Rain last night and a summit temperature of +2C washed away much of the fresh snow that we enjoyed yesterday. It seemed like it was going to be a pretty wet day as well so Maghnus, Geaspar and I braced ourselves for a soaking and headed up the Allt a'Mhuilinn for Castle Ridge. We discounted any potential ice climbing due to the loose rocks evident at the moment . In thaws like this with a better build up of snow and ice it is certainly quite possible to climb reasonable ice routes but with the current conditions I thought it was best not to. So instead we went for a relatively solid classic ridge climb.
Castle Ridge is superb. The positions are amazing for a short, quick climb. The lower crux corner is always greasy in the wet but the higher steep chimney is better. It's very steep for a Moderate climb and I find it every bit as hard as the hardest sections of Tower Ridge. As we topped out it started to snow and this carried on as we went up to Carn Dearg and down Ledge Route. There is a bit of old snow on Ledge Route's upper ridge which is enough to make the descent quite straightforward. Lower down it is all on rock apart from the slanting shelf out of Number Five Gully with its awkward slab. This area has a lot of ice on it and we had to put on crampons to climb down into Number Five Gully. Thankfully it was reasonably dry in the afternoon and we got down dry enough having had a nice wee adventure.
Snow started falling on Friday night and continued to fall gently for much of Saturday. Our Winter Mountaineering Course started off with snow anchors and rope skills for grade I and II gullies in Broad Gully on Stob Coire nan Lochan while Simon and Rich climbed Central Gully Right Hand on Ben Nevis. Sunday gave us a little more snow and not quite as much sunshine as we thought we would get but the mountaineering course enjoyed Ledge Route and Rich and Simon brushed the powder snow off Castle Ridge. Today we had beautiful sunshine after a hard frost and I got to Alltnafeadh just as the sun rose to meet Geaspar and Maghnus.
We climbed North Buttress on Buachaille Etive Mor which, as always, was brilliant. The cloud blowing around the buttresses mostly cleared away so we had the views across Rannoch Moor and in all directions from the summit of Stob Dearg. Geaspar and Maghnus have done a good amount of climbing in the Alps and here in Scotland so they were straight into the technical mixed climbing on the route today. The snow was not at all helpful being dry and powdery, and there was a good amount of verglas on the rocks lower down. In fact the walk down was probably the trickiest part of the day, trying to avoid the ice on the rocks on the path.
The route is very dry and the loose rocks in the cracks and chimneys are rattling around. This is the same everywhere - there was a lot of rock fall in Number Three Gully on Ben Nevis yesterday, much of which came from a team on Sake on Number Three Gully Buttress. It sounds like they had a very exciting time and were unfortunate to find such loose rock on their route. We certainly don't have ideal winter climbing conditions so take care out there and bide your time. Scarcity of opportunity can influence our decision making - it's a human trap we can all too easily fall into.
With the rock staying bone dry and the wind dropping slightly Rintje, Phil and I went to climb Tower Ridge. Actually we wanted to climb NE Buttress but the wind was still blowing across it so we went for the more sheltered route. We had a great time with light winds and no ice until the Eastern Traverse.
The Eastern Traverse was definitely quite icy! Hard snow and ice nearly covered the ledge but with some care and plenty of protection on the rope we managed to get around securely. The snow underneath the fallen block is equally hard and icy but again we resorted to old fashioned step cutting to avoid having to put on the crampons for this short section.
Other teams climbed good looking ice at the left edge of Little Brenva Face and the major gullies. It was a beautiful day with lots of sunshine until about 2pm when a distinct weather front came in from the south west very quickly. One hour after the picture was taken it started snowing! We are forecast snowfall over night and during tomorrow and then a nice day on Sunday. Have a look at the SAIS blog for some good pictures showing the extent of the snow cover on Ben Nevis before it gets covered by a little fresh snow.
Rintje and I have climbed many of the classic ice climbs over the last seven years. Coming from Holland Rintje really enjoys his annual winter climbing trip to Fort William but this year there is far less snow and ice than he has seen before. Despite this and with the weather being so dry and sunny today we went for a great day of climbing on Castle Ridge on Ben Nevis.
