Posts

Storm Doris brings welcome snow

It was quite clear on waking up this morning that more snow had fallen than the forecasts had suggested, but I must admit, I was quite surprised when I saw exactly how much on the approach to Ben Nevis this morning. Clearly Storm Doris had pushed a bit further north than we had expected.

Castle Ridge, Winter Climbing Course

A winter wonderland on the approach this morning

Castle Ridge, Winter Climbing Course

German team breaking trail this morning

Wes, Sean and I had a number of ideas as to what to climb on Ben Nevis today, but as it dawned on us exactly how much snow had fallen and drifted on fresh winds, it was clear that progress into Coire na Ciste was going to be tough work and potentially avalanche prone, and so we quickly changed our plans to climb Castle Ridge instead. Both Wes and Sean had climbed Castle Ridge in summer conditions last year, and so having been transformed overnight into full winter garb, it was a logical choice.

Not wanting to snow plough uphill for too long, we opted to cut beneath Carn Dearg Buttress. The turf was starting to freeze, and there were quite a few dribbles of ice on the rocks throughout the route. None of which was particularly solid just yet. The majority of the route was as snowy as I’ve seen it this year, apart from the upper crux, which was quite clear of snow compared to the rest of the route. For Wes, this was his third of Ben Nevis’ ridges climbed in winter, whereas for Sean, his first.

Castle Ridge, Winter Climbing Course

Above the first groove

Castle Ridge, Winter Climbing Course

Sean on the crux of Castle Ridge

 

The descent down the northern flanks of Carn Dearg was straight forward, as we found a great line of soft snow to wade down.

Meanwhile, just around the corner, Steve was out with John and Gavin. They were on Ledge Route and getting some mileage in, in preparation for a trip to summit Mount Elbrus later this year. The Scottish Highlands are a great place for training for the Greater Ranges.

Hannah was out with Julia, who is over from Spain, preparing for her Winter Mountain Leader Assessment. They had a great day on the Ballachulish Horseshoe, and also got to enjoy wading through deep snow. It’s nice to finally have some snow again.

Winter Skills Course

Julia navigating

Great day on North Buttress, Buachaille Etive Mor

Well, the weekends seem to be coming up trumps when it comes to weather and conditions recently!  It’s been yet another clear and cold day, although it did start off a bit windier than expected.

I was out with Wes and Gary, who had come up for the regular fix of winter climbing, and I think that today hit the spot.  They’re both keen to stretch themselves and get stuck into some (all?) of the classic winter climbs in the area, and so we decided to head to Glencoe, to climb the brilliant North Buttress, which starts low down on Buachaille Etive Mor, and keeps going until pretty much at the summit.

Conditions on the route were probably the best I’ve encountered, with solid, useful neve and ice all the way.  The technical sections of the route can be climbed in three pitches, but there is still plenty of interest on the approach and exit.  It’s a journey of great value!

We topped out to clear views of the surrounding hills and bumped into a number of teams that had enjoyed themselves in Crowberry Gully.  The descent down Coire na Tulaich was also in great condition.  Some tracks on Naismith’s Route too.

Back in the Fort William area, Julie and Rich were running a winter skills course for Nottingham Trent University Mountaineering Club.  They also enjoyed themselves, on Aonach Mor, getting to grips with core winter skills that they will then put into context tomorrow by perfecting those newly learnt skills on a classic hill day.  It’s great to be able to help folk on their respective pathways to becoming independent and confident mountaineers.

Mark and I will be heading up to the CIC Hut tomorrow for the first of two five day long courses based from the hut this month.  Conditions are looking good, and the weather looks to hold through most of the coming week.

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

 

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)

Latest Scottish Winter Newsletter and Availability Update

Below is our latest newsletter including our availability update for open courses.
Signing up to our regular newsletter can be done on the homepage:https://www.westcoast-mountainguides.co.uk/

Plenty of snow!

After a rather frustrating start to winter, things have settled down.

 

There’s been no shortage of snow as of late, with quite regular snow fall down to the glens over the past couple of weeks.  All of which has given the mountains of the Highlands, and across the UK, a substantial winter coat.  What has been lacking is typical freeze/thaw cycles, so whilst the mountains are very white, the ice is taking a while to form, particularly on the higher cliffs, which have remained below freezing for some time now.  That said, Point 5 Gully has seen it’s first ascent, on Saturday, and reported to be climbed on reasonable, but not fat, ice.  Plenty of mixed climbs and classic ridges seeing ascents at the moment, including Tower Ridge and Castle Ridge on Ben Nevis, North Buttress on Stob Dearg (Buachaille Etive Mor) and a number of mixed climbs on Stob Coire nan Lochan.

So things are taking shape, and with a slight thaw moving in this weekend, this should only go to help consolidate things.  UK Weather Forecast have an interesting article, predicting that the mid-range weather (over the next 2-4 weeks) should be dominated by high pressure systems, giving us cold and dry conditions, and will be a pleasure to be out in, whether you are winter walking or climbing.

Availability Update

Below is an update of availability on our open walking and climbing courses.

It’s been a busy start to the season.  We have been out running privately guided days for a number of folk, both familiar and new faces.  Ken has been out with Tim, and they climbed Thompson’s Route, Ben Nevis, Morwind on Aonach Mor and Dorsal Arete on Stob Coire nan Lochan.  He has also guided Tower Ridge, Castle Ridge and Thompson’s Route again.  Meanwhile, Matt has been out and guided Raeburn’s Route and Sabbard Chimney, both on Stob Coire nan Lochan in Glencoe.

