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Sticking to the ridges

With all the fresh snow that has recently fallen and blown about, Jess, Rich and I decided to make life easier for ourselves and stick to climbing ridges over the past two days.

Yesterday, with a deterioration in the weather due for early afternoon, we opted for an early start and climbed the East Ridge of the North Top of Stob Ban. Even with an early start, the winds were still quite bracing, but manageable. It wasn’t a day for hanging about, so we made a fairly swift ascent, before we made a sharp right turn at the top and descended the north ridge. Steve was out shadowing us, as he had not been along the ridge before. Thanks to him for the photos.

Today, Jess wasn’t feeling great, so decided to give today a miss. That left Rich and I breaking trail to Castle Ridge. As the freezing levels had risen but not quite to the summits last night, before dropping back down again, we found the lower two thirds of the ridge to be in much better conditions, with frozen turf and consolidating snow, than the top third which where the rocks weren’t well bonded together and the snowy very dry and powdery. That all said, Rich enjoyed every minute of the route, and found the crux, which is quite a bit harder than anything else on the route, quite challenging. I hope that he didn’t come to Scotland expecting an easy ride!

We’ve got a mass of cold polar air moving over the UK as of this evening, so it’s going to be a cold, but fairly settled period ahead, which is great news.

 

Eagle soaring over Stob Ban

For Nick and Allan’s final day, we decided to play it safe after the rapid build up of fresh wind-blown snow over the past 24 hours, and headed to Stob Ban to climb the brilliant East Ridge of the North Buttress.  I was hoping to follow a trail through the snow this morning, but no such luck, but we did spot what I thought a juvenile Golden Eagle soaring above the East Ridge, which was quite a majestic sight.

After a fair bit of wading, we reached the foot of the East Ridge, and made our way up the numerous tricky steps and sections of exposed ridge, all of which were covered in deep snow.  The climbing is never particularly difficult, although some variation is possible on a number of the steeper rocky steps, however, the route flows nicely, is great fun and tops out on the north top of Stob Ban, a short distance from the main summit. With Nick and Allan making the drive back down south this evening, we made a sharp right turn at the top, and made our way down the north ridge.

East Ridge of North Buttress

Great conditions

 

East Ridge of North Buttress

On the crux corner

 

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.

Another stunning day in the Highlands

It proved to be another stunning day in the Highlands, so long as you were prepared to head up to 800m.  Aonach Mor proved to be a great place to enjoy being above the inversion, particularly as the effort of getting above the clouds was lessened by the gondola.

Cloud inversion in the Highlands

The start of another great day in the Highlands!

Views towards Carn Mor Dearg and Ben Nevis

Views towards Carn Mor Dearg and Ben Nevis

Buttresses to the north of Easy Gully

Buttresses to the north of Easy Gully

Descending into Easy Gully, Aonach Mor

Descending into Easy Gully

Buttresses to the south of Easy Gully

Buttresses to the south of Easy Gully

Looking down Easy Gully

Looking down Easy Gully

Left Twin looking lean

Left Twin looking lean

The snow on the East Face had firmed up quite a bit with the clear skies overnight, giving good, stable conditions in Easy Gully. Many of the routes on the East Face (particularly those to the north of Easy Gully, that are a bit more exposed to the sun) have suffered with the lack of snow and mild temperatures, but Forgotten Twin was good enough to climb today.  Unfortunately, the thin section at about mid-height is probably no longer feasible after our ascent.

We bumped into Euan, who had soloed a couple of unnamed gullies to the south of Homo Buttress, but care definitely required in these lean conditions.

This weekend will see more of the same conditions, so overall little change.

As a side note, the current thaw has unearthed and loosened a pile of loose blocks at the top of No. 2 Gully on Ben Nevis.  The sun will be beating down on the surrounding snow this weekend, loosening the pile even further. It’s worth avoiding at the minute, as it could prove to be catastrophic.

Cloud Inversion on Ben Nevis

Fairly good conditions holding on in Number 2 Gully on Ben Nevis today. Much of the day was spent in the clouds, but the summit of Ben Nevis was just poking out above a fairly dense cloud inversion.

Quite busy in Nos. 2,3&4 Gullies today, as well as teams on Tower Ridge. Tower Gully looked like good fun too. Plenty of rime ice forming on the rocks and on the ground above 1100m.  It’s going to remain fairly cold up high for the next while.

