Winter 2017 has been somewhat frustrating for me. The plan had been to get my Winter ML assessment done in January then go climbing for the rest of the season. But winter kept melting. Over and over again. So my assessment got cancelled. Over and over again. Until finally, on the 17th March my Winter ML was a pass, and at long last I could go climbing.
By some miracle this coincided with a cold, calm and clear spell of weather, so on Thursday Caspar and I wandered up into Coire na Ciste in search of ice. With rather large cornices over Central Gully we instead went for Green Gully, which turned out to be a great option. The ice was in great nick, although most of it was slightly too thin to take screws, and no cornice on the exit slopes. Topping out into the sunshine, it was perfect! Walking off, Rob and Connor reported excellent ice on Point Five Gully, and with the temperature set to rise again very soon we had no other option than to head back up the next day.
The boys hadn't been lying. The ice on Point Five was wonderful! The first three pitches were very steep, with the chimney pitch definitely the crux, but we couldn't have asked for better climbing. The snow on the top pitches was ok, skirted the small cornice on the left and once again topped out into the sunshine.
We're currently basking in hot sunshine here in the Outdoor Capital, but there is still time for it to go cold again and potentially get some more winter routes in. Even if that is the end of the season, with a Winter ML in the bag and two super classic routes ticked in two days, winter 2017 has come pretty good in the end.
Spring time in The Outdoor Capital of the UK is the best! We woke to beautiful sunshine, snow and ice on the tops, dry rock in the glen, great trails to ride and amazing views everywhere. We had the choice of ice climbing, skiing, rock climbing, biking, running or simply soaking up the sun and and taking in the wonder of it all. Today was a beautiful day and we will have a few more like it to come.
I chose skiing at Nevis Range. I got first tracks down the powder of Easy Gully which was so good I went back for another lap. Connor and Rob found excellent ice in Point Five Gully and Sally and Adam found more in Green Gully. Jamie was on the rock in Glen Nevis. Fiona was out on her bike doing a few trails around Nevis Range setting up for a running race. It was all brilliant!
Yesterday brought us fresh snow falling down to sea level for several hours in the morning. Strong winds from the SW made Ben Nevis a swirly whirly place to be and many people retreated in the washing machine effect of the coires. Today was a different story after a good frost and the clear sky bringing the sunshine. Mike and I enjoyed another fine day of good weather on Ben Nevis.
There was still a bit of wind high up today but Mike and I went for Douglas Boulder SW Ridge. The rocks were clearly scoured from the wind yesterday so the approach was secure enough - there were still a few areas to be quite careful of though. West Gully of Douglas Gap had been nearly scoured clean but East Gully was loaded up yesterday and a French team triggered an avalanche there yesterday.
Mike and I got to SE Ridge safely and enjoyed the climbing on dry rock with soft snow on top. It was a popular choice as is often the case these days but there were a couple of teams going up Tower Ridge and into Coire na Ciste. Point Five Gully looks very tempting but the spindrift was blowing up then down the gully today and the approach and exit slope could be quite loaded with windslab. There are many areas of deeply accumulated windslab on Ben Nevis, especially since the wind was SW yesterday and turned to NE today! Take care for the next few days as this snow slowly settles. Take a big pair of legs to wade through it as well.
These last three days I have been working with Nadir Khan for Ellis Brigham on a photo shoot. The weekend gave us soggy, grey conditions but we found some ice to climb and Nadir made Sally and Adam look amazing on the climbs. Today it was a lot colder and with showers of snow mixed with sunshine and bright spells it was a great day for photography. We went to the east side of Carn Mor Dearg to get out of the worst of the wind and we went up most of the East Ridge of Carn Dearg Meadhaonach. The Allt Daim was a brilliant back drop for the images, looking huge and full of texture in the swirling wind.
The drop in temperature has frozen much of the snow pretty well. Green Gully and Comb Gully were climbed today and Comb Gully Buttress, Number Two Gully Buttress, a few ice routes on Little Brenva Face and even The Cascade all look pretty good. Point Five Gully is complete I think but what the climbing is like I don't know. It might be quite insecure on firm snow rather than ice making the climbing delicate and the protection pretty poor. There's only one way to find out ....
The temperature graph of this week has had as many peaks and troughs as the Highlands! This morning we had fresh snow down to 400m and freezing temperatures. By this afternoon it was raining on top of Douglas Boulder and the fresh snow was melting fast. Despite this Bob and I had a brilliant climb before the temperature rise. We climbed Gutless on the side of Douglas Boulder which just need some snow and a freeze to firm up the turf for good climbing.
The start was quite tricky with little snow on the very first step and there is of course no ice on the steep corner before the chimney. Like this there are technical 6 moves but good protection all the way and it is all solid. Gutless gives great climbing in anything from a light cover of snow through to well iced and buried in snow. We joined SW Ridge of Douglas Boulder to find a few teams and very soggy snow, hearing avalanches coming down from the mist into Coire na Ciste. It was a wet end to a very varied week in which Bob and I have sought out great climbing in tough conditions. Well done Bob, it's been emotional!
