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.
Last year I described the different types of ice climb we enjoy in Scotland, and what is required for them to form. As it turned out, very little ice formed last year at all! So, this time, let's look at mixed climbs. We've already had the first few ascents of mixed climbs of this winter. Here's what to look out for when it gets cold again.
Mixed climbing has always been pursued in Scotland but it has become more popular in the last couple of decades. Whereas in ice climbing there is a limit to how hard it gets due to the nature of how ice forms, in mixed climbing there is virtually no limit. What is possibly the hardest naturally protected winter climb in the world is found on Ben Nevis; Anubis, climbed by Dave MacLeod and repeated twice since. Greg Boswell McInnes made the third ascent in 2019, a particularly poor winter for climbing. This illustrates the attraction of mixed climbing, that good climbing conditions can form quickly and there is ample opportunity for a challenging climb!
In the same way as with ice climbing, judging the nature of the climbing conditions is a tricky job and one that demands dedication, time and many attempts, both successful and unsuccessful. Once you know what to look for and how the recent weather affects the climbs, you will be able to make better decisions.
Mixed climbs need to be white and frozen to be in generally acceptable condition. Dry tooling is not acceptable on Scottish crags away from some low level training crags. In the mountains, the crag needs to be be wintry in appearance, white with snow or rime and frozen. This is the ethical approach that has developed over many years and is peculiar to Scotland. Many foreign climbers are baffled by these restrictions, but we abide by them to maintain the quality of experience and so that we are all playing by the same rules. Waiting until the crag is properly frozen also protects turf from excessive damage.
Different types of mixed climbs might be termed snowed up rock climbs, turfy mixed climbs or true mixed climbs on which a mixture of rock, turf, snow and ice is experienced. All of these types of route need to be well frozen to give good climbing.
Snowed Up Rock Climbs.
Snowed up rock climbs can freeze first due to being mostly made of solid rock. Even so, blocks, chockstones and flakes need to be frozen in place, and this takes a couple of weeks of sub-zero conditions at the start of the winter. They often make a good choice for the first climbs of the winter season because they are first to freeze, don’t require any thaw freeze cycles and can offer reasonable protection.
“Snowed up rock climb” is actually an unhelpful name for this style of climb. It is rime that is more effective at making the climb white and that will provide better climbing conditions. Rime is a type of ice crystal that grows on any surface exposed to humid air being blown onto it in a sub-zero temperature. It is often seen on fence posts and, perhaps confusingly, grows into the wind. So, you need a wind blowing cloud on to the crag and the temperature to be below zero. No snow fall is required at all. After a westerly gale, choose a crag that faces west and has been in the cloud.
The best conditions in which I’ve climbed snowed up rock have included really well frozen rocks and a light rime of a couple of centimetres that is easily brushed away to reveal (hopefully) cracks and ledges underneath. The crag was totally white at the start of the day but the climbs were brushed free of rime by climbers on various routes.
Delicate dry rime can fall off the crag in a strong wind and is likely to fall off in very dry, cold air. This means that the crag can be white one day but black the next day despite the temperature staying below zero. Once the crag is out of the cloud the rime will start to deteriorate. Sunshine will also strip rime from the rocks faster than you can climb them!
However, rime can grow to be a metre deep and turns very icy if it experiences thaw freeze cycles. The summit observatory ruins on Ben Nevis often have incredibly thick rime ice all over them in March that has built up over the previous three or four months and survived many thaw freeze cycles. This is not good to find if you want to climb the rock underneath. In thick, icy rime, it can be a monumental struggle to clear the rime off the rocks for the whole pitch.
Thaw freeze cycles will also create dribbles of water that run into cracks and refreeze. Iced up cracks are a problem; finding pick placements can be very hard and uncovering protection incredibly tiring. Snowed up rock climbs are best early in the season when the cracks are still clear of ice and the rime is light and fluffy.
Snow fall can also make a crag white in appearance. Cold, dry snow will not stick to the rocks. It will pile up on ledges making the crag look white from above but not from below. If the snow is a bit wet (this happens when the temperature is at or not far below freezing) it can stick to the rocks and make the whole crag go white. This wet snow can also freeze into an unhelpful icy crust which is hard to clear from the rocks when you are climbing.
Some snow on the ledges is very often a helpful thing to have on all mixed climbs, including snowed up mixed routes, especially once this snow has transformed into solid snow ice after a freeze thaw cycle.