Conditions in No. 2 Gully

Good snow in No. 2 Gully

Rime forming on the rocks

Rime forming on the rocks

Cloud inversion on Ben Nevis

Above the clouds

Gardyloo Gully and Indicator Wall

Brockenspectre above Gardyloo Gully

Cloud inversion on Ben Nevis

Looking towards Carn Dearg

Cloud inversion on Ben Nevis

View from the summit

Not as good as yesterday: Golden Oldie, Aonach Mor

Unfortunately, the cold weather of late has come to an end for the moment, taking away with it much of the recent snow, which didn’t have an opportunity to consolidate. I was out with Gam and Tom, and working for and alongside Scott (Kirkhope Mountaineering), who was with Gary and Angus. We all climbed the East Ridge of Stob Ban this time last year.

With rather limited options, we decided to go for Golden Oldie on the West Face of Aonach Mor, which was still clinging onto snow, although the route could probably could be climbed without crampons at the moment.  Regardless of conditions, Tom and Gam enjoyed the route, which lends itself well to swift and efficient climbing.

It’s going to be a bit damp as the new week starts, but drying up and cooling down as the week progresses, with next weekend looking promising.

Golden Oldie, Aonach Mor

Gam and Tom enjoying the route

 

Golden Oldie, Aonach Mor Mor

Scott with Angus and Gary

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!

Bit of a thaw: Number 2 Gully, Ben Nevis

Overnight, the freezing levels sneaked up to about 1150m, a bit higher than some of the forecasts were suggesting, causing the snowpack to start to thaw at most levels.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as it may refreeze before the next dump of snow, giving the well needed consolidated base for new snow to lie on.

Ben Nevis conditions

I was out today with Joe and Kirsty. For Kirsty, it was her first time winter climbing, and for Joe an opportunity for some coached leading, so we headed up to No. 2 Gully, as having been up there yesterday, I was sure that it would be fine for today.  There was quite a bit of fresh snow in Coire na Ciste and on the approach to Number 2 Gully, so we went up cautiously, but the gently thawing snowpack was fine throughout, with no tail-tale signs of insatiabilities, even if it was hard going at times!

Number 2 Gully, Ben Nevis

Despite the slightly damp conditions, both Joe and Kirsty remained enthusiastic throughout, and did a good job at leading themselves up the route. Whilst at the foot of the route, we were passed by three Swiss mountaineers, who all soloed the gully sans crampons. Unfortunately for them, I don’t think that they have as yet sampled the best that Ben Nevis has to offer.

Wild day in the hills tomorrow, time to batten down the hatches!

 

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

Icy in No. 2 Gully, Ben Nevis

I was back out with Gareth, Mike and Matt, and for day two, we thought that we should make the most of the great weather and go high on Ben Nevis. Unfortunately, with the current conditions, this didn’t give us many options, so on arriving into Coire na Ciste, we decided to go for No. 2 Gully.  The snow on the approach had morphed into firm névé, giving the lads a great opportunity to really put their footwork to the test up to the gully.

With a number of teams in the area, I guided the lads up the gully, but en-route, we were able to look at a variety of belays, made somewhat slightly limited with the amount of ice in the cracks. The trio enjoyed the climbing, which in current conditions was more involved than normal, but found the continual front-pointing hard work on their calves.  So a great intro to ice climbing then!

No. 2 Gully, Ben Nevis

Icy in No. 2 Gully

 

Ben Nevis plateau

Clear on the plateau

 

Walking over towards No. 4 Gully

Walking over towards No. 4 Gully

We topped out into the sunshine, before making our way over to No. 4 Gully and descending that, which again, is a lot less forgiving then it was a couple of days ago.  Other teams making the most of the weather by making ascents of Gargoyle Wall, which looked a bit black lower down, North Gully (delicate first pitch), No. 3 Gully and I bumped into Jamie and Mo as we were walking out, who had climbed NE Buttress, and reported ok conditions throughout, so good going on their part to stick their noses in it and succeed. Sometimes, that’s exactly what it takes!

The north face of Ben Nevis

The north face of Ben Nevis

The mid-range synoptic charts are showing a bunching of the isobars over the UK and cool conditions as the middle of the month approaches, which will hopefully give us the stormy weather and heavy snow that we’re needing right now… Fingers crossed!