A day of play on Thompson’s Route, Ben Nevis & Closer, Bidean

It would have been criminal to have wasted such a great day, so both Hannah and I hatched plans with friends to make the most of one of the finest days of the season so far.

Firstly, Hannah was out with Mark, and they decided to go for Thompson’s Route, a classic IV,4 on Ben Nevis.  An early start meant that they were in pole position when reaching Coire na Ciste, and they made a beeline for their route.  They found conditions to be quite lean on Thompson’s Route, giving a fun and reasonably well protected mixed route.  One of the beauties of this route is that it can be climbed either as a mixed route, or an ice route.  With such an early start, they topped out in good time, and so made a quick descent of No. 3 Gully, before racing up a mixed Central Gully on Creag Coire na Ciste.  They reported a surprisingly quiet day on the Ben, with teams on Good Friday Climb, Tower Ridge, Tower Face of the Comb and No. 3 Gully Buttress.

Meanwhile, I was out with Scott and Steve, and we ventured up to Diamond Buttress on Bidean nam Bian, with intentions to climb Direct Route.  I led a rather bold first pitch, and found the turf and unconsolidated snow to not be quite as frozen or useful as I  had hoped, and so after Steve tried to make progress on pitch 2, and found it to be a bit too bold and insecure, we abseiled off, and with enough time in the day to spare, made a quick ascent of Closer on the West Top of Bidean nam Bian, a two star IV,5.  The first pitch, which Steve led, was partly frozen, but the turf in places was quite dry, and not holding axe placements fantastically well all the time. Scott finally got a lead, by finishing the route up a much more solid second pitch, which gave some good climbing.  So, nice to go somewhere different, shame that we didn’t complete Direct Route, which really needs more solid ice and snow, but a great day with great friends nonetheless.  Oh, not another soul up where we were today.  Stob Coire nam Beith looks white, but most routes will be far from climbable just yet.

Forecast for the next week or so looking cold and quite calm, which will only go to further improve conditions, so after a slow start to winter, things are starting to look very good.

White Cliffs of Stob Coire nan Lochan, Glencoe

I was back out with Ben today, working for Moran Mountain.  After Ben’s success of yesterday, and with strong easterly winds due, we decided to seek a bit of shelter in Coire nan Lochan, which is quite well enclosed by the summit and adjoining ridges.   From the road, with low cloud obscuring the views high up, it was hard to make out how wintry things were, and with steady drizzle and not particularly cold temperatures in the valley, neither of us were expecting things to be so white on gaining the corrie floor.

I don’t think I’ve seen the crags of Stob Coire nan Lochan so white before.  We didn’t get close enough to examine the rocks, more about that later, but it seemed to be from wet snow blown in on fresh SE winds.  The snow had started to consolidate nicely, and although there is far less snow than usual for this time of year, it did feel like a winter wonderland up there, and completely unexpected too.

Whilst gearing up to head up Broad Gully, Ben voiced that he wasn’t feeling on top of his game today, so despite some encouragement, and hints that he might be keen to continue and give it a go, we decided to leave it for another time.  In order to still make the most of the day, we traversed across to the broad ridge of Gearr Aonach (translation: the short ridge), and made a descent of the zig-zags (not wintry at all), which Ben enjoyed.   The snow line was at about 750m.

The long term forecasts are looking very promising, with some overdue snow coming in tonight and again early next week.  Plenty of light wind days in the pipeline too, brilliant!

Shaping up nicely! No. 3 Gully, Ben Nevis

#backtowork today, fortunately, I quite enjoy my office, Ben Nevis.  Today, I had the pleasure of introducing my office to Ben, who is preparing for a trip to Ecuador.  Following the recent thaws, it was quite apparent on the walk-in that Ben Nevis, as reliable as ever, was making a speedy recovery, with freezing levels down to 750m or so, a dusting of fresh snow and plenty of rime on the higher crags.

Ben had just finished a winter mountaineering course in the NW Highlands, with Martin Moran (who I was working for today), and was keen to get some additional mileage in, ideally on consolidated, firm snow, which hasn’t been particularly forthcoming this season so far.  Fortunately, the recent cold conditions on Ben Nevis had really firmed up the snow in Coire na Ciste, giving us the perfect snow to practice cramponning on.  We went in with a reasonably open mind, as Ben was slightly overwhelmed by the scale of the north face cliffs, but he soon found himself enjoying the steepish snow slopes leading up to the mouth of No. 3 Gully.  The snow within the gully was a bit more chopped up, and so easier to kick steps into, and Ben needed very little encouragement to press on to complete the gully, and in doing so, climbed his first route on the Ben.  Good going!  Happy with what he had achieved, we took a leisurely wander down the mountain track.

