We had a very wet weekend and morning yesterday. The rain came in and stayed in, running down the hill sides and filling the streams and rivers. Running down from Meall an t'Suidhe yesterday afternoon was a case of going with the flow, slipping and sliding down the grass with the water, everything going with the flow of gravity. Today was dry though and the rock was drying out. At least, the rock with no sponge of peat above, newly filled with water, dripping fat drops down the rocks. Weeping Wall on the East Face of Aonach Dubh in Glen Coe does live up to its name. Wide streaks of wet weeps were all along the crag. So, it's good to know which climbs dry out a bit better, where you can find grippy, positive holds in between the wet slimy holds.
Nigel and I started out with Eve's Arete, a fabulous V.Diff with amazing exposure but big positive holds right where you want them. This is the section where the route traverse right over an overhang with steep blank rock above. Once you get to the arete with a lot of space beneath your feet the way up is more obvious. Up above the terrace is Archer Ridge which also dries out pretty quickly. Another excellent climb on great rock, this route is a little more devious than it first looks. You can follow the ridge directly at the same grade but the original route went right and back left on the second and third pitches, a route that neatly avoids the worst of the wet bits.
With the threat of a shower coming up Glen Coe we decided to finish with Quiver Rib. This is the steepest Diff in the country but with very positive holds. It follows the rib imediately next to the dark, dank chimney of The Bow but is never affected by the drips coming down it. Instead, Quiver Rib follows the rib and a groove above up this improbably steep cliff for the grade. Walking off towards Far Eastern Buttress we saw several deer leisurely munching the greenery and a kestrel patrolling the crags and keeping an eye on us. It didn't seem to be disturbed by us so its nest must be far away somewhere else. Altogether we had a wild day of climbing and nature with hardly anyone else in the glen and very little traffic on the road far below. Bliss.
Almiost exactly three months since lockdown and my last day of work, I have gone back to work and it was amazing. My last day of work was a wonderful day of ice climbing on Rubicon Wall, Ben Nevis in excellent weather and amazing ice climbing conditions. Today Nigel and I went for a fantastic climb of Observatory Ridge, looking across at Rubicon Wall, in superb weather and (nearly all) dry rock. It was a long three months and it feels very good to be back guiding.
Nigel lives very locally and we have climbed a good few times together in the past. Observatory Ridge was well within our level of ability but that wasn't really the point of the climb today. We wanted a long mountain climb and they don't get much longer or more mountainous than Observatory Ridge. It is 500m long with several pitches of V.Diff and sometimes you have to pitch the whole thing in something like 14 or 15 pitches.
We were also thinking very carefully about keeping 2m separate all the time, not sharing equipment and good hand and face hygiene. This all seemed to work out very well, made easier by the big ledges on the climb. In this respect it felt safer than going to the supermarket!
There was a big cloud behind us as we walked up the Allt a'Mhuilinn and it gave some areas out west some very heavy rain and flash flodding. Thankfully it did not cross the Great Glen and we stayed dry. There was quite a breeze on top which kept us slightly cooler as well, very welcome in the intense heat. There were a few people on the summit enjoying the good weather and views. Dave and Al went up NE Buttress and another team enjoyed Tower Ridge. On such a good day it is rare to see so few people out climbing and on the summit. This is going to change as Scotland relaxes the travel restrictions at the start of July and tourism can start again on 15th July.
If you are not used to walking up mountains, it is quite hard to know what to wear and what to carry with you on your climb up Ben Nevis. Watch the video to hear chief guide Mike Pescod telling us what the key bits of kit and clothing are.
The main point to remember is that is is a lot colder, windier and wetter on the summit than it is in the glen at the start of the walk. You might start out in a light shirt but on top it is often 10C colder, wet and windy so you will need to wear a lot more clothing, a hat and gloves. As you come down again, you will probably need to take off all your layers again!
What to wear on Ben Nevis.
Walking boots with ankle support give you some essential protection from twists and sprains if you are not used to walking on rough ground. If you are very used to walking or you play sports such as footbnall, rugby, squash and tennis that strengthen your ankles, then rugged walking shoes might be OK for you. What ever you wear make sure they are rugged and have a solid sole. The path is dry and rocky (it's not muddy at all) and small, sharp edged stones push through soft soles easily making it uncomfortable.
All your clothing needs to be made of polyester or wool, and not cotton. This is because cotton soaks up any water from rain or sweat and becomes cold, heavy and uncomfortable to wear. It also takes a very long time to dry out. Polyester or wool shirts and trousers don't soak up as much water and they are designed to transport any water to the surface where it can evaporate off quickly, keeping you drier and more comfortable. It is also warm enough when it is wet.
So, wear a polyester or wool shirt, take a warm fleece or two to put on as you get higher up the mountain. Wear walking trousers – no jeans - that are loose and comfortable, or leggings that fit neatly and are not made of cotton.
You should have a spare fleece top or synthetic insulating layer, in case anything goes wrong and we need to stop for a long time. Keep this dry in a plastic, waterproof bag. Bin liners are a bit too thin so get some rubble sacks from a supermarket, tough plastic bags that are the perfect size.
