The most easterly 4000m peak in the Alps is Piz Bernina and there is really only one way to climb it. The Biancograd is a long slender snow crest reaching up into the sky on the north ridge of Piz Bernina. It's very well known and celebrated for the amazing snow ridge but there is also a lot of rock ridge to enjoy as well. Linking it with a night at the Marco e Rosa Hut and a traverse of Piz Palu to Diavolezza makes a wonderful high level traverse.
It's a long but gentle walk in to the Tschierva Hut from Pontresina in Switzerland. It could not be much more Swiss with horse drawn carriages in the valley, alpine meadows full of flowers and glaciated peaks high above. It's a long day requiring an early start so we got to enjoy a fine sunrise at the start of the ridge.
At first the climb is on rock with great exposure down both sides. The snow crest is soon reached though which lives up to all the superlatives it is given. There are few features in the Alps that are quite so perfect in their composition. Climbing the Biancograd early in the morning as you normally do, the rising sun casts it's warm rays across the crest to exagerate the sinuous curves.
Once at the top of the snow crest you ar enot at the top of the peak though. There is still a substantial rock ridge to traverse to the main summit, all at just about 4000m. For John and I the weather was not bad but it wasn't perfect. The wind cut across the ridge blowing clouds up from Roseg, covering and revealing the way forward with dramatic effect. It's a serious place and there is a lot more to the route than the snow crest. With this peak John and I have reached the 4000m peaks at the furthest extremes of the Alps, Piz Bernina in the east and Bar des Ecrins in the south west.
The Marco e Rosa Hut is only just into Italy geographically but it is totally Italian! It could not be much more different to the Tschierva Hut. Great food and a loud and chaotic atmosphere didn't make for a very relaxing night but we were away early to traverse Piz Palu. This is the easiest way down and ends up at Diavolezza where the cable car glides gently back down the road. It is by no means a descent route though. There is a great scramble up rocks on its west ridge, a wonderful view from the top and an amazing snow crest to descend on the east side. What a wonderful way to end an eventful trip with John.
The Bernina and Bragaglia areas are full of amazing climbs of all types. There is so much more than the Cassin Route and Biancograd. John and I found huge high altitude rock climbs, perfect long mountaineering rock ridges, glaciated peaks and high level snow crests. And we only met two other Brits in the whole two weeks. Go exploring!
On the east side of the Bregaglia is Monte Disgrazzia, a great mountain that is very different from the granite spires of the rest of Bregaglia. It is made of serpentine which is being quarried close to the road that winds up through 26 hairpin bends to Chiaregio. The rock is a bit like slate in that it cleaves well and is very useful for building. It also can get a glassy smooth surface which is not great for climbing. Thankfully it is quite soft rock and it weathers on exposed ridges. When it does so, the quality of the rock is excellent for climbing. Rough red rocks with excellent holds make up the ridges but beware the grooves in case they are glassy smooth.
John and I went to the Oggioni Bivouac Hut and we climbed the East Ridge of Punta Kennedy to get there. Kennedy was a british guy who climbed this peak and set up the Alpine Club. The East Ridge gets a great description but when John and I started up on loose rock and super smooth grooves we were wondering why. We got to a smooth tapering slab with a steep wall at its top and we'd already decided this could not be the route when we saw some pegs and belay anchors on it. Still scratching my head I went up the slab for two short pitches to its top and the steep wall above. Starting out up this I found it was full of excellent but hidden holds. It was all very improbable looking but it worked out very well indeed.
Above this key section the angle eases back considerably as does the difficulty of the climbing. However the rock turns into weathered rough red serpentine that was a joy to climb. We got to Punta Kennedy and made the short glacier crossing to the quite and lonely Oggioni Bivouac Hut. Or so we thought. Being a Saturday ten other people had the same idea and we all squeezed into the hut that was made for nine.
So after a broken night of sleep we went off towards the Corda Molla along with a few other teams. The sunrise was spectacular, lighting the sections of snow crest on our ridge. The snow was crisp and formed into narrow ridges on the rocks and we alternated between dry rock and snow. Moving together efficiently John and I were able to overtake the other teams on the ridge and enjoy the amazing views from the summit. All the Alps were layed out from Mont Blanc in the west to Tyrol in the east.
The descent has been equiped for abseiling down the last part of the Corda Molla and then down onto the glacier. By th etime we got there the snow was soft and we had a long walk down the complex and much retreated glacier back to Ventina. Here it was a different world. Great numbers of Italian day trippers were enjoying the sunshine by swimming in the stream, sunbathing, rock climbing and sharing meals at the restaurants there. It was quite a shift from the rock, snow and relative solitude of the summit!
