Back in December I climbed Taliballan on Stob Coire nan Laoigh in the Grey Corries with Louisa. We had a great day and really enjoyed the climbing. Today I climbed it again, this time with Tommy and it felt like a very different experience. It was just as much fun but the climb feels very different to what it did a month ago. We chose this crag so we didn't have to wade through deep fresh snow (lots more snow fell last night and yesterday) and so we did not get avalanched or spindrifted out of a gully. All of this worked out well - no spindrift, no wading, no avalanches!
What made the climb different was the snow build up at the bottom of the climb meaning we missed out on a few cool moves at the start and the amount of ice on the rocks. A thin veneer of verglas covered most of the rocks so some of the friends I placed were pretty useless. There was also a good amount of thick ice on the second and third pitches which got right in the way of finding protection. I remember placing two friends just above where Tommy is in the picture above. Not much chance of that today!
The last pitch has a thick line of ice in the initial corner. The climbing up here would be pretty easy but with little chance of protection without a fight! Instead I chose to climb directly into the higher left hand groove from the belay ledge. This gave us one steep move off the belay but worked really well from there into the groove. I know this crag is quite turfy and wet but if other mixed climbs are as icy as this right now don't expect an easy ride!
Neil and Robin have been enduring some windy and wet weather on the Three Day Winter Mountaineering Course that ran over the weekend and today. They went to The Zig Zags on Gearr Aonach on Saturday to look at all things to do with rock anchors and climbing winter ridges including an abseil on the way back down. This also made sure they avoided any of the big avalanches caused by the thaw and rain on the soft snow. Yesterday they went to the Cairngorms to enjoy a drier day. They built all sorts of snow anchors and tested them in belays, the kind of skills they will use when they climb big snow gullies. A huge thanks to Annie for teaching the guys all this in some tricky conditions!
Today was the final day and it was so good to end on a high with a climb of Curved Ridge. The temperature dropped early on and we got a few snow showers during the day. So the old snow was starting to freeze, and was pretty well frozen in the wind on top. The fresh snow made the rocks nicely wintry too, not that it was needed. There is a good amount of old snow on Curved RIdge, much more than I was expecting. In the old boot trauil the snow was pretty firm but soft still outside of the trail. We had views all day long and it looked amazing!
Our three day Winter Mountaineering Courses are aimed at people with winter walking experience already, who want to progress into roped climbs of grade I and II gullies and ridges. Curved Ridge is a grade II/III and the experience of this will help Neil and Robin when they go out to climb their grade I and II ridges in the coming weeks. All the skills are the same but the climbing is a bit harder. Curved Ridge is also in a very dramatic position with huge atmosphere.
Over on Ben Nevis there is still lots of ice after the thaw at the weekend. Hadrian's Wall Direct looks pretty good as well as Observatory Buttress. Smiths Route and Indicator Wall are a bit thin though. Number Three Gully Buttress was climbed by Ken and Vic as a warm up for Vic back into the winter climbing. The conditions on this climb were excellent and there are a few icy variations that are possible too. More snow over the coming days will start to cover up some of the ice and make the approaches tricky so take care.
The BMG Trainees had a pretty mixed bag of weather and climbing conditions this week. It was good for them to see the full spectrum of what to expect when they are at work in the future. But it was good to finish on a high today with a frost, deep blue sky and lovely snow. We went to Stob Coire nan Lochan to do a selection oif the brilliant mixed climbs there. The standard required by the IFMGA is grade V so that's what we did.
Will took Paul and me up Crest Route (V,6) which is a route I have climbed a few times as well. The soft snow was hard work to get through to the start of the climb since the older snow did not go completely solid after the thaw and refreeze this week. The climb was quite icy though with crusty and icy bits of snow covering all the cracks and spikes. Will did an amazing job of digging through all this icy stuff in the way to find the good hooks and ledges as well as protection. Over on Scabbard Chimney and Spectre the other teams found the icy sections to be a bit more helpful in places. We all topped out and descended Dorsal Arete for some more short roping practice before a great bum slide down Broad Gully and back into the coire.
Over on Ben Nevis the mixed climbing was reported as being pretty icy as well. Gargoyle Wall today was steady to climb but with pretty poor protection since it was buried under the ice. Sioux Wall was climbed as well but the going was slow and hard earned. On the other hand, it seems like Orion Direct was climbed today and in good time. This weekend is forecast to be windy and wet, ideal for further consolidation of the snow and formation of ice in the cold spell we will get after Monday next week. I hope you dosed up on sunshine and blue sky today - we might not see much of it at the weekend!
