More fresh snow last night didn't really give up much during the day. We had a few clear spells between the showers but we also got a good bit more snow from a moderate Northerly wind. With so much fresh, windblown snow on the mountains above 400m ridges are the best route options. Since Grahame had never been up Ben Nevis we went for Ledge Route along with a few other teams. It's quite reassuring when other people make the same decision as you and there is plenty of space on Ledge Route so we had a sociable day. We got there first too so we broke trail for much of it and enjoyed pretending we were making a first ascent!
The SE wind yesterday stripped much of the snow off the crest of the ridge for us so we just had the snow from last night on the rocks. We used crampons but it was a bit scratchy on the rocks. We did a few drills and shared ideas on moving efficiently and securely by slowing the pace down and placing every foot accurately. It takes time and practice to become really solid on your feet and it's well worth thinking about how to do it better.
Annie was out with Grahame and me again today which was great for the company and for trail breaking. Annie is a trainee MIC holder which means she has just one last assessment before she has the highest UK based qualification in mountaineering. It's nice to work with trainee instructors to share ideas and help them on the way to their qualifications. I have no doubt that Annie will cruise her assessment. We descended the Red Burn which has a line of firm windslab down its S side making it easy to descend.
A little more snow fell yesterday and we didn't get as much sunshine as hoped for. However more snow is very welcome right now. Today the wind picked up earlier than expected and started to blow the lying snow around and putting it down on North and Northwest facing slopes. The temperature went up slightly as well, just enough to make the snow slightly sticky at 900m but no more than this.
To avoid most of the fresh deposits of snow Grahame, Annie and I went to the East Ridge of North Buttress of Stob Ban. Despite having quite an awkward name this is a very good fun route in the Mamores with a short enough walk in and a quick descent, ideal if the weather is coming in early.
The wind blowing across the ridge at about 60mph was less than ideal though and my face is a little sore now from the exfoliation. Goggles and face covering were essential. The turf was not frozen and the snow on top was dry and soft, so of no use for the climbing at all. We went to the higher shoulder to start the climb which keeps it at grade II and includes the fine ridge sections high up on the route. Short pitches and clear lines of sight were required to keep communication and the flow of the day going. It's tricky managing a rope in strong winds on a ridge and the whole system can break down or become very slow if you carry on with long pitches.
We had great views all day and it only started raining once we were back down. More rain (snow on the tops) is forecast over night after which we should get a spell of cold weather with lighter SE winds and some sunshine. It's going to be a week for enjoying ridges.
Yesterday I took three pupils from Lochaber High School to the foot of Number Five Gully to experience a little of what Ben Nevis can offer mountaineers in the winter. Hopefully these young people will remember the grandeur of the North Face and be inspired to explore it some more later in life. It was a nice, dry and cold afternoon but it came in to snow on the tops late last night.
Fourteen hours after it started snowing a team of three people were avalanched from Raeburn's Easy Route or somewhere close by. They called the Lochaber MRT and we went up to help them. They managed to get back to the CIC Hut by themselves despite back and head injuries.
We had about 30cm snow fall in twelve hours and it has come down to 400m above sea level. The avalanche forecast was quite accurate and was very clear about this snow coming in and the hazard it would produce. It gave a considerable avalanche hazard which means human triggered avalanches are likely and this is what happened with the team that got caught in one today. While we were out looking for them another avalanche came down from Number Two Gully which was probably naturally triggered. Natural avalanches are possible in a considerable avalanche hazard.
I think it was Hamish MacInness who said we will be wise to avoid climbing during fresh snow fall and for 24 hours afterwards. Most avalanches occur during snow fall and just afterwards. Even if you just stick to this rule and nothing else you will raise your chance of successful climbing. Better still, learn more about the Be Avalanche Aware process and do some training.
Slightly warmer weather again last night and rain to the summits gave way slowly this morning to a bright day. We even had some sunshine this afternoon. Geaspar and Maghnus had to be in Lochgilphead by 4.30pm though so we got an early start and an early finish. We went for a climb on the west face of Aonach Dubh in Glen Coe. This has a short but brutal approach walk and a fantastic atmosphere once on the climbs.
We climbed Pinnacle Arete with a start to the right of the buttress. This is a route I've climbed a couple of times now and I think it's great. Many years ago I was assessed climbing it for my MIA and I didn't really appreciate how much fun it is then! Despite a few areas of loose rock there is great climbing on steep rough rhyolite with big holds. The slope beneath drops right down to the glen and away to the loch so it is a very airy place to climb.
From the top of the climb it is easy to walk rightwards to the foot of the North Ridge of The Amphitheatre, another great, clean climb at about grade Difficult. There are lots of pinnacles and chimneys in the Amphitheatre and in face right along this face and I'd love to explore a bit more up there. we went over to Number Two Gully to descend and followed the wee ledge out to the right which brings you out underneath Dinnertime Buttress. Again, it's a quick, if brutal, descent and we made it back with plenty of time for the guys to get down the road. We done to Geaspar and Maghnus and I hope everything goes well on the big day on Saturday!
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.