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Day of leading: Dorsal Arete, Glencoe

Jess and Rich are both great students to be out with. They are super enthusiastic, keen to learn and realise that the best way to develop is to step out of their comfort zone and to rise up to new challenges, which is what this week has been about so far. We continued that theme today, by heading up to Stob Coire nan Lochan in Glencoe to climb Dorsal Arete, with them taking turns on the sharp end.

Winter Climbing Courses

Stob Coire nan Lochan this morning.

Dorsal Arete lends itself well to this, as it has ample gear placements and very convenient belays throughout. The exact line on this route can be varied depending on conditions and desired level of challenge, but I always think it’s a shame to miss out the pièce de résistance, the narrow fin of rock high up, that gives the route its name.  As Jess had to sit out yesterday, Rich, being the gentleman that he is, offered up the  crux pitch to Jess. Fortunately, Jess was up for the challenge, so with plenty of gear placed ahead for her to clip into, she made short work of the couple of steep moves required to gain the crest of the fin.  Nice work and great leading from both of them!

Dorsal Arete

Rich belaying on Dorsal Arete

Winter Climbing Course

Jess on the crux fin of Dorsal Arete

 

Conditions were not too dissimilar to yesterday, with again, less consolidation from the corrie floor upwards than lower down. The final gully of Dorsal Arete, which had been scoured, was slighty lean, but what snow was there was in surprisingly good condition compared to lower down. It was very quiet up there today, with one team ahead of us, and one team who started up Raeburn’s (Ordinary) Route on Central Buttress, before binning it. I’d imagine that the turf on the first pitch is still unfrozen.

Winter returns! Dorsal Arete & Pincer

Finally, it’s what we’ve all been waiting for, snow! And a reasonable amount of it at that.  As we drove through to Glencoe this morning, it was actually a little disappointing to only see the lightest of dustings on the Pap of Glencoe, but as the morning progressed, the snow continued to accumulate and by the time we got up to Coire nan Lochan this morning, it felt like winter had properly returned.

Winter Conditions Glencoe

A welcome sight this morning in Glencoe

I was out, working for Hebridean Pursuits, with Ruth and Rob, who were part of a large contingent from the University of Manchester Mountaineering Club. They had both rock climbed quite a bit in the past, and were keen to transfer those skills to Scottish winter climbing. On gaining the corrie floor, we decided that the turf would be frozen enough to warrant an ascent of Dorsal Arete, which after the cold, clear days of late, it was. The climbing still required a bit of care as some of the blocks were still a bit loose. Ruth and Rob did a great job of leading themselves up the route, with me climbing alongside, coaching en route. We topped out into fairly fresh winds, which were transporting the snow and causing rime to build on the rocks. It all felt rather wintry, which was reassuring!

Winter Climbing Course

Rob enjoying the route

Winter Climbing Course

Ruth belaying

Winter Climbing Course

Rob on the final pitch

Plenty of teams in Broad Gully. The fresh snow has covered any patches that have survived, so expect hidden patches of icy snow lurking beneath the fresh, particularly in gullies and east facing slopes.

Winter Climbing Conditions Glencoe

Rob and Ruth at the top of the route

Hannah and Mark had an adventure on Ben Nevis today, where they climbed Pincer, which is mentioned as a good early season route in Chasing the Ephemeral. They said that finding the start was a bit tricky, but once on it, by following your nose, it was fairly straight forward route finding, and that conditions were quite good. Quite a few teams on Creag Coire na Ciste and Trident Buttresses, as well as rocky, mixed routes on the East Face of Aonach Mor.  All things considered, it’s shaping up to be a pretty good weekend for winter climbing.

