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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.

A short, yet inspiring film on Scottish winter climbing

Take 4 minutes out of your Friday afternoon, and watch Kenton Cool, Neil Gresham and Heather Geluk talk about their motivations for the unique world of Scottish winter climbing.

Eugster Couloir Direct, Aiguille du Midi, Chamonix

There can’t be many better ways to prepare for the forthcoming winter climbing season in Scotland than climbing the Eugster Couloir Direct on the 1000m north face of the Aiguille du Midi, so that’s what Alex and I set out to do last week, but our first attempt was far from successful.

With a reasonable forecast, Alex and I spent the night at the Aigulle du Plan, ‘enjoying’ a cold bivi, but with plenty of fresh snow lying on the ground, thought it would be best to scope out our approach that evening, for the following morning, so having stumbled our way through powder covered boulders to a point where we could see the obvious, or so we thought, snow cone beneath the Eugster Couloir and it’s direct variant, we got our heads down for a few hours of sleep. At 2:30am, we ‘woke up’ and retraced our tracks to what we thought was the snow cone we were after. Wrong! A few hundred meters of wading up a snow slope and two tricky pitches later, we realised that in the darkness we had in fact headed uphill too soon, and that our intended route was round the next spur of rock, and without a guidebook to help identify a suitable way up, we bailed, although not without interest, as we had opted to take a single 60m rope, halving our abseil potential to 30m at a time. Fortunately, three short abseils found us on easier snow slopes which we could descend with ease. Unfortunately, our efforts had already taken a fair few hours, meaning the only option was to head back down to Chamonix.

Three days later, we found ourselves, with 2x60m half ropes this time, back at the Aiguille du Plan, and biviing once again, but happy with where we should have gone, we chose not to check our approach again. Also, by this point, we had been back and forth along the approach a number of times, and had put in a fairly obvious track, not to mention we were quite tired of it. Alex made the call to start even earlier, so at 1:30am, we got ourselves ready, and trudged off. This time, we found our ‘obvious’ snow cone, and made our way up steep snow slopes to the base of a tricky and not overly inspiring steep step, featuring thin, un attached ice and no gear. I took the lead, and was quite grateful to reach the gully above, which continued with ceaselessness, but on easy ground.

After what felt like hours, we finally reached the bottom of the steeper pitches of the direct variant, the first of which was a steady grade 4 ice pitch. Alex then jumped onto the sharp end, and manged to string one and a half pitches together before a shorter, bold pitch, brought me to beneath a huge jammed block. The final exit from the narrow gully was what seemed to be a rather thin and steep mixed corner, which surprisingly Alex managed to squeeze into a long pitch from the jammed boulder. It was thin and steep, but well protected, and had just enough ice for axe placements. This brought us out onto snow slopes directly beneath the Aiguille du Midi lift station, which looked tantalisingly close… 2 hours of calf burning, variable steep snow later, we finally, with much relief, dropped into the entrance tunnel of the Aiguille du Midi lift station, in time for the final bin down of the day. Eugster Couloir Direct is given an alpine grade of IV,5 and probably equivalent to solid Scottish grade V (although the crux was probably closer to grade VI/VII), with plenty of grade II ground before and after the main pitches. It covers a total of 1500m from the Aiguille du Plan to the Aigulle du Midi, which is/was calf explodingly long.

Rest day today!

Sun setting at our bivi at the Aiguille du Plan  Looking up at the North Face of the Aiguille du Midi

Pitch 2 of the Eugster Couloir Direct Endless snow slopes up tot he Aiguille du Midi lift

The final move into the tunnel, Aiguille du Midi