Sally and Mike were both in Glen Coe today. Sally was walking on Buachaille Etive Beag with Grahame who has a few winter Munros on his list to complete. With so much snow on the hills at the moment, it is tricky working out where to walk that does not involve many hours of seriously hard work wading through deep snow. West and South facing slopes seem to be mostly OK so they went to the wee Buachaille and got on fine (mostly).
The path from the Coffin Route Cairn goes up the west facing side of the col between the two Munros and this proved to be OK. The climb up to the northerly Munro was also OK but the climb up to the southerly Munro (Stob Dearg) which is a north facing ridge had a very fine snow crest and deep snow! The clouds cleared a little and there was a bit of a view. The weather was generally dry though and a bit warmer than it has been recently so it was a fine day to bag a couple of Munros.
Mike was climbing with Nigel on a route called Trumpeting Elephants. It's likely you have not heard of it but it's next to White Rhino. Still no idea? White Rhino was climbed in 1988 by Mal Duff and they saw an avalanche in a place you would expect never to see an avalanche. So they named the climb White Rhino due to it being very rare and like a big heavy white thing charging down at you. Trumpeting Elephants is right next to it and a little easier at grade III. See if you can work out where the routes are!
Another 20cm or so of fresh snow fell today and was blown around by the strong SW wind creating even more very deep drifts and general cover of snow. Skis would have been very useful for Rintje and me to get to Far Eastern Buttress in Coire nan Lochan and we would have had a wonderful deep powder descent as well. However we were on foot and up to our waists in soft snow. A few other people followed us but did not manage to get much higher at all. Lots of people climbed The Zig Zags and Zig Zags Direct and some of those went along Gearr Aonach to descend the corrie like we did.
We climbed Eastern Slant which is nice right now. There is some ice on the climb and some good snow so the climbing is pretty simple. The buttress sticks out far from any slopes with avalanche hazard above and there is a pretty secure approach to the crag as well. So even though it faces east it was a safe enough place to climb. Descending to the south of the crag worked out fine but not being able to see the angle of the slope in front of us did make me very cautious. However it all went well and we waded down the coire having had another world class adventure. The climbing was a nice part of it but mostly, just being up in the corrie with all that snow was pretty cool.
For the last two days I have been working for Plas y Brenin on an MIC Assessment Course. The Mountaineering Instructor Certificate (MIC) is the highest UK based climbing and mountaineering qualification and it's a priviledge to be able to work on an assessment with such an experienced team of other assessors. Yesterday we went to a venue I have never been too as well, Sron na Creise which is omn the other side of the Glen Etive road to Stob Dearg, Buachaille Etive Mor. This was the first of two client days and with another fall of fresh snow all the way down to sea level it was always going to be a tricky day.
We found a few pitches of fun climbing close to the two ice climbs described in the guidebook. We were not on ice but we had some nice mixed terrain leading up to three huge boulders. A swift abseil back down and a walk across the very wet moor got us back to the road right on time. As it turned out, the weather was very good and we soaked up the expansive view right across Rannoch Moor, down Glen Etive and, of course, across at Buachaille Etive Mot. We also saw avalanche debris at 500m big enough to ruin your day if you got caught up in it. The wind was blowing lots of loose snow around creating quite a bit of wind slab. Other Abacus Teams were climbing The Zig Zags, Ruth's Rib on Aonach Mor West face and Pinnacle Face Route on B Buttress, Aonach Dubh West Face. Everyone found soft snow and windslab!
Today was rather different weather. Very strong winds and a rise in temperature with precipitation for a good bit of the day made it even more tricky to climb anything. The Zig Zags on Gearr Aonach was a good and popular choice and we used the shelter to teach all sorts of things about winter anchors and belays. It was a wet day at this altitude and we got pretty soggy around the edges so we went back down at a reasonable time. The wind had dropped by the afternoon and we even saw a glimpse of blue sky. The thaw did not go very high or last very long so don't expect the snow to have settled much high up.
So we have an amazing cover of snow now on all the mountains in Lochaber. The Zig Zags had thigh deep drifts at the start of the climbing and there is lot sof windslab around as well. Route choice is going to be tricky for a while and it would be worth staying on ridges and buttresses for a while as well as having a really good idea of what is above you. Thanks to both Matt and Mark for looking after me over the last two days, you'll both be great mountaineering instructors.
We have had yet another big fall of snow down to sea level. We woke up yesterday to a good cover of snow all the way down to the sea and the temperature stayed at about zero here all day. Today we had further snow at all levels and the strong SW wind has blown a lot of it around. The skiing is excellent when you can see it and when it is not too windy for the lifts to work. I think we will be skiing in May still by the way it is going. And it is a huge contrast for Rintje to what we had last year.