Lost the Place, Ben Nevis & East Ridge, Stob Ban

We’ve had a few brilliant days recently, and we’ve been out making the most of it.  Yesterday, Hannah was out on a personal climbing day with Mark. They decided to head up to Coire na Ciste and climb the neglected gem that is Lost the Place, a mixed route high on Creag Coire na Ciste. The route doesn’t really see the attention it deserves, particularly as it’s probably one of the best mixed routes of it’s grade (V,5) in the region.  The final chimney wasn’t particularly iced up, but they climbed it reporting it probably a grade harder than normal.

Heading up to Lost the Place, Ben Nevis

Heading up to Coire na Ciste

Han on Lost the Place, Ben Nevis

Han enjoying herself

Final Chimney, Lost the Place

Mark on the final chimney

Meanwhile, Steve, Rich and I had a bit of an exploratory day in Glencoe. We spent a bit of time looking at options on Far East Buttress, before making our way up to Stob Coire nan Lochan. By the time we had reached the crags, geared up and I had led the first pitch of East Face Route, time was slipping away, and coupled with not quite perfectly frozen turf, we decided to ab off.  Nice to get a steep pitch of mixed climbing in though.

Pitch 1, East Face, Stob Coire nan Lochan

Me heading off up pitch 1 of East Face

First pitch of East Face Route, Glencoe

Steve looking up at Rich climbing the first pitch

Today was another fine day, and I was back to work, this time with Colin and his son Alistair, working for my good friend Kirkhope Mountaineering. They had attempted the East Ridge of the North Buttress of Stob Ban last year, but were defeated when Alistair developed blisters on the walk-in. This time, armed with new boots, there was nothing to hold us back.  Having climbed the route a couple of days ago, little had changed, although there was a little less snow on the rocks higher up. Both Colin and Alistair rose up the the numerous challenges along the ridge, and we topped out in sunshine, with expansive views across the West Highlands.  A great day to be out!

East Ridge of the North Buttress of Stob Ban catching the sun

The East Ridge catching the morning sun

Great situations on the East Ridge

Great situations on the route

Crux of the East Ridge of the North Top of Stob Ban

Alistair and Colin on the crux

Brilliant day in the Scottish Highlands

Brilliant views to the north west

Alpine conditions on the East Ridge of the North Top of Stob Ban

Alpine conditions on the East Ridge

Final fin of the East Ridge of Stob Ban

The final fin of rock on the East Ridge

Descending the North Ridge of Stob Ban

Father and son

East Ridge of the North Buttress, Stob Ban

After sitting out a rather stormy day yesterday (amazingly a hardy team of visiting Swiss climbers managed to climb Green Gully, but reported that the ice wasn’t good for ice screws), I was back out with Joe and Kirsty for another day of coached lead climbing.  Despite the promise of snow yesterday, with the strong winds, much of it dissipated back up into the atmosphere, so the real saving grace was some overnight fresh snow, which fell down to sea level.

East Ridge Stob Ban

Stob Ban this morning

We decided to head up Glen Nevis, and make our way up to the East Ridge of the North Buttress of Stob Ban, a great, and often neglected grade II/III mountaineering route, with plenty of varied climbing and situations.  I was happy for Joe to lead the whole route, with Kirtsy following, so that’s exactly what we did.  This was the first time for either of them to climb mixed terrain, but with both of them having a solid back ground in rock climbing, they took to it like ducks to water and were soon hooking, torquing and bridging up the corners and grooves.

Kirsty on East Ridge, Stob Ban

Kirsty seconding

Couple winter climbing on the East Ridge of the North Buttress of Stob Ban

Happy couple enjoying the winter conditions

Joe enjoying the East Ridge of the North Buttress of Stob Ban

Joe also enjoying the situations

On finishing the route, after the final knife edge ridge, we made our way back down the North Ridge of Stob Ban. We saw a couple of hillwalkers, but asides from that, it was a quiet day. We were nicely sheltered from the westerly winds today.

Final ridge of the East Ridge of the North Buttress of Stob Ban

Kirtsy negotiating the final ridge

Kenny was also out, with returning client John. They climbed Scabbard Chimney on Stob Coire na Lochan, and reported good conditions for mixed climbing up there. Winter’s back!

