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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

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.

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

 

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!

 
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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.

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Coached Leading: Broad Gully, Stob Coire nan Lochan

With Storm Frank looking to leave its mark on the UK through tonight and tomorrow, I was fortunately able to move tomorrow’s work, with Andrew and his wife Bethan to today, and listening to the rain and wind picking up now, I’m glad that they were able to swap days!

Both Andrew and Bethan have a good understanding of winter mountaineering, but they wanted to be coached whilst Andrew led and Bethan seconded, with a particular focus on placing and using rock anchors.  As they were staying in the Clachaig Inn in Glencoe, they were keen to make the most of the immediate hills, so we ventured up to Stob Coire nan Lochan, with a few other teams, including Rich and Hannah, who were back out again with their group from Bristol Uni.

On gaining the corrie floor, it was quite clear that only two snow gullies were complete, Boomerang and Broad, (that didn’t stop a team heading up a rather green looking Forked Gully), and so with only one mountaineering axe each, we opted for Broad Gully.  Broad Gully is a very straight forward grade I gully, which was perfect, as both Andrew and Bethan felt that there was no need to be on terrain beyond their comfort zones, enabling them to focus more on the ropework side of things.   We looked at a number of methods of building belays and made steady progress up the gully.  The winds had picked up by the time we topped out, so we made our way back down the same way.

Rich and Hannah and their group also climbed Broad Gully, and made the summit of Stob Coire nan Lochan before descending its NW flank.  The winds were picking up quite a bit at valley level by the time we reached the cars.

 

Long time coming! Crest Route, SCNL, Glencoe

After weeks of storms, super short lived freeze cycles, and generally a frustrating start to winter, things finally took a noticeable turn for the better this weekend.  So, with the promise of clear skies, calm winds and low temperatures, Steve and I quickly hatched plans to venture up to Stob Coire nan Lochan yesterday and have a look at Crest Route on North Buttress.  Steve had already climbed the route before, so knew that due to it’s rocky and steep nature it didn’t really rely on turf, which hadn’t quite had the chance to thoroughly freeze, and me having not climbed it before, it seemed like a wise idea, and a great one, as it’s been on my tick-list for quite a while.

The approach was quite tough going due to some deep snow drifts covering the path, but luckily for us, we weren’t the first ones of the day heading up.  We were also just as lucky that the couple of teams in front didn’t have Crest Route in their sights!  The first pitch was a fairly straight forward affair, led by Steve, before I took over, and made my way up the sustained, technical, but well protected and enjoyable second pitch, before Steve slowly and steadily made his way up the technical and awkward third pitch.  We topped out to virtually no wind and clear panoramic views in every direction.  Not a bad way to open this winter’s account!  Other teams were on Yankee Go Home, Scabbard Chimney, Dorsal Arete, Twisting Gully, Central Grooves and Intruder.

Today unfortunately didn’t turn out to be quite so productive.  Steve and I made our way up high, to the entrance to No.4 Gully on Ben Nevis, with intentions to explore and climb on the upper tier of Trident Buttress, which overlooks No. 4, but unfortunately, due to the longish approach, probably coupled with yesterday’s efforts, Steve’s back, which he has had quite a few problems with this year, was causing him a bit of discomfort.  For life as mountaineering instructors, there’s almost nothing more important than looking after your body, particularly with a busy winter looming, so for both Steve and I, there was no question that pushing on would be foolish, so we made our way back down.  It was just nice to be out on such a glorious day, to have a look at an area of Ben Nevis that I know less about and see what else people were on (quite quiet today, with teams on Tower Ridge, Cutlass, No. 3 Gully Buttress, Sioux Wall and Ledge Route).

Hannah has also had a busy weekend, working with a group from Maximum Adventure.  They enjoyed a walk into Coire na Ciste, whilst looking at a number of core winter skills, all in preparation for today’s assault on the summit of Ben Nevis, which they succeeded in achieving. They’ve certainly had a great weekend for it.

Sgor na h-Ulaidh and Beinn Fhionnlaidh, Glen Etive

Before you spend the whole time reading this blog wondering how an earth to pronounce the two mentioned Munros, here you go: Sgor na h-Ulaidh is pronounced ‘skor na hoolya’ and means peak of the treasure and Beinn Fhionnlaidh is pronounced ‘byn yoonly’ and means Finlay’s peak.  And it’s these two Munros that Johnny and I, working for Steve Fallon, guided a strong group of ten around yesterday.

Following a rather wild and wet week, with some quite mild temperatures, things took a distinct turn on Friday evening, with a drop in temperatures, and with it, the promise of fresh snow, possibly down to valley level.  Fortunately for us, the snow was nowhere near as heavy as some forecasts predicted, allowing us to drive safely down the often untreated road in Glen Etive, and set off at 8am on Saturday morning.  What snow had fallen, had been brought in on fresh NNE winds, therefore transporting much of it onto southerly aspects, which was quite apparent when making an ascent of the south eastern flank of Sgor na h-Ulaidh.  A thin layer of windslab was starting to form in hollows, but without a base, was of very little concern. As ever, it’s interesting to see it forming.

The group made steady progress up the steep SE flank and ridge, and we were soon enjoying the summit of Sgor na h-Ulaidh, with little wind, and great visibility over towards the Aonach Eagach and Ben Nevis to the north, to Beinn Cruachan to the south and over to Mull out west.  From here, a long descent down to nearly 400m, brought us to the foot of Beinn Fhoinnlaidh.  We ascended the mountain’s west flank, again, up steep slopes, to gain a short but interesting summit ridge, which led us, via a couple of tricky steps to the summit.  As it was 3pm, and therefore with limited daylight left, we chose not to hang about, and managed to negotiate all the steep ground to the SW, before having to don headtorches and make our way over easier ground back to the cars.  All in all, it was a big yet rewarding day for the group, taking in 2 Munros, 17km and 1600m of ascent with less than perfect underfoot conditions.

Winter climbing wise, things are improving, but reports suggest that Stob Coire nan Lochan in Glencoe may not be quite there yet.  A mild and wet start to this coming week, but again, next weekend looks promising.

Here’s a very short film that I quickly put together, it’s amazing what you can do on a phone!

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: [email protected] with your trip report, which we can then include in our blog posts.