Keen to burn off some of the festive excess, Alasdair, Lachlan and I climbed Tower Ridge today. These guys are very used to the Scottish mountains and they have done a lot of skiing and some climbing as well. After doing some great routes on peaks in other parts of the world they thought it was about time they did some climbing back home on Ben Nevis. They got the full Scottish experience and loved every minute!
We had steady light drizzle for much of the day and not much of a view at all. Despite this it was clear to see that ice has been building in the topsy turvy weather we had over Christmas. It was well above freezing at all levels on Christmas Day and one of the wettest days we've had for a long time. However it was back to freezing winter conditions on Boxing Day and with plenty of running water to freeze into ice. The Curtain and Nordwand on Castle Ridge North Face both have thick smears of ice and there are blobs of ice in lots of places. The snow was saturated and froze solid too so there is some very nice hard snow around. Al and Steve climbed Number Two Gully Buttress yesterday and had a fun time on hero snow!
Such rapid changes in temperature along with rain create ice on ledges and in the cracks, neither of which are very helpful sometimes. On Tower Ridge we put on the crampons to go up to Douglas Gap where we saw dribbles of ice coming out the first awkward chimney. So we kept the crampons on and in fact didn't take them off the whole way. Higher up there is not much snow on the ridge but there is ice on the ledges and icy rime on most of the faces making it slightly delicate climbing. Tower Ridge was a popular choice today because it is good and climbable in all conditions, even tricky conditions like today.
There is snow in the big gullies which is now quite solid. The great ridges have a little snow on them - some deeper patches and lots of rime and ice on the ledges higher up. However Castle Ridge is probably mostly clear of snow on the tricky sections. Above 1100m or so you might well find enough icy rime on the rocks to have a go at some mixed climbing and the turf is frozen and icy. Ice in the cracks might well make it tricky to protect some climbs though. There are a couple of mid-grade icy snow climbs that would be worth a look at too. However, it will be really quite warm up to Saturday, and very wet again, so take several sets of gloves. Sunday and Monday look much colder though and more promising for fun climbing.
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.