Plenty of the higher routes on Ben Nevis are shaping up well, with plenty of rime on the high cliffs, so the mixed routes are looking great and the ice in the higher drainage lines are forming nicely.  Quite a few folk making the most of the cold, dry conditions, with ascents of Tower Scoop, Good Friday Climb, Tower Ridge, No. 2 Gully, Green Gully, No. 3 Gully Buttress, Archangel and North Gully.

Blowing away the cobwebs: No. 2 Gully, Ben Nevis

When Steve asked me whether I fancied joining him and Duncan for a day on Ben Nevis, I knew that conditions weren’t going to be optimum for climbing anything steep, but that we’d have a fun day out none-the-less as it would be a day out with two good friends, regardless of the weather, conditions or route.  As we walked in, in the rain and wind, other teams were heading back out, clearly not overly inspired by the blackness of the crags visible from the CIC Hut, but despite a couple of moments of doubt, we pressed on and up into Coire na Ciste, with our fall back plan being an ascent of No. 2 Gully, which neither Steve or Duncan had climbed before.

The thaw that had arrived yesterday afternoon had clearly left a bit of a mark, as the ice, of which there is still plenty, was quite soft, wet and in need of a good freeze, but the snow slopes beneath No. 2 Gully were already starting to firm up, so we continued up to the mouth of the gully.  The climbing in the gully itself is quite straight forward and having heard that the cornice was next to non-existent, we soloed up.  As a teaching/introductory route, No. 2 Gully is great, it’s hugely atmospheric, being in a deep cleft, sheltered from the worst of the wind, but just as importantly, has a number of good belays and opportunities to place a variety of gear, which Steve was keen to investigate.

It didn’t take too long for us to top-out, and we nipped round and descended No. 3 Gully, which again, had no cornice.  On our way down, the crags were starting to rime up again as the freezing levels started to drop.  It turns out that I was right, and as expected, we did have a good day, more for the company than the climbing, which is fine by me!

Climbing conditions will continue to improve over the next few days, and it looks like we may receive a welcome dump of snow mid week.  Steeper mixed routes will come in very quickly, but may be quite icy.  There is quite a bit of ice around Goodeve’s Buttress, Raeburn’s Wall, No. 2 Gully Buttress, Comb Gully Buttress and The Comb, so we should also see some mid-grade ice routes come into condition quite soon.

 

 

Coached Leading: Broad Gully, Stob Coire nan Lochan

With Storm Frank looking to leave its mark on the UK through tonight and tomorrow, I was fortunately able to move tomorrow’s work, with Andrew and his wife Bethan to today, and listening to the rain and wind picking up now, I’m glad that they were able to swap days!

Both Andrew and Bethan have a good understanding of winter mountaineering, but they wanted to be coached whilst Andrew led and Bethan seconded, with a particular focus on placing and using rock anchors.  As they were staying in the Clachaig Inn in Glencoe, they were keen to make the most of the immediate hills, so we ventured up to Stob Coire nan Lochan, with a few other teams, including Rich and Hannah, who were back out again with their group from Bristol Uni.

On gaining the corrie floor, it was quite clear that only two snow gullies were complete, Boomerang and Broad, (that didn’t stop a team heading up a rather green looking Forked Gully), and so with only one mountaineering axe each, we opted for Broad Gully.  Broad Gully is a very straight forward grade I gully, which was perfect, as both Andrew and Bethan felt that there was no need to be on terrain beyond their comfort zones, enabling them to focus more on the ropework side of things.   We looked at a number of methods of building belays and made steady progress up the gully.  The winds had picked up by the time we topped out, so we made our way back down the same way.

Rich and Hannah and their group also climbed Broad Gully, and made the summit of Stob Coire nan Lochan before descending its NW flank.  The winds were picking up quite a bit at valley level by the time we reached the cars.