A little high pressure over night brought us fewer clouds and the chance for the temperature to drop. Several teams got an earlier start this morning to take advantage of the cooler conditions high on Ben Nevis. The snow was firm and there drips were slower but it was a short window before the temperature went back up again with rain this afternoon. Having seen ice on The Cascade on Monday, Bob, Niels and I went to have a closer look today.
The ice turned out to be very nice to climb. It was less fat than last week but I still placed three 20cm screws. The very bottom was slightly detached but the rest of it was lovely soft fat ice that was great fun to climb. We went straight up the steepest looking pillar all the way to the top for full value and exposure. We went up the snow of Raeburn's Easy Route and finished up Expert's Choice which was also really nice and icy. Strong winds and rain greeted us on top so we went straight down by the Red Burn, being careful of the holes developing in the snow above the stream!
With a windy and not very cold day forecast it was time for an adventure that did not require frozen snow, ice or rock. Getting out of the wind would be good too so Bob, Niels and I went for a trip up Crypt Route. It was wet on the walk in and windy at the base of Church Door Buttress but once inside our minds were on the bridging, hooking, pushing, squirming and udging required to climb this brilliant route. It wasn't winter climbing, it wasn't rock climbing, it was Crypt Routing. The tight squeeze gave us an emotional crux and the abseil back down was as exciting as ever. Great fun!
We had a big weekend of thaw that stripped back our snow cover and melted some ice. This did not stop people trying to climb steep routes although many were turned back by soggy snow and cruddy ice. There were also some cornice collapses. This morning we woke to find it had cooled down a little on the tops with the freezing level sitting at 1000m. This did not freeze everything imediately but it did mean that things were a bit more stable for Bob and me to go climbing.
We chose Glover's Chimney since is had a nice pitch of ice at the base, a great chimney at the top and nothing was going to fall down on us! It worked a treat and we enjoyed the climbing. It has been nearly thirty years since Bob was there last so it was a treat to see Tower Gap again and finish Tower Ridge. Since is was a bit of a grey day we chose some fetching outfits to bring a little colour to the crag!
The rocks were lightly rimed but also had lots of verglas on them. This was melting off by the end of the day but in the wind on top the icy crust was still there on the snow. Crags facing the wind will be better well frozen and rimed. The freezing level is up and down over the summits all week and we will get some fresh snow, especially on Friday by the look of it.
The snow went wet and soggy again today so Tommy and I went looking for a climb that did not depend on snow or ice to give us fun climbing. So we went to Church Door Buttress and climbed Crypt Route. This is a chimney to beat all chimneys, full of chockstones, squeezes and proper chimney climbing. It also passes through some of the most dramatic rock scenery you are likely to find on any route in the Scottish mountains. Despite the thaw outside, as soon as we got inside the mountain the rocks were cold and the snow was quite dry. It was a brilliant choice for today!
So Tommy and I have had quite a week of climbing, with routes that have tested every style of climbing and conditions. We have climbed ridges, buttresses and chimneys, ice, snow and mixed climbing, cold and crispy, wet and soggy, wild and windy, sublime calm and sunny. The Outdoor Capital of the UK has delivered it all and our Jottnar gear has excelled in it all! Thanks to Tommy for another brilliant week of climbing.
Gargoyle Wall has been on my to do list for many years. The climb has become a modern classic and gets many ascents each year. This year is no exception and many people have enjoyed the route as a snowed up rock climb. A little ice in the first two pitches can be helpful but it works very well with just a little snow and a little rime to make it all white. Today it was one of the routes that Tommy and I had on our minds.
The crag was white, slightly verglased and with one or two loose blocks but with little ice in the cracks. There was a bulge of ice on the second pitch which didn't look helpful so we went round this via Thompsons Route as in the first ascent. The rest of the climb was excellent with good hooks and the most outrageous positions! It's an outstanding climb and one you should try to get to climb one day if you haven't already.
There were not many other people around today. One team went up Number Three Gully below is on soft snow under the big cornices but they got on fine. Several teams climbed Tower Gully which was a great choice in the sunshine today. The ice at the foot of Glover's Chimney looks good and the mid grade snow ice gullies such as Green Gully and Central Gullies on Creag Coire na Ciste are all complete and I imagine have firmer snow or even some ice now.
After yesterday's wet snow and big avalanches (down Observatory Gully, from the foot of Glover's Chimney, Number Four Gully and Central Gully in the Trident Buttress as well as lots of heavy sloughs down most of the gullies) the temperature dropped early this morning settling the snow and creating a slight crust. Big cornices have grown over the crags and gullies in the last couple of days. The temperature seemed to be going up and down quickly today when we were on the climb. It was generally cooler but not a hard freeze by any definition. Another thaw with rain tomorrow will continue to consolidate the soft snow.
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.