Abacus Mountain Guides had a busy day on Ben Nevis with one team walking to the top, another mountaineering on Ledge Route and a third trying to find some climbing. Unfortunately the warmer weather and gentle rain is making the climbing no very much fun and in fact quite risky so the climbers didn't climb anything. Ice fall and rock fall are significant hazards at the moment as the gentle thaw starts to melt away the snow and ice. Cornices are likely to start o fall off at random moments as well. These things are unpredictable; you might be lucky or you might not be. For me, leaving whether or not I come home in one piece up to luck or good fortune is not good enough so it was a very wise plan not to climb anything. Instead Iain and Stephan went looking for evidence of glaciation from just a few hundred years ago, a fascinating way to spend the day.
Ledge Route worked out very well for Ken, Ed, Stuart, Alastair and Pierre where they found the deep fresh snow to be wet but the old snow still to be quite firm. Connor, Kate and Carol walked up from Glen Nevis with crampons on for most of the second half of the walk. The Red Burn and west flank of Ben Nevis are very well filled in with snow and the path is very uch buried. On the summit the cairn is half buried so there is 2.5m of snow on top. At least the snow gives a great slide back down on the descent! Make sure to take off your crampons and know how to stop if you end up going too fast but bum-sliding (glissading if ou want a more proper term) is a brilliant way to get down a mountain.
Another fall of fresh snow down to sea level last night did not build confidence for our plans for today. Jim and I wanted to climb Bidean a'Chabair, a remote Corbett in Knoydart that involves 25km of cycling and walking in very rough and wild country. However the good forecast bolstered our approach and we were rewarded with one of the most amazing days of walking.
The road down Loch Arkaig to Strathan was covered in a few centimetres of snow so it was slow going. The cycling on forest tracks had a few more centimetres of snow so it was a bit tricky and harder work than it might have been. However it still made it much easier to cover the 8km past A'Chuil Bothy to the end of the track. By the time we had walked up out of the forest it was clear that the weather was going to do what was forecast and we were in for an excellent day.
Knoydart is famous for being vast and empty with very rugged steep sided peaks, one of the country's last wild areas. It certainly seemed that way today and of course we didn't see anyone else all day. Being a Corbett this peak sees far fewer ascents each year than many other peaks in the area and it is even quite quiet for a Corbett I imagine. This is a shame because it is a wonderful walk and view point. If you get great snow cover like we had as well it is a real treat.
Back in Glen Coe it was much harder work! Iain and Stephan went to climb North Buttress on Buachaille Etive Mor and there was an element of wading through soft fresh snow and digging out the climb as they went. Dave, Andy and Daniel went to Stob Coire nan Lochan and had a job walking in to there as well! We are getting flash backs of the wading we had to endure in the first half of February when there was so much fresh snow we first had to think what crag can we get to before thinking about what to climb.
The temperature is forecast to rise over the weekend and we will have reasonably dry but warmer weathwr. The soft snow will consolidate rapidly and any sunshine will melt it away quickly. By the time Jim and I drove back along Loch Arkaig today all the snow in the glen had gone and the snow line was back up at 300m or so. Next week we might get some easterly winds back so it could get colder and dry again with the chance of more ice climbing. Or rock climbing. Or mountain biking. Or skiing!
Easter was always the best time of year to be ice climbing on Ben Nevis. This year it certainly delivered! We had a hard frost last night and the day gave us non-stop sunshine, light winds and very cold air with amazing views. What a stunning day! Dave, Vishal and Peter climbed ledge Route on Ben Nevis to take full advantage of the sunshine and superb views. The climb felt like something in the Alps with narrow snow crests, rock ridges, crispy snow and blue skies above.
There is so much ice climbing on Ben Nevis in good condition right now I can't listy it all. Many of the big classics are being climbed (along with a lot of spindrift over the last few days) and even more of the grade IV and II climbs are really nice. The big ridges are great fun, snowy, and very wintry. The big gullies are buried and have some reasonable cornices. The skiing is very nice in the gullies too!
We will have a slightly more mixed weather in the week ahead with some wind and some fresh snow falling on the tops. It will remain cold though so there is not going to be any let up in the wintry conditions on the tops any time soon by the look of it!
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.