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Reasonable on Western Rib, West Face of Aonach Mor

Route choice was absolutely crucial today, with an overnight thaw and rain upping the avalanche hazard to high on NW-SE aspects above 800m.  So Lee and I were after the following: W/SW facing, ridge or buttress, turfy ledges, safe approach and descent and a route that would give good climbing, so Western Rib, on the West Face of Aonach Mor, ticked all those boxes nicely.

We were only one of two teams on the climber’s gondola at 8am, and we made our way, in quite reasonable conditions, round to the West Face of Aonach Mor.  It was clear from early on, that the turf, particularly higher up, was still well frozen, which is where the requirement for turfy ledges came from.

The approach to Western Rib was safe and despite the thaw, the route was generally in very good condition, with frozen turf throughout, and plenty of useful snow on the ledges.  The snow cover thinned a bit through the more technical sections, but overall it was in good nick.  With the threat of stronger winds in the afternoon possibly affecting the gondola, we didn’t hang about, but were able to relax a bit upon seeing the tows still operating once we had reached the ski area.

With visibility being quite poor today, the Summit Ribs on the West Face of Aonach Mor can be a bit tricky to locate (they are much further along the Allt Daim than you may think), so here are some OS grid references for the popular ribs:

Golden Oldie: NN 18885 73018
Western Rib: NN 18947 72961
Daim Buttress: NN 18985 72916

This is what the Summit Ribs on the West Face of Aonach Mor can look like when the visibility is poor.

This is what the Summit Ribs on the West Face of Aonach Mor can look like when the visibility is poor.

On another, but related note, an interesting and promising article published on the Met Office blog is hinting that due to ‘sudden stratospheric warming’, winter conditions may well linger well into spring. http://blog.metoffice.gov.uk/2016/02/29/could-sudden-stratospheric-warming-bring-a-cold-start-to-spring/

It’s looking like a promising mid to late season of winter climbing!

Golden Oldie & Tunnel Vision, West Chimney & Tower Ridge

I was playing back at home today, with Nick, Andy and Allan.  Allan had a fair bit of summer mountaineering experience, but had never worn crampons before, whereas his friends Nick and Andy had done a fair bit in winter before, so I thought a route like Golden Oldie would be a great introduction to winter climbing for him, and be of interest to the other two.  Quite a few other folk had similar plans this morning, but we managed to stay out in front on the approach, and once on the route, soon left the crowds behind.

The route was in perfect conditions, with the turf fully frozen and snow largely consolidated, giving first time axe placements almost every time.  We romped up the route, and were on the summit for midday.  After a quick bite to eat, we walked over to Easy Gully on the East Face, which is in great condition (no cornice, good firm but not icy snow), and made a quick descent down that, passing a couple of teams who had decided not to try and tackle the cornices above Right Twin.  We climbed Tunnel Vision, which had a great pitch of very good snow/ice (don’t expect too many screw placements) and no cornice at the top.  The main pitch of this ticked the chaps’ boxes, and with still plenty of time spare we wondered down the NE Spur, and had a look at snow bollards and abseiling before calling it a day.

Andy was out with James and Robert, they enjoyed Tower Ridge on Ben Nevis, which must have been in brilliant condition.  We could see a number of teams on the Great Tower from where we were today, quite possibly Andy, James and Robert!

Finally, Chris rounded the Advance Winter Climbing Course off, by heading away from the crowds, and up to Bidean nam Bian, where he and John climbed West Chimney on Church Door Buttress and something on Collie’s Pinnacle, which he couldn’t find in the guidebook.  They’ve enjoyed a great week at a number of interesting venues.

Escape from Colditz, Blaven & catch-up

So, what’s been going on since the last post?  Quite a bit, which probably explains the lack of blogging over the past few days.

