By my calculation (OK, a guess) we had more snow fall in Lochaber in the last 24 hours than in the whole of the rest of the winter so far! Storm Doris did an unexpected trip about 100 miles further north than forecast so we got much more snow than expected today. Last night about 20cm had built up to very low levels and it carried on snowing just about all day with almost no wind. So we now have a blanket cover of soft powder snow everywhere. It is wet below about 600m but it extends down to 200m or so.
Tony, Elved and I followed a welcome trail to Douglas Boulder where we climbed SW Ridge. Elved's prosthetic foot is of course quite tricky to point in different angles and flex in any direction so the mixed climbing is really quite tricky. The technical moves on SW Ridge require all sorts of foot trickery and when there is so much soft snow on the loose rocks it is even more difficult. We made slow and steady progress and even got a view from near the top.
There were some other teams out on Castle Ridge and Slab Route in the Trident Buttresses. Everyone had a time of it wading through the snow. Skis might be a better option for travel right now but there are of course lots of rocks under the soft snow and the ground is not at all frozen. We triggered lots of light slab releases at the foot of Douglas Gap West Gully. You could not call them avalanches but where the snow has built up more it could easily be a problem.
I used to think that snow buntings are common because I see them all the time on Ben Nevis. Actually they are quite rare which is a shame because they are beautiful little birds. This one was eyeing up my sandwich from less than a metre away so it was quite easy to get a picture. I have no idea what they would eat if it wasn't for the crumbs that climbers drop. The ptarmigan must have felt a little less silly today with their white plumage blending in to the snow covered ground.
If you can get the weather data from Aonach Mor you'll see there was a huge temperature spike yesterday from -3.5C at 6am to +4.5C in the afternoon and back down again to -3C by the small hours. So today we woke to a fresh layer of snow on the tops and the promise of it staying cold for a few days. Today and I went to Glen Coe to shelter from the strong winds and climbed Curved Ridge. We had it to ourselves which was a surprise and it was great fun.
The cloud was above the tops and the fresh snow was being blown around in the wind, showing the rotors behind ridges and making cracking noises as the wind whipped around edges of rock. The snow was dry from the foot of the climbing out of Crowberry Basin and with a bit of sunshine as well we had a fantastic time. The wind was a bit blowy on top but it had dropped throughout the day so it was quite alright. We walked down the path in Coire na Tullach which was not icy.
Buachaille Etive Mor has the most brilliant views when you can see them and today we had a treat!
The reason why Elved wears two different boots is that he has a prosthetic foot. He was in a horrible climbing accident a few years ago that left him one foot fewer than he had before. Elved is not the kind of person to let this hold him back though and he has competed in climbing competitions since, as well as enjoying some ice climbing last year. This year, up with Tony again for more ice climbing, there is not much ice to climb but there are plenty of challenging days to enjoy.
With just a light dusting of snow we went for Castle Ridge today. We had a colder start which did not last long. If you were quick you might have made it to the remaining patches of ice before they went soft but we went for a nice steady walk in and a ridge that is always good fun. Castle Ridge is quite slippery though and requires much more careful footwork than ice climbing so it was a real test. There was a little snow on the ledges but not much to be honest.
It was not so windy on top and we knew there was an easy descent down the snow in the Red Burn so we went to Carn Dearg and down from there. The boulder field descent direct from Castle Ridge is pretty tough at the best of times. The thaw did not melt away all the snow in the Red Burn and it is still good to go down. It looks like we might get some more snow over the next few days as well.
When there is a difference in the weather forecasts you know that there is some uncertainty in what we're going to get. MWIS forecast 30mph to 40mph wind speed today but The Met Office forecasted considerably stronger wind speed. It all depended on the timing of a front and low pressure arriving from the west. At dawn it still looked pretty calm and there was no sign of anything coming in early so Craig, John and I decided it was worth a try at North East Buttress on Ben Nevis. This is a big, exposed climb that is no fun in a strong wind!
Ice has been forming over the last few days in drainage lines due to the freezing temperature. Waterfall Gully was climbed as well as Tower Scoop and Central Gully Right Hand. Point Five Gully is complete but not with ice! This will require a good soaking of rain and a refreeze before it is solid enough to climb. There is some hope that this will happen over the weekend. Zero Gully also has some snow in it but Orion Face and the other open face climbs just have soft snow on them and very little ice.
