There are lots of words for different types of snow. Neve, powder, slab, crust, etc. Today it was just gopping! For those of you not used to this Scottish phrase, it is not complimentary. The freezing level went above the summits last night and we had heavy rain. This soaked all the soft snow so we had soft, saturated snow to climb today. Gopping!
Despite this and the strong, gusty wind, there was still fun climbing to be had on Ben Nevis, centred mostly on the Douglas Boulder. Tommy, Phil and I climbed Gutless first. This a brilliant squeeze chimney with an icy entry. The ice was not there but I found a very helpful flake instead which made it OK to get into the chimney. There are many chockstones in the chimney (take lots of slings) which are all solid enough and the climbing was brilliant fun requiring a huge range of hooks, pushes, bars and udges. We took the big diagonal shelf to SW Ridge of Douglas Boulder and went up to the top.
We abseiled down East Gully of Douglas Gap and decided to climb the East Ridge as well to make it a Double Douglas. While we were there a massive avalanche came down out of Observatory Gully with a debris pile 1.5m deep and a couple hundred metres long. There had been a few others as well including from the area of The Cascade where we were yesterday. Take care in the thaws but if you don't mind getting wet there is steep, hooky, soggy fun climbing to enjoy!
Today I was feeling a bit nervous. It was slightly warmer than expected, the snow was deep and soft and we went ice climbing. Now I don't normally get nervous when I go ice climbing (after all, it is the meaning of life) but I have not done any meaningful ice climbing this winter so I thought I would be a bit rusty. As it turned out the avalanche report recorded a Considerable Hazard for today instead of the Moderate forecast but the ice was absolutely brilliant and it felt so good!
Tommy, Phil and I went to climb The Cascade in Coire na Ciste of Ben Nevis. We linked up a couple of nice pitches lower down before going across to The Cascade. We climbed this straight up from the bottom and found the ice to be solid, dry and crispy with first time placements all the way up. It's fat too! Plenty of wading and digging got us up to Experts Choice finish which has little ice in it but was good fun to get us onto the plateau before a brilliant slide down Number Four Gully back to the coire floor. Wendigo and Central Gully were climbed as well as some ice at the start of Diana by the BMG winter test groups.
Last year Tommy and I climbed a collection of brilliant chimneys in the five days of climbing we had in March. This year we have started off with some buttresses to go for something different. We started out with Crest Route which, as the name suggests, climbs the crest of North Buttress of Stob Coire nan Lochan. It was quite a warm walk in and even on the climb it was very pleasant with no wind. Some fresh snow last night and during the day kept the ledges covered and the hooks hidden just to make it more sporting!
It's quite a steep and sustained climb but with very positive hooks and excellent protection. The pitches are not very long too so the grade of V,6 is probably right but I can certainly see why it can feel harder sometimes. Today, in the benign conditions, Tommy and I climbed it quite quickly and we abseiled down NC Gully to get onto Raeburn's Buttress for a second route of the day.
Tommy led us to the top of the climb and into the sunshine. It had been snowing steadily for the last pitch but the snow gave way to sunshine and just a light breeze on top. The views down to Glencoe village from here are staggering. We jumped in to Broad Gully after taking off the crampons for a fast slide down to the coire and a late lunch!
Meanwhile on Ben Nevis, Stuart and Neil climbed Fawlty Towers to do some coaching in placing protection and belay set-ups. The snow is settling down slowly and some of it is quite useful for climbing now. The more humid air combined with slightly cooler nights has firmed up the snow a bit. Green Gully has been climbed I think but I guess there might not have been very many useful ice screws placed. We have a mixed but generally cold week forecast with a stormy and mild weekend. After that high pressure might well build again and bring us better weather.
Another brilliant sunny day, one of several this week. Jonathan, Will and I went up to climb the route of the year, East Ridge of Douglas Boulder. It seems like everyone I know has climbed it so it was my turn today and it was great for Will and Jonathan. Simon Richardson made the first ascent only a few years ago and already it has turned into a very popular climb.
The climb is best done in three pitches with the first and last being about grade III. The middle pitch has two steep but short corners each with great protection and very good hooks. Doing the Double Douglas makes for a fine day out combining the SW Ridge with the E Ridge of Douglas Boulder but we were happy with just the E Ridge today. The sun was shining and we had a picnic on top soaking up the atmosphere of the incredible north face of Ben Nevis.
This week The Cascade and Comb Gully Buttress were climbed by a visiting French team. Waterfall Gully looks good to climb and there is some ice forming in the climbs with springs at their tops. The gullies have soft snow in them and not much ice - a thaw and refreeze will be needed to bring these in to nice climbing condition. Mixed climbs are still good and it was a busy day on Stob Coire nan Lochan with ascents of Unicorn, Satyr, Tilt, Crest Route and others. More snow tomorrow and staying cold until Wednesday.
For the bad weather day of the week today turned out to be a very good day. We had a little fresh snow over night and there was a wind from the west blowing it around a bit. Jonathan, Will and I went to climb North Buttress of Buachaille Etive Mor which turned out to be a popular choice. It's quite reassuring when other people look at the forecasts and ground conditions and come up with the same answer as you about what to go and climb. When it's busy though it's useful to be able to change plan or be happy to spend a sociable day on the climb.
As it was, Stu let us go in front so I hope we didn't slow him down. There was a team in front of us which we did not quite catch up and then three teams below Stu! The climbing was as brilliant as ever with enough snow to be useful but not to bury the hooks and ledges. There was even some firm snow in the chimney that held a pick for a move. We finished straight out the top of the chimney onto the terrace before abseiling down the side of the line of the climb. We did not want to abseil on top of the other climbers. In three pitches we descended 140m which was a nice first abseil for Jon!
Meanwhile on Ben Nevis, there was a good bit more snow than in Glen Coe. Caspar and Rob decided not to go all the way to Number Three Gully Buttress and went back down to Douglas Boulder instead. This proved to be a good decision when they saw some avalanches from Number Two Gully and Green Gully areas!
More sunshine tomorrow!
Harrold Raeburn was an outstanding climbing. In 1904 he made the first ascent of Green Gully on Ben Nevis which remained the hardest ice climbing in the world for nearly 30 years. One of his other climbs was on Central Buttress of Stob Coire nan Lochan and it is equally difficult and brilliant. Will, Jonathan and I climbed it today and it's still no pushover.
There is still very little ice around although it might just be starting to form. Instead we have some reasonably useless snow on the rocks and some rimed up crags. So Raeburn's Route was a great choice at grade IV. It has been climbed a few times recently and the snow has been compressed by many boots, making it nice firm stuff that will hold a pick enough for a move or two. This combined with plenty of great hooks and torques makes for excellent climbing. Caspar and Rob were on the climb as well going over some instruction in placing protection and belays in winter.
There were a few other teams in the coire climbing Crest Route and Dorsal Arete amongst a few others. The sun was shining and it was another cold, dry day with spectacular views. More like this would be very nice even if there is little ice around. The forecast says we should get cold weather until Tuesday. Let's hope so.
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.