I’ve been running an Intro to Winter Mountaineering course for Moran Mountain, up in the NW Highlands.  On Sunday, we chose to stay low, to avoid the worst of the winds and made an ascent of the brilliantly named Six Track Mono Blues Gully on Meall Gorm, which must be contender for the most accessible winter climbing cliff in the UK.  Being in the lee of the mountain gave us plenty of shelter, and Sele, Gavin and Dave (who joined us for the day) enjoyed their first foray in NW Highlands.

Hannah wrapped up a Winter Skills & Summits course by making an ascent of Stob Coire Raineach in Glencoe.

Rod and his team of mountaineers were also out in Glencoe, and made an ascent of the Zig-Zags in order to stay out of the worst of the winds.

On Monday, Chris kicked off our Advanced Winter Climbing Course by climbing Scabbard Chimney on Stob Coire nan Lochan.  Chris and John then had enough time to fire up Dorsal Arete too.  Not bad going for day 1!

I headed round  with Gavin to climb the ever faithful George, which is more often in condition that not through the winter.  It’s worth noting that the tunnel through route has collapsed recently, and so the options are to climb on the right, up awkward slabs, which are better and more secure when well iced (which it wasn’t today), or a short chimney slightly further to the right. Umbrella Falls was climbed that day and reported to be in good nick.

On Tuesday, Chris and John, on the Advanced Winter Climbing Course were joined by Mike, and they climbed Morwind on the East Face of Aonach Mor, whilst I was out with my Intro Winter Climbing team sampling the delights of one of the deep, atmospheric gullies of the NW Highlands, Deep North Gully on Beinn Alligin.  We continued over the Horns to give a brilliant day out.

Today, Hannah enjoyed a day of personal climbing with Steve.  They stayed low on Ben Nevis, to avoid the suspect slopes, and climbed Gutless, an under-graded and under-rated chimney on the West Face of the Douglas Boulder.  Chris and his team climbed Castle Ridge. Several other teams also out enjoying the good weather by making ascents of The Curtain, Waterfall Gully, Tower Ridge, Vanishing Gully and possibly Stringfellow.  Still quite a bit of avalanche prone slopes though, so care and careful route choice required.

Finally, I decided to venture to Skye with my team, and climbed the short but good value Escape from Colditz III, on Blaven.  The route takes a deep leftwards trending fault on Winter Buttress, and follows a narrow, icy ramp, underneath a curtain of icicles.  We climbed the route in two pitches, offering interesting climbing all the way on dribbling ice.

Busy week! Climbing on Aonach Mor, Ben Nevis and Glencoe

It’s been a busy week so far!  I’ve been out for the past three days, running an Intermediate Winter Climbing course for Keith and Nick.  On Tuesday, with a poor forecast, we had a day in Glen Nevis, looking at belay construction, personal abseiling and had a wander up to Steall Falls, which neither Nick or Keith had seen up close before.

Yesterday, we made up for the lack of winter climbing on Tuesday by climbing the SW Ridge of the Douglas Boulder and Fawlty Towers, which was nice and icy, if a bit soft, and gave a nice contrast in its style of climbing to the more mixed and rocky SW Ridge.  Plenty of other folk also chose to stay low and avoid the avalanche hazards further up.  One team started up Vanishing Gully, and swiftly retreated, finding the surface ice to be a bit soft following Tuesday’s thaw.  Observatory Gully was devoid of folk, and only a few ventured high into Coire na Ciste.

Today, with westerly aspects looking like the safest place to be, we climbed the brilliant Western Rib on Aonach Mor.  Keith and Nick enjoyed the long, mountaineering nature of this route (and the access via the gondola!), particularly in the middle reaches of the route, which is a bit more mixed, rather than steep, and at times, soft snow lower down. No one else on our route, and a few teams on Golden Oldie.

Andy was out with Jonny and John over the past couple of days, they climbed Curved Ridge on Buachaille Etive Mor yesterday and were on Ben Nevis today.

Rod has a group of four friends on a private guided mountaineering course.  They kicked their course off by making the most of the weather and climbed Ledge Route on Ben Nevis.

