What an absolutely cracking day to be out in the mountains!! William and a few of his friends are over from Ireland and they could not have picked a better day for CMD Arete. The fresh snow has made everything look wonderful and wintry, but it's all very soft and coverage is pretty thin in most places. However it is enough to make progress a little bit tricky on uneven ground but we made nice steady progress to the summit of Carn Mor Dearg. As we came up just before the summit we were greeted with a spectacular cloud inversion away to the south with only a few of the highest tops peeking through.
Crampons would have been more of a trip hazard than of any assistance on the arete in the soft snow, but there is still enough coverage for it to feel relatively straightforward. The final ascent of the snow covered boulder field was a little awkward but reaching a quiet, cloud free summit and with spectacular 360 degree views, including out to the Isle of Skye, it didn't matter at all.
There is enough snow to make the descent of most of the zig zags nice and quick but lower down it gets very icy, so take care if you're planning on heading up there. There is plenty of snow and cold temperatures on the forecast for the next few days so fingers crossed this is winter here to stay!
Cold, dry weather has arrived in The Outdoor Capital of the UK and we have fresh snow down to low levels. Yesterday we had a stunning, sunny, crisp, cold day which was a real treat. Today was a bit breezy with SE winds but this means we get cold dry weather here on the West Coast. Steve, Malcolm, Sally and I went up Ben Nevis to climb Tower Ridge and we had a lovely time.
Steve and Malcolm are trainee MIC holders. We work with these trainee instructors a bit to help them through their last assessment to achieve the highest UK based mountaineering qualification. They are already very capable mountaineers and this assessment will test all their winter skills of instruction and guiding. The best experience for them is to work alongside an experienced instructor and/or guide, and to work with people who want to learn some new skills or climb a classic route.
Tower Ridge was not very easy today. The fresh snow is about 20 to 30cm deep and is covers up all the nice ledges and handholds. It is also very soft so it is no use for kicking steps in. It just gets in the way, but it does look very pretty. So it was tricky and slow going up the ridge but we hadn't planned on going to the top anyway. We got as far as the Eastern Traverse and decided to extend this to the bottom of Tower Gully and across to descend Observatory Gully. There was some deeper fresh snow on this traverse and some of it was a bit wind blown and slabby. However it was not too much and we got across fine.
Ice is forming quickly in the drainage lines. Cascade style ice falls are building already since we had lots of rain just before the freeze so there is plenty of water to turn into ice. The snow-ice gullies are not looking good though because we have not had any thaw freeze with this recent snowfall; it just went cold and stayed cold. The ridges are covered but slow and tricky to climb - Castle Ridge and SW Ridge of Douglas Boulder were both climbed today as well. The steep mixed climbs are mostly rimed up and looking very good to climb. It should stay cold over the weekend and into next week at least.
A colder airstream arrived last night and we had a bit of fresh snow on the mountains above 800m or so. We also had a slight frost and a beautiful morning to walk in towards the CIC Hut under the North Face of Ben Nevis. As the light came we could see a very nice wee cover of snow making the whole Noprth Face look much more like iot should do at this time of year. It was not a big fall of snow and it will not last but it was very welcome today.
Nigel and I went up into Coire na Ciste to do a refresher of core winter skills and ropework for grade I gullies. We managed this with the few patches of old snow we found on the way up to the gully but there is nothing big enough with sufficient run-out for self arrest practice. We did lots of cramponing up to the gully, admiring the rimed up buttresses, before starting out pitching using snow anchors and body belays.
There are no cornices above any of the gullies at the moment so exiting them is pretty straightforward. At the top we looked at the details of the stomper belay before going over to Number Four Gully where we practiced another stomper and abseiled on a snow bollard. These are all important mountaineering skills that will be used by any climber working at any standard at some point in their climbing. As with all snow anchors, it is well worth getting the details just right to make them effective and secure anchors.
David and I finished our five days of climbing together with a climb of D Gully Buttress and Curved Ridge on Stob Dearg, Buachaille Etive Mor. David was at the front for much of it, going through the details of the different rope techniques. We did some moving together Alpine style with about ten metres of rope between us, some pitched climbing and some walking with the rope out of the way. We placed lots of anchors, set up belays and worked on direct belays for speed and efficiency. With so much rock to cover on these two routes we had lots of opportunity for practice.
The high pressure system that has been with us for a while, bringing warm but calm weather, has started to move south and sink slowly. Low pressure systems will now move over Scotland bringing Atlantic fronts and precipitation. We will get back to a more common temperature range so the precipitation will fall as snow on the mountains with brief thaws between colder spells. So, the more normal patern of snowfall, thaw and refreeze will start to make snow accumulate on the peaks. There is still the chance of a very cold end of January and February being forecast as well. The ground is cold, ice forms quickly in the colder periods, so climbing conditiuons will build quickly I think over the next few weeks. It's a guess and might not happen, but I think this winter will turn out OK and the warm start to January will be forgotten about pretty soon.
