The last few days of mild weather has stripped away a lot of the snow cover that we had, but the cold weather has finally returned!
John booked to do CMD Arete and he could not have picked a better day for it. The snow had returned to give the mountains a fresh dusting, the winds were calm and the high clouds cleared away to beautiful sunshine.
After reaching the summit of Carn Mor Dearg we were joined by two snow buntings who proceeded to follow us along the ridge for a bit before they gave up scrounging for food and left us too it. With the fresh snowfall and a fair amount of rime, progress along the ridge is not swift and care should be taken, but the final climb up onto the summit of Ben Nevis was aided by the odd patch of neve which had survived the thaw.
We had a sunny Ben Nevis summit to ourselves which is a very rare treat, then descended the zig-zags. Down to about 1000 metres there is plenty of firm snow and below that it was very icy and slippery - probably the hardest part of the day!
It looks like another stunning day tomorrow so enjoy it if you're getting out there!
If the rest of the winter carries on like this I'll be made up! I've had two days out now, both in amazing weather, cold, clear and calm. If anything, today was even better than Wednesday last week, made better again by climbing with Cathy. We went for NE Buttress on Ben Nevis, a total classic and the route that dominates the skyline as you walk up the Allt a'Mhuilinn. There's no problem finding this route, it's the really obvious ridge reaching up into the sky right in front of you!
It has stayed really cold but there has been no fresh snow fall. Where there is some watwr dripping down the cliffs it has been freezing into cascade ice. In fact there is a lot of it on the path just below the CIC Hut from the water pipe splashes. Waterfall Gully would just about go I think and there is a significant amount of ice on the higher pitches of Gemini. The Lower Carn Dearg Cascades could be good for some low level ice climbing action as well.
With no thaw freeze to transform the snow into snow-ice, it is soft and useless for climbing on. NE Buttress was quite tricky as a result with some very tenuous sections. It is better (easier anyway) with some snow-ice in the grooves and corners but Cathy is a mixed master climber and we made very good progress moving together for long sections and throwing in a few pitches at the hard sections. There is a hard pitch below the Man Trap, a very tenuous wall with slopy ledges, very poor hooks and no protection. A bit of solid snow-ice transforms it into a wee pull over but today it was quite challenging. The Man Trap was fine though since the cracks are free of ice, and the Forty Foot Corner was quite hard.
All day long we were treated to the most stunning vista of mountains from Schiehallion to Skye, Ben Wyvis to Ben Cruachan. The Cairngorms obviously have a lot more snow than we do on the west coast and Glen Coe does not have that much at all. The mixed climbing on Ben Nevis is very good though with a nice coating of rime that makes everything white but it easy to clear away. Take care though, with no snow-ice some of the blocks are not held in place at all. We might get a bit of consolidation later this week as the temperature rises slightly. It's not looking like a mega thaw by any means though, the trend is still pretty cold.
What a wonderful day we had in Scotland today. A ridge of high pressure brought calm, cold and sunny weather after a really good freeze. I was keen to see what's been happening on the crags so I went for a wee wander up Tower Ridge to have a look. It looked amazing!
It has been cold now for three weeks and the ground is pretty well frozen. The Halfway Lochan has ice right over it, the ground is quite well frozen all the way down to 300m and the bits of turf on the crags seem to be frozen too. The compacted snow on the path is hard and icy so it would be worth having crampons if you are walking up. There is ice forming in the usual drainage lines with a spring above, such as Waterfall Gully, Compression Cracks and the Lower Cascades underneath Carn Dearg Buttress. None of these is fat enough to climb yet though.
The snow is a bit crusty and walking is heavy going in places. There are a few very small patches of old hard snow but most of it is dry and not very helpful. The wind has been blowing from the north west so the tops of the big gullies are scoured, with no snow in them at all. However, the buttresses are all very well rimed up and frozen. The rime is dry and easy to clear away as well, and the cracks do not have ice in them, so mixed climbing is very good right now. All the steep routes on Number Three Gully Buttress and Creag Coire na Ciste looked brilliant.
On Tower Ridge, the snow is not very helpful and it covers up all the useful bits of rock, so the climbing is quite tricky. Normal early season conditions! If you know the route well you should get on fine, otherwise it will be a slow climb. My boot prints from today might help though! And when the weather is as nice as it was today, there's no real rush! Cold weather is forecast to stay with us right into next week. It's been a great start to the winter, getting the ground really well frozen before too much snow comes. We're now ready for snow and some storms with thaw freeze cycles to build some lovely snow-ice.
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.