On top of Ben Nevis winter is very far from over. Substantial snow cover remains including over 2m on the summit and general cover above 800m pretty extensive. With the current very cold conditions the snow is frozen solid and the ice is good to climb. So Terry and I climbed Orion Direct today and had a great time!
It was tricky to interpret the weather forecast to know how strong the wind would be and how much fresh snow there would be. There is quite a big difference between the north (windier and snowier) and the south (calmer and drier). As it turned out the wind was fine, it was blowing up the crags and we were in it for the last couple of pitches and it was not so strong. The snow showers kept on threatening but never came to anything. So we had a very dry day with great views, well frozen snow and very few other climbers.
Terry is a very experienced ice climber and we enjoyed lovely solid snow climbing with enough ice to place ice screws and belay on. Low down there are one or two loose bits of rock after the warmer conditions a few weeks ago but there was no debris falling down at all. A little spindrift was blowing around but not much. Several big classic ice climbs are really well formed at the moment including Point Five Gully, Hadrian's Wall Direct, Smith's Route and Indicator Wall. There is also recently formed ice on some other climbs such as the Second Slab Rib of The Long Climb Finish to Orion Direct and Psychedelic Wall. Cold northerly winds will blow for the rest of this week and the days are long so get out and enjoy some excellent ice climbing.
Crag rescue coaching continued.
Dave and I were working with Kate, Magnus, Brodie and Callum (students at West Highland College) again on their Rescue and Incident Management topic. Were looking at crag rescues commonly called 101 ways to use a prussic. Yesterday we were in warm sunshine in Glen Nevis at Sheep Fank Wall escaping to a counterbalance abseil to rescue a stuck or unconscious second and support them on an abseil to the bottom. We then gave them each a scenario a couple of pitches up the crag so the rescue required a few stages so they could test out their understanding of their new tools and put them to use in new ways.
It all went very well and all the casualties were rescued so today we went to a big mountain crag. Rannoch Wall on Buachaille Etive Mor is home to some of the best rock climbing in the country due to its position over Rannoch Moor and the quality of the rock. We had a team on Agag's Groove and another on January Jigsaw thinking about making the belays better well prepared for the event of an incident so it would be easier to manage. We also tidied up a few bits of abseil cord left on the crag before abseiling down ourselves to complete the exercise.
There was a biting wind which took the edge off the warm sunshine. The rock is bone dry but you need to wrap up warm, even in the sunshine to enjoy the climbing. Over the next week or so it looks like it will stay very cold with snow falling down to glen level potentially.
Winter seems to be returning.
For the second day of training with the Nevis Landscape Partnership Trainee Volunteer Rangers we decided to make the most of the great weather and go high. Most of them had not done much mountaineering or used crampons before so we went for a climb up Ledge Route on Ben Nevis. This gave us the chance to talk about the great influence Ben Nevis has had on climbing for the last century, the challenges in looking after people on the mountain and managing their impact as well as coaching some winter skills and rope work. As well as all this the sun was shining all day!
In the sunshine it was very warm and the snow went quite soft after firming up over night. On Ledge Route there are also a couple of sections low down where the snow has melted away completely but most of the climb is still well covered. In the shade it was much better for climbing and there were people climbing Point Five Gully and Orion Direct. Richard and Gordon climbed Tower Ridge which was continuously snowy all the way. We have northerly winds forecast until the end of the month now bringing unseasonably cold weather and a return to winter climbing. The freezing level could be down to 600m next week and we have excellent snow cover and some very good ice climbing in place already. In fact, Centurion is looking pretty dry right now so I wonder if anyone will go for the ultimate Ben Nevis double of Orion Direct and Centurion in one day.
High pressure is now with us and we will have cold mornings and warm afternoons with lots of sunshine for a few days. With such great Spring weather we have so many fun things to do - there is lots of ice climbing up on Ben Nevis (Point Five Gully, Sickle, Indicator Wall and many other ice climbs were climbed at the weekend), winter mountaineering on the great ridges, steep gully skiing on the tops and warm dry rock climbing in the glens. Mike and I went for the warm dry rock climbing option today with a few routes at the west end of the Poldubh crags. Sheep Fank Wall has a few really nice routes which are often quieter than other crags. Gambit is a great Severe slabby crack climb which looks quite grassy and mossy but gives really nice climbing. It could do with a clean up along with some of the rest of the crag but it was still fun to climb today. We went over to Hangover Buttress for a couple of climbs there too. The first flowers are coming up in the sunshine - a few primroses and violets - Spring is certainly with us.