When God made the planet he had a bit of rock left over so he put it all in Val Massino in Italy. This is the valley on the Italian side of the very well known Piz Badile. San Martino is just above 900m in the bottom of the valley and the peaks rise to a modest 3300m or so all around. From brilliant boulders in the valley to road side crags, crags on the slopes of the peaks of many hundreds of metres high and crags and ridges on the peaks themselves, there is more rock here than you can ever hope to climb in one lifetime. It's beautiful, inspiring and gives you a sore neck looking up at it all the time!
John and I walked past the boulders and valley crags to go straight to the Rifugio Allievi at 2400m high above the valley. Our interest is in the peaks and the stunning ridges that lead to them. Despite great weather and such amazing climbing we had the hut to ourselves for the first night and shared it with only four other people on the second night. Our first climb was hardly a warm up. We went for the Gervasutti Route on the South Ridge of Punta Allievi, about 600m of climbing up to F5c.
It takes a while to get used to the rock in any new venue you visit. The granite here is no different and the scale of place and nature of the rock are different to most other places. The rock must have cooled down very clowly since the crystals ar enormous. Some of the feldspar crystals are 10cm long and form complete hand holds and foot holds by themselves. We stepped delicately up the first pitch and we were much more in the groove by the fourth pitch. This was in fact a real rucksack wrecker of a groove that tapered as you got into it. It certainly left its mark on us.
Higher up the route follows the crest of the ridge where occasional bolts guide you and keep you from straying to the more inviting sides. Endless pitches of perfect rock finally gave way to the last few metres of gentle scrambling and the summit. We were surrounded by the pointiest granite spires you've seen with glaciers down on the Swiss side but a simple scramble and blocky descent back to the hut for dinner.
For our second climb we went for the traverse of Pizzo di Zocca, a slightly higher peak with a long and committing rock ridge on its NE side followed by a long and committing descent of its SW ridge. The rock at the start of the ridge climbing straight out of the col was pretty scary with very large blocks that had recently fallen out and a few more that looked ready to follow. We picked our way through this section and quickly came to clean solid rock with beautiful patches of vibrant wild flowers thaty softened the seriousness of the route slightly.
The route description only gave us a vague indication of where to go so by following our noses and very occasional bolts we made it up to the north summit. Unfortunately our luck changed here just when we thought it was all going very well. We were let down by a slight physical malfunction that made it impossible to carry on or to retreat back down the ridge. So we swallowed our pride and asked for a helicopter to take us back down to the hut. It was a simple job and an exhilarating ride thanks to the remarkable skill of the Swiss helicopter crew. So we're currently back down in Val Massino, gazing up at all this rock and hoping to recouperate sufficiently to go and explore some more it.
On the longest day of the year we woke to see fresh snow on the summit of Ben Nevis and down to about 1200m. Anyone up on top early to see the sunrise might have had quite a chilly time. High pressure is building out to the west so we have NW winds blowing on to Scotland. This means cold and wet conditions which brought us snow over night. Thankfully the clouds cleared this morning and we had a dry but still cold day on top.
The five new Trainee Volunteer Rangers (David, Cameron, Andrew, Scott and Jake) and I went up to the north side of Ben Nevis. This is a great oportunity for me to tell them just how amazing a place it is! We talked about the climbing history such as the hardest ice climb in the worl one hundred years was Green Gully on Ben Nevis climbed by Harrold Raeburn. It remained the hardest ice climb in the world for nearly thirty years. Currently the hardest trad winter climb in the world is on Ben Nevis. It's called Anubis and was first climbed by Dave MacLeod. Today we had a bit of snow in Number Five Gully which had formed some nice arches and undercut shapes for us to scramble underneath.
The scramble itself was dry and snow free. The wild flowers in the first couple of ledges are spectacular. Globe flowers, moss campion, sibaldia, rose root, dwarf cudweed, thrift and many others make a meadow (well, kind of) that you walk through after leaving Number Five Gully. The botany on Ben Nevis includes some of the rarest alpine/arctic flowers, grasses and sedges found in the UK. From the top of Carn Dearg we navigated to the top of Number Four Gully where the starwort mouse ear is in flower. We didn't go down into Number Four Gully to check out the saxifrages there but I'm sure they are doing fine.
Lots of people were walking to the top in shorts and light shirts. Down in the glen it was nice and warm in the sunshine but as soon as you get high on Ben Nevis the temperature is much lower (only just above freezing in the shade today) and the windchill makes it feel really quite cold. Don't get caught out up there over the next few days thinking it will be warm because the sun is shining. It's cold on top!
