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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!

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!

 

Winter’s back! No. 2 Gully, Ben Nevis

It was pleasing to see that sometime this morning, winter had made a return to the Highlands, a theme which continued throughout the day and will do for the rest of the week.

Winter conditions Ben Nevis

I was out with Ceri and Richard who both had climbed in winter before. They were after a refresher and a kick-start to their winter season, so we ventured up to Coire na Ciste on Ben Nevis, one of the few winter climbing venues that has managed to hold on to the snow over the past week, and made our way up to No. 2 Gully. Throughout the approach, fresh snow was falling and settling on the rocks, as far down as the CIC Hut, making for a welcome wintry sight. Something we’ve not had for what feels like a wee while.

First pitch No. 2 Gully, Ben Nevis

Travel up to the foot of No. 2 Gully was fairly straight forward, as the snow apron had softened quite a bit over the past few days. There was also a thin layer of soft fresh snow on the surface, allowing a quick but safe approach up to the mouth of the gully. From here, Ceri and Rich led themselves up the route, with me alongside offering coaching.

Belay, No. 2 Gully

The route has suffered a bit from the recent thaw, but despite a bit of soft ice, and a couple of avoidable holes, was in reasonable condition throughout.  The pair did a fine job in all the technical and physical aspects of safely getting themselves up the route, and today proved to be more of an MOT for them, with a few minor pointers and areas for refinement thrown in. I was working for Peak Mountaineering today.

Final pitch, No. 2 Gully

topping out of No. 2 Gully

Very quiet today on the mountain, one pair soloed past us, and we bumped into a couple of Swiss climbers on the summit plateau, who were out enjoying the weather. That was all we saw, but then again, visibility was quite poor.  Further snow fall on the cards for tonight, tomorrow night and Wednesday, which will all be very welcome.

Winter conditions, Ben Nevis

Winter returns to Ben Nevis

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

Better than expected: Aonach Mor

If the Met Office’s forecast had been anything to go by today, we would have been in for a wet one, and whilst it wasn’t exactly brilliant today, it was still much drier than expected.

With a rise in the temperature and extensive cloud cover, Gareth, Mike, Matt and I decided to head round to the eastern flanks of the Nid Ridge on Aonach Mor to have a more skills and techniques based day, which worked well, as we were sheltered from the westerly winds for much of the day, and probably stayed drier as a result. We kicked the day off by focusing on some movement, before finding a good blob of ice to look at placing ice screws, ice screw belays and building abalakov threads.

Stomper Belay

Stomper Belay

After a bite to eat, we then looked at a number of snow belays and anchors before heading down. We didn’t see another soul up there all day, but then again, we couldn’t really see much.

Descending off the Nid Ridge

Descending off the Nid Ridge

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!

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!

Where the snow gone? Ledge Route, Ben Nevis

On walking up to the north face of Ben Nevis this cold, crisp morning, I was quite amazed at how much snow had disappeared over the past few days, but then again, we’ve had a stable high pressure system, which has meant clear nights and frosty conditions in the glens, but quite warm temperatures on the summits (above freezing continuously since Thursday night) .  This has led to much of the unconsolidated snow being lost through sublimation.

Coire na Ciste, Ben Nevis

Coire na Ciste, Ben Nevis

Black on the North Face of Ben Nevis

Black, black, black

The Curtain, Ben Nevis

At least The Curtain is forming!

I went up there with Tony and Kristy, to climb Ben Nevis via the brilliant Ledge Route.  For Kristy, it was her first time in crampons, which were needed certainly to get up the first few meters of No. 5 Gully, and were useful in gaining the ledge above the Curtain and for ascending the leftward trending gully above.  Once on Ledge Route proper though, it was mostly dry, bare rock all the way, so we ditched our crampons, and scrambled our way up.  They both did very well, but in particular Kristy, from whom this was the first taste of mountaineering.  We topped out in glorious sunshine, but to a very dry plateau, almost devoid of all snow.

Guide Ledge Route

Tony and Kristy just about to start Ledge Route

Happy couple top of Ledge Route

Happy couple on Carn Dearg

The temperature on the summits has just dropped below freezing, which is good news, as we are due some snow later in the week as we enter a slightly less settled week, with some gentle thaw/freeze cycles and a picking up on the winds.  It’s early days yet, and if Netweather.TV is anything to go by, early to mid December sounds quite promising, with another high pressure system in the pipeline for the middle chunk of the month. Fingers crossed!

Stunning day in the Highlands

Clear day over Loch Eil

Great conditions on Tower Ridge, Ben Nevis

Today, Simon and I were treated to some great views of the north face of Ben Nevis this morning on our walk in, with views all the way to the summit.  Unfortunately, the views didn’t hang around all day, but the deteriorating weather did enable Simon to have a taste of more traditional Scottish conditions, for every time he had been up in the past, he had enjoyed good weather.  Lucky chap!

Simon had booked a second day on a 1:1 basis, so that he could push himself, and have a crack at Tower Ridge, one of the finest winter ridge climbs in the UK, so that’s exactly where we headed to.  On our approach, we could see teams on Minus 2 Gully, Orion Face Direct, Orion Directissima, Point 5 Gully and Match Point.  One team also possibly headed round to Zero Gully.

Tower Ridge is as snowy as it has been all winter, and much of that snow has consolidated into firm snow/ice, allowing for solid first time axe placements for much of the ridge. The weather closed in as we made steady progress, obscuring any views, but I did catch a brief glimpse of a team topping out of Tower Scoop.

We topped out into almost white-out conditions, with fresh snow falling, but as we made our way to the summit, the weather did clear just momentarily.  Plenty of wind-blown snow made for a nice descent of the Red Burn, well most the way, the lower reaches are quite bare now.  I was working for Atlas Mountaineering.

I’m off to Skye tomorrow to deliver some ‘summer’ mountaineering this coming week, I wonder if all the snow will have melted by then…