With the temperature forecast to rise and the wind to increase Neil and I went for a quick hit on the West Face of Aonach Dubh in Glen Coe. It's a short but steep walk in and you get straight onto the climbs. Despite this the thaw had beaten us to Pinnacle Buttress (B Buttress) and The Pinnacle Face had very little snow on it. So instead we climbed the rib to the right between the buttress and Number Three Gully. This gave us a couple of pitches of fun but mushy climbing with brilliant views down to The Clachaig.
We went over to the North Ridge of The Amphitheatre which is a great wee climb. Steep steps up the blocky ridge with brilliant exposure got us to the top and a quick hop along to the descent down Number Two Gully and Dinner Time Buttress. We had a good amount of snow fall during the day and it came on more heavily as we went down. It looks like it will be warmer tonight before another stormy day tomorrow. At least it will be cold.
Yesterday's turbo thaw stripped away just about all the ice that survived the weekend. Snow cover was much reduced but the coires and big gullies on Ben Nevis are still full. We had a little fresh snow down to 650m last night and with more forecast to fall during the day I thought a buttress or ridge climb would be good so Neil and I went to climb NE Buttress.
There was very little old snow left on the ridge so most of the climbing was on the rocks with fresh snow on them. Progress was made a bit more tricky by a covering of verglas on the all the rocks making them super slippy. Despite this we made our way up the ridge quickly by moving together on the easier bits and enjoyed brilliant views and light winds for the whole climb. The Mantrap was as tricky as ever and the Forty Foot Corner was quite secure with good hooks available. As far as the ice climbing goes though, there is a lot of rebuilding to do! Steve took our mountaineering course up Number Two Gully which went very well. The guys on the course learned all about snow anchors on Monday with a climb of Number Three Gully and lots of rock anchors on the Zig Zags yesterday. Number Two Gully today was a great route to put it all together on a first grade II climb.
Unfortunately someone seems to have left the heaters on.
It was 14C in the glen yesterday and, despite a brief flurry of snow on the tops last night, today we have steady heavy rain at all levels. Most of the ice that was in place on Friday has disappeared down the Lochy.
If it was you that left the heaters on please go back and turn them off again!
For about two weeks now it has been cold or very cold in the hills. Snow has built up on all aspects from variable wind directions and the depth of soft snow has made upward progress hard work. What we really needed was a thaw to consolidate the snow and we got a proper thaw last night. Heavy rain at all levels saturated the snow pack, washed away a lot of snow low down and melted rime off the rocks. So what was left on Ben Nevis today? There was only one way to find out.
Today I spent the day with two more trainee mountaineering instructors, Mo and Ian. These guys are close to finishing the highest UK qualification in mountaineering and they are after all the top tips they can get of working in winter. After fifteen years of guiding full time it's great to be able to tell them some of the mistakes I've made so that, hopefully, they do not do the same! We could not cross the Allt a'Mhuilinn, even high above the CIC Hut, so we spent the day in Coire Leis. It was quite bright in the afternoon with just a few heavy showers.
There is a good amount of ice on the big classic routes on Ben Nevis. Zero Gully, Hadrian's Wall Direct and Point Five Gully look well iced up and there is some ice on Orion Direct, the Minus Gullies and Smith's Route. On mid grade routes such as Green Gully, Comb Gully, Number Three Gully Buttress, Tower Scoop and others there is great looking ice to climb.
Ledge Route is complete with snow, Castle Ridge has a few snow patches on ledges still, Tower Ridge is quite snowy still, NE Buttress and Observatory Ridge also have some snow on them.
There is some rime on rocks above 1250m but the main mixed climbing buttresses are black.
The big easy gullies are complete, cornices are generally small and general snow cover reaches down to 650m or so.
If we were to get a hard freeze tonight the ice climbing would be brilliant tomorrow. Unfortunately this is not on the forecast! We might get a colder night but the temperature will rise during Saturday morning and it will thaw at all levels until Monday. Hopefully there will still be some of this ice left by then.
It was clear right from the start that the weather was not quite as forecast today. We did not get a frost from a night of clear skies, instead we had fresh snowfall at sea level first thing this morning that continued for a couple of hours. The mist was down and it was a grey day with what seemed like no temperature gradient at all - +1C at sea level and the same at 1200m. Despite all this Sally, Nigel and I had an excellent day climbing Ledge Route on Ben Nevis.
Nigel and Sally both stay locally and are very active in the busy ramblers group. Today was all about trying something beyond what they have done before, something that they would not like to tackle by themselves. Ledge Route was perfect for this, especially in the calm conditions today with soft, damp snow for making good steps in. The narrow rocky section was a bit tricky with a lot of snow on the holds but the rest of the climb was really very nice. There is lots of soft damp snow down to very low levels and we could really do with a proper thaw and refreeze to form some ice. Even so The Curtain is probably fat enough for a reasonable ascent and the Organ Pipes have a good build up indicating that other drainage lines will also have ice on them. Looks like we'll get a thaw on Friday with some stormy weather too. Let's hope for a quick return to cold conditions afterwards.
A little more fresh snow fell on Thursday night down to just a couple hundred metres above sea level. A bit of cloud and wind hugged the west coast so Andrew, Josh and I went a little further inland yesterday to try to stay out of the cloud and in the clear air. We went to Buachaille Etive Mor to climb North Buttress where we found great climbing and good views all day.