Curved Ridge on Buachaille Etive Mor, Crest Route on Stob Coire nan Lochan, Slab Route and Gargoyle Wall on Ben Nevis are all excellent snowed up rock climbs.
Turfy Mixed Climbs.
Turf freezes slowly. Small tufts of turf freeze first and freeze most quickly when they are exposed to a cold wind. Wind chill affects the crag in the same way as it affects us when we are exposed to the wind. Big patches of turf can take many weeks to freeze properly but can be damaged or even completely removed from the crag if they are climbed over before they are frozen.
However, once properly frozen, turf will stay frozen through some quite substantial periods of thaw. It will hold water in a thaw which will dribble down below the turf and freeze into ice of one sort or another in the refreeze. So, turfy mixed climbs can become really quite icy over the course of the winter. There is nothing more satisfying than placing a pick in a solid, icy lump of turf!
Turf commonly holds snow on top of it which is transformed into snow ice with thaw freeze cycles. So, turfy mixed climbs quite often turn into true mixed climbs over the course of a good winter, with a mixture of turf, rock, ice and snow ice.
Turfy mixed climbs, like any mixed climbs, should look wintry and white. Rime and snow should cover the rocks. There is an argument that only the turf needs to be frozen and icy, that the rocks don’t need to be white as well since they are not used for the climbing. This is mostly the case on sandstone crags found in the far North West and is also a matter of opinion. It would be easier to say that all mixed climbs need to be white and wintry in appearance with the rocks covered in rime or snow.
Morwind is a very good turfy mixed climb on Aonach Mor which changes in character to a true mixed climb and can actually form so much snow ice that you don’t need to use the rock at all. Thompsons Route on Ben Nevis is the same but it requires some snow ice to be formed before it is fun to climb whereas Morwind is good fun as a turfy mixed climb with no snow ice. Taliballan on Stob Coire nan Laoigh is a wonderful turfy mixed climb that turns into a brilliant true mixed climb with varying amounts of ice and snow ice depending on the nature of the storms of the winter.
True Mixed Climbs.
Those routes that demand a specific combination of snowed up rock, frozen turf and ice of various kinds are true mixed climbs. Being so specific in nature and requiring the perfect combination of factors in the weather over the course of a couple of months, these are highly sought after climbs.
Gemini and The Shield Direct on Ben Nevis are perhaps the best examples. The first few pitches are on steep ice formed by melting snow patches above providing water to freeze into cascade ice. This is followed by a mixture of snowed up rock, snow ice and little bits of turf in the upper pitches.
So, now you know what is required to form good mixed climbing conditions, hopefully you will have more success in finding them. You still need to know or to assess the nature of each climb (if it is a snowed up rock route, turfy or true mixed climb) to determine whether it will be a good choice on any given day of climbing. For the moment, you'll need to work this out by yourself.
After the October holidays it was very nice to come back to some snowy mountains in Scotland. It turned cold on Friday morning and we were treated to a light cover of snow on the tops above 600m. It has stayed cold and we had further snow yesterday but today stayed mostly dry and it was less windy. Sunshine burst through the clouds and lit up the brilliant colours of the mountain sides, topped with a bright white sprinkling of snow. It was a beautiful day today and I got to enjoy it with Hannah, Katie and Katie on the Pink Rib of Beinn a'Chrualaste.
This lovely little scramble was perfect for little legs today. The two Katies are quite young so this was a perfect size of objective. We just went up the scramble without going to the summit of the corbett so we had time for a hot chocolate in the Kingshouse Hotel afterwards. The autumn is such a good time of year on crisp, bright days like today. Scrambling is a fantastic way to enjoy these days too. And getting our young people out spending quality time in nature and the big wild landscape is super important.
There’s a book I’d like you to read. It’s called “In Praise of Walking” by Shane O’Mara. Don’t be put off by the evangelical sounding title; it’s a fascinating read, very well referenced and backed up by scientific research, all about the astounding benefits of going for a walk.
For example, it describes a study on an Italian man who walked 1300km of the Via Alpina, along the line of the Alps, over three months. Along the way he recorded a wide range of physiological markers through taking blood and other means. There were positive changes in virtually every single measured area of his functioning including a drop on body mass index of 10%, a reduction of measured body fat as a percentage of total weight of about one quarter, a 75% decrease in triglycerides thought to underlie some forms of heart and cardiovascular disease and an increase in production in heart loving fats called high-density lipoproteins. Other studies have shown that this was not a one-off case, it works for everyone. The message is, if you need to lose weight, go for a really, really long walk, over a few weeks, ideally through nature.
