Fresh snow on Sunday came down to quite low levels and more fell in snow showers on Monday and Tuesday. On Wednesday morning, driving to Skye was quite a challenge due to fresh snow down to sea level. We got there safely but the smaller roads on Skye were still blocked so we change plans a couple of times and went for a walk on The Storr. The landscape around The Old Man of Storr is spectacular and very well known for the spires of rock. There are also some very big cliffs there and we were drawn to one of these. It turned out to be just right for the first BASE jump on Skye and the first ski BASE jump on Skye for Jottnar Pro Team member Tim Howell!
Today we went looking for more new exits to open up. We went to the Great Prow on Blabheinn which was perfect. This is a 100m high cliff set at 750m above sea level. It's a stunning place and very intimidating but an ideal spot for BASE jumping. So, we made two more successful jumps and long flights down to near enough sea level. The weather was perfectly still and sunny today, and bitterly cold in the shade. We were in the sunshine where it was very nice indeed. Rime is falling off the rocks in the sunshine and the snow is getting a bit soggy. However, the shade is well below freezing and the mountains are looking really very white indeed. Cold weather is forecast to stay with us for a while. Get out and enjoy the mountains in any way you like!
Warm sector air is sitting on Scotland now, bringing lots of cloud and rain, and melting some of the snow. So far it has not melted too much snow or ice and if it stays much the same tomorrow we will get some very nice snow-ice in lots of places when it refreezes on Sunday. Water ice has been forming nicely over the last week where there is a spring to supply the water. Compression Cracks, Waterfall Gully, The Curtain and lots of little patches dotted around have some cascade style ice. However we have not had any thaw-freeze cycles so far meaning we do not have any snow ice in gullies such as Green Gully and Point Five Gully. After this thaw and with ten days of cold weather to come we will certainly have a base of solid snow-ice pretty soon.
Today I was with the three Nevis Partnership Trainee Volunteer Rangers and three staff from John Muir Trust. All of these people work in the mountains at all times of the year and they sometimes venture into wintry weather with snow on the ground. So this day was designed to give some training in planning for these days, where to go, what to carry and how to look after yourself when you're there. We went to Coire na Ciste on Ben Nevis and headed up towards Number Four Gully. We measured the angle of the slopes we were on, found some windslab and discovered its distinctive texture, made nice boot trails and practiced self-arresting a slide down a slope. We also chatted through the many human factors that badly affect our decision making and practical things we can do to minimise this. It was all a bit soggy but there was a lot of very useful learning going on too.
Over the last decade, Ben Nevis has become known as a venue for very good steep mixed climbing as well as an ice climbing venue. Simon Richardson led the way with climbs such as Darth Vader and Cornucopia. Number Three Gully Buttress and Creag Coire na Ciste are now home to some of Scotland's finest mixed climbs and they are at their best early in the winter before the cracks get full of ice. Today, Willis and I, with Connor and Brodie, made an early start under a full moon and starlit sky with mist down in the glen to have a go at Babylon. It was a lot of fun.
Walking up towards Number Three Gully is now a case of making steps in the snow, rather than scrabbling over scree. It was all wind slab of various densities but it seemed stable enough for us to get to the start of the climb next to Winter Chimney. The first pitch goes straight to the nice ledge below the Gargoyle Cracks. Some interesting moves up a flake crack got us there nicely and the Gargoyle Cracks are always superb with immense exposure. A delicate traverse right then gets to the main event, an overhang leading into an off-width crack and a chimney above. Willis led this really well and quickly, to get to the top in good time. It's a very good fun climb and it's nice to get to know another Jottnar Pro Team member.
As we slid down Number Three Gully (first bum slide of the winter) we saw a team on Gargoyle Wall, and Matt and Pete climbing what might have been Tomahawk Crack. It was very cold today, the rime was pretty thick so the crags were very white, as they should be, but there are a few loose blocks to be wary of. It looks slightly warmer over the next couple of days which will settle the soft snow but then back to cold over the weekend and generally for the next couple of week.
Heavy rain last night fell as snow on the mountains and gave us a good covering. More fell at first light this morning all the way to sea level. So, it was all white and wintry climbing on Ben Nevis today. Daniel, Sally and I climbed SW Ridge of Douglas Boulder which proved to be a popular route.
We didn't see any people going up into the coire but it looked pretty good up there for mixed climbing. The crags were very white and it was cold and dry. Ice is forming in the drainage lines but without any thaw freeze action the fresh snow is dry and soft, and the cracks are free of ice. Lovely weather today - more of this please!
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.
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.