The rock is bone dry and the climbing was excellent. There are a couple of smears of ice on the route but very little really. The views were brilliant all day and we were very well sheltered from the strong southerly wind blowing over the summit. We went up to Carn Dearg to experience the full force of the wind and decided that Ledge Route would be too windy to descend so we went down Number Four Gully instead. All the snow is frozen solid too and there were several teams on mountaineering and intro climbing courses in Coire na Ciste enjoying the dry conditions. Tomorrow looks just as dry and with less wind so we're going to enjoy another classic ridge.
We are forecast a bit of fresh snow on Saturday. Whoop whoop!
Steve and I went prepared for a wet day of digging in the snow and soggy ice climbing on Ben Nevis today. We both had rubber gloves and lots of warm clothes. The plan was to do some coaching with Kevin, Jon, Dean and Luke in buried ice axe anchors and dynamic belaying before placing some ice screws and doing a little ice climbing. As it turned out, the clouds cleared, the snow was quite dry and we had a lovely dry day. We did the snow anchor coaching in Coire na Ciste and we could see some good enough ice on Number Three Gully Buttress so we went up to climb this.
Once we were on the climb it was clear that the climbing was good fun with more ice than we thought and the weather was still getting better. So we decided to climb the route to the top. We had two nice ice pitches and a third of snow to the rocky step. The rocky step was of course completely rocky and the rest of the route was mostly on rock as well. However it was a really fun climb and because we could see the view it was a spectacular place to be. We even got the view from the top and enjoyed a dry walk down. It looks like it will be very windy for a couple of days but colder as well. Wind chill will be a problem as well as standing up and walking in the strong wind. There's a suggestion we might get some more snow at the weekend too.
We had a beautiful sunny day on Saturday with a frost that lingered in the shade all day. Then on Sunday it snowed - it was only a little light snow but we'll take anything at the moment. So Tower Ridge felt a bit more wintry today, especially as there was another frost over night and wee dribbles of ice had formed in the grass and on the rocks. It was clear this morning but cloud came in progressively as the day went on, a sign of the approaching weather front that will cross over tonight.
All the old snow is hard frozen and there are many patches of ice hiding under the fresh cover of snow so we put the crampons on before we started the climbing. Steve and I are climbing with Kevin, Jon, Luke and Dean who are all very strong rock climbers but who have done very little in winter conditions. I decided we were best off making the most of the best of the three days on Tower Ridge to enjoy this super classic route at its best. It also gave the guys lots of great practice with the crampons. It is quite awkward using crampons on rocks like today but the guys moved very well with precise and accurate footwork so we made it up in good time.
Along the way we looked at ways to make the climbing super slick and efficient. We moved together for much of the route, placing anchors and using natural anchors to make us secure. We changed to pitched climbing on the Little Tower and around the Great Tower but there are many ways to make this go really smoothly as well. On the summit it was a bit breezy and cloudy so we just went straight over to Number Four Gully and down climbed this. There is no cornice here and it is very well stepped all the way down the snow which runs all the way to the lochans in Core na Ciste. So it was a great climb with lots of learning and it even felt quite wintry.
This week has given us continuously cloudy weather with light rain. The ice has been melting slowly and the snow pack has receded uphill slightly each day. John and I have been having fun climbing classic (wet) rock climbs and mountain days but to be honest it's not quite the winter climbing we really wanted. It does go to show that there is always a great route to enjoy what ever conditions we have and that having an open mind and a flexible approach is best!
On Tuesday we climbed Observatory Ridge which was great fun. The rock was wet and slimy making every foot placement and hand hold quite tricky. No lapse in concentration was possible at all! We were climbing with bare hands even at the top but Donald and Abib managed a pitch of ice climbing right at the top of Zero Gully. It was worth climbing all the way there for 5m of ice! With it being warm enough for rock climbing at summit level we decided another classic V.Diff rock climb would probably be OK so we went for Agag's Groove on Wednesday.
John and I climbed D Gully Buttress to get to Agag's Groove. This is a great wee climb on rock at about Difficult standard with a steep wall low down and a slabby section higher up. The route leads onto Curved Ridge just above the start of Agag's Groove on Rannoch Wall. The first pitch of Agag's Groove was enough to tell us it was a bit too cold though so we abseiled off and climbed down Curved Ridge. It was worth a go and it was close to being fun climbing but numb fingers don't help the enjoyment factor.