To me, this was no surprise, but one other thing really jumped out at me from this book. It’s about the idea that the natural environment has profound restorative effects on our wellbeing. “Attention Restoration Theory” tells us that the human experience of the natural world markedly assists in maintaining and fostering a strong sense of subjective wellbeing.
Modern day life in our urban, man-made environments, increases mental fatigue, stress and anxiety. Restoration of feelings of calm, relaxation, revitalisation and refreshment can be achieved by spending time in a natural environment. For it to be most effective, a natural environment should have three critical elements;
Removal from Normal Life
I’ve often said to people, hillwalking and mountaineering are like meditation. We are removed physically and mentally from our every day lives. We get so involved in the moment, in the activity and its demands on us, that we very often forget all about our normal worries and anxieties. The more we are challenged by the activity, the less cognitive bandwidth we have for anything else. It’s only when we get back home that we remember about the outstanding bills, the anxiety caused by our work or any number of things that cause our mental fatigue.
Fascinating Sensory Elements
It’s really obvious that our mountains are full of astounding visual and sensory elements that are fascinating, beautiful, full of wonder and surprising. Over the last few years I have increased my knowledge of the natural environment massively, especially through projects such as The North Face Survey on Ben Nevis. It’s also clear to me that there is a never-ending supply of new knowledge to gain, new insights to understand and new things to see. This understanding of the very small things in our landscape makes my enjoyment of the vast scale of the landscape even more rewarding.
It Should Be Expansive
By exploring the mountains that surround us in Scotland we get to feel the immense scale of the landscape, the power of the weather, and the never-ending nature of wildness, that can give us a proper sense of scale. In a blizzard on a summit with numb fingers and an unrelenting wind, when we have to take a bearing on our compass to walk off safely there is nobody else we can turn to, nobody else we can blame if we get it wrong, and no sympathy in the weather or the landscape. It is a good reminder that each of us is not at the centre of things with the world revolving around us. We need to learn some humility and to take responsibility for ourselves. This is surely the expansive nature of the experience that is required to make its restorative effects most profound.
This is why I am passionate about spending time on our mountains. It maintains our physical health, it restores our mental health and it can have a profound influence on our spiritual well-being. It can counter the self-centred focus that modern day life has on us all. In these days of global climate change, an obesity epidemic, mental ill health and disconnectedness from nature, one solution is simple.
Go for a walk, preferably a long one and immerse yourself in nature!
Last week Sally and I had the pleasure of passing five new Summer Mountain Leaders, qualifying them to lead people in the mountains of the UK, to inspire them, educate them and to look after them. Dan, Holly, Andrew, Isla and Jamie did a great job all week of demonstrating all the skills required by Mountain Training to become mountain leaders. We're delighted to have this new crop of leaders and we know they will carry on to do a brilliant job.
The first day was all about managing accidents and incidents, mountain rescue and improvised rescue, medical conditions, hypothermia and water hazards. It was a nice day and we were very happy to go for a wade in the river Nevis after a few hours of walking! The water is quite warm at this time of year so it was not too uncomfortable at all. There are skills you need to cross streams safely and you can give a lot of support to your group as well.
Next up we had a leadership day in Glencoe on which we covered leadership in many different types of terrain, including route choice and safeguarding people in steep and broken ground. We went in towards Coire nan Lochan but crossed the stream to go up underneath Barn Wall and into the small coire between Barn Wall and Far Eastern Buttress. Here we got a rope out for the candidates to demonstrate their emergency ropework to safeguard people down a longer section of steep, scrambling type terrain. Afterwards we went to the summit of Aonach Dubh before heading back to the path and back to base to prepare for the expedition.
These five day assessments have a three day expedition in them. It's so nice to spend three days out in wild places, walking up beautiful peaks, especially at this time of year with the autumn colours coming out. This time we went to the two Easain munros next tio Loch Treig. We started from Fersit and walked over both peaks before going down to find a nice camp site bove the Lairig Leacach bothy. After dinner we spent some hours walking around in heavy rain and mist, on a very dark night, finding small contour features by pacing and following compass bearings. It was quite intense!