Lastly, Matt was also out today, on the first day of three with Michael.  They too made the most of the good weather, by climbing Curved Ridge, which they enjoyed, and reported it to be quite snowy.

Matt & Michael trailblazing up Curved Ridge today.

Matt & Michael trailblazing up Curved Ridge today.

With regards to conditions, route choice will be critical over the next couple of days, as strong SW/WSW winds continue to transport snow, before a sudden rise in temperatures accompanied by heavy rain hits us around lunchtime tomorrow, which is likely to lead to spontaneous avalanches releasing and cornices collapsing, particularly on N-E aspects.  Take care out there!

 

Great (Valentine’s) day on North East Buttress, Ben Nevis

Rob and Dave were keen for something longer and harder than the SW Ridge of the Douglas Boulder for today, so for two fit chaps, who have a fair bit of alpine climbing under their belt, and all of us wanting to avoid avalanche hazards on westerly aspects, North East Buttress seemed to tick all the right boxes.

I was pleasantly surprised to find no one else heading up that way this morning, giving us pole position on the route.  As it turned out, we were the only ones in that race today, which was fine by me.  The approach slopes were reasonably scoured, and sported some raised footprints, a good indicator that snow had been eroded by the winds on that slope.

We were soon into proper climbing terrain, and with the snow still mostly unconsolidated, a bit of care was required with axe and crampon placements.  Both Rob and Dave quickly got to grips with the need for efficiency at the belays, so we made good progress up the buttress.

The chaps struggled a bit with the notorious Man Trap, a short but slightly over-hanging wall, with very limited axe placements and poor, sloping foot placements, but cruised the 40 Foot Corner, which today had ok snow on the ledges, but absolutely no chance for any gear due to a thin layer of ice.

It’s been a great couple of days with Rob and Dave, who have expanded their comfort zones and tackled possibly the best route of it’s grade on Ben Nevis.  What a great way for us all to spend Valentine’s Day!

Hannah and Lena were also hard at work, on Aonach Mor, delivering a day of skills to 8 members of the Wessex Mountaineering Club.  They are up for a week, and were after a one day introductory day, so that they can practice their new found skills and be more self-reliant for the rest of their time up here.

Care required! SW Ridge of the Douglas Boulder, Ben Nevis

Yesterday, Hannah was out on a personal climbing day with Steve, they made the long, but worthwhile approach (2nd time for Han this week) to Church Door Buttress on Bidean nam Bian, where they climbed yet more esoterica – the brilliant part caving, part winter climbing expedition that is Crypt Route, which Han seemed to enjoy more and have less problems in than Steven (who is quite tall).  They reported good conditions, and not another soul about up there.

Chris Thorne was out working for West Coast Mountain Guides.  He was with Pete, and they climbed Hadrian’s Wall Direct on Ben Nevis, and reported the approach to be fine, unlike many other areas of the mountain.  The strong easterly winds and cold temperatures (coupled with in places, a shallow snow pack), has led to both the accumulations of windslab and formation of facets within the snow pack, leading to a number of human triggered avalanches in multiple locations.  Many teams abandoned their plans or stayed low yesterday.

I was on an Avalanche Workshop, organised by Alan Kimber, on behalf of the Chris Walker Memorial Trust.  As ever, it was an informative day spent partly inside, discussing theory, and then a circuit of Nevis Range, looking at the rather interesting (and potentially hazardous) distribution of windslab and facets.  Hannah attended a similar day today.

Windslab releasing rather too easily.

Windslab releasing rather too easily. NE aspect, Aonach Mor.

Chris was back out with Pete today, and they climbed Raeburn’s Route and Pinnacle Buttress Grooves on Stob Coire nan Lochan.  Conditions look good up there.

Lena was out delivering a day of winter skills to Alex on Buachaille Etive Beag in Glencoe, they had a productive and enjoyable day.