The traverse to First Platform on NE Buttress is very icy due to the seepage that you always get here. There is little snow on the climb but the snow and ice that is there was very nice to climb. We made very good progress and got to the Man Trap in completely calm and warm conditions. As always The Man Trap provided some fun and the Forty Foot Corner was quite OK. So the storm did not arrive until after we were down and our gamble payed off, this time. Well done to Craig and to John for three excellent days of climbing.
Summit temperatures are forecast to fluctuate around freezing with precipitation for the rest of this week and to be slightly below freezing at the weekend. This could pack in a bit more snow and form a bit more ice in the gullies. Let's hope so!
It's really nice to climb with John. A few years ago John came on one of our Winter Mountaineering Courses and we finished with a traverse of Aonach Eagach in sunshine and under blue skies. Today John climbed his first technical 6 route in the sunshine and under blue skies again! We went up to Church Door Buttress on Bidean nam Bian and climbed West Chimney Route, a really fun IV,6 with about a million chockstones.
John has climbed more ice than mixed routes so yesterday and today were all about getting to grips with mixed moves. Hooking cracks and chockstones is what you're going for and there is very little swinging of the ice axes. You need to read the rock and feel for hooks with your pick. Careful precision is the way to move and it makes for absorbing climbing. The crux of the route is a short very steep bulge of chockstones with super positive hooks and good protection. Don't hang around for long on it or your arms will give in!
We got to the arch and caught up with a couple of teams climbing Crypt Route with shouts and whoops as they emerged into open space from the bowels of the buttress. John and I opted for the abseil down from The Arch which is quite a scary ride down! 60m gets you onto the easy snow and it's important to have a look around the amazing rock architechture as you go down.
There is soft snow in Deep Cut Chimney and ice in Central Gully. Number Six Gully has ice low down and snow on the crux section. However the next few days of warmer weather will change things again. At least the snow in the gullies will consolidate!
999 is a brilliant wee route on the west flank of Gearr Aonach. Walk in towards Coire nan Lochan and follow the stream that comes down to the bad step on the path or go higher up the path and double back on yourself. The route is a chimney of stacked blocks with a tight squeeze chimney at the start and brilliant technical mixed climbing with a deep hole in the chimney below you all the way. It is graded III in my guidebook but it's more like a IV,5. Be warned! When the turf is frozen go and search it out, it's great fun!
John and I climbed 999 and got to the top at 12.30pm so we went into Coire nan Lochan in search of more climbing. We had a leisurely amble up Dorsal Arete which is also great fun. We did the groove pitch in the very last buttress which I've never done before and it was fun. The sun came out and the clouds parted when we were at the top so we got some nice views. The rocks were well rimed up and teams were enjoying climbing Scabbard Chimney, East Face Route, Central Grooves, Raeburn's Buttress, NC Gully and Crest Route. The wind was gusting up the crags making it feel quite a blustery day.
We could see over to Church Door Buttress for a moment which also looked a bit rimed up and the approach slopes have broken rocks. Aonach Dubh West Face also has snow on it and the buttresses there look good to climb. Tomorrow will be much the same as today for the weather before it starts to warm up for the rest of the week.
It's been all about ridges this week. Plenty of soft snow arrived last weekend and it has remained cold since. The soft snow stayed soft and got blown around a bit by the SE wind. It was particularly windy on Monday but Tuesday and Wednesday were a bit better. Even so, many areas of the mountains have been scoured and there are many areas of firm wind slab to avoid. These are now starting to settle down a bit but care is still needed to avoid being avalanched.
Grahame, Dave and I climbed Sron Na Lairig on Wednesday which was great. There was a marked temperature inversion. A hard frost in the glen gave way to soft and slightly wet snow at the start of the climb. The snow was soft but dry at the top where it was colder again. The climb is brilliant and in a great situation with some really cool positions. The turf under the snow is not frozen though and it is very dry so it's not much use for climbing. There are also plenty of loose blocks and flakes that are not frozen in place. So mixed climbing conditions are not perfect.
