A little high pressure over night brought us fewer clouds and the chance for the temperature to drop. Several teams got an earlier start this morning to take advantage of the cooler conditions high on Ben Nevis. The snow was firm and there drips were slower but it was a short window before the temperature went back up again with rain this afternoon. Having seen ice on The Cascade on Monday, Bob, Niels and I went to have a closer look today.
The ice turned out to be very nice to climb. It was less fat than last week but I still placed three 20cm screws. The very bottom was slightly detached but the rest of it was lovely soft fat ice that was great fun to climb. We went straight up the steepest looking pillar all the way to the top for full value and exposure. We went up the snow of Raeburn's Easy Route and finished up Expert's Choice which was also really nice and icy. Strong winds and rain greeted us on top so we went straight down by the Red Burn, being careful of the holes developing in the snow above the stream!
With a windy and not very cold day forecast it was time for an adventure that did not require frozen snow, ice or rock. Getting out of the wind would be good too so Bob, Niels and I went for a trip up Crypt Route. It was wet on the walk in and windy at the base of Church Door Buttress but once inside our minds were on the bridging, hooking, pushing, squirming and udging required to climb this brilliant route. It wasn't winter climbing, it wasn't rock climbing, it was Crypt Routing. The tight squeeze gave us an emotional crux and the abseil back down was as exciting as ever. Great fun!
We had a big weekend of thaw that stripped back our snow cover and melted some ice. This did not stop people trying to climb steep routes although many were turned back by soggy snow and cruddy ice. There were also some cornice collapses. This morning we woke to find it had cooled down a little on the tops with the freezing level sitting at 1000m. This did not freeze everything imediately but it did mean that things were a bit more stable for Bob and me to go climbing.
We chose Glover's Chimney since is had a nice pitch of ice at the base, a great chimney at the top and nothing was going to fall down on us! It worked a treat and we enjoyed the climbing. It has been nearly thirty years since Bob was there last so it was a treat to see Tower Gap again and finish Tower Ridge. Since is was a bit of a grey day we chose some fetching outfits to bring a little colour to the crag!
The rocks were lightly rimed but also had lots of verglas on them. This was melting off by the end of the day but in the wind on top the icy crust was still there on the snow. Crags facing the wind will be better well frozen and rimed. The freezing level is up and down over the summits all week and we will get some fresh snow, especially on Friday by the look of it.
The snow went wet and soggy again today so Tommy and I went looking for a climb that did not depend on snow or ice to give us fun climbing. So we went to Church Door Buttress and climbed Crypt Route. This is a chimney to beat all chimneys, full of chockstones, squeezes and proper chimney climbing. It also passes through some of the most dramatic rock scenery you are likely to find on any route in the Scottish mountains. Despite the thaw outside, as soon as we got inside the mountain the rocks were cold and the snow was quite dry. It was a brilliant choice for today!
So Tommy and I have had quite a week of climbing, with routes that have tested every style of climbing and conditions. We have climbed ridges, buttresses and chimneys, ice, snow and mixed climbing, cold and crispy, wet and soggy, wild and windy, sublime calm and sunny. The Outdoor Capital of the UK has delivered it all and our Jottnar gear has excelled in it all! Thanks to Tommy for another brilliant week of climbing.
Gargoyle Wall has been on my to do list for many years. The climb has become a modern classic and gets many ascents each year. This year is no exception and many people have enjoyed the route as a snowed up rock climb. A little ice in the first two pitches can be helpful but it works very well with just a little snow and a little rime to make it all white. Today it was one of the routes that Tommy and I had on our minds.
The crag was white, slightly verglased and with one or two loose blocks but with little ice in the cracks. There was a bulge of ice on the second pitch which didn't look helpful so we went round this via Thompsons Route as in the first ascent. The rest of the climb was excellent with good hooks and the most outrageous positions! It's an outstanding climb and one you should try to get to climb one day if you haven't already.
There were not many other people around today. One team went up Number Three Gully below is on soft snow under the big cornices but they got on fine. Several teams climbed Tower Gully which was a great choice in the sunshine today. The ice at the foot of Glover's Chimney looks good and the mid grade snow ice gullies such as Green Gully and Central Gullies on Creag Coire na Ciste are all complete and I imagine have firmer snow or even some ice now.
After yesterday's wet snow and big avalanches (down Observatory Gully, from the foot of Glover's Chimney, Number Four Gully and Central Gully in the Trident Buttress as well as lots of heavy sloughs down most of the gullies) the temperature dropped early this morning settling the snow and creating a slight crust. Big cornices have grown over the crags and gullies in the last couple of days. The temperature seemed to be going up and down quickly today when we were on the climb. It was generally cooler but not a hard freeze by any definition. Another thaw with rain tomorrow will continue to consolidate the soft snow.
There are lots of words for different types of snow. Neve, powder, slab, crust, etc. Today it was just gopping! For those of you not used to this Scottish phrase, it is not complimentary. The freezing level went above the summits last night and we had heavy rain. This soaked all the soft snow so we had soft, saturated snow to climb today. Gopping!
Despite this and the strong, gusty wind, there was still fun climbing to be had on Ben Nevis, centred mostly on the Douglas Boulder. Tommy, Phil and I climbed Gutless first. This a brilliant squeeze chimney with an icy entry. The ice was not there but I found a very helpful flake instead which made it OK to get into the chimney. There are many chockstones in the chimney (take lots of slings) which are all solid enough and the climbing was brilliant fun requiring a huge range of hooks, pushes, bars and udges. We took the big diagonal shelf to SW Ridge of Douglas Boulder and went up to the top.
