Thompson’s Route

Night ascent of Thompson's Route, Ben Nevis
The weather is proving to be a tricky beast at the moment, with high winds and thaws keeping us on our toes. However, the forecast for last night was one of a return to cold and clear conditions and so at 11pm, Neil and I found ourselves heading up to the north face of Ben Nevis to get an adventure in and to be down well before the arrival of Storm Dennis.

As expected, it was remarkably clear and calm as we made our way up to No. 3 Gully Buttress, where we had our sights on Thompson's Route, which felt like the right length and difficulty for our night ascent. It was quite eerie walking into Coire na Ciste in the dark, but if anything, time seemed to fly by quicker than a more regular daytime ascent.

The route was chocked full of snow-ice, allowing for fairly efficient climbing, even if it was completely useless for ice screws. From the top of the route, we joined the direct finish to No. 3 Gully Buttress, which was unrecognisable from a couple of weeks ago. Whereas then, it was very rocky, last night, it was essentially a steep snow-ice slope, with very little rock on show.

As we topped out, it was so clear that we could easily see the moon and stars, surrounding hills and the bright-lights of Fort William, which guided us back down the Red Burn.

It was a brilliant adventure and whilst I don't think I'll be making night climbing a regular thing, it's great to do once in a while.

The hardest grade III in the world? 999 – Gearr Aonach

For Derek's final day and with high winds and an incoming thaw on the cards, we stayed low and climbed the atmospheric 999 on the west face of Gearr Aonach. Either there was an unprecedented volume of snow on the first ascent or the grade is a mistake, as the climbing is quite technical and with a couple of slightly overhanging moves on both the second and third pitches (good hooks and gear though). Oh, and don't expect much in the way of runners on the first pitch!

Having climbed it a few times, I would be more inclined to suggest IV,6, maybe even V,6. Still, regardless of the grade, it gave us a brilliant outing (worthy of two stars). Conditions were still pretty good on the route and whilst it was wet, there was still plenty of useful snow and the turf was still frozen.

The best day so far this winter? Shelf Route, Buachaille Etive Mor

Blue skies, sunshine, plenty of snow, firm snow, useful ice, route and summit to ourselves, I'm not sure that it gets much better! After an ascent of Gutless on the Douglas Boulder yesterday, Derek and I climbed Shelf Route on Buachaille Etive Mor today, which was nothing short of brilliant and well worthy of its 3 stars. Whilst North Buttress saw plenty of action today, Shelf Route was empty. Conditions on the route were generally very good and despite quite a bit of soft snow in places, there was plenty of useful neve and ice. The turf was completely frozen.

The climbing takes in a number of short but steep steps, created by chockstones, before a fairly direct finish onto Crowberry Ridge can be made at about V,5/6.

We then continued up Crowberry Tower, before making our way to the summit of Stob Dearg, from where we had some of the finest views Scotland has to offer!

All change tomorrow, but the good news is that it's going to remain cold for the foreseeable future, it's finally shaping up to be a pretty reasonable winter!

The last few days Dave has been out introducing Tom, Suzie and Neil to the delig

The last few days Dave has been out introducing Tom, Suzie and Neil to the delights of Scottish Winter Mountaineering and the Ice Factor. We visited Stob Corrie nan Lochan and descended broad gully, covered more than a normal mountaineering course at the Ice Factor during the worst of the weather and on our last day we braved the conditions and headed to the East Ridge of Beinn A’Chaorainn.
We didn’t complete the ridge possibly due to Dave’s lack of confidence in the snow rubbing off on the gang but also the image of many people on the ridge in poor weather reminded them of the queue up Everest last year, it was not the place or the weather to be held up yesterday.

Today Dave was out teaching Euan and Fiona the magic of winter leading and shari

Today Dave was out teaching Euan and Fiona the magic of winter leading and sharing our passion for the Scottish mountains.

The biggest risk today was the amount of teams all heading to the same location, Dorsal Arete, we arrived first stayed on the harder line and kept out of all the ropes charging for the top.

More snow everywhere, even The Cuillin.

With more snow overnight and high winds forecast for after midday, we decided to stay low with vis and climbed the Spur on Sgurr An Fheadain. This great route is under graded at I and is easily a II, with many tricky sections.

The crux of the day is the snow, and traveling safely, fortunately this route has a few descent options. With Seonaid MacDonald & Ian at the Skye Winter Festival

No hills like these hills, the Cuillin range.

Today we've been exploring the amphitheatre of the North Coire of Sgurr a Mhadiadh on the Isle of Skye.

Unfortunately the wind and poorly bonded snow ment we didn't explore the upper rake onto the summit. But we now have a better idea of conditions for tomorrow, It's always worth planning in an orientation day when visiting somewhere to get an idea of conditions.

Great to be hear part of Skye Winter Festival which is a brillaint event put on by the Skye Guru Mike Lates.

Winter returns – Tower Ridge, Ben Nevis

The thaw from last week hasn't left us with many route options, so for Neil and James' second day, we decided to go for Tower Ridge, a route that can be climbed in almost any condition and is always good fun. As we walked in this morning, there was a slight dusting of fresh snow down to about 1000m and as the day progressed, things became whiter and whiter.

Whereas last week, we didn't put crampons on until the start of the Eastern Traverse, today, we donned them from the start. We made steady progress up the ridge and soon found ourselves on the summit plateau, from where we descended the Red Burn. Amazingly, it's possible to pretty much stay on good snow all the way to where the burn crosses the main mountain path.

The week ahead is looking quite wintry, with quite a bit of snow due over the next few days.

– – – , .…/winter-climbi…/

Freezing above 1100m on Ben Nevis

I was back on Ben Nevis today, this time with Neil and James and we climbed No. 3 Gully Buttress, which despite the thaw, was holding on to snow and ice quite well. The first pitch still has a short step of ice, just watch out for the bergshrund at the foot of it.

The freezing level was at about 1100m and the rocks from the base of the route upwards were covered with verglas and starting to rime up towards the top. The snow on the route was also firming up quite quickly. The crux and subsequent steps are quite bare in places, but well frozen and this will change as we see snow coming through early tomorrow morning.

We descended No. 4 Gully, which was still quite friendly, although, again, starting to firm up towards the top. Plenty of other teams heading up to No. 2 Gully. The first pitch of Green Gully has gone, but should reform fairly quickly and I think that routes like Thomson's and the Central Gullies on Creag Coire na Ciste will also come back in fairly quickly.

Still quite a bit of snow on North East Buttress, Ben Nevis

For Peter's final day, we enjoyed our third day of adventures on Ben Nevis and this time, rattled up North East Buttress. Despite the thaw, there was still quite a bit of snow on the easier angled sections and we opted to wear crampons from the start. There was also still quite a bit of frozen vegetation and there was even a bit of verglass on the rocks and vegetation in the upper reaches.

We descended via Coire Leis, which gave an excellent descent, entirely on snow, right back to the foot of the First Platform. There is still ice holding on on the Little Brenva face, so when the temperatures drop, these routes will come back in pretty quickly.

So, that wraps up three days with Peter and despite the conditions, we've had three brilliant days exploring Ben Nevis and despite the current conditions, have managed to squeeze in some good climbing and have given Peter a good flavour of what Ben Nevis is all about.