Pleasant day on Curved Ridge, Glencoe

For Gareth, Mike and Matt’s final day, having exhausted the supply of winter climbs currently in good condition (which will change on Monday thankfully), we decided to take a different, but still completely relevant tact, and climbed a non-wintry Curved Ridge on Buachaille Etive Mor instead.

Buachaille Etive Mor, Glencoe

Buachaille Etive Mor poking out above the cloud inversion

The day started with a cloud inversion, and it wasn’t long after leaving the car that we popped out of the clouds and were treated to brilliant views of the surrounding peaks.

Panorama Glencoe

Stunning views above the clouds

 

Curved Ridge & North Buttress

Looking up at the NE Face of Buachaille Etive Mor

 

Views to Ben Nevis from Glencoe

Clear views to the north

The trio led themselves up the route, moving together for much of it and making use of quick, yet effective belays. As rock climbers, they adapted quickly to the smoother and more efficient style of moving, but were fully aware of the limitations and safety considerations of this style of climbing.

Enjoying Curved Ridge

Mike and Gareth enjoying the ridge

 

Leading the team on Curved Ridge

Matt in the lead

With plenty of time in hand, we took the exposed yet well protected traversing path above Rannoch Wall, and continued up on to Crowberry Tower, which clearly doesn’t see as much traffic as Curved Ridge, despite being similar in difficulty and style. One short descent and ascent later saw the team on the summit of Stob Dearg, just as the clouds closed in.

Crowberry Tower

On the summit of Crowberry Tower

NC (Not Complete) Gully, Stob Coire Nan Lochan

First things first, Happy New Year to you all! I hope that you all enjoyed yourselves whatever you did. Fortunately not working on the 1st meant a nice night out with friends to see the New Year in.

No. 3 Gully Buttress, Ben Nevis

No. 3 Gully Buttress was climbed by a few teams.

I was back to work yesterday, and out with Darren and Jackie, who were looking to develop their winter mountaineering skills with a trip up Mont Blanc on the cards for later in the year. With a favourable forecast, we decided to head up to Coire na Ciste on Ben Nevis, where we focused on movement skills, before making an ascent of No. 3 Gully, which was in very friendly condition, with no cornice at the top. We then made our way over the plateau and down No. 4 Gully, which again lacked a cornice.

In No. 3 Gully, Ben Nevis

In No. 3 Gully

Good conditions in No. 3 Gully

Good conditions in No. 3 Gully

No. 3 Gully, Ben Nevis

At the top of No. 3 Gully

Steve was also out working for West Coast Mountain Guides. He was out with Kieran and Richard, they had a productive day on the other side of Tower Ridge, in Tower Gully.

Many folk out yesterday, but unfortunately it’s rather slim pickings at the moment with the lack of snow and ice. Teams on Tower Gully, Tower Ridge, Gardyloo Gully (reported to be about grade IV and requires ice screws at the moment), No. 2 Gully, No. 3 Gully Buttress, one team backed off a very lean Thompson’s Route, Hobgoblin and multiple teams in No 3 Gully.

Gardylook Gully, Ben Nevis

Gardyloo Gully looking sporting, and certainly NOT grade II (thanks to Andy Wyatt for the photo)

Today, I was out with Gareth, Mike and Matt for the start of their Winter Mountaineering Course. With a slightly less than ideal forecast, but with another thaw due for later in the week, we decided to go for something in Glencoe, as nothing there (apart from Board Gully) is likely to survive another thaw.  It turns out that we may already have been one or two days late, but after recapping on movement skills, and bringing some these movement drills and skills to their conscientiousness, rather than doing things without realising, we made for NC Gully, where the effects of the thaw are making themselves known. The lads led where suitable, but I took over for the more exposed rocky steps.  We finished off by descending Broad Gully, which is complete. Some more unsettled weather next week, which fingers crossed, brings with it some well needed snow.