Ice has been forming in the colder weather of the last couple of days. Low down in the drainage lines such as Great Gully there is some ice starting to build. If it carries on like this we might get some low level cascade climbing in a few days. The snow on Buachaille Etive Mor is dry and powdery, not very helpful for the climbing. However this climb is good to climb in any condition so after clearing the snow away we used the positive hooks and ledges in the rock. The turf is well frozen and solid for pick placements too.
All day long we had amazing views over Rannoch Mor. We saw the stunt plane at Glen Coe Mountain ski area and very few other people. Richard and Gordon were the only other people climbing and they had Curved Ridge to themselves. The descent down Coire na Tullach was scoured by the NW winds and was very safe to walk down. The snow cover went all the way down to the road so the walk out was quick and easy. So this was a great way to end five days of climbing with Andrew and Josh who were after some preparation for climbing the Matterhorn and Ama Dablam. As well as experiencing Scotland at its best they have had some great training for bigger peaks, and had a lot of fun doing so.
The temperature continues to drop slowly this week and snow showers, mostly over night, continue to build up more soft snow. With no thaw freeze cycles, little ice has been forming in the gullies and not that much has been forming in the drainage lines either. So when we saw Left Twin on Aonach Mor East Face complete with solid ice as we abseiled down it we were happily surprised. So we climbed it and it was great.
Left Twin is certainly not banked out but the ice that is there is good and solid. The first pitch is a bit thin and there is a steep bulge on the second pitch making the grade more like IV,4 at the moment. However the ice screws I placed today were good. Right Twin has a steep bulge of solid ice at the start as well and Siamese Twin (right hand side of Left Twin) is complete too. So there is good ice to climb on Aonach Mor. Nathan and Mark enjoyed Morwind today but there was nobody else climbing on the crag today. All the rocks are white with rime and the mixed climbing looks good.
With a good forecast for the weekend it will be busy here and on Ben Nevis. It was very cold today though with a biting wind so make sure you wrap up warm where ever you go. The great ridges of Ben Nevis all have a good covering of soft snow. There is a good trail up Ledge Route and Tower Ridge has seen many ascents this week. There is not so much solid snow so NE Buttress and Observatory Ridge will be hard going.
The big gullies are full of soft snow but have little cornices. Mid grade gullies such as Green Gully and Comb Gully have little ice but enough solid snow to be climbable. The climbing is not very secure though and the protection limited mostly to the rock so it's not a weekend to push your grade on one of these routes. The big ice classics such as Point Five Gully are full of firm snow and little ice. I would leave these routes until we get a thaw and refreeze.
The buttresses are very white and frozen. Mixed climbing is good fun, especially the steeper lines that do not need any neve and have less soft snow on them.
At last the clouds left the hills and we had a beautiful day today. A frost formed this morning after some snow showers over night. The walk up the path by the Allt a'Mhuillin is icy and treacherous and there is of course lots of soft snow on every aspect of slope. The snow seems reasonably stable though so Josh, Andrew and I went to climb Comb Gully.
Despite the cold conditions this week there is little ice in the gullies. Ironically (after the succession of deep thaws and refreezes in the Autumn) we need a thaw and refreeze to consolidate the soft snow and produce some water to freeze into ice. So the climbing was delicate in Comb Gully with the crux being the first steep bulge at the top of the easy lower section. With a little cunning the route gives fun climbing though and we made it to the brilliant views at the top.
We went to Number Four Gully and descended this back into the coire. We abseiled off a snow bollard but there is no cornice and it is easy just to walk down the gully. In fact there are very few cornices anywhere on Ben Nevis.
Green Gully is about the same and it had a couple of ascents along with Number Three Gully Buttress, Thompson's Route and Central Gully on Creag Coire na Ciste. Tower Ridge was quite busy and Ledge Route was even busier.
Yesterday Andrew, Josh and I climbed Tower Ridge and summited Ben Nevis on their first day of winter climbing and their first peak in Scotland. Today they led themselves up Dorsal Arete for their first ever lead climb. It's been a steep learning curve! Dorsal Arete is a brilliant route for your first lead. It builds in difficulty to the crux at the top which has overhead protection from slings on spikes. One thin move and a couple of exposed balances get you up the fin before a last short pitch to the top. This climb is often very busy, for good reasons, but today there was one team up nice and early followed by us and no one else.
There is lots of soft fresh snow in Coire nan Lochan and the crags are more white than I have ever seen them. Thick rime covers the rocks and the mixed climbing is definitely in condition. We enjoyed a quick slide down Broad Gully back into the coire and a slightly icy walk down the path. Another great day and we have several more cold dry days to come.
The end of last week brought us hard frosts and cold calm days with great mixed climbing conditions. Fresh snow over night on Saturday into Sunday put down about 30cm and more fell last night. So today in the mist on Ben Nevis everything was very white indeed.
Andrew and Josh have done some climbing in the Alps and greater ranges but this was their first climb in Scotland. With everything covered in fresh snow it was slow going. All the ledges were covered and the snow was soft and unhelpful. Higher up there was a little old snow underneath which made it slightly easier going but we still need more snow to fill in the ridge properly. The fallen block chimney is not yet full and the Eastern Traverse is not banked out. Despite all this it was great fun in the dry and calm conditions. On the summit the rime has built to be a metre thick in some places exposed to the strong SE wind we had last week.
Ice has been forming in the colder weather but the gullies are still not great to climb yet. We will need some thaw and freeze cycles to bring the ice in the gullies in to shape. In the meantime the buttresses are frozen and good fun to climb.
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.