Next day we took down the tents and went to walk up Meall Mor, Meall a'Bhuiridh and Stob Ban before returning to the bothy to cook dinner and to camp close by. This area feels so far away from anywhere! There is no sign of anything man made at all, just seemingly endless mountains filled with the sound of the stags roaring at each other in the rut.
The candidates planned the final day of walking to get us back to the van at a set time and to include a nioce route to get there. We went over Cnap Cruin, a lovely wee hill, and got back right on time. Well done to all five new mountain leaders, Sally and I had a lovely week with you all and we wish you every success in the futre.
It's been a bit wet recently and tricky to work out which the drier days will be. Today I think Justin and I got it right. We were due to try Tower Ridge on Ben Nevis yesterday but the forecast for today was slightly better. Then the forecast changed for the worse and it looked like we would get a wet day today. As it turned out, we got really quite a nice day. You just have to give it go anyway and hope for the best sometimes.
We put on waterproofs right at the start but the walk in along the Allt a'Mhuilinn was quite dry and we had some great views of the clouds lifting off the summit. The ridge was sparkling in a little sunshine as we climbed out of Douglas Gap and there was blue sky above. A bank of cloud rolled up into Coire na Ciste as we climbed The Little Tower and this marked the start of the change of wind direction from south westerly to northerly. By the time we got to the top the temperature was dropping and the north wind was picking up quickly.
So, of course, we got sunshine on the way down! We were ready for anything though, including snow, and we got a whole mixture. Tower Ridge is always great though and we had a fantastic climb, Justin's first time on Ben Nevis and a brilliant way to reach the top.
It's strange how big lumps of rock and ice can generate such strong emotions within us. The Matterhorn is a world icon, a mountain that inspires, dominates and entices us despite its threatening scale and presence towering over Zermatt and the Hornli Hut. It's a real mountain but still just a lump of rock and ice. Climbing it will no longer mark you down in history but the personal journey that takes you there is an emotional roller coaster, full of highs and lows of equal scale to the mountain. This is exactly how it was for Marc and I am delighted to have been able to help him achieve one of his big ambitions.
Marc and his wife Helen climbed Mont Blanc many years ago with me. We had pretty tough weather on the day and they both did a great job of reaching the summit. Marc has been to many adventurous parts of the world and is an experienced trekker. Climbing the Matterhron was a step up from what he normally takes on though and we needed to do some training and acclimatisation before the big climb.
Our first day out of Zermatt was up to the Kleine Matterhorn. We walked across the south side of the Breithorn to the foot of the SW Ridge of Pollux. We were both feeling great, despite the sudden exposure to the altitude of 3800m. Often this is really quite a big impact on people but we were both getting on fine so we decided to climb Pollux. The scrambling on the SW Ridge is really nice and there is a short section with fixed chains to get round a steep tower. A narrow snow crest leads up to the summit, a snowy top surounded by the giant Zermatt peaks. With one 4000m peak done on the first day we were very happy when we got down to the wonderful Guides d'Ayas Hut for the night.
For our second day we went for Castor, a slightly higher peak, this time climbed all on snow and ice with a beautiful narrow crest at the top. An early start got us to the top before the sun got round to our side to soften the snow. There was an icy section on the way up that was quite delicate on the way back down and we were grateful to be past this before the snow got soggy in the afternoon heat. It has been a very warm summer in the Alps and the glaciers and faces are showing little snow cover left now at the end of the summer season. Walking around the glaciers, even at this high altitude, was nerve wracking going over narrow and thin snow bridges over enormous crevasses.
The icy conditions heled us to decide to take on the full Breithorn Traverse for our last day of training. It is possible to start the traverse half way along but it looked easier to get on to the end of the ridge at Roccia Nera. Doing the first half of the traverse adds another 2 hours to the day but we'd had a nice early start and the weather was perfect. Narrow snow crests are interspersed with interesting rocky peaks with steep abseils along the ridge. Once we got to the more popular half traverse it was all on rock for a long way with beautiful scrambling on great rock in a super spectacular place. We got to the top of the Breithorn feeling great and feeling ready for The Matterhorn.
It's important to build in rest days to your Alpine programme. Marc and I went down to Zermatt for lots of food and a very good night's sleep at the Youth Hostel. If you want to find clean and simple accommodation with all the facilities you need and a very good breakfast, plus an amazing view of The Matterhorn, the Youth Hostel is hard to beat. After a night