The weather has been changeable this week. Tuesday gave us a big thaw with rain on the summits for a few hours. Lots of the fresh snow was washed away but by no means all of it. Above 700m there is still lots of snow, especially in the coires and gullies that face north through to east. Even at much lower levels there are patches of snow that were deep banks of soft snow built up by the wind.
On Tuesday the BMG training team climbed Dinner Time Buttress on the West Face of Aonach Dubh to stay well clear of any avalanches. With the big thaw on lots of soft snow there was a chance of some quite large avalanches. The buttress had no snow on it but there was plenty in the bowl at the top of Number Two Gully to look at snow anchors and short roping on snow.
Yesterday was very windy but colder with fresh snow falling down to 700m or so. The BMG training team climbed North Buttress on Buachaille Etive Mor which has a good bit of wet snow in it still. The wind had dropped a bit by the time they reached the summit so they went down Coire na Tullach which was also full of snow. It was a bit colder but the old snow had not frozen properly and it was a bit cruddy on top.
Today is colder again, just +1C at sea level this morning. It snowed quite a lot last night and the fresh snow came down to 400m or so. The sun just came out and tomorrow looks like a nice cold day with light winds.
The big gullies are full of snow and if the snow freezes properly today and tomorrow they will be nice to climb apart from the fresh snow that came down last night. The great ridges such as Tower Ridge, Castle Ridge, NE Buttress, Observatory Ridge and Ledge Route are all well filled in and nice to climb. Steep mixed climbs are quite snowy now and generally white up high on Ben Nevis but there is likely to be some ice in the cracks now. There is some ice around, on The Curtain for example, and if the snow gets a good freeze the gullies might be worth thinking about if the fresh snow does not cause too much avalanche hazard.
Unfortunately the weekend does look quite windy and we have another couple of thaw and refreeze cycles coming our way. In the long term this is really good news. The snow and ice are shaping up really quite nicely but it does mean we will get a couple of burly days at the weekend to enjoy!
Sometimes a wee trip to the Cairngorms is worthwhile. While the rain fell heavily on Lochaber this morning we drove over to the Northern Coires for some winter cragging on the Mess of Pottage. I am hanging out with the BMG Winter Training Course this week and it was great to see the trainee guides in action. Having been qualified for 13 years now I want to check that what I do now and the things I think about are in line with what other guides do and think. So following the BMG training course is a great way to do this and I get to be guided up a lot of fun routes as well!
Tim Neill was training Mike Thomas in lots of things to do with guiding on winter climbs. Everything from the car to the crag, where to gear up and how to approach the first set of anchors to keeping the ropes twist free and belaying in the right places. It all seemed to go very well and we climbed The Message, Honey Pot and Pot of Gold in time for a cup of tea at the cafe before it closed.
It was a busy crag and for good reason. The climbing was superb with firm snow on the ledges and clean cracks for hooks and protection. In fact it seems like this is where all the sinker hooks come from, there are so many of them to go for. Mike was pulling some great shapes and we had a lot of fun. Tomorrow might not be so much fun in terms of the weather. We have a thaw at all levels with rain forecast for a few hours during the day with some strong winds as well. Get out the rubber gloves, endure a wet day and remind yourself that when it freezes again afterwards we will not have to wade through deep snow on the west coast!
What a stunner of a day. Scotland delivered an outstanding experience today for the thousands of people who took to the hills to soak up the sun, the snow and the scenery. Al, Bob, Rich and Bram along with Kev and I went to find a bit of spave away from everyone else on the West Face of Aonach Dubh. We climbed Pinnacle Face Route (IV,5) and Cyclops (IV,5) between us in great conditions, if a bit snowy, and in an amazing place.
After the snow fall this week it was tough to get to most places but this crag is really easy to get to and is not often avalanche prone. Pinnacle Face Route is best climbed using the summer line. Follow the chimney for the first pitch before going off right to find the steep pitch past the pinnackles at the top. It is certainly a technical 5 move or two and is really good fun. Take care of the big loose block on the first pitch though. We had a ricky wee descent getting in to Number Two Gully. The gully itself was fine but there were some deep deposits of snow on the way into the gully which took a little care.
Today we tried to climb at Beinn Udlaidh but we turned back when we could see into the coire from just above the tree line. The wind was blowing hard from the south east and moving a huge amount of the fresh snow, putting down wind slab on top of the hoar frost that had grown last night. Our intended climbs (Quartzvein Scoop, Captain Hook or Peter Pan Direct) would all have been threatened by avalanche by the time we got there and the spin drift would have made an unpleasant environment to climb in! So only one day of climbing this weekend but it will be remembered as one of the best for a long time.