 

Skills & latest Ben Nevis conditions

Hannah was out in the corries of Ben Nevis today, delivering a winter skills day for Bristol University on behalf of Mountain Motion.  Overnight, the temperatures had risen to above the summits, saturating and softening the snow pack and leading to cornices becoming unstable and in some cases breaking away.  Needless to say, the crags quickly lost any rime ice, and were quite black, so whilst mixed climbing would have been a non-starter today, what this thaw did is highlight the build up of ice down the major drainage lines.

Much of the ice will be thin and soft and not much fun to climb just yet, but there is a lot about, and with a much more prolonged cold spell starting on Wednesday, after the passing of Storm Frank, it’s looking like a promising start to 2016.

Hannah and Rich took the group on a tour of Coire na Ciste, looking at cramponning and ice axe arrests, before a journey day in Glencoe tomorrow.  Not many other folk out today, although one team did make an ascent of No. 5 Gully, before coming back down No. 4.

 

Long time coming! Crest Route, SCNL, Glencoe

After weeks of storms, super short lived freeze cycles, and generally a frustrating start to winter, things finally took a noticeable turn for the better this weekend.  So, with the promise of clear skies, calm winds and low temperatures, Steve and I quickly hatched plans to venture up to Stob Coire nan Lochan yesterday and have a look at Crest Route on North Buttress.  Steve had already climbed the route before, so knew that due to it’s rocky and steep nature it didn’t really rely on turf, which hadn’t quite had the chance to thoroughly freeze, and me having not climbed it before, it seemed like a wise idea, and a great one, as it’s been on my tick-list for quite a while.

The approach was quite tough going due to some deep snow drifts covering the path, but luckily for us, we weren’t the first ones of the day heading up.  We were also just as lucky that the couple of teams in front didn’t have Crest Route in their sights!  The first pitch was a fairly straight forward affair, led by Steve, before I took over, and made my way up the sustained, technical, but well protected and enjoyable second pitch, before Steve slowly and steadily made his way up the technical and awkward third pitch.  We topped out to virtually no wind and clear panoramic views in every direction.  Not a bad way to open this winter’s account!  Other teams were on Yankee Go Home, Scabbard Chimney, Dorsal Arete, Twisting Gully, Central Grooves and Intruder.

Today unfortunately didn’t turn out to be quite so productive.  Steve and I made our way up high, to the entrance to No.4 Gully on Ben Nevis, with intentions to explore and climb on the upper tier of Trident Buttress, which overlooks No. 4, but unfortunately, due to the longish approach, probably coupled with yesterday’s efforts, Steve’s back, which he has had quite a few problems with this year, was causing him a bit of discomfort.  For life as mountaineering instructors, there’s almost nothing more important than looking after your body, particularly with a busy winter looming, so for both Steve and I, there was no question that pushing on would be foolish, so we made our way back down.  It was just nice to be out on such a glorious day, to have a look at an area of Ben Nevis that I know less about and see what else people were on (quite quiet today, with teams on Tower Ridge, Cutlass, No. 3 Gully Buttress, Sioux Wall and Ledge Route).

Hannah has also had a busy weekend, working with a group from Maximum Adventure.  They enjoyed a walk into Coire na Ciste, whilst looking at a number of core winter skills, all in preparation for today’s assault on the summit of Ben Nevis, which they succeeded in achieving. They’ve certainly had a great weekend for it.

Surprisingly snowy on Ledge Route, Ben Nevis

Yesterday was my first day of mountaineering work this winter.  I was working for Abacus Mountain Guides, and was joined by Sally, who was keen to observe a mountaineering day on Ben Nevis, and Amanda, who originally hails from South Africa, and had come up for the weekend from down south to reach the summit of Ben Nevis via a more technical route than the mountain track.  Ledge Route is often a great option, weaving an intricate line through some outstanding scenery, beneath imposing crags and buttresses, and above yawning gullies and snow laden corries, so that’s what we set out to do.

The forecast promised an improving picture as the day progressed, which was reassuring, as early morning brought with it strong winds and heavy rain down to sea level.  As soon as we gained the entrance to Coire na Ciste, things noticeably calmed down,  and we picked our way though a lot of fresh snow to the top of Moonlight Gully Buttress, before traversing across the bowl of No. 5 Gully and reaching the start of Ledge Route itself.

Amanda did exceptionally well, particularly as conditions underfoot weren’t easy with the sheer volume of soft snow sitting directly on the rocks, typical for early season, before a good firm base of snow has established.  Once on the plateau, we made our way over a mixture of scoured ground and the occasional snow drift to the summit, which was well rimed.   Whilst visibility was quite poor, the winds by this stage were far more gentle than earlier in the day.  We had a look at descending the Red Burn, which is starting to fill with snow, but soon changed our minds as it was slow going and ventured back onto the mountain track, which made for a far easier descent.

