Raeburn’s Route), Rob and I went up to the Summit Ribs on the West Face of Aonach Mor, hoping to find things more consolidated up there. We weren’t alone, as fellow members, Alan, Dave and Tom, also had similar plans.

The snow on the approach wasn’t too deep and we all geared up a bit sooner than normal (for this season), as the snow became quite icy as we got closer to the Summit Ribs.

Al and Dave veered off to guide Golden Oldie, whilst myself with Rob and Tom with Steven enjoyed Western Rib, which was brilliant, with a good mixture of frozen turf, consolidated and fresh snow and plenty of rime. It all felt like it should do for this time of year!

Despite the poor visibility, there were also plenty of folk out enjoying the fresh snow at Nevis Range.



Cosmetic snow on Raeburn's Route, Stob Coire Nan Lochan

Today, I was out with Rob and we headed to Stob Coire nan Lochan with the aim of climbing Raeburn's Route on Central Buttress. We broke trail into the corrie, which with a slight rain crust was quite hard work this morning. With the temperatures having largely been below zero above 900m recently, I thought that the first pitch, which relies heavily on frozen vegetation, would be good to climb and even up close, things looked frozen. It quickly became apparent that both the snow and the vegetation were far from frozen and that things were quite soggy beneath the surface, so I retreated and instead we gained the second pitch of Raeburn's Route from NC Gully.

There's plenty of snow on the route, unfortunately, very little of it any use for axe placements. Ok for feet though. After the first pitch of Raeburn's Route, the route is on rock, so despite the snow being largely cosmetic, the route was still very climbable, it just took a bit of effort and time to ensure that the axes were going to stick.

The firmest snow we encountered all day was on the western flank of the north ridge, where it was very icy for a while. It may be the firmest patch of snow/ice I've walked over this winter. Very quiet on Stob Coire nan Lochan, with a couple of teams on Dorsal Arete and a couple of skiers earning their turns.








Beinn a'Chaorainn or the Himalayas?

With high winds and lots of snow on the cards, Blair and I stuck with the theme of ridges and went for one that is fantastically sheltered from the strong westerly winds; The East Ridge of Beinn a'Chaorainn. It felt like a real winter wonderland as we made our approach through the forest and up to the ridge.

The ridge was in great condition, with plenty of snow and frozen turf. As we were the first on the ridge, there was a sharp crest of snow along much of the ridge, giving it a Himalayan feel.

We took in all the trickier pitches along the way and were soon on the summit and in the brunt of the wind and spindrift. The descent needs a bit of care to avoid the corniced rim of the main corrie, but we were able to make a fairly quick descent due to the amount of snow on the southern flanks and were down before the weather took a distinct turn for the worse.










Great day in the Mamores

I was out with Blair, who joined us on one of our winter mountaineering courses earlier this season. Blair wanted to explore the type of ground he might consider doing by himself, rather than as a pair, so we headed to the Mamores, where we initially made an ascent of Stob Ban via its north ridge. From there, we descended the east ridge and made an ascent of Sgurr an lubhair (does anyone know why first letter of lubhair isn't in captials?).

From there, we crossed the Devil's Ridge and made our way up to the summit of Sgurr a'Mhaim before descending back down into Glen Nevis.

Not much need for crampons today, as the snow was mostly quite soft. Great views to be had for much of the day, with clear views over to Glencoe, the Aonachs and the rest of the Mamores.








Nice start, wild finish to the day: North Buttress, Buachaille Etive Mor

For Neil's second day, we made an early start so that he could hit the road sooner rather than later. Quite a bit of fresh snow had fallen overnight but as we set off, as expected, it was quite settled and calm. It didn't stay this way!

We rattled up the first three pitches, which had some useful frozen turf and even some snow-ice in the back of the chimney, then the winds started to pick up as we were on the fourth pitch, but not unmanageably so, so we decided to continue to the summit of Buachaille Etive Mor. There was a surprising amount of ice on the upper section, some of it quite useful, much of it far less so. The crest and windward side of North Buttress were fairly well scoured, but there was quite a bit of windslab on the leeward side.

Due to poor visibility and the risk of avalanches in Coire na Tulaich, we descended the western spur of Stob Dearg, just as the winds ramped up a notch or two. The winds ended up being far stronger than the forecasts were anticipating.