This week I have been having a brilliant time in the Outdoor Capital of the UK with my children Owen (12), Megan (nearly 10) and Katie (6). On Monday we went on a trip to a local bothy on our bikes. It was just about an hour to get there giving us plenty of time to explore, light a fire, cook lunch and toast marshmallows before heading back down the hill on the bikes. It was a lot easier going back down the track than it was climbing up.
We were lucky with the weather on Tuesday. As we drove up Glen Nevis it was raining but by the time we got to The Alp in the Poldubh crags the sun was out. The rock was not completely dry as we climbed The Gutter but it was great fun and the children had to work together to climb the route and keep the ropes right. The next shower of rain was coming up the glen as we got back down from the climb and it started to rain as we got back to the van. A very well timed quick hit of rock climbing.
Yesterday we went for a walk in Glen Nevis and today we went skiing this morning at Nevis Range on great snow in the sunshine and we got a sneak preview of our new indoor climbing wall Three Wise Monkeys this evening. What a brilliant facility this is going to be when it opens on 4th May. Just one month to go before the training plan starts! It goes to show there is a huge amount of fun and adventures to have with your family - come and check it out yourself with one of our family adventures.
The winter climbing has not stopped yet either. This week Abacus Mountain Guides were enjoying Ledge Route, Curved Ridge, Morwind, Douglas Gap Traverse, Sron na Lairig and today Indicator Wall. We have a thaw and a wet, windy day tomorrow but it's remaining cool next week. The top of Ben Nevis is certainly under full-on winter conditions and will be for quite a while yet.
The weather forecast for the west coast was pretty terrible for today and not much better on the opposite side of the country. With this in mind Connor and I went east in search of a big, cloudy plateau to practice some winter navigation. We headed for some hills neither of us had been to before on the east side of Glen Feshie, and found plenty other people out for an Easter Day walk. Parking up as far down the glen as it's possible to drive, there was a distinct lack of cloud on the summits and even a good bit of blue sky - much better than expected! It was a warm climb onto Carn Ban Mor and after the high winds of the last day or two the hills are very scoured with only old, consolidated snow left on the exposed slopes.
We had clear weather for the run over Sgor Gaoith but it was a good chance to practice some timings on a few legs. The cloud and snow finally came in as we reached the summit of Sgoran Dubh Mor and we had about half an hour of classic Cairngorm weather before the sun came back out. It was then a quick descent back to the car and just enough time to spare for some for some terrific coffee and cake from The Potting Shed Tearoom.
It was slightly drier today so a few more teams headed up Ben Nevis in search of ice to climb. With the options becoming a bit limited now after steady slow thaw Paul and I found quite a few people at the foot of Hadrian's Wall Direct and Sickle. So we went for plan B which was to climb Tower Scoop so Paul could lead a pitch and try out his new DMM Pivot belay device (handy for my new skinny ropes). The freezing level was higher than forecast and there was water dripping off all the ice but it was still very good fun to climb.
The traverse over to Indicator Wall from Tower Scoop is steep and serious but we made it across and climbed the left side of Indicator Wall which was stepped and a little broken to start but just got better and better the higher we climbed. It was nice to climb next to Guy and Alan on the right hand version. As we stepped over the cornice the cloud sank to just below the summit of Ben Nevis and we were blessed with warm sunshine and staggering views. This might be the last ice climb for me this winter (hopefully not but I've got a couple of weeks holiday coming up over Easter) so it was very nice to finish on such a high note with the highest belay in the country and in the sunshine too.
The inversion on Saturday gave us one of the best cloud sheets I've seen with just the highest tops above the cloud enjoying warm sunshine. I was skiing on Aonach Mor looking over the cloud to Ben Nevis before skiing down Summit Gully on great snow. Yesterday we lost the temperature inversion and the snow began to refreeze a bit better. Today we had a little fresh snow lying down to 1000m making Ben Nevis look much more wintry.