Still with a huge amount of snow the Lochaber and Lorn Ramblers and I decided to go up the North Ridge of Stob Ban. The strong westerly winds had scoured it very well so there was not much wading on the way up. This was a winter skills refresher for the four members, Nigel, Kate, Fiona and Rick. They are all competent mountain walkers with a great deal of experience but we all need a wee reminder and refresher of how winter works. Since they could all walk efficiently and securely in the snow and the icy ground we concentrated on some ideas to do with keeping the group safe that have come out of the SAIS Be Avalanche Aware process.
We climbed up out of Glen Nevis with some wind, some snow blowing around and a good trail put in by Scott (thanks Scott!). As we approached the steep (grade I) section the clouds cleared away, the sun came out and we had the most wonderful views as we climbed to the North Top. From here the cornices looked forbidding but we managed past them on the super narrow ridge to the main summit. We didn't stop though since we lost the visibility again and we worked our way down deep, deep soft snow in a white out. There was no path or boot trail to follow but we found the way pretty well even if we had a few falls into holes in the snow over the streams. An outstanding day and a very long day. Well done team! I hope the legs weren't too sore at the weekend!
We often go in search of snow but right now we are trying to avoid the snow. Since Monday night it has been snowing fairly steadily and a strong westerly wind has blown the snow onto all the east facing slopes. There is now a lot of snow on these slopes and in fact on just about all slopes right down to sea level. Most reports are of wading through waist and chest deep drifts just to get to some climbing. So to try to avoid this, Matt and I went to a west facing slope to get to a crag and we were lucky to find some great climbing without too much wading.
We went to the West Face of Aonach Dubh where Dinner Time Buttress was popular. The wind had certainly been blowing onto this face and there was little snow on the steep and short (i.e. brutal) walk in from Achnambeithach. We got a very nice day with just a few full on snow showers. The wind has eased off a little and we got some bright spells this afternoon. The temperature at sea level is just about zero so it was nicely cold and dry on the crag. However this is a very complex face with huge gullies and buttresses all interlocking into a complex maze. We found some deep drifts of snow and even cornices due to cross loading. It did not seem to be very affected by the wind (it was not wind slab that was blocking or cracking) but it was certainly deep in places. The cornices at Aonach Mor are huge.
Matt has been getting into winter climbing and has done a few climbs with friends. Today we wanted to make sure he's on the right track and making good decisions so that he will continue to enjoy the winter. We found some great mixed climbing and might even have done a first ascent. We also found a small pitch of ice climbing so we could look at placing ice screws and how to climb ice. More snow is expected tomorrow and then a very nice day on Saturday. It will be best to avoid gullies and open slopes. Stick to ridges and buttresses, or go skiing in the powder!
Standing at the top, the water that was running down the ice we had just climbed was being blown up and over the top onto our jackets where it froze instantly. The temperature had dropped markedly during the day and it was freezing on top but the water was still running down the ice. It takes a while for the freeze to take hold of the ice and to firm up the snow. Despite this it was a great climb up Quartzvein Scoop on Beinn Udlaidh and a nice bit of ice climbing straight after the wee thaw and on a pretty soggy day.
Mick and I took a gamble that the thaw and rain to the summits last night had not stripped away all the ice at Beinn Udlaidh. Quatrzvein Scoop was climbed a few times yesterday and it was a very brief thaw so we were quite hopeful that it would be OK. We also hoped that the colder weather today would refreeze the ice quickly. We got the first bit right and I don't think we were wrong about the second bit but it takes a few hours longer than we gave it to refreeze I guess. The climbing was very nice but some of the ice was detached and other bits were a bit cruddy. More worrying was the huge icicle hanging over the route at the top. Thankfully none of these hazards were a problem to us and we had a great climb. For such a well known climb, it's surprising that this was the first time I had climbed it. Still lots of ice up there and it will be much better to climb for the rest of this week than it was today.
The forecast for Ben Nevis didn't look particularly promising today with winds up to 65 mph and a low cloud base, but this wasn't going to stop Will, Fred, Ben, Ollie, Tom and Ned! Fortunately the clouds were much higher than expected, although it was certainly windy. Crampons were needed from half way up and it was great to have the shelter of the Red Burn for this.
Sadly Tom decided to call it a day shortly before reaching the cloud base, so as he headed down the rest of us wandered on up into the white room of the summit plateau. Navigation skills were certainly tested but before long the guys had cruised their way to the summit. The winds were calmer on the summit than on the ascent, but still no place to be hanging around. We took ten minutes for a snack in the summit shelter then headed down.
All the team put in a tremendous effort in tough conditions, especially to say this was one of their first hill walking experiences, and it was all in aid of Shipston Home Nursing which you can support here.
Well done fellas!
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.