Glencoe Conditions

A rather black Stob Coire nan Lochan

Ptarmigan

White ptarmigan looking rather out of place.

NC Gully, Glencoe

Matt nearer the top of NC Gully

NC Gully, Glencoe

Mike and Gareth near the top of NC Gully

Scott was out with Darren and Jackie, they enjoyed a productive day covering further winter mountaineering skills around the Nid area of Aonach Mor. Good luck with Mont Blanc you two!

Successes on the Skye Munros Course & Cuillin Traverse

The second half of May has been busy period, mostly in conjunction with some amazing weather in The Scottish Highlands.

Firstly, Guy and I ran another Skye Munros Course, with a team of four each, on behalf of Steve Fallon.  The aim of these courses is to complete all 11 of the Munros that lie on the main Cuillin Ridge over four days, as well as to arm the participants with core mountaineering skills that they can then transfer to their own adventures.

The weather forecast for the week was for mixed conditions, very different to the sunshine and dry weather of the previous week, but with a bit of juggling of days and the teams being thrown into the deep end by tackling the Inn Pinn on the first day, which they all coped brilliantly with, we enjoyed a hugely successful four days, and summited all eleven Munros.  Well done to the teams for braving the elements, particularly on the final day!  Hopefully they will be back to enjoy the Skye Cuillin, in the sunshine, which does happen, in the future.

Back in Lochaber, Kenny was out with Joe, who is in training for a trip to the Alps.  They had a successful day on North East Buttress on Ben Nevis.  North East Buttress is a fantastic route in summer conditions, as well as being one of the finest climbs of its grade in winter, and perfect preparation for bigger objectives in the Alps.

David & David had a day out with Scott, on the Aonach Eagach, in Glencoe, and a day out with Ian on Sgurr Mhic Choinnich and the Inn Pinn on Skye.  They enjoyed two productive days, in great conditions, on two of the UK’s finest single day mountaineering routes.

Ian also guided Steve, Jack and Jeremy on Skye that week.  It was their first time on the Cuillin Ridge, so a great opportunity to sample a number of Munros in the best mountaineering playground in the UK, as well as pick up some essential mountaineering skills along the way. A complete Cuillin Ridge Traverse next time chaps?

Speaking of complete Cuillin Ridge Traverses, Scott successfully guided brothers Bob & Peter along the ridge.  Bob and Peter had tried a traverse in the past, but had been thwarted for a number of reasons, however, this time, things were different, and everything fell nicely into place, allowing Bob and Peter to successfully complete the traverse, with perfect weather from end to end.

Success on the Cuillin Ridge Traverse!

Success on the Cuillin Ridge Traverse!

Finally, Tom enjoyed an adventurous day out in Knoydart, an area not often visited when working.  He was out with Humphrey, who in the past, has completed all of the Munros, and is now working his way through the Corbetts.  Humphrey had chartered a boat which left at 8am from Mallaig, and so the pair were dropped off at the head of Loch Nevis, to tackle the remote Corbett, Ben Aden.  This mountain extremely rock and steep on all sides, and one of the hardest summits to reach in the whole of the UK, so the pair did well to reach the summit in good time, and made it down in plenty of time, for a boat pick-up at 5pm.

So, fingers crossed that there’s more good weather over the next month, which predications are suggesting will happen: Monthly weather forecast for the UK – Net Weather.

Above the clouds on Tower Ridge, Ben Nevis

If you were in Fort William today, you would have spent most of the day under a grey sky, however, it was a very different world up on Ben Nevis today.  The day did start off quite clear, but soon, the clouds rolled in, filling the glens, however, Ricky and I, along with almost everyone else on Ben Nevis today managed to remain above the clouds for much of the day and enjoyed yet another day of sunshine and views for miles around, although today very few peaks were poking through the thick band of cloud.