Seven weeks ago I spent a day with the new Trainee Volunteer Rangers at Nevis Landscape Partnership when Glen Nevis was still brown. The silver birch leaves were only just opening up to the longer days but the grass was still brown with barely any new life after a cold winter. Today was somewhat different! Today was green on a grand sscale. Looking more closely at what lay under our feet we saw red, yellow, pink, purple and countless other colours. The sundews were particularly splendid with their red stems and eyelashes extending from theier green leaves like eyes. This is very good news because the delicate looking sundew is in fact a full on meat eater! Spiders and midges get stuck on the sticky enzymes on the eyelashes and get munched.
The new crop of volunteer rangers consist of a group of young guys very keen on a career in the outdoors, looking after the wild environment we have in our landscape. To do so sometimes involves operating in steep ground and in remote places. Today we did some scrambling up Scimitar Ridge, some abseiling and rock climbing, thinking about the rope skills required and simple ways to secuyre each other with a rope. We also did some core navigation training ready to be put into practice on our second day together later this week.
The barometric pressure is on the rise again which means settled weather is on the way. It might not be quite as dominant a high pressure as the last one but it will give some good days of weather at the end of the week and weekend. The flowers will be even more impressive then, with warm sunshine after the rain. Bog asphodel might be my favourite wild flower (below). What's yours?
Yesterday we had gusts of wind over 100mph on Cairngorm and very similar here on the west coast. It's unusual to get such strong wind speeds in June and thankfully the storm only lasted one day. This morning was a bit breezy but the wind dropped to a breeze by mid-morning. Charlotte and I enjoyed a walk up the Pony Track to Ben Nevis and managed to stay mostly dry on the way up.We had some nice views for much of it but the summit was stubbornly stuck inside the clouds.
The work carried out through Nevis Landscape Partnership on the Pony Track is fantastic. There is always more to do but the bulk of the major works are complete and what a difference it makes. It's a very skillful job to set the rocks in just the right place and manage the water that wants to drain down the path. What we have now looks really solid and will hopefully last for a couple of decades at least. It also makes the walking much nicer. The rocks are set at small irregular steps and it is easy to cover the ground at what ever pace and stride length works for you. It's an excellent piece of work but not cheap. This work cost in the order of £900,000.
Charlotte and I made it to the summit in good time and enjoyed looking at the ruins of the observatory. There is no snow on the summit now but there is still a small easy angle patch of snow just above the 1200m shelter. It will be a couple more weeks before this disappears I think. We had a shower of hail on the summit today and it was only a couple of degrees above freezing so perhaps this last patch of snow will hang around for longer. Well done Charlotte, it was great chatting with you. Well done Nevis Landscape Partnership for amazing work on the path too.
Nigel and I went back to Buachaille Etive Mor today with Connor, this time to climb the mega classic rock climb, Agag's Groove. We've wanted to climb this route for a few years now and never quite got the chance. Today the forecast was for the weather to worsten dramatically in the afternoon so the question, could we climb the route before the rain came in? We met at 8am in Glen Coe and quickly walked in to the foot of Curved Ridge. It was dry but clouds and a wind on the summits were telling us that the change was in the air.
We went up Curved Ridge as far as the first easing of the angle and went across to the foot of Agag's Groove. The groove starts as a tiny corner, only 20cm deep. Right from the very first step onto the rock you have interesting moves and they carry on all the way to the top. The corner quickly gets bigger and bigger until you can bridge across it. Half way up the first pitch is a disctictly harder section with smaller but very positive foot holds. The climbing is perfect for big boots and they seem appropriate in the big mountain setting.
Four pitches of amazing climbing culminates in the crux section on pitch three where you step left out of the groove to find a crack system going steeply up to a small ledge. This is in a sensational position with the onlookers on Curved Ridge below and the vast expanse of Rannoch Moor below them. There are a few rattley holds here and the nice spike at the top of the crack has fallen out in the last year or two. Take care! More hand holds might just come loose. The grade is the same though and there is good protection.
We got to the top and tidied up some of the old abseil rope anchors that have been accumulating on Crowberry Ridge. It's important that we try to keep our playground tidy and clearing away abseil tat is part of this. We abseiled down to the half way point with the idea of climbing back up the second half of January Jigsaw. However, the first drops of rain slowly started to come in and we decided to leave it while we were winning. We abseiled down to the bottom and scrambled down Curved Ridge in slowly worstening drizzle and rain, glad we got an early start and glad we didn't stay for a second climb. Well done Nigel and thanks to Connor. I wonder how many more classic rock gems we will be able to climb in the future.