I had a late start with Dave and Rob, who had caught the sleeper up from down south.  Unfortunately, with various delays, they didn’t arrive in Fort William until midday, so with the expectation of finishing a bit late, we headed straight for Ben Nevis.  On the approach, we bumped into two teams walking out, both of whom had been caught in avalanches, but were fortunately ok, if a bit shaken.  One team were caught in a release whilst heading up to Point 5 Gully, another up towards No. 3 Gully Buttress.  The strong overnight winds have continued to redistribute the snow, and so there are some significant instabilities now on NW-S aspects.

With a late start, we made for the SW Ridge of the Douglas Boulder, which gave a safe approach and enjoyable climb, which both Dave and Rob flew up.  We then abseiled and descended the East Gully, before yomping out to be back at the van for 5pm.  Not bad going! The snow on the ridge is quite soft and very dry, but the turf is very well frozen at the moment.

We saw teams on Waterfall Gully, Central Gullies of Creag Coire na Ciste, The Gift, Comb Gully, Tower Ridge and NE Buttress.

If anyone knows the team who were avalanched beneath Point 5 Gully, can you let them know that I have handed an ice axe and glove in to Fort William police station.

 

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)

Morwind, East Face of Aonach Mor

After yesterday’s adventure, we decided to make use of the gondola at Nevis Range this morning, to whisk us up to 650m, and check out the East Face of Aonach Mor.  With the avalanche forecast suggesting localised areas of considerable hazard, we opted to make the abseils down the line of Morwind, the anchors of which are already in-situ, rather than descending Easy Gully.

The crag itself is currently plastered with soft snow and rime ice, and so very white in appearance. The climbing quite tricky at times, with very limited build up of useful ice and nothing in the way of firm névé.  Tim did well to climb the route, given current conditions, which definitely adds a grade to the climbing at the moment.  We topped out with plenty of time to wonder back down to the gondola station, envious of the skiers making the most of good powder up high.

It was very quiet on the East Face today, with one team on Stirling Bridge, and another team who backed of a couple of mid-grade routes, reporting less-than-ideal conditions.  Really, whilst it’s very wintry and picturesque up high, a thaw and refreeze will will do the mid-grade climbing wonders.

It’s cooling down – Scottish winter courses

It’s been a busy summer, both on the Isle of Skye and in the Alps and it’s been great to meet new and also catch up with familiar faces. The late Indian summer we’ve had has been very much appreciated and t-shirt climbing in October and November has been great! We are however also pleased to say it’s now cooling down, and with winter not far away, it’s a good time to start laying down plans for the upcoming winter season.

Our first Scottish winter courses this year start in mid December and we also have some running over the New Year period. This coming winter, we will be offering a greater range of courses than previously, with the inclusion of a Winter Skills & Summits course, aimed at hill walkers looking to take their first winter steps in the Scottish mountains and who wish to tackle snow covered Munros.

Should you wish to tackle something steeper, such as a snow filled gully, iced up buttress or classic icefall, then our range of Winter Mountaineering and Climbing Courses may be just what you’re after!  We’re lucky to be surrounded by some of the finest winter venues, from Ben Nevis to Aonach Mor on our doorstep, to the impressive peaks and crags of Glencoe just to the south.

We will, of course, be running our flagship CIC Hut Weeks too.  The week is spent in the UK’s only alpine hut, at the foot of the North Face of Ben Nevis, which means minimal walk-ins, maximum climbing time!

Don’t forget, we also take Private Guiding bookings too so if you can’t quite find what you’re after when it comes to climbing, winter skills, or walking make sure you get in touch whether your an individual or a group so we can talk through what you’d like to achieve and we’ll come up with a tailor made itinerary for you.

The West Coast Mountain Guides blog will also be kept up-to-date throughout the winter season and please feel free to email us with your own conditions updates and pictures that we can then include on our blog

Oh, and if you haven’t yet, don’t forget to ‘like’ us on facebook and we look forward to seeing you soon!