We climbed Tower Ridge in little more than softshells and a base layer.  The route has lost a lot of snow over the past week, but what is left, which is still significant, is bullet hard in places, and crampons were worn throughout.  The exit from Douglas Gap, most of the steeper steps on the Little Tower and Tower Gap were largely dry.

We had good views of climbers in Observatory Gully, Hadrian’s Wall, Smith’s and Tower Scoop were seeing a fair bit of traffic, Indicator Wall had one team on it, who were linking up the normal start with the second pitch of the R/H variation.  A team were on the second pitch of Point 5 Gully, but were seen retreating a little while later.  Tower Gully is steep at the top, but is being used in both ascent and descent, although care required, as a slip here would be bad news.

In Coire na Ciste, Tim was out with Martin.  They climbed Green Gully, and reported good conditions and no crowds either.  A team were in Glover’s Chimney, and seemed to be bombarded occasionally with falling ice.

Hannah and Steve were also enjoying being above the clouds with their group of 10 on the Carn Mor Dearg Arete. The crest is fairly bare of snow now, and the group didn’t need to use crampons until the final slopes up to the summit of Ben Nevis, which is now a meter higher, and stands at 1345m due to a recalculation carried out by Ordnance Survey.

Looking across from the CMD towards the north face of Ben Nevis

Looking across from the CMD towards the north face of Ben Nevis

Finally, Mark was out delivering a day of crevasse rescue and expedition skills to James and Rosy.  They were on Stob Coire nan Lochan today.

I’m off for our second CIC Hut Week tomorrow, fortunately things are looking to turn a bit more wintry, so it’s looking like a promising week ahead.  I’ll not blog through the week, but will post regular updates on our Facebook page.

 

Another stunning day: Dorsal Arete, Glencoe

It’s been another stunning day in the Outdoor Capital of the UK, with wall to wall sunshine, firm snow and amazing, it was quite quiet on the hills today.

I was back out with Kevin and John, for their final day of coached leading, and we went to Stob Coire nan Lochan to climb Dorsal Arete, which I had heard was still in good nick.  It was.

We were the first of only a few teams in the corrie, and therefore had Dorsal Arete mostly to ourselves, the only others to climb the crest were Si and Becky (also part of Team Lowe Alpine), who soloed past with skis on their back, on their way to find a nice descent off Bidean.  What a great day for it!

The snow had once again firmed up overnight, and remained firm where in the shade, giving secure climbing all the way.  With the crux fin just in the sunshine, it would have been a shame to miss it out on such a day, so we took that in too, adding in some variety to an already great route.

It’s been a productive couple of days for Kevin and John, who have really got to grips with pitched climbing.  We’ve been able to look at a variety of belays and runner placements, they’ve now got a good understanding now of ropework and knots, and we’ve climbed two brilliant routes.

Very little in condition on Stob Coire nan Lochan now, Boomerang Gully looked ok, Langsam might be climbable, Forked, Broad and North Gullies are all complete.

 

Great week at the CIC Hut, Ben Nevis

Last week, Mark S and I ran a five day long winter climbing course based out of the CIC Hut on Ben Nevis, which is Britain’s only true alpine hut  and gives unrivalled access to the some of the finest winter climbing cliffs.  The weather decided to play ball  for much of last week too, enabling Neil, Mark C, David and Jeff to climb a number of classic winter climbs.

On Monday, under blue skies and sunshine, Mark S, Neil and Mark C climbed Minus 2 Gully, which they reported to be in great condition.  Neil and Mark C had climbed on Ben Nevis many times over the years, but hadn’t climbed NE Buttress before, so the team continued to the summit via the buttress, taking in the Mantrap (the single hardest move on the mountain?!) and the Forty Foot Corner.   On the other side of NE Buttress, on the Little Brenva face, Jeff, David and myself were basking in the sunshine, whilst climbing Cresta Direct before traversing to finish up Moonwalk, therefore linking some of the steeper ice pitches in the vicinity, giving a very alpine feel to our day.