Edinburgh in the 1700's did not have proper sanitation. Sewers were not installed until much later so people used to empty their chamber pots in the streets or the close next to their houses. If you lived many floors up, walking all the way down was too much hard work so people just emptied them at their windows, allowing the contents of the chamber spots to fall to the ground, and sometimes splash back up one or two floors! To warn people in the street a shout of "gardez l'eau" would be made. The system was refined a little by exluding times for emptying chamber pots during the day. You can only do at after 10pm and before 7am!
Gardez l'eau was corupted to gardyloo and given to name the big gully closest to the summit of Ben Nevis. During the days of the summit meteorological observatory (1883 to 1904) rubbish and waste was thrown down the gully instead of being carried back down. Thankfully times have changed and we live with a "leave no trace" ethos now. However the gully keeps the name and you can still find pieces of pots and metalwork from the observatory in the gully. It's also a very nice climb to the top of Ben Nevis.
With little snow cover the walk up Observatory Gully is a bit tedious on loose scree. David and I came to the snow cover half way up and enjoyed some firm snow for cramponing through the narrows of Observatory Gully. Lots of water was running down the ice in the milder conditions but drizzle held off for the walk up to the start of the gully. In the gully there is a tricky move over a chockstone followed by more snow to the big through route. This is very impressive and a long way above the current snow cover at the moment.
Climbing out from the cave there is a lovely pitch of grade IV ice which is solid and excellent for placing ice screws. It's a bit of a squeeze with the wall behind squishing you in to the ice but the pull out at the top onto easy angled snow is simple enough. It's very nice to climb this gully that we walk around the top of so many time throughout the year. It's also one of very few ice climbs that's formed right now. We should get some fresh snow over the weekend and next week though.
After a cold night and frosty morning, David and I walked up to climb Tower Ridge on Ben Nevis. We went through a temperature inversion above the CIC Hut but there was no layer of cloud, just warmer air where we geared up. The East Gully of Douglas Gap had dry rock but a dribble ice down the back which was a bit awkward at the start. The dry rock carried on up the first section of the ridge and we thought we were in for an easy ascent. We were wrong.
A little snow on the rocks turned into a little snow and some icy rime at the foot of the Little Tower. We were grateful to put on the crampons and climb the rest of the route with them on. There is not enough snow for them to bite into but the rocks are too icy for rubber soles.
There is snow in Tower Gully and ice in Gardyloo Gully. There's also a bit of ice on Smith's Route but it's a bit awkward to get to! By the time we got to The Great Tower the temperature had gone up and the cloud was just touching the summit. A bit of light drizzle did not help the grip on the icy rime. We made the summit in good time but the ridge is in pretty tricky condition right now.
Tomorrow and Friday will be a bit warmer but not super warm. At the weekend and next week we will go back to a more common weather pattern with snow on the summits and thaw freeze cycles. Hopefully snow will start to build up on the mountains. The ground is cold and ice forms very quickly when it is cold so we are ready for the snow cover to arrive. If we get the very cold arctic conditions that some long range forecasts suggest it will be very good later in January and in February. Fingers crossed.
Heavy rain and very strong winds yesterday forced most people indoors to do some training at The Ice Factor. David and I spent the day working on ice climbing movement and rope skills for multi-pitch climbing including placing protection, linking anchors on a belay stance and abseiling. Today was a much nicer day outside and we went up Ben Nevis to see what ice was left after the thaw. Number Two Gully was complete so we headed for this deep, twisting grade II gully and we had an excellent time.
There is a nice thin strip of snow leading in to the gully where we found a big ice pillar to make an easy anchor at first. In the climb we found two more ice belays and two rock belays as well as some grade III ice which was nice and soft today. The snow was really hard and there was a tiny little bit of fresh snow in the gully. The loose rocks that Number Two Gully is known for were well enough frozen in place today. So, David and I emjoyed five pitches of snow and ice in nice condition and we went over to Number Three Gully to abseil down on a snow bollard before walking down to the coire. After a careful look on the way back down I couldn't see any other ice climbs well enough formed to have a go at.
With NW winds last night the crags facing the wind were rimed up above 1100m or so. There was a team on Sioux Wall I think who must have found it nice and easy to find the hooks and protection but with just about enough white rime to make it white. Number Three Gully is complete and has steps to the top but Number Four Gully has more broken sections with rocks showing between. Tower Ridge has a micro-dusting on it, more cosmetic than useful. Cold again tomorrow but warmer on Thursday and Friday.
The New Year has not brought us much more new snow. We had a micro-dusting on Tuesday when the temperature dropped and a bit of rime has been growing on the rocks in the last couple of days. Ice is also forming fast in the cold conditions but there is still little climbing to speak of. The old patches of snow shrank in the warmer days over Christmas and are now frozen solid. You need to walk a long way into Coire na Ciste but you can climb Number Three and Number Four Gullies on snow from the bottom of the scree slopes. Tower Gully is OK as well with a narrow section with a hole in Observatory Gully!