Volunteer Ranger Training
Nevis Landscape Partnership is running a programme of 19 projects over five years to protect and enhance the Nevis area for us all to enjoy. One of the projects is to train and deploy volunteer rangers and it was my turn to spend a day with the current volunteer rangers today. We talked a bit about mountain safety, things to do to look after themselves when they are out in the hills with a bit of scrambling and navigation too. We went up the SW Rib of Meall an t'Suidhe which is a nice grade I scramble in a brilliant position. The view from the summit was excellent before we went down the wee runners path back to Claggan.
This week has been really interesting for me, delivering training days on a wide variety of things. I love these kind of days because they get me thinking about the best ways of doing things and how I can pass on the experience I have to other people.
Monday was a day of navigation training for Lochaber and Lorn Ramblers with Craig Mills from Cotswold Outdoor in Fort William doing some GPS training and me doing the map and compass stuff. We got the GPS units set up and went on to the High Street in Fort William to learn the basics of putting in way points and following a route before going up the back of Cow Hill to use the GPS's alongside map and compass navigation using a 3D system (Direction - Distance - Description). We all agreed that a GPS is an excellent tool in your navigation tool box but not one to be relied on by itself.
On Tuesday Jim and I did another wee session at Poldubh, training for our climb of Inaccessible Pinnacle in a few weeks. We climbed The Gutter, a four pitch grade Difficult rock climb and did a few abseils down SW Buttress. The climb is harder than what you find on Inaccessible Pinnacle and the abseiling went very smoothly and confidently so I think we will have not problem at all on Skye.
I was out with the ramblers again on Wednesday with their team of walk leaders. Ramblers walks re different to most similar groups in that the walks have a leader who is responsible for the group members. We went through the responsibilities and role of the leader, the support given by the national organisation and techniques for leading a group on a walk to keep everyone together, comfortable and motivated to come back for more walks. Much of the chat was similar to what we cover on a Summer Mountain Leader training course but most of what we were doing was sharing the great experience already in the group with all the leaders.
Yesterday and today were training days with students on the Adventure Tourism Management degree course at West Highland College. Kate, Magnus and Brodie are competent rock climbers but they need to learn a few tricks to sort out problems they might come across and rescues they might need to do on the crag. Yesterday we spent a lot of time getting used to prussic knots, their characteristics, strengths and weaknesses before prussicing up and down a rope, up past a knot and abseiling down over a knot. We went on to looking after a partner, lowering them down past a knot, hoisting and lowering while using a belay plate in guide mode Today we continued with hoists in the system, escaping from the system with anchors within and out of reach, and rescuing a stuck abseiler. We all have sore hands from pulling on ropes and sore brains from so much problem solving but we're all much better in a crisis on a rope now!
Up on Ben Nevis today it was very wintry for Scott and Tomas climbing The White Line and for Jamie and Leanne in Number Two Gully. We had fresh snow down to 400m or so this morning and a biting wind on top made it feel more like February than April. The snow cover is still extensive and showing little sign of going anywhere.
Fresh snow on Ben Nevis
We had some fresh snow on Ben Nevis this week. It's only mid-April so this is not unexpected and it even has a name, the "lambing snows". On Thursday it was down to 800m or so and Dave and David broke trail up to Number Two Gully Buttress. They climbed a variation to the usual route which might have been BD Was Here but in the mist it was hard to tell! The ice was a bit cruddy and detached so it made for delicate climbing. Definitely a late season feel to it.
Today we had more fresh snow down to 600m so Victor (the dog) and I went for a run up to the CIC Hut. There were a few people enjoying the fresh snow on the classic ridges and I think someone was questing up the start of Orion Direct. With fresh snow covering everything it's hard to know what is good ice and what is snow on rocks. What's for sure is that the Pony Track from Glen Nevis will be covered by snow for many weeks to come. Be prepared for full on winter conditions for a good while yet despite the sunshine in the glens. Nice sunset tonight!
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.