Paul and I went into Coire na Ciste on Ben Nevis to climb a couple of pitches of nice ice on the way to The Cascade. This was great fun and the ice was very good being firm enough to hold ice screws well but soft enough to take a pick with little fracturing. Another pitch of ice to the right got us to a wee mixed pitch to the start of Expert's Choice. This we climbed on the right to give us another steep bulge just under the cornice. Six pitches of really nice and varied ice climbing was a great result for a day with slowly rising temperature and drizzle. The fresh snow had melted away by the time we finished but it looks slightly drier and cooler tomorrow.
High pressure is still dominating the weather so Neil and I got an early start (5am) along with Matt and Paul to make the most of the slightly cooler conditions for ice climbing. The temperature inversion is just as strong as it has been all week and the cloud sheet in the glens was more dense and more extensive. Climbing out above the clouds on great ice was something special today.
Neil and I climbed Hadrian's Wall Direct which was great fun. It was soggy in the chimney but really nice everywhere else. Point Five Gully is soggy all the way up the chimney and big chunks of ice were falling down it most of the time. Smith's Route did not have falling debris though and Matt and Paul enjoyed climbing it before abseiling off to climb Indicator Wall as well.
Over in Coire na Ciste, Ken and Vic enjoyed The White Line on really nice ice and Ian and Robert wrapped up three days of Winter (well, Spring) climbing with Tower Ridge. Rich and Paul were in Glen Coe enjoying a walk up Stob Coire nan Lochan too so it was a busy day for Abacus Mountain Guides and such a good day for everyone to experience.
While Sally was walking the winter hills by herself (see below) Nigel and I went up Ben Nevis to climb Tower Ridge. Nigel has done a huge amount of climbing over the years and been to some very special places. Even so he said that today's climb was one of the best he's done! There is a bit of rock showing through the snow but we wore crampons all the way since the rock sections were short. Great views of the climbers on the big ice routes and skiers descending Number Four Gully. Hadrian's Wall Direct, Sickle and Indicator Wall seemed to be OK to climb without too much debris falling down the routes.
It looks like it might be a bit colder next week with a dusting more snow and plenty of ice to climb still in place.
After a busy couple of weeks and a few days off with an excellent weather forecast, a couple of solo trips were long overdue. First up was a couple of days out in one of my favourite parts of Scotland for walking and some hills I'd never done before in Glenfinnan. A bike is very handy here and cuts out a few kilometres of walking on a tarmac road to get to Corryhully bothy. Leaving my bike at the bothy I carried on up the glen to skirt around the back of Streap to find a more wintery north ridge onto the summit. The lower section was a slippery, grassy scramble but the rest of the way on snow to the summit and the ridge off the south west side were fantastic, despite the cloud coming in on the descent.
After having the bothy to myself (and an overly friendly mouse) I woke up to clear blue skies and got an early start on the Glenfinnan Horseshoe. Winter was just about hanging in there on Sgurr nan Coireachan but the rest of the route was patches of snow going soft in the sun. It's an excellent route, well worth doing in summer or winter but a bike is definitely recommended, especially if you're going to do it without a night in the bothy.
Trip number two was to another range of mountains I'm ashamed to say I'd never visited before - the Grey Corries. These lie just to the east of Ben Nevis and are a long chain of mountains with numerous summits and sharp ridges. The calm clear weather was set to continue so it was perfect for a two day traverse, starting at the eastern end with Stob Coire Gaibhre and finishing on Aonach Mor.
The plan for the traverse was to get as far as possible on the first day, hopefully leaving myself a nice, easy second day. A long but brilliant day got me to the bealach between Sgurr Choinnich Beag and Stob Coire Bhealaich. With such stunning weather forecast for the two days I hadn't seen the point in carrying a tent so found a nice person-sized ledge tucked behind a little crag out the wind just asking to be bivvied on.
The sun went down, the temperature barely dropped, and all the stars came out for a perfect night on the ridge. I woke up above the clouds and with the sun just coming up on another crystal clear day. The snow hadn't frozen at all overnight so I was grateful for the early start as the steep slushy snow on the ridge onto Stob Coire Bhealaich was only going to get slushier in the sun. From there it was a very slow amble over Aonach Beag and Aonach Mor, mainly because I didn't want it to end. After not seeing a single person for nearly two days it just goes to show that you don't have to travel far at all to find some wilderness and you don't always have to be hanging off the end of a rope to have an incredible adventure!
