It seems like The Outdoor Capital of the UK is the place to get the best weather over the Easter weekend. While the rain and hill snow falls on the rest of the country we had a dry day with light winds and frozen snow. It's proper winter conditions in the hills though and Abacus Teams went to Golden Oldie on the West face of Aonach Mor, Ben Nevis by the mountain track and Buachaille Etive Beag in Glen Coe. All of them needed crampons, ice axes and lots of warm clothes. Spring has not arrived on the mountain tops yet, in fact it is struggling to get a hold anywhere. Embrace the winter conditions and get in one last day of skiing or ice climbing. We'll get the warm weather soon enough and then we will be thinking about the arrival of next winter!
See the pyramids, swim with dolphins, do a parachute jump. These are the things that are often on people's bucket lists, things to do before you die. For Brian, climbing Point Five Gully has been on his bucket list for many years and today was the day to give it a go. We tried and failed last year. In fact we didn't get anywhere close to it last year. This time though, everything came together perfectly.
We had a good frost last night and the walk in was cold, dry and calm. Right from the start it was clear that it was going to be a very good day for ice climbing. The forecast for today changed a lot over the last few days from pretty harsh to really quite nice. So it was an unexpected bonus to get such a nice day. Perhaps as a result of the changing forecast there were very few people walking up the path. Two teams went for Orion Direct and a couple of other teams headed up Observatory Gully. As it turned out Brian and I got to Point Five Gully first.
The climbing is brilliant! The first three pitches are all steady away with no particular crux section. The ice is good but not stepped out as it was a short while ago. Recent snow and mixed weather have filled in the pot-holes up here at the same time as making more pot-holes in the roads! I was lucky for the second day in a row with the spindrift. Just after I stepped out over the rogue pitch it started coming down in really quite heavy flows. Brian got the full works on the Rogue Pitch so he climbed it more or less with his eyes shut!
The last three pitches to the top are snowy and with few enough places to belay. The ice is covered up a bit with rime and snow making it hard to find anchors. However it is easy climbing compared with the first half of the climb. We drifted right of the bed of the gully a pitch and a half before the top so that we could avoid the cornice. We stepped out into brilliant sunshine, a view of every mountain in the Highlands and Islands, and a feeling of satisfaction. Well done Brian, great climbing, I'm so glad we got such a wonderful day for the climb. If any more climbs pop up on your bucket list let me know!
There is a general cover of 1.5m of snow above 1200m and the path is covered by snow from half way. This gave us a very helpful slide down the Red Burn all the way to the path. The waterfall just above the path is completely covered in snow and it is safe to slide all the way down right the way to the path. Over the Easter holidays if you are thinking of walking to the top of Ben Nevis it is worth rememebring that it is still full on winter on the summit despite the daffodils and warm sunshine in the Glen.
A successful walk requires winter boots, crampons and an ice axe as well as the skills to navigate accurately in the snow. This means being able to take a bearing off the map and to follow it on the ground. You also need to be able to measure the distance you are walking by counting your paces and knowing how many paces you take in 100m. If it is sunny and clear you might well get away without these skills but if you are in the mist you can not rely on the cairns or foot prints to guide you. I don't want to put anyone off but I do want everyone who tries it to have a good time.
A last lap of Number Six Gully.
Mike and I had a lovely Spring day to enjoy climbing Number Six Gully on the West face of Aonach Dubh today. I was thinking it was quite late in the season to be able to climb this route but the first ascent was made on 30th March so perhaps it's the winters that have changed. It was slightly colder than yesterday and fresh snow had fallen down to 500m or so over night. Being able to see the climb from the road does make it easier to decide whether it will be OK or not and we decided it looked good enough for a closer look.
Despite the snow being a bit soft and the ice being quite detached from the rock we had some nice climbing. The first and second pitches were just a little delicate, the third was too delicate so we did some agricultural climbing up rock and turf to get past the steep bit. The fourth pitch was great to start but then had soft snow covering the ice on the second half. The ice is very impressive having formed a huge umbrella that you can now see up underneath to the stream right at the back. I was quite gentle with it and thought light thoughts as I stepped past it! It all held in place fine but I could not really recommend it to anyone! It worked fine for us and it was a grand day out.
Over on Ben Nevis the ice is still in fantastic shape. It is all a lot higher and fatter so it will be there for a long time. There has been fresh snow and graupel there too but it seems to be secure enough for travel around the mountain. Looks like we will have a nice day again tomorrow. We might also get dry easterly winds at the Easter weekend so it could well be worth the trip to the Outdoor Capital for some skiing or ice climbing!
Navigating in Glencoe.
