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Stunning on The Ben: Tower Ridge & CMD

Nick had climbed Tower Ridge before, but last time he climbed it, views were in short supply, and he felt it would be great for Andy to experience one of Ben Nevis’ finest climbs, so that’s exactly what we did.  I knew that it would be busy, so we had an early (ish) start, which worked well, as we had a clear run most of the way, with no one snapping at our heels.

Conditions generally were nothing short of amazing, with very little wind, clear skies, and perfect conditions on the ridge all the way.  We slowed down a bit at the Eastern Traverse, but still topped out in good time, and so decided to continue round along the Carn Mor Dearg Arete to get the full Ben Nevis experience today, and with such good views, it proved to be well worthwhile!

I was expecting a few more teams out climbing today, but there definitely were some honey pots today: Orion Direct, Point 5 Gully, The Curtain and Ledge Route were all busy.  Other teams on North East Buttress, Hadrian’s Wall Direct, Mega Route X, Gemini and Waterfall Gully.

Lucy was out working for West Coast Mountain Guides too, and out with Clark and Jianwen.  They also were able to enjoy Ben Nevis in all it’s glory, and made an ascent of the Mountain Track, which they all thoroughly enjoyed.

Andy was out with Steve and Steve in Glencoe.  They climbed the brilliant Sron na Laraig, which he reported to be in fantastic conditions.

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.

Avoiding the worst of it: E Ridge of the N Buttress, Stob Ban

I thought that I had a bright idea of starting early this morning to then finish early, and be down before the thaw and rain hit this afternoon.  It turns out that Matt, who was out with Michael for their second day, had a brighter idea, and started shortly after us, ensuring there was a track all the way in to and along the East Ridge of the North Buttress of Stob Ban.  Work smart, not hard.

Nick had to leave us after yesterday, due to family commitments, so Keith and I set off for what we hoped would be a quick hit, before the worst of the rain and thaw hit this afternoon.  As we were first in the car park, we ended up ploughing our way, in what started off as clear and calm conditions, to the East Ridge, noting a number of avalanches that had clearly occurred recently out of the higher east facing gullies.  Fortunately, the approach to the East Ridge is relatively safe due to the lesser slope angles, lower altitude and opportunities to remain on and link ‘islands of safety’.

Having climbed a fair few harder routes, Keith flew up the route, but enjoyed the flowing nature and easier moves that the ridge presented.  On topping out, we decided to ‘bag the Munro’, so with goggles on (first time for me this year), we carefully made our way over the snowy crests and subsidiary tops, before reaching 999m.  The weather had turned by this point, with an increase in the winds and decreasing visibility, so we didn’t hang around and made a quick descent down the north ridge, closely followed by Matt and Michael.

Tim was out with Jamie, attempting Ben Nevis via the Mountain Track.  They did well to get to 1040m, but with deteriorating conditions made the right decision to leave the summit for another day.  Sometimes, the best decision in the mountains is to turnaround.

Rod and his team of mountaineers made a snowy and successful ascent of the East Ridge of Beinn A’Chaorainn, which is generally very well sheltered from strong W/SW winds.  Again, the approach is relatively safe, as a direct route to the ridge from the forestry tracks avoids any avalanche prone terrain.

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.

 

East Ridge, Stob Ban & Winter Skills

After a busy week running a Winter Mountaineering Course for Moran Mountain in the NW Highlands, I was back on home turf today with Mike & Tony.

Our plan A was to catch the gondola at Nevis Range this morning, along with a few other hopefuls, but the strong winds put a quick lid on that plan, so we headed round to Glen Nevis and made our way up to the East Ridge of the North Buttress of Stob Ban.  There was a layer of saturated thawed snow sitting beneath a layer of freshly deposited snow on the approach, and the  turf lower down was still a bit soggy, but improved with height, particularly where exposed.  The climbing itself was as good as ever, giving a nice variety of situations, which Mike and Tony enjoyed.  We were somewhat exposed to the SE winds, but besides some blowing spindrift, the winds didn’t hinder our progress.  One team of two ventured up towards South Gully, but turned around, and one other team were making their way to the base of the route quite late in the morning, other than that it was very quiet.  The main north ridge of Stob Ban was quiet sheltered, so we made the most of the day by ticking off the Munro, before descending the north ridge.

Low down on the East Ridge

Low down on the East Ridge

 

On the crux

On the crux

 

On the summit of Stob Ban

On the summit of Stob Ban

Tim was out running the first of two skills days with Claudia and Pavel.  They had caught the overnight sleeper train from London, so with a late start, they visited the impressive north face of Ben Nevis and were introduced to some core winter skills, in between the gusts!  Their day today must have felt a million miles away from this time yesterday!

Dave was also out running an introductory winter hill day, with Mark, Reece and Louise.  For their first winter hill day, they visited Buachaille Etive Beag in Glencoe, and guess what, battled with the wind.  They did have a good day, and started getting to grips with the necessary skills required to explore the hills in winter.

On Buachaille Etive Beag

On Buachaille Etive Beag

 

Traverse of Beinn Alligin & School House Ridge.

Today, Tom was out working for West Coast Mountain Guides, with Ali, Gary, James and Matt. They climbed the brilliant mountaineering outing ‘School house Ridge’ in Glencoe. Looks like they had a great day, and a brilliant weather window to boots.

Meanwhile, I was out running day one of a mountaineering course in the NW Highlands for Moran Mountain. We made a classic traverse of Beinn Alligin, and didn’t see another soul all day.

Konrad was also out with Adele and William, they enjoyed some mixed climbing on the SW Ridge of the Douglas Boulder on Ben Nevis.

Storm Henry will be gracing us tomorrow, but the thaw doesn’t look to be too severe, and will therefore really help with the building of some well needed ice.

 

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)

Surprisingly pleasant: East Ridge of Beinn a’Chaorainn

With strong SW winds and the freezing level above the summits forecasted, Donna, Caroline and myself headed east to climb the brilliant East Ridge of Beinn a’Chaorainn.  It’s a route that is often well covered in snow through the winter, as our prevailing winds pile snow over the summit plateau of Beinn a’Chaorainn and onto the east facing corries and ridges.  The ridge is also quite sheltered from strong SW winds, and so whilst the final approach to the ridge can be exposed to gusts, once on the ridge, it can be remarkably serene by comparison… until reaching the top.

The approach to Beinn a’Chaorainn is a good test of one’s climbing abilities, with a few fallen trees to clamber over.  On reaching the ridge, which always feels like it takes longer than it does, it was clear that the recent thaw had taken quite a toll on the unconsolidated snow, leaving the crest lower down quite bare.  However, we found a handy and interesting snow filled gully just to the right of the ridge and so made an ascent of that until the snow reappeared on the crest higher up.  We continued to look at being slick but safe on alpine style mountaineering terrain.

Part the way up the ridge, the clouds cleared, leaving us with rays of sunshine and clear views, which stayed with us until the top, where the fresh winds joined us too.  We made our way down the southern flank and were back down before the next bout of rain.  Perfect.