All the hard icy snow we enjoyed on Monday has been buried by a huge fall of fresh snow, all the way down to sea level. Yesterday was quite snowy and the westerly wind was transporting a lot of it around the crags. In the heavy snow showers, cascades of spindrift fell down the big faces, was blown back up some of them, only to fall eventually to the bottom of the crag. Snow was collecting very rapidly in the east facing gullies and slopes, and the west facing crags had a lot of spindrift. We got an early impression of the avalanche risk from seeing an avalanche come out of South Castle Gully on the walk up the Allt a'Mhuilinn. Clearly, care was required.
Will, Jonathan and I have climbed together over the last five years or so. We've been able to enjoy all sorts of climbing including some nice grade IV ice climbs. With all the ice around right now, we went for Minus Two Gully yesterday, the best of the Nevis gullies in many people's opinion, including mine. It was fabulous! Amazing ice, really good to climb and great for ice screws.
I tend to step left out of the bed of the gully as soon as I can and head straight up iced slabs (often better ice than the gully itself) to a fixed belay at about 55m. The second pitch is more straightforward, the third is an absolute winner, and the fourth will just about get you to NE Buttress and has another brilliant steep section. We abseiled down to First Platform then down Slingsby's Chimney so we didn't abseil past anyone else. Be wary of the fixed anchors you find in these gullies. There are rotten pegs and rusty wires that have been there for a very long time!
As we walked down to the CIC Hut we heard about a rescue call-out and went to help evacuate someone who had been avalanched in Number Five Gully. He had a broken leg but there were many MRT members from different teams in the area as well as doctors and other very helpful people. We got him to a helicopter landing spot where he was lifted away to hospital within an hour and a half of the avalanche.
Today we woke up to fresh snow at sea level and 10cm of it at 300m. It was clear as we walked in that it was going to be another day for avalanches and we found lots of wind slab in many locations around the base of Douglas Boulder. With a very cautious approach Jonathan, Will and I got onto Gutless and enjoyed this brilliant climb with a mixture of snow, ice, rock and turf in an old fashioned back and foot chimney. We got to the top of Douglas Boulder and wondered which way to go down to avoid the avalanche hazard. Both East Gully and West Gully had already avalanched and we decided to go down East Gully. We triggered several shooting cracks and one more release on the way down to Obsrvatory Gully and we were grateful to get to the CIC Hut.
All three Minus Gullies have had multiple ascents over the last few days as well as Left Hand and Right Hand Routes which are very rarely iced up and are highly sought after. All the big classic ice climbs are very icy and many of the more rarely forming ice climbs are good too. Mega Route X is fat and The Shroud has touched down. However, there is an extraordinary amount of snow that has arrived in the last three weeks, and much of it in the last two days. Expect many more avalanches in the next two days and make sure you stay out of the way on a ridge or buttress, low down and facing the wind. To make it worse, the wind is changing direction from north west today to south east over night and back to south tomorrow! Skiing might well be the best way to have fun in the snow right now!
Thanks for your help yesterday Mike. I was incredibly lucky not to have been buried or sustain multiple injuries. And to have so many useful individuals around me so quickly was very fortunate. I’m a practical individual and I appreciate accidents happen but it doesn’t stop me from being annoyed with myself at getting caught out. I was transferred to Glasgow last night, and surgery is scheduled for tomorrow on a broken fibula and tibia. Thank you again to all who helped, it’s a long list!
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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.