Today was slightly wet with wet snow falling on the tops and light rain below about 1000m or so. I stayed well below the freezing level with members of Lochaber and Lorn Ramblers doing some navigation training with them. There was quite a range of abilities in the group of seven from novice to quite advanced but we started with some core principles and built up from there. Orientating the map and keeping it that way as you walk along is such a key skill that we spent some time palying games to get really slick at it. We also covered compass use, contour interpretation, pacing of distances and put it all together with the 3D system - Direction, Distance and Description. Being able to walk in the right direction, for the right distance and being able to describe the journey and the end point all come together to make for good navigation.
Measuring distances on the map and pacing out distances on the ground, working out an accurate direction on the map and following a compass to keep you going in that direction are the skills you need right now to get up and down Ben Nevis. With very good snow cover on the summit (in fact from half way to the top!) you need this level of navigation to safely reach the summit. It looks like this will be the case for a couple more months too, just when the mountain track starts to get busy!
For the last day of the Ellis Brigham photoshoot with Nadir Khan we went back up Ben Nevis to climb Italian Right Hand. We got some heavy showers of rain last night in town and there were big puddles next to the roads. We had some more as we walked in but the rest of the day was dry. However there was a bit of fresh snow on the slopes of Ben Nevis and with plenty of grauple mixed in with it. Lots of people seemed unsure of the avalanche hazard this gave us and either changed plans or bailed out altogether. With a cautious approach, Sally, Caspar, Nadir and I got to the climb and it turned out to be very good to climb and secure from avalanche hazard.
The ice is fat and very friendly on Italian Right Hand. It is solid enough for meaningful ice screws and soft enough for easy placements. During the showers we got plenty of spindrift but the showers dried up during the day and we enjoyed some lovely sunshine this afternoon. Other teams were climbing big classics such as Orion Direct and Sickle but I'm not sure anyone went into Point Five Gully which was a good one to avoid given the spindrift! It warmed up gently but not greatly and the climbing conditions seem to be pretty stable.
We have another cold week forecast and we might get some more snow falling to reasonably low levels. After the pest from the west last week we will get the beast from the east mark three. There will be plenty of winter climbing, walking and skiing on offer during the Easter holidays. In fact it's likely the rock climbing and biking will be very good too! It's all here in the Outdoor Capital of the UK!
We only do it for the photos.
Sally, Caspar and I are working with the very talented Nadir Khan, taking some images for the next Ellis Brigham winter book. We get to take some vry colourful new gear from the biggest brands and go climbing while Nadir takes the most amazing shots. Yesterday it was pretty tough to take any shots at all with thick cloud on the tops and a strong wind. However today was much brighter so we went up to Ben Nevis.
After the thaw in the middle of the week we still have very good snow cover and lots of ice to climb. Most of the big classic ice climbs are very good - I could see people were climbing Orion Direct and Hadrian's Wall Direct and I'm sure many others were climbed as well. Tower Ridge was reported to be very good with excellent snow cover and NE Buttress, Observatort Ridge and Ledge ROute are all the same. Castle Ridge has less old snow on it but a little bit of fresh snow spruced it up nicely today. Vanishing Gully and The Curtain are broken but these are pretty low down on the mountain and the first to melt away normally.
We went into the Castle Coire to keep away from other people and we had a great time climbing the first (cascade stylle ice) section. The ice is fat and beautifully blue; you could climb at least three separate lines up the main cascade and there is an enormous umbrella there that is well worth looking at. As we were in the coire the showers fell more heavily and the temperature went up slowly so we got some very heavy spindrift down the crags and it collected in the gullies sufficiently to call them avalanches. South Castle Gully had a deep pile of such debris at the foot and similar slides came down off The Shroud.
Tomorrow looks like another nice day and possibly slightly drier and brighter again. If you see some people out in very bright gear it will be us!
After a big Ben Nevis day yesterday Richie and I went for a more mellow day of fun climbing and a really cool journey. We went to Crowberry Gully on Buachaille Etive Mor which is just as classic a climb as Point Five Gully. Walking in was baking hot in the morning sunshine beaming straight onto us. It was strange to think we intedned to go ice climbing. It was jusr radiant heat straight from the sun though, the air temperature was -5C so in the shade it was very cold. Looking up we could see the rocks in the shade very well rimed up but in the sunshine the rocks were dry. It would have been a perfect day for the Buachaille Etive Mor double of Crowberry Gully and Agag's Groove.
After a long time of SE winds blowing snow down into the gully it is now very banked out. None of the initial chockstones are visible and you can walk all the way to the Junction! The pitch to the cave is on hard snow and really nice. The cave itself is really full of snow but you can still get two people inside. The cave pitch is shorter than I've seen it before but just as steep for a step or two. It's always a great journey and the view down the gully to the road is always superb.
A couple of other teams were ahead of us but it was very sociable and nice to chat with the other climbers. Some people went to Curved Ridge and Raven's Gully looks exactly the same as it did when I climbed it a month ago. However I had a dribble of ice on the rocks that really helped at the first chockstone and I doubt that it will be there now.