Very few people out and about, and climbing conditions wouldn’t have been great following a substantial thaw on Thursday, and a dumping of soft, wet snow on Friday before the ground had time to refreeze.  Another variable week of freeze/thaw cycles ahead, which will all help in the long run.

Don’t forget to let us know what you’ve been up to on the hills, as we’ll include any useful information and pictures on this blog.

Sgor na h-Ulaidh and Beinn Fhionnlaidh, Glen Etive

Before you spend the whole time reading this blog wondering how an earth to pronounce the two mentioned Munros, here you go: Sgor na h-Ulaidh is pronounced ‘skor na hoolya’ and means peak of the treasure and Beinn Fhionnlaidh is pronounced ‘byn yoonly’ and means Finlay’s peak.  And it’s these two Munros that Johnny and I, working for Steve Fallon, guided a strong group of ten around yesterday.

Following a rather wild and wet week, with some quite mild temperatures, things took a distinct turn on Friday evening, with a drop in temperatures, and with it, the promise of fresh snow, possibly down to valley level.  Fortunately for us, the snow was nowhere near as heavy as some forecasts predicted, allowing us to drive safely down the often untreated road in Glen Etive, and set off at 8am on Saturday morning.  What snow had fallen, had been brought in on fresh NNE winds, therefore transporting much of it onto southerly aspects, which was quite apparent when making an ascent of the south eastern flank of Sgor na h-Ulaidh.  A thin layer of windslab was starting to form in hollows, but without a base, was of very little concern. As ever, it’s interesting to see it forming.

The group made steady progress up the steep SE flank and ridge, and we were soon enjoying the summit of Sgor na h-Ulaidh, with little wind, and great visibility over towards the Aonach Eagach and Ben Nevis to the north, to Beinn Cruachan to the south and over to Mull out west.  From here, a long descent down to nearly 400m, brought us to the foot of Beinn Fhoinnlaidh.  We ascended the mountain’s west flank, again, up steep slopes, to gain a short but interesting summit ridge, which led us, via a couple of tricky steps to the summit.  As it was 3pm, and therefore with limited daylight left, we chose not to hang about, and managed to negotiate all the steep ground to the SW, before having to don headtorches and make our way over easier ground back to the cars.  All in all, it was a big yet rewarding day for the group, taking in 2 Munros, 17km and 1600m of ascent with less than perfect underfoot conditions.

Winter climbing wise, things are improving, but reports suggest that Stob Coire nan Lochan in Glencoe may not be quite there yet.  A mild and wet start to this coming week, but again, next weekend looks promising.

Here’s a very short film that I quickly put together, it’s amazing what you can do on a phone!

Winter has arrived!

Storm Abigail brought with it the first substantial snowfall this season, giving the mountains their first winter coat, down to about 600m or so.  Winter has arrived in the Scottish Highlands! Quite a few folk made the most of this early season wintry snap with mixed routes having been climbed in the Northern Corries of the Cairngorms over east, and on the high crags of Ben Nevis and Bidean nam Bian on the west coast.

It’s a bit warmer and wetter today, which will wash most of the recent fresh snow away, however, there is plenty of snow and a cold spell in the pipeline towards the end of the week and into the weekend.  It’s looking like a very promising start to the season!

Phil Thompson was out in the Mamores yesterday and reported:

“Yesterday we went up Stob Ban via col and then up East Ridge. I broke trail in up to 25cm of drifts. The normal summer exit from the East Ridge where it meets the summit was totally filled in so took a detour right to avoid floundering in powder ! ” 3:45hr car to car.

Mamores in winter

Early snow in the Mamores

From the East Ridge of Stob Ban

View from the East Ridge of Stob Ban

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks to Phil for the report and photos.

Meanwhile, Han was also out, leading a group up the mountain track to the summit of Ben Nevis, for Atlas Mountaineering.  She encountered soft snow all the way, and so the group didn’t need to use crampons or an ice axe.  There was plenty of rime on the summit cairn and shelter.

If you’ve been out walking, mountaineering or climbing, then feel free to drop us an email: info@westcoast-mountainguides.co.uk with your trip report, which we can then include in our blog posts.