After eight years of coming to Scotland to go winter climbing Rintje had never been climbing on Aonach Mor. So we took the gondola today and walked up to the top of the ski area, wading through deep freh snow to get there. We abseiled down Central Buttress and climbed Morwind, the best climb on the crag and worthy of the grade IV,4. There are some huge cornices above the crag, some of which had already fallen off. However Central Buttress sticks out from the cornice line and is often safe enough to climb on without fear of cornice collapse or avalanche. It worked out like this today and the climbing was superb. We also had the crag to ourselves. The West Face was popular again, quite rightly, and Mike took his team up North Buttress of Stob Ban for us which was great. It's going to be a cold, snowy and windy week!
There was a good amount of sunshine today and after a bit of fresh snow last night Ben Nevis looked spectacular. Heavy bursts of rain in Fort William last night fell as snow above just a few hundred metres but did not amount to more than a few centimetres of general coverage. The fresh snow was blown around a bit and did make some fragile cornices (some of which fell off on Aonach Mor East Face) and wind slab (some of which caused naturally triggered avalanches). However the day was bright and sunny with just a couple of very light snow showers and it was cold so the ice climbing was very good.
Jonathan, Will and I went to climb one of the Carn Dearg Cascades just right of the Organ Pipes near the CIC Hut. This had some very variable ice but got us up in one pitch of 60m. A short walk then got us underneath The Curtain which had some beautiful blue ice on the second and third pitches. The start of the slab on the first pitch did not have any blue ice, in fact it did not have any ice at all. It does have crispy snow which is good enough to walk up given the easy angle of the slab and very soon there is ice that will take ice screws. We managed to get inside the ice cave to belay and we did the whole route in three pitches with a quick walk down Ledge Route to finish three excellent days of climbing.
It was a very quiet day on Ben Nevis. Neils and David climbed Castle Ridge which is in excellent condition as well. There was no track on Ledge Route and I think omnly one team in Coire na Ciste climbing Gargoyle Wall. One team got a late start to climb Point Five Gully and was making good progress. Windy tonight and tomorrow morning but then calming down a lot tomorrow afternoon. Sunday looks like the better day of the weekend. There is lots of amazing climbing to enjoy right now. Have fun!
After a longer day yesterday, Jonathan, Will and I went for an easier day on the legs with just as much fun climbing. We took the gondola at Nevis Range to 650m after an excellent espresso and walked up to the top of the ski area. The ski patrollers are lovely and we had another coffee as we geared up for the climb on the East Face. Last night the temperature peaked with the freezing level at around 1100m or so and it was still a couple of degrees above zero at the top of the gondola. On the top it was frozen though and on the crag it was just a tiny bit damp to start but well frozen above the base of the crag.
We abseiled down Central Buttress just next to the climb in three long pitches with 60m ropes. The climb is done in four pitches, the first three of which each have some great climbing. It's good to see the grade in Scottish Winter Climbs up to IV,4 and I think it compares favourably with Thompson's Route on Ben Nevis in terms of difficulty, length and fun factor. The crag has a good amount of ice and solid snow but it is not as buried as I thought it would be. There is still plenty of rock sticking out which was pretty useful for protection and for the climbing today. We had our crag to ourselves but around on the West Face there were lots of teams enjoying Spare Rib Gully and all the big ridges underneath the summit of Aonach Mor. It's snowing hard on the hills tonight but tomorrow looks like a nice bright day.
Will, Jonathan and I climbed the spindrift factory today, also known as Italian Right Hand. It was a very nice start to the day with a hard frost and light winds. The walk in was a delight with the orange light of dawn lighting the clouds from behind. Even when we were in Coire na Ciste we could see very little spindrift on this side of Tower Ridge. However, as soon as we got to the start of the climb the sluice gates opened and we got a steady flow of spindrift for the whole climb.
To be honest it wasn't too bad. Italian Right Hand is quite an open climb, not a chimney or narrow gully. The snow coming down was very cold, dry and light so it did not push us out from the ice at all. And since it was so cold we stayed dry. The ice on the climb was brilliant so you didn't even need to look very carefully where we hit it with our picks for placements. Ice screws were good and there are fixed anchors at the first two belays. You can abseil the route in 60m from the top of the second pitch but today we went for the journey up to Tower Ridge and to the top.
Tower Ridge is so snowy at the moment! Firm snow covers the whole ridge with some nice ice in various places. The climbing is pretty easy like this but it can ve very hard to protect. The obvious blocks for belays are under the snow and many of the cracks are full of ice. The mixed climbing on Ben Nevuis could be pretty hard going right now if the cracks are as choked with ice as what we found on Tower Ridge.