The following morning, we woke to slightly murky conditions, and so opted to stay low and made a group ascent of The Curtain, which was in reasonable nick, if a little thin on the first pitch.  David and I then made our way over to have a look at Vanishing Gully,  by which point the freezing levels had crept up causing the approach slopes to start to feel a bit spooky, and as a result, we chose not to push on up steepening slopes that lead to the foot of the route.  Mark S, Neil and Mark C climbed the first pitch of Gemini that afternoon.

Wednesday brought with it another settled day, so wanting to make the most of it, Jeff, David and I started early, in order to beat the crowds, and broke trail all the way up a very snowy Tower Ridge.  The clouds hung around during the first half, but soon cleared to give another fine day. There’s something quite magical about being the first team on Tower Ridge, and not having a track to follow.  We then descended Ledge Route, from where some of the best views of the mountain are to be found.  Mark S and his team climbed Observatory Buttress, and found the easier angled pitches above the crux to be hard work, with plenty of unconsolidated snow lying beneath a thin, icy crust.  That said, they still enjoyed themselves on one of the finest ice routes on the mountain.  A team also climbed Zero Gully that day.

Thursday promised another fine day, so Mark C, David and myself started early, and made an ascent of one of the most iconic ice climbs on Ben Nevis, Orion Face Direct, which at 420m is also one of the longest.  We enjoyed a clear run all the way, with near perfect conditions throughout.  The crux traverse was so well iced that it felt quite easy for the grade, the second pitch of the route giving the steepest and most sustained climbing of the day.  Other teams on Astral Highway, Minus 1 & 2 Gullies and Observatory Buttress.  Mark S and Neil climbed Vanishing Gully and Waterfall Gully that day.

Waking up on Friday, having been listening to the rain and wind beating down through the night, it was quite evident that there was no way that the climbing would match that of the previous few days, and so after a leisurely breakfast or two, we made our way down and made the most of Fish Friday in Whetherspoons on Fort William High Street.  So, despite not climbing on the final day, it was a nice way to end what has been a great week, with fun company, amazing conditions and a good haul of winter climbs.  I’ll be back up at the CIC Hut next Sunday for another five day course, fingers crossed for such good conditions then!

Yesterday, the company was great, but conditions less so.  I was out with Barry and Radu, and with a thaw in progress, we went to one of the most snow sure mountaineering ridges in the Highlands, the Forcan Ridge in Glenshiel.  The ridge was quite bare lower down, but improved with height with snow encountered for much of the route to the summit of The Saddle.

Other West Coast teams out over the past few days, including Tom who was out with the Branch family.  They enjoyed two mountaineering days on School House Ridge in Glencoe on Friday and the Dubh Ridge to the Climber’s Col on Aonach Mor on Saturday.  Rusty was out with Arran and Dave.  They climbed Fawlty Towers on Ben Nevis on Friday, and were on Stob Coire nan Lochan yesterday.  Finally, Scott was out with Michael and Marion yesterday, in Glencoe.

So, what about this coming week?  A high pressure system is set to dominate for much of the week, which will give clear skies and so warm days, but cool nights, which will firm up the currently rather soggy snow pack.  Heat loss through night time radiation should also help firm up the ice, although early starts may be necessary to make the most of the cooler temperatures.  Some of the thinner ice routes (Gemini, Mega Route X, Minus 1, Orion Direct etc.) will have suffered as a result of the thaw this weekend, but the major drainage lines (Hadrians, Point 5, Green Gully) should remain climbable once those cooler nights come around.

Some interesting reading regarding this current high pressure here:

http://www.ukweatherforecast.co.uk/topic/72-high-pressure-dominates-this-week-bringing-plenty-of-settled-weather/
http://blog.metoffice.gov.uk/2016/03/11/high-pressure-keeping-things-mostly-settled/