Today turned out to be a bit colder again and with a cold wind swirling around the crags. We didn't really get the cloud inversion as expected either so John and I climbed Douglas Boulder instead which was a fun choice. There were a few teams climbing Number Two Gully which is complete and icy but might have a few loose blocks in. The big easy gullies are complete as well. Donald and Henri climbed Tower Ridge which worked out well but it had verglas on the rocks from above the Little Tower and even a bit of rime on the rocks around Tower Gap. It might not look very wintry but crampons and ice axes were certainly required today. Castle Ridge was not icy or snowy at all, NE Buttress has some snow patches on it.
The pictures show the extent of the snow cover. There is quite a lot and there is also ice in the turf on the ledges higher up and the turf itself is frozen too. With slightly cooler conditions the snow is freezing up again high in the gullies and the old snow is quite firm. Crampons and ice axes will be essential tomorrow and at the weekend.
After a wonderful cold and sunny day on Saturday the temperature rose over night and rain fell on the tops during Sunday. It was a weekend of contrasts! So by the time John and I walked up the Allt a'Mhuilinn this morning lots of snow and ice had been lost again. It was over cast today but mostly dry with a light wind from the SW and the base of the cloud was quite high.
John and I climbed NE Buttress along with Donald and Abib. This is a great mountaineering route and good fun on most days. John had done it a few years ago but under soft powdery snow which made progress very slow. Today it was mostly on rock but with occasional patches of smooth hard ice requiring crampons. I thought there would be ice in the Forty Foot Corner but there was none at all and the Man Trap is clear of ice.
We went over the summit and down Number Three Gully to see what we could see. Thompson's Route is too thin to climb along with all the other icy routes to be honest. Andy and Richie made a determined effort to climb Green Gully but they retreated, very sensibly, after a lots of water went up their sleeves! There's not much cold weather on the horizon just now so I think we'll be enjoying classic mountaineering for a while.
Sally is preparing for her Winter Mountain Leader so she and I went for a walk up Stob Ban to go through a few things in preparation. She has been getting out doing lots and lots of winter walking so she's completely up to spead and we on to the fine details now. Stob Ban North Ridge is a really nice route with excellent views down Glen Nevis. There is a tricky section that might warrant grade I before the North Top of Stob Ban which was fine today. Snow was being blown around but there is only a thin cover in most places.
We went over the top of Stob Ban and down to South Gully. It was clear that the wind had been blowing up this gully and scoured out the edges of the gully to the hard old snow underneath, making it secure for us to go down the gully. There was a deep line of soft wind slab in the gully that we avoided though and it could well be the same in many grade I gullies right now. There was lots of graupel (rimed up snowflakes that act like polystyrene beads) in the snow lower down and the areas of wind slab we saw were relatively easy to trigger.
The rocks were well frozen though and ice has been forming. Over on Ben Nevis Central Gully on Creag Coire na Ciste was climbed on ice and Lost the Place was climbed too.There is now rime on the rocks so the mixed climbing is in!
Very cold and snowy weather has arrived in most places of the UK. In Fort William we have snow down to sea level and the tops are several degrees below zero. Combined with strong winds you'll need to wrap up warm if you go into the hills!
We have a covering of fresh snow but not a huge amount really. The wind has blown it onto east facing slopes and gullies and we have a general thin covering elsewhere. There was old snow in some places though and ice is forming fast again. Rob and Oliver climbed Green Gully on Ben Nevis and found good climbing even though it is quite lean. The snow ice is good to climb but not great for ice screws. There was just about rock protection but the cracks were quite icy.
The crags were not well rimed today so Caspar went for Thompson's Route instead of Gargoyle Wall. Thompson's Route is quite hard for a IV when there is no ice in the bottom chimney and there is not much protection either.
The classic ridges have some fresh snow on them but not much else so they qwill be slow going. The big easy gullies are mostly full and quite icy. There are a few climbs in the mid-grades to go for and once the crags rime up there will be good mixed climbing. Remember that crags facing the wind freeze first and get rimed up. The wind will blow from the north west tomorrow so there could be more rime on the rocks of most buttresses.
Elsewhere Kenny climbed Scabbard Chimney today and Curved Ridge was very nice too.
Cold but more calm weather is forecast for the weekend with a slow rise in the temperature. It should be worth getting out for a climb if you can get here.
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.