We abseiled down East Gully of Douglas Gap and decided to climb the East Ridge as well to make it a Double Douglas. While we were there a massive avalanche came down out of Observatory Gully with a debris pile 1.5m deep and a couple hundred metres long. There had been a few others as well including from the area of The Cascade where we were yesterday. Take care in the thaws but if you don't mind getting wet there is steep, hooky, soggy fun climbing to enjoy!
Today I was feeling a bit nervous. It was slightly warmer than expected, the snow was deep and soft and we went ice climbing. Now I don't normally get nervous when I go ice climbing (after all, it is the meaning of life) but I have not done any meaningful ice climbing this winter so I thought I would be a bit rusty. As it turned out the avalanche report recorded a Considerable Hazard for today instead of the Moderate forecast but the ice was absolutely brilliant and it felt so good!
Tommy, Phil and I went to climb The Cascade in Coire na Ciste of Ben Nevis. We linked up a couple of nice pitches lower down before going across to The Cascade. We climbed this straight up from the bottom and found the ice to be solid, dry and crispy with first time placements all the way up. It's fat too! Plenty of wading and digging got us up to Experts Choice finish which has little ice in it but was good fun to get us onto the plateau before a brilliant slide down Number Four Gully back to the coire floor. Wendigo and Central Gully were climbed as well as some ice at the start of Diana by the BMG winter test groups.
Last year Tommy and I climbed a collection of brilliant chimneys in the five days of climbing we had in March. This year we have started off with some buttresses to go for something different. We started out with Crest Route which, as the name suggests, climbs the crest of North Buttress of Stob Coire nan Lochan. It was quite a warm walk in and even on the climb it was very pleasant with no wind. Some fresh snow last night and during the day kept the ledges covered and the hooks hidden just to make it more sporting!
It's quite a steep and sustained climb but with very positive hooks and excellent protection. The pitches are not very long too so the grade of V,6 is probably right but I can certainly see why it can feel harder sometimes. Today, in the benign conditions, Tommy and I climbed it quite quickly and we abseiled down NC Gully to get onto Raeburn's Buttress for a second route of the day.
Tommy led us to the top of the climb and into the sunshine. It had been snowing steadily for the last pitch but the snow gave way to sunshine and just a light breeze on top. The views down to Glencoe village from here are staggering. We jumped in to Broad Gully after taking off the crampons for a fast slide down to the coire and a late lunch!
Meanwhile on Ben Nevis, Stuart and Neil climbed Fawlty Towers to do some coaching in placing protection and belay set-ups. The snow is settling down slowly and some of it is quite useful for climbing now. The more humid air combined with slightly cooler nights has firmed up the snow a bit. Green Gully has been climbed I think but I guess there might not have been very many useful ice screws placed. We have a mixed but generally cold week forecast with a stormy and mild weekend. After that high pressure might well build again and bring us better weather.
Another brilliant sunny day, one of several this week. Jonathan, Will and I went up to climb the route of the year, East Ridge of Douglas Boulder. It seems like everyone I know has climbed it so it was my turn today and it was great for Will and Jonathan. Simon Richardson made the first ascent only a few years ago and already it has turned into a very popular climb.
The climb is best done in three pitches with the first and last being about grade III. The middle pitch has two steep but short corners each with great protection and very good hooks. Doing the Double Douglas makes for a fine day out combining the SW Ridge with the E Ridge of Douglas Boulder but we were happy with just the E Ridge today. The sun was shining and we had a picnic on top soaking up the atmosphere of the incredible north face of Ben Nevis.
This week The Cascade and Comb Gully Buttress were climbed by a visiting French team. Waterfall Gully looks good to climb and there is some ice forming in the climbs with springs at their tops. The gullies have soft snow in them and not much ice - a thaw and refreeze will be needed to bring these in to nice climbing condition. Mixed climbs are still good and it was a busy day on Stob Coire nan Lochan with ascents of Unicorn, Satyr, Tilt, Crest Route and others. More snow tomorrow and staying cold until Wednesday.
For the bad weather day of the week today turned out to be a very good day. We had a little fresh snow over night and there was a wind from the west blowing it around a bit. Jonathan, Will and I went to climb North Buttress of Buachaille Etive Mor which turned out to be a popular choice. It's quite reassuring when other people look at the forecasts and ground conditions and come up with the same answer as you about what to go and climb. When it's busy though it's useful to be able to change plan or be happy to spend a sociable day on the climb.
As it was, Stu let us go in front so I hope we didn't slow him down. There was a team in front of us which we did not quite catch up and then three teams below Stu! The climbing was as brilliant as ever with enough snow to be useful but not to bury the hooks and ledges. There was even some firm snow in the chimney that held a pick for a move. We finished straight out the top of the chimney onto the terrace before abseiling down the side of the line of the climb. We did not want to abseil on top of the other climbers. In three pitches we descended 140m which was a nice first abseil for Jon!
Meanwhile on Ben Nevis, there was a good bit more snow than in Glen Coe. Caspar and Rob decided not to go all the way to Number Three Gully Buttress and went back down to Douglas Boulder instead. This proved to be a good decision when they saw some avalanches from Number Two Gully and Green Gully areas!
More sunshine tomorrow!
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.