A waterproof jacket and trousers are essential. The jacket needs to have a big hood that covers your head and your face, protecting you from rain being blown in sideways! Sometimes it rains all day and you will be soaked through and need to turn back if your jacket and trousers are not up to it.
Take a warm hat and waterproof gloves (spare gloves are also recommended) even on the dry sunny days. Remember the air is much colder on top and it feels even colder if it is wet and windy.
Sometimes the sun shines though so take a sun hat, sunglasses and sun cream. There is more UV higher up and you will be out for about 8 hours so it's a good idea to put sun cream on before you start the walk.
What to carry on a walk up Ben Nevis.
You need a rucksack big enough to carry all your clothing and kit. This is roughly 25 litres to 40 litres.
Bring a really good packed lunch and spare food. Don't rely on sweets and chocolate. You need some good quality carbohydrates which you will get from sandwiches, oat flapjacks, dried fruit, bananas and oatcakes. Take lots of tasty snacks that you know you will enjoy as well.
A 1 litre flask or water bottle is fine. There is a stream at the half way point called the Red Burn where we can fill up the bottles. So, if you start with 1 litre, fill up again on the way up and on the way down you will get through 3 litres which is plenty.
Carry a whistle so you can attract attention if you get separated from your group and you have an emergency.
Walking poles are recommended but not essential. Many people find they really benefit from the support of walking poles on the way back down. It normally feels much harder going down that it does going up, and walking poles can help a lot. If you would like to borrow a set of poles from us please do ask, we have a few spare sets.
Mobile phone in a waterproof case and a camera to record the adventure.
Also remember to take any medication that you normally require or that you might require. If you have asthma, take your blue puffer, even if you very rarely use it.
Let's give a big round of applause for sphagnum moss. It's brilliant stuff. Sphagnum moss is very abundant in our boggy moorland. In fact, it plays a key role in the creation of our upland bogs in the first place. It loves water, holds on to it, slows down it's progress from the hillside to the river and holds it in place in the ground. Sphagnum moss can hold a vast amount of water compared to its own weight and you'll always be able to squeeze out a few drops of clean fresh water.
By slowing down the rate of water drainage, sphagnum moss creates wet, boggy areas which then become habitats for a range of other species of life. Upland bogs are incredibly useful at sequestering CO2, trapping it in the ground and helping offset the effects of global climate change caused by human production of greenhouse gases.
Over many decades, sphagnum moss grows, dies away and decays slowly in an anoxic environment, turning slowly to peat. Those deep banks of peat you see in the hills are made of well rotted sphagnum moss. It takes thousands of years to form and traps vast amounts of CO2 as it does so. 1mm of peat takes a year to form, so a bank of peat one metre deep took about 1000 years to form.
Peat can so easily be damaged and washed away though. If flowing water is allowed in to peat, it changes consistency to a soft flowing mud that is easily washed away. We can cause enough damage by walking over peat and wearing away the top vegetation to allow water to get in and wash away this precious resource. Try to tread lightly and leave no trace.
Peatland restoration is a big part of land management at the moment, mostly due to the benefits of CO2 capture. To restore peatland, you need to slow down the flow of water through it and hold it in place. Small streams can be blocked and sphagnum moss can be imported and planted to help this process.
Due to it's property of holding on to lots of water, sphagnum moss has a myriad of uses. Some of these are enhanced by the water it holds on to being slightly anticeptic. If you ever want an absorbant, anticeptic wound dressing, use a bit of sphagnum moss. It was used during the first world war and many other times for exactly this.
Perhaps more commonly, if you want something to line your hanging baskets, try a bit of sphagnum moss. It will keep your flowers moist and it's a natural material that's perfect for the job. Make sure you only take what you need though and remember it is doing vital work for us in the ground.
When you are out camping, you should use sphagnum moss as an alternative to toilet paper. Think of it is a natural, biodegradeable wet wipe that also disinfects. Perfect!
I've been told there are over 50 different types of sphagnum moss, which acounts for the broad range of colours you see. It all grows in really wet ground so you are advised not to walk over it. However, the red stuff is a bit drier than the green stuff generally. So, if I have a choice, I will step on the red stuff and avoid the green stuff.
Lots of people know about sphagnum moss but few know about woolly fringe moss. This is a shame because woolly fringe moss it pretty cool stuff as well. OK, it does not have all the cool properties of sphagnum moss, and it only comes in one colour, but it is just as plentiful as sphagnum moss and some hills are covered in a thick blanket of woolly fringe moss, making the walking very agreeable indeed. In fact, you should learn to recognise woolly fringe moss because it will make you a more efficient walker.
Woolly fringe moss always grows on dry ground. It can cover rocks with a thick pillow with no water underneath at all. Lots of boggy areas have a combination of sphagnum moss and woolly fringe moss - the sphagnum moss on the wet bits and the woolly fringe moss on the dry bits. Step on the woolly fringe moss and you will stay dry, avoid the wet boggy bits and cover the ground much more easily.
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.