So that's the end of the amazingly settled dry spell of weather. We have more mixed weather forecast and a big storm tomorrow as an atlantic low pressure system sweeps over the country. It will be very windy for June, what is normally quite a calm month. 85mph summit winds will make it feel more like a winter day than a summer day. Might be time to head indoors to Three Wise Monkeys Climbing for a bit of training!
It was slightly cooler today which was welcome. This might be a sign of the change in weather pattern that's about to arrive. It was still sunny and plenty warm enough for a lovely climb of Curved Ridge with Sally and Nigel though. With all the sunshine we've had over the last few weeks the wild flowers around the flush at the start of the route are fantastic. Lots of rose root and ladies mantle among many others adorn the wet rocks underneath D Gully. It's well worth doing the climb just to see the flowers.
Curved Ridge was of course completely dry and brilliant fun. It is such a good route mostly due to the huge amount of scrambling you do right the way up to the summit. From the car park to the summit it's just 2km in a straight line and we walked about 5km in total. This is such a short distance compared with how much bending and styretching, pulling and reaching that you do on the way! Scrambling is a full body toning workout with views.
We went up to Crowberry Tower, possibly the best picnic spot in Scotland, and surveyed Rannoch Moor from a long way above it. The resident raven flew past after our stop but didn't find any scraps of food left by us. The huge hanging block that sits perched above Crowberry Gap is still there and still looks like it will fall out at any moment. We didn't hang around underneath it or even look at it too intensely in case it fell out.
The views from the summit are amazing and it was nice enough to sit and enjoy them for a moment. By tomorrow afternoon it will be very different. Wet weather is forecast to arrive mid-afternoon and it will be unusually windy for June. The high pressure has finally moved away and an atlantic low pressure system with its associated fronts are going to bring rain and strong winds for a couple of days.
Lorn and Lochaber Ramblers offer a very active callendar of walks at a range of levels of challenge, all of which are led by a volunteer in the group. It's a fantastic way to get into walking and climbing Munros with like minded people. The walk leaders are all volunteers and they all enjoy walks led by others as well. Today we did some training for some of these leaders based in Glen Coe. We drew from many of the things we discuss on a Summer Mountain Leader Training Course as well as the fantastic experience of the leaders themselves. It's a real skill and one that is always improving so getting some training and practice with fellow leaders is a very useful thing to do.
We spent the first part of the day indoors having really good discussions about good practice, duty of care, responsibilities to group members and The Ramblers as well as to other hill walkers. Some of the things are quite practical and easy to implement such as leaving a route card with someone who will instigate a late back procedure. Other topics are more difficult to put in place straight away such as developing different leadership styles to suit the situation and finding the position of most usefulness in the group walking along the trail. Everyone agreed that the focus should be on the security and enjoyment of the group members and the leader's satisfaction will come vicariously.
We went up to Hidden Valley (AKA Lost Valley) in Glen Coe which is a super popular walk through a rocky gorge with some tricky steps in the path. It was just enough to put the learning in to context and to practice a few leadership tools. We also considered what to do in an emergency if a group member became incapacitated and what gear to carry with you. It was warm and dry again and the stream is very low so crossing it was very easy. It's great to see so many people out enjoying the wonderful mountains we have here in the Outdoor Capital of the UK!
Following the seasons through the year is a joy. I get really excitied when the first snow comes in the autumn and the colours turn firey red. The storms and hard graft of winter slowly recede to spring when the pressure eases and it all becomes fun again. Then the mountains turn green and we know that summer is here. When Mike and I climbed on the Mome Wrath Face a few weeks ago it was still spring. Today it felt like summer.
We've climbed on the Weeping Wall and Terrace Face a few times before. There is a lot of great climbing here and another trip seemed like a good idea to make the most of the dry rock. We climbed Curving Crack first which has a surprisingly steep crux section on the second pitch. All the climbs here are face climbs, quite steep with reasonable holds and protection you have to work hard to find. I was glad I took some big cams today and my superlight offsets seemed to fit really nicely.
Mike and Ben were out climbing with some joint services people and another couple came up as well. Ben and team are on Eve's Arete in the video clip, a wonderfully exposed V. Diff climb that Mike and I climbed with Ron a few years ago. It was relatively busy but with lots of climbs to choose from there was certainly no queueing. Mike and I went for Rowan Tree Wall for a second lap of the crag and it was fantastic for a route with no stars.
All we wanted to do was jump in the stream after the climbing to cool off but the NTS path team was out working on the path to Coire nan Lochan even in the burning sun. These guys do such a good job they deserve all the support we can give them. They are on hand all year round to patch up damage to the paths in Glen Coe and on Ben Lawyers and to do major projects as well. Go and join National Trust for Scotland if you appreciate the paths in Glen Coe!
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.