It was another day of very light wind, non stop sunshine and dry snow and ice. The views went on forever and it was a shame to come down again. Richie has earned these two days by spending lot of time here in pretty poor weather. Those of you who have not done so yet will have to pay the price; get ready to suffer some soggy days in the hills next time!
The next two days look pretty soggy in fact! The freezing level is forecast to go above the summits tomorrow with steady rain and for the thaw to last a day or two. By the weekend it should be a bit colder again. This thaw and refreeze will only make the ice climbing even better, especially on Ben Nevis. Meanwhile the raven resident on Stob Dearg was enjoying the warm calm conditions just as much as Richie and I did.
What an amazing day it was today. Non stop sunshine and light winds with crunchy snow, solid ice and bone dry conditions made it a perfect day for ice climbing. Richie has been coming to go ice climbing for about 18 years and finally we got to climb Point Five Gully and it was worth the wait. Some days it all comes together and today was one of those days.
There were two parties ahead of us by the time we got there but everyone was moving well and enjoying the day. Point Five Gully has of course been climbed quite a lot recently so the belay ledges are chopped out and there are steps and hooks on the pitches so there was very little debris coming down the climb. We were moving well too - Richie only manages a couple of days of ice climbing each year but he can swing and axe and was loving the steep climbing and the positions.
The first pitch is fairly short and climbed on the left with a wee step right just below the belay. The Chimney Pitch is the crux at the moment and it gives a long pitch of really fun ice climbing with pretty good ice screws and a rock runner. The Rogue Pitch is quite steady right now since it has formed a groove that can be bridged and has an easy step out of the top onto the easier angled snow.
From there it's three pitches of snow with occasional bits of ice to the cornice which is avoided on the right. If you take a high belay under the Rogue Pitch and do a 60m pitch to the big bulge of ice you can do the whole climb in six really nice pitches. On top the sun was shining very brightly and it was warm out of the breeze. You could see all of Scotland or so it seemed. You could certainly see the Paps of Jura, The Cuillin of Skye and the Outer Hebrides, Ben Wyvis and Schiehallion!
Other teams were climbing Orion Direct, Hadrian's Wall Direct, Sickle, Rubicon Wall, Observatory Buttress, Smith's Route, Tower Ridge and Ledge Route. There's lots of climbing in Coire na Ciste as well.
Well done Richie, your patience paid off! What a wonderful day. Looks like we will get another really nice day tomorrow before a quick thaw on Wednesday night with a bit more fresh snow.
Violent winds on Ben Nevis.
Today was another day of violent winds blowing down the mountains from the south east. I don't know why it is but SE winds seems to accellerate as they descend the mountain and it is often windier half way down than on the summit. It was certaimnly quite hard work walking straight into the wind up the Allt a'Mhuilinn path towards the CIC Hut on Ben Nevis. We nearly decided to turn back but managed to keep going until we got to the CIC HGut cascades AKA The Organ Pipes.
Bob wanted to make sure his gear placements are good and his belay set-ups are good. He placed some rock anchors and some ice screws and linked points together to make belay anchors in various different ways. All this was on the first climb to the right of the Organ Pipes which would be better if it freezes properly! We got up to Avalanche Gully above and found something like a shelter in the wind scoop at its base for a welcome respite and lunch stop. We then climbed the first pitch of Waterfall Gully, placed an ice v-thread and abseiled off.
We have not lost much ice at all and the snow was starting to refreeze even down at 800m. The weekend will be very cold so everything will freeze solid again but it does look like it will remain windy. Next week looks like another great week for ice climbing!
The gods smiled on us.
Yesterday Bob, Will and I with Ellie as co-pilot took the long drive to Applecross. From the top of Beallach na Ba it is a fairly flat walk in to Beinn Bhan and easy descent into Coire an Fhamair where there is a particularly impressive cliff. Gully of the Gods has been very well iced up and climbed quite frequently for a few weeks now and it was our chance yesterday. It also gave us shelter from the very strong wind! It's an amazing climb that is intimidating but also quite reasonable once you get going. We were all completely buzzing from the experience and delighted to get such a good climb on a pretty challenging day.
Today the gentle thaw continued with even stronger winds but we also got some precipitation. This fell as rain initially but came down as snow to 600m or so by this afternoon. Wet snow combined with ferocious gusts of winds made it a very tough day to be climbing. We had three teams out; Will and Mason went to Number Two Gully on the West Face of Aonach Dubh and descended by Coire nan Lochan, Phil and Keith climbed Fawlty Towers on the west flank of Tower Ridge and Caspar went to the CIC Hut cascades next to The Organ Pipes for some ice climbing with Helen.
It got colder during the day and it will carry on getting colder through the weekend. The snow is wet and soft right now but it will be hard and icy by the weekend. We have not lost much ice at all in this little thaw and it looks like the snow cover and ice will be with us until the end of the month at least. Traditionally, Easter was always the best time of year to be climbing on Ben Nevis. It looks like this will be the case this year.
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.