We have limited availability for Private Guiding throughout the season, so please get in touch to see what we can do for you.  We can deliver winter skills tailored to your requirements, ascents of Ben Nevis via the mountain track through to guiding on Grade V+ winter climbs.

We also have limited availability on the following courses:

Winter Climbing Advanced 22-26 Feb £675

Winter Skills & Summits 15-19 Feb £450

Winter Skills & Summits  22-26 Feb £450

Winter Skills & Summits  7-11 March £450

Winter Skills & Summits  21-25 March £450

CIC Hut Week 6-11 March £750

CIC Hut Week 20-25 March £750

Submit your review on Trip Advisor

 

If you have been guided or have received instruction in the past, either in the UK or the Alps, by clicking the Trip Advisor logo below, you will be able to submit a review of your experiences, which of course we will appreciate!

 
Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Google+ to keep up to date with all our latest news, offers, course info and the latest conditions from the Scottish Mountains.

Conditions Blog

The West Coast Mountain Guides blog will also be kept up-to-date throughout the winter season.

Please feel free to email us with your own conditions updates and pictures that we can then include on our blog.







Copyright © , All rights reserved.

Skills & latest Ben Nevis conditions

Hannah was out in the corries of Ben Nevis today, delivering a winter skills day for Bristol University on behalf of Mountain Motion.  Overnight, the temperatures had risen to above the summits, saturating and softening the snow pack and leading to cornices becoming unstable and in some cases breaking away.  Needless to say, the crags quickly lost any rime ice, and were quite black, so whilst mixed climbing would have been a non-starter today, what this thaw did is highlight the build up of ice down the major drainage lines.

Much of the ice will be thin and soft and not much fun to climb just yet, but there is a lot about, and with a much more prolonged cold spell starting on Wednesday, after the passing of Storm Frank, it’s looking like a promising start to 2016.

Hannah and Rich took the group on a tour of Coire na Ciste, looking at cramponning and ice axe arrests, before a journey day in Glencoe tomorrow.  Not many other folk out today, although one team did make an ascent of No. 5 Gully, before coming back down No. 4.

 

It’s cooling down – Scottish winter courses

It’s been a busy summer, both on the Isle of Skye and in the Alps and it’s been great to meet new and also catch up with familiar faces. The late Indian summer we’ve had has been very much appreciated and t-shirt climbing in October and November has been great! We are however also pleased to say it’s now cooling down, and with winter not far away, it’s a good time to start laying down plans for the upcoming winter season.

Our first Scottish winter courses this year start in mid December and we also have some running over the New Year period. This coming winter, we will be offering a greater range of courses than previously, with the inclusion of a Winter Skills & Summits course, aimed at hill walkers looking to take their first winter steps in the Scottish mountains and who wish to tackle snow covered Munros.

Should you wish to tackle something steeper, such as a snow filled gully, iced up buttress or classic icefall, then our range of Winter Mountaineering and Climbing Courses may be just what you’re after!  We’re lucky to be surrounded by some of the finest winter venues, from Ben Nevis to Aonach Mor on our doorstep, to the impressive peaks and crags of Glencoe just to the south.

We will, of course, be running our flagship CIC Hut Weeks too.  The week is spent in the UK’s only alpine hut, at the foot of the North Face of Ben Nevis, which means minimal walk-ins, maximum climbing time!

Don’t forget, we also take Private Guiding bookings too so if you can’t quite find what you’re after when it comes to climbing, winter skills, or walking make sure you get in touch whether your an individual or a group so we can talk through what you’d like to achieve and we’ll come up with a tailor made itinerary for you.

The West Coast Mountain Guides blog will also be kept up-to-date throughout the winter season and please feel free to email us with your own conditions updates and pictures that we can then include on our blog

Oh, and if you haven’t yet, don’t forget to ‘like’ us on facebook and we look forward to seeing you soon!

East and West Coast conditions

We’ve had teams in the Cairngorms, on Ben Nevis and in Glencoe, so here’s a quick round up of east and west coast conditions:

Over the weekend Chris was out climbing with Andrew and his twin brother. They climbed Tower Ridge on Ben Nevis on Saturday and 999 on Gearr Aonach, in Glencoe, on Sunday. They managed a good couple of days climbing considering all the recent fresh snow fall. Careful route choice is required at the moment. Thanks to Chris for the photos.

Tower Gap on Tower Ridge

Tower Gap on Tower Ridge

It was a very different story over east. Friday and Saturday were cold and sunny with alpine conditions. I was coaching lead climbing on route such as Hidden Chimney, Jacob’s Edge, Aladdin’s Couloir (which had a nice ice pitch on the left) and the Haston Line which was very lean so quite tricky for the grade. Sunday was a different day with heaps to talk about due to the sudden change in the conditions. Strong southerly winds with heavy snow fall meant good route choice was key to staying safe. The crags are much whiter now, due to the strong winds blowing snow and moisture about.  It will take a while for the snow in the gullies to settle down though.

Jacob was out on the first day of a Winter Mountaineering course with Steven, and they headed to Buachaille Etive Beag in Glencoe for a refresh of core winter skills.

Wintry in the Cairngorms

Wintry in the Cairngorms

Great ice in the Cairngorms

Great ice in the Cairngorms

Busy in the Northern Corries

Busy in the Northern Corries