We met a couple of other teams on Tower Ridge including Hamish and Greg, another Abacus team. On top, the wind was blowing and visibility was pretty poor. The cairns are very well covered over so a compass and knowing how to use it are essential. Orion Direct was climbed by a few teams today as well as Hadrian's Wall Direct. Steady light snow fall this afternoon built up a few patches of windslab pretty quickly. Altogether it was a proper winter day!
Hero ice is that perfect consistency of ice that is solid enough to hold your weight with ease but soft enough to take a pick without shattering. It is the perfect combination of snow that is saturated and refrozen into a honeycomb structure with plenty of tiny air pockets. The honeycomb structure allows the energy from the strike from a pick to be absorbed easily without shattering the ice. The pick bites deeply but is also easy to take out. Basically, you can hit it anywhere and your pick sinks in perfectly. Hero ice makes you feel like an ice climbing hero! Today, Bob and I found a lot of hero ice in Zero Gully and we had a lot of fun!
It was clear on the walk in that there was already a breeze strong enough to blow some snow around so we were concerned about spindrift. However we saw one team in Point Five Gully and Rob and Connor high on Orion Direct already so we thought it can't be too bad. Zero Gully was free so we went for that and found very little spindrift, great ice, good belays (luckily in most of the right places) and we even had a view all the way up.
Zero Gully is a very historic route climbed by Hamish MacInnes back in 1957 by cutting steps. It was the first grade V climb on Ben Nevis and it is still a serious climb. Belays are not obvious and are often in different places each time. The ice was OK for anchors today and I was lucky enough to find rock anchors where there was no ice. It was as a result of fatal accidents in Zero Gully from broken wooden shafted ice axes that Hamish MacInnes developed a metal shafted ice axe which turned into the Terrordactyl, an ice axe which revolutionised ice climbing.
Point Five Gully and Orion Direct were climbed today. I think a team looked at Minus One Gully but decided not to have a go. Tower Ridge has a great trail on it and there are lots of climbs in really good shape right now. The weather forecast is for cold conditions for a week to ten days to come with some more fresh snow off mostly northerly winds. More hero ice to come!
What an amazing weekend we just had, and especially today. Full on sunshine all day with nearly no wind, great snow cover, good ice climbing and skiing and lots of people out enjoying themselves. I was at Nevis Range skiing with my children where we enjoyed a couple of brilliant runs down the back corries. It seemed like most people skiing there today were doing laps of the back corries and back country runs from the summit. The front of the hill was great for skiing on as well.
Over on Ben Nevis Tamara and Connor enjoyed the sunshine on the CMD Arete and found a good trail in the snow all the way around the ridge. Louisa and Jonathan also found a good trail on Ledge Route on Ben Nevis and a great slide down the Red Burn on the descent! A few big classic ice climbs were enjoyed such as Orion Direct, Hadrian's Wall Direct and Point Five Gully. Tower Ridge was busy and there were a lot of other climbs being enjoyed. The snow stability is better with a couple of days of calm weather and it seems like the approach slopes are OK now in general. What a wonderful weekend in the Outdoor Capital of the UK!
Tommy and I wanted to go ice climbing today, after two days of mixed climbing. We went up Ben Nevis hoping that one of the Minus Gullies would be good or one of the classic grade V's. It was a beautiful morning with wonderful light across NE Buttress, a frost and no wind. We saw many teams ahead of us and we were grateful that they all turned right at the foot of Observatory Gully and went up Tower Ridge. It was quite a party up there today with about twelve French climbers and a good few more people enjoying the amazing weather and great conditions on the ridge.
The ice was only half formed in the Minus gullies so we thought about going for plan B which was Zero Gully. It looks fat but getting there was tricky. I expected the slope underneath the Minus Face to be scoured but it was covered in deep soft windslab. Not just this, but there was a 10cm layer of grauple about 40cm down. This was enough for me to change plan dramatically. So, since we were at the foot of Observatory Ridge, we climbed it and it was ace.
The is enough firm snow to make the climbing OK and no loose snow on the rocks to make it awkward. All the rocks on Ben Nevis are covered in thick rime but the rocks underneath are dry. There was enough ice in the right places to make a few tricky moves a bit easier too. Above the tricky section the ridge is very well covered in snow that had formed some very slender crests. So we climbed Observatory Ridge in good time and finished up the last two pitches on Zero Gully on bomber hard snow ice.
Point Five Gully is fat and it looks quite blue, Hadrian's Wall Direct looks great as well as Zero Gully. I think Orion Direct would be OK but it is certainly thin. The ridges are very well filled in but a lot of snow was blown in on the NW wind this week so Ledge Route is buried on the ledges out of Number Five Gully which will make it not only hard work but probably quite avalanche prone too. The approach to NE Buttress will be the same. Looks like a good weekend though and another cold week with lighter winds next week.
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.