A slightly harder frost last night and another blue sky day drew a few more ice climbers to Ben Nevis today. However it was not quite as good as yesterday due to the temperature inversion being more pronounced. Over night, cold air sinks to the glens and warm air rises to the summit so that the usual temperature gradient (warm at the bottom, cold on top) is inverted (cold at the bottom, warm on top). With such calm weather there is no wind to mix the cold and warm air so it is possible that the effect will get stronger day by day this week.
Unfortunately this meant there was significant amounts of falling ice on the faces as well as some water running down the gullies. Mick and I decided early on not to continue up Orion Direct to climb Astral Highway but Steve and Rob did manage to climb Zero Gully along with another team. There was some mushy ice and soft snow on the route as well as plenty of debris falling down. Hadrian's Wall Direct was climbed as well as Point Five Gully but the message is to start super early and even then it might be quite as good as it looks in the pictures!
Blue sky and no wind helped the temperature overnight drop but there was no frost at sea level so Mick and I did not know if the snow and ice would be frozen today as we walked in to Ben Nevis. We had to wait until we got to the first patch of snow before we would know. When we got there, the snow was frozen hard and there was a little new ice in the grass near the CIC Hut. All good signs for ice climbing and we went for Hadrian's Wall Direct.
The ice on Hadrian's Wall Direct is still very fat and it was brilliant to climb today. There are still some drips of water running down the rocks and some of the ice is soft but in general the climbing was very secure and very good in the calm conditions. It was a soft shell day - in fact jeans and a jumper would have been fine today but I was very happy in my Jottnar soft shell. It was a day to take your time and enjoy the situation.
Matt and Rob climbed Orion Direct in delicate but fun condition and another team was climbing Point Five Gully. The narrow chimney seemed to channel more drips down the snow so it was a bit softer in places. It is clear tonight though so we should get a better freeze over night and the snow should be more crisp tomorrow. In the sunshine, the snow is unstable and we saw an avalanche in the Trident Buttresses. The thaw yesterday also took away a little more ice so Minus Two Gully is probably too thin to climb now and Sickle has a thin bit at the bottom. Great weather is forecast all week and we have a guide free if you want to enjoy some classic ice climbing in the sunshine!
During a thaw after a very nice spell of weather and great climbing conditions it is easy to think it's all over. However it is very often a nice surprise to see lots of ice in the classic climbs on Ben Nevis after the thaw and today was like that. Most of the big classics are still complete such as Minus Two Gully, Orion Direct, Slav Route, Zero Gully, Hadrian's Wall Direct, Sickle, Point Five Gully, Indicator Wall and Smith's Route. Many mid-grade ice climbs in Coire na Ciste are complete as well and even The Shroud still has a column in place.
It was still thaw gently today and the snow was soft and wet. Lumps of ice fell down the crags randomly and it was not a day for ice climbing. Bob, Rich and Al had not climbed NE Buttress so Donald and I took the team up there and it turned out to be a great day out. The weather was very nice and we had good views all the way up the buttress. The sun did not come out in the afternoon as forecast but it was still a very nice day.
The climb is entirely on snow and ice apart from the Mantrap, which is often bare anyway. There is a good amount of rock exposed so finding protection is easy and the snow cover is good so the climbing is steady away. The Forty Foot Corner has some ice in it to cover the protection but it feels a bit insecure and poorly protected. Looking down Astral Highway there is lots of ice on the face which would be brilliant to climb if the snow freezes.
This week we have stable high pressure and warm daytime temperatures but hopefully the snow will freeze with light frosts and dry air. If this does happen we will have a brilliant week of ice climbing to enjoy. However there is still the chance that the snow will stay soft and the ice continue to thaw slowly. We'll have to wait and see what tomorrow brings. It will be best to avoid the sunshine though until you are on the summit.
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.