Rime is growing on some of the rocks but the bottom of the steeper buttresses are still not very white. You can find some mixed climbing that is well rimed up on the rocks most exposed to the wind above 1100m. The great ridges are quite tricky and slow going due to the thin cover of snow on the rocks. There was a good bit of verglas around today as well so don't expect an easy climb of Tower Ridge, Ledge Route or any of the others. A ridge climb will be awkward and slow work right now.
There are some snow patches on the plateau and on the path down as far as 1100m or so and patches of ice well below this. The verglas and light snow and rime make the rocks very slippery so it was a slow walk down today. The cloud did just about fall below the summit while we were there though which was a bonus. We saw a bit of a brocken spectre and some blue sky above the cloud pouring down into the coires. There might be more of this tomorrow and possibly at the weekend and it does look like it will stay colder for a day or two than was thought previously.
The warm and soggy theme continues. It's just as well we have some brilliant scrambling routes in the Outdoor Capital of the UK to enjoy which are great routes at any time of year. Alasdair and Euan were back for a second day of climbing so we went to Glen Coe for change of scene. We climbing up D Gully Buttress on Buachaille Etive Mor which leads on to Curved Ridge below its crux tower. After climbing this we went to the top of Crowberry Tower and on to the summit. This link up gives about as much rock as you find on Tower Ridge (lots!) and feels harder on the crux sections even though it's graded Difficult as well.
D Gully is straight above you at the top of the screes on the way to Curved Ridge. D Gully Buttress is to the left of the gully and is quite well defined. In fact, lots of people have climbed it thinking they were on Curved Ridge since it is the most obvious ridge in the area. Curved Ridge is quite hard to find on the first visit; D Gully Buttress is quite easy to find. The ridge leads up to the first of two crux sections, a short but steep wall with lots of cracks. Another pitch above this lands you at the foot of a steep, blank wall which is best avoided on the left unless it is dry and warm. A nice bit of blocky ridge leads to the second crux section, this time delicate and slabby.
From the top of the buttress a wee path goes across to Curved Ridge where we got to enjoy its crux tower, rubbed and scraped by thousands of boots and crampons. There's a small patch of snow above Curved Ridge but you barely touch it on the way to Crowberry Gap. We did the mini-excursion to Crowberry Tower, taking care not to spend any time under the very loos and overhanging block on the tower. This block threatens Crowberry Gully and will fall off at some point.
We didn't need crampons or ice axes today and in fact we didn't take them. We could see clearly from the road that we didn't need them. However it will get cold on 1st January and 2nd January looks like it will be a stunner of a day. Get out and enjoy some crisp sunshione.
Winter climbing in Scotland is a bit like the board game "Snakes and Ladders". We throw the dice and see if we move a few squares forward, get a wee helping hand from a ladder or slide backwards down a snake. Right now it seems like we slid down a snake back just about to where we started. High pressure centred to the south of the UK is drawing warm moise air from the Canaries all the way up to Scotland where it is melting the little bit of snow and ice that had accumulated so far. We have another few days of it left too before it startes to cool down on 1st or 2nd January.
Climbing Tower Ridge with Alasdair and Euan today was great fun, as it always is. It's a stunning, long and varied climb, but it was not at all wintry. The Eastern Traverse had a bit of snow on it and there were a couple of small patches elsewhere. The very last 20m to the plateau was completely on snow as well. Today it was not frozen but it might be tomorrow and crampons might be needed if the snow freezes solid. We walked over to Number Four Gully and descended this back into Coire na Ciste just as the clouds cleared and gave us a view of the whole of the North Face.
The coires have snow in the top sections, above about 1000m. If you want to find some snow to stomp around on and learn some basic winter skills you might just about find something. The big easy gullies such as Tower Gully, Gullies Number Two, Three and Four, are all OK but there is good amount of rubble and a bare patch in Number Four Gully. There are no cornices to worry about. The mountain track has some ice and sections of hard snow on which are good for cramponing but it is easy enough to walk along the edges of the ice too.
The big ridges are mostly clear of snow - Tower Ridge has a few patches dotted around, the Eastern Traverse and last 20m are also covered. Castle Ridge is clear of snow, Ledge Route has a few patches, Observatory Ridge and NE Buttress have a few patches which might not be very helpful. Green Gully has melted away in the first pitch but you might still climb Number Three Gully Buttress on ice at the start and snow then rock at the top. There is still a huge patch of ice high on Hadrian's Wall Direct, just below the top. This is the most reliable patch of ice on Ben Nevis I think and is looking good but it is quite a long way to get to!
So, in general, it's a bit lean at the moment. Thankfully we have big mountaineering ridges such as Tower Ridge which are always great to climb. Curved Ridge and North Buttress on Buachaille Etive Mor are also good easy climbs, Barn Wall Route, Aonach Eagach and a few more ridges in Glen Coe are excellent fun while we wait for the snow and freezing conditions to return early in the New Year.
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.