It was strangely warm as Guy and I walked into Coire na Ciste this morning. There was no hard frost in the glen and it was above zero in the coire. A gentle breeze blew round the buttresses and gently lifted the rime off the steeper rocks. Most of it had gone by the time we got there and the rest was in the process of falling off. Guy and I wanted to climb Gargoyle Wall but it was black so we went for a less steep route instead that still had plenty of snow and ice on it.
The climb was Pinnacle Ridge on North Trident Buttress. I've been up this way a couple of times before but it was a first for Guy. The climbing was really nice and the top ridge was like something in the Alps - sunshine on a snowy rock ridge sweeping up to a deep blue sky. This is a great route that deserves to be more popular. You rarely see anyone climbing it when many other routes are busy.
As we climbed the cloud in the glen washed up into the coire like enormous gentle waves on the sea. Eventually the tide came in and the waves made it up to the summit but we were away down by then. It looks like it will be a bit warmer over the weekend so the rime is unlikely to come back on the steeper climbs. The big ridges are the best climbs at the moment and will be until it snows again.
What a wonderful week for winter climbing on the west coast. Monday was a brilliant, cold day, Tuesday was a little less cold with strong northerly winds that scoured the slopes and faces leaving patches of dense windslab and rime on the crags. Yesterday and today were calm, cold and sunny. Ice has been forming on Ben Nevis in the drainage lines underneath springs and the ground is well frozen. Crags that were facing the wind are rimed up and have snow on the ledges. Number Three Gully Buttress and Creag Coire na Ciste are particularly good for mixed climbing right now.
Today, Rachel, Jamie and I went to climb Tower Ridge. It was an amazing day and especially for Jamie and Rachel as it was their first winter climb. They have both done a good amount of rock climbing and some winter walking but this was their first technical winter climb. It was slow going with soft snow on the rocks. It will take a lot more snowfall to fill in the gaps between the rocks but Tower Ridge is always good and today it was brilliant.
After all this cold weather the crags are well set up for the winter. Next week the weather will turn more mixed and we will get some fresh snow fall. Currently the big gullies have no snow in them but they will fill up fast when it snows and the snow will stay with us once it does.
After a very warm couple of days last weekend and Monday the temperature dropped during Tuesday. Wednesday brought snow, Thursday a lot more snow and today we had a couple more light showers of snow. So we now have a very good cover of fresh snow virtually down to sea level. The wind was light today so travel on the high level roads has been OK and with a good enough weather forecast for the weekend it might be well worth heading in to the mountains.
The snow is fresh and soft of course and there is no base to it. Don't expect travel to be easy with soft snow on boulders. Ledge Route would make a very fine climb as would Curved Ridge and Aonach Eagach. Tower Ridge would be excellent but hard won - it's slow going with no solid snow on the ledges and the fallen block chimney is not filled in with snow yet. A very early start would be advisable.
It has been really quite cold and with a pretty good freeze last week I think the ground will be quite well frozen. Snowed up rock climbs will be fun to climb such as many of the routes in the northern coires of Cairngorm. There will also be some mixed climbs with turf and rock that are frozen well enough but remember there is no solid snow or ice built up yet.
We all need a day of winter faffing to get back into the swing of it so perhaps this is the weekend to do that. Have fun!
Here's the view from Creag Pitridh today as seen by Sally.
Let me tell you a story. Craig, Jonny and I used to work in West Coast Outdoor Leisure in Fort William but Craig was planning to leave in the near future. So he managed to get a pair of Black Diamond carbon fibre ice axes into stock which nobody would buy because they were far too expensive. Instead, after Craig dropped many hints, they were presented to him as a leaving present for his work in the shop. When we all climbed Fallout Corner, Craig got the big corner pitch above the crux and managed to get one of his axes so well stuck in the crack that he could not retrieve it. Neither Jonny nor I could retrieve it on the second so we did the only decent thing and left it in the climb!
This was more than ten years ago so when I got to climb it again on Tuesday of last week I could claim the on-sight again (that's the rule). Donald and I chose Fallout Corner since the Cairngorms were better rimed than crags on the west and it's a nice size of day for the first winter climb for us both. I told Donald the story of the stuck ice axe on the walk in so I was very disappointed to do exactly the same with my ice axe leading the big corner! My calves were burning by the time I had pulled up one of Donald's axes to use to retrieve mine and get it back down to him. It's a great pitch though with positive climbing and good protection and we abseiled off before the storm, looking round the corner at Dave Almond climbing Prore in some substantial gusts of wind.
The storm was due to a weather front moving slowly east across Scotland so we decided to go west and pop out the other side of it the following day. This worked a treat and we enjoyed a brilliant day on Beinn Eighe with a good coating of fresh snow. Donald and I have done very little climbing this far north so we went for the excellent East Buttress to get a good look at the Triple Buttress. It's a wonderful place with steep quartzite offering positive cracks and ledges to climb in a wonderful position. The climb itself is quite reasonable and we found the small patches of turf on the crag were frozen well enough for climbing. At IV,5 it's not as long or as difficult as NE Buttress on Ben Nevis but it certainly matches it for character and position.
Now, the crags are not as snowy as they are in these images. We had further falls of snow on the west coast all last week which built up to quite a good covering. Today was warmer though with a thaw to above the summits. The rime fell off the crags but the snow has certainly not all melted away. It looks like we will have a few warmer days but it might then get colder before next weekend. What ever happens, it's been a great start to the winter.
For the last few days we have had cold northerly winds blowing straight onto the crags of Ben Nevis. We had a bit of snow down to 700m on Friday but not as much as has fallen in The Cairngorms. This is good news for us and here's why.
After the summer months the ground needs to cool down properly before we get too much snow. If we get snow before the ground is cold it will melt away much faster and ice will not form very well. At Nevis Range ski area they know this very well. In years when the grass under the snow has not frozen before the first major snow fall they know that the snow insulates the ground and the snow will melt away much faster than if the ground freezes first.
It was like this for the climbing in 2013 when we had mega snow fall and monster cornices above many of the climbs. I remember climbing Observatory Ridge and digging down to the rock near the top to find rubble and loose stones in late February. The ground never really froze and all the snow melted away quickly in the spring.
This year is different. We have had a cool spell for a while and it looks like it will stay cold enough on the tops next week to carry on cooling the ground before we get too much snow. We already have ice forming at 700m and above - there are dribbles of ice under the springs of Garadh Gully, The Curtain, The Organ Pipes, Waterfall Gully and Compression Cracks. The wind helps when it is blowing from the north too. Wind chill not only affects you when you are exposed to it; the ground is chilled down in just the same way.
So right now, the ground is cooling down nicely. It is not yet frozen and if you go climbing you should expect turf to by soggy and blocks to be wobbly. We're off to a great start though!
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.