Yesterday, Grahame, Dave and I climbed The Dragon's Tooth in Glenachulish. This is a superb outing to a Munro with the best views in the area. We soaked up the vista down over the Sound of Mull to Rum and Skye. It was a brilliant way to finish four really nice days of climbing. Today Abacus teams went to North Buttress, Buachaille Etive Mor which is really good just now and East Ridge, North Top, Stob Ban which was great as well. Until we get a thaw and refreeze the ridges and buttresses will be the best things to climb but in this weather there is nothing better to do anyway. Get out and enjoy the sunshine!
More fresh snow last night didn't really give up much during the day. We had a few clear spells between the showers but we also got a good bit more snow from a moderate Northerly wind. With so much fresh, windblown snow on the mountains above 400m ridges are the best route options. Since Grahame had never been up Ben Nevis we went for Ledge Route along with a few other teams. It's quite reassuring when other people make the same decision as you and there is plenty of space on Ledge Route so we had a sociable day. We got there first too so we broke trail for much of it and enjoyed pretending we were making a first ascent!
The SE wind yesterday stripped much of the snow off the crest of the ridge for us so we just had the snow from last night on the rocks. We used crampons but it was a bit scratchy on the rocks. We did a few drills and shared ideas on moving efficiently and securely by slowing the pace down and placing every foot accurately. It takes time and practice to become really solid on your feet and it's well worth thinking about how to do it better.
Annie was out with Grahame and me again today which was great for the company and for trail breaking. Annie is a trainee MIC holder which means she has just one last assessment before she has the highest UK based qualification in mountaineering. It's nice to work with trainee instructors to share ideas and help them on the way to their qualifications. I have no doubt that Annie will cruise her assessment. We descended the Red Burn which has a line of firm windslab down its S side making it easy to descend.
A little more snow fell yesterday and we didn't get as much sunshine as hoped for. However more snow is very welcome right now. Today the wind picked up earlier than expected and started to blow the lying snow around and putting it down on North and Northwest facing slopes. The temperature went up slightly as well, just enough to make the snow slightly sticky at 900m but no more than this.
To avoid most of the fresh deposits of snow Grahame, Annie and I went to the East Ridge of North Buttress of Stob Ban. Despite having quite an awkward name this is a very good fun route in the Mamores with a short enough walk in and a quick descent, ideal if the weather is coming in early.
The wind blowing across the ridge at about 60mph was less than ideal though and my face is a little sore now from the exfoliation. Goggles and face covering were essential. The turf was not frozen and the snow on top was dry and soft, so of no use for the climbing at all. We went to the higher shoulder to start the climb which keeps it at grade II and includes the fine ridge sections high up on the route. Short pitches and clear lines of sight were required to keep communication and the flow of the day going. It's tricky managing a rope in strong winds on a ridge and the whole system can break down or become very slow if you carry on with long pitches.
We had great views all day and it only started raining once we were back down. More rain (snow on the tops) is forecast over night after which we should get a spell of cold weather with lighter SE winds and some sunshine. It's going to be a week for enjoying ridges.
Yesterday I took three pupils from Lochaber High School to the foot of Number Five Gully to experience a little of what Ben Nevis can offer mountaineers in the winter. Hopefully these young people will remember the grandeur of the North Face and be inspired to explore it some more later in life. It was a nice, dry and cold afternoon but it came in to snow on the tops late last night.
Fourteen hours after it started snowing a team of three people were avalanched from Raeburn's Easy Route or somewhere close by. They called the Lochaber MRT and we went up to help them. They managed to get back to the CIC Hut by themselves despite back and head injuries.
We had about 30cm snow fall in twelve hours and it has come down to 400m above sea level. The avalanche forecast was quite accurate and was very clear about this snow coming in and the hazard it would produce. It gave a considerable avalanche hazard which means human triggered avalanches are likely and this is what happened with the team that got caught in one today. While we were out looking for them another avalanche came down from Number Two Gully which was probably naturally triggered. Natural avalanches are possible in a considerable avalanche hazard.
I think it was Hamish MacInness who said we will be wise to avoid climbing during fresh snow fall and for 24 hours afterwards. Most avalanches occur during snow fall and just afterwards. Even if you just stick to this rule and nothing else you will raise your chance of successful climbing. Better still, learn more about the Be Avalanche Aware process and do some training.
Self reliance is a fundamental principle of mountaineering. By participating we accept this and take responsibility for the decisions we make. These blog posts and conditions reports are intended to help you make good decisions. They do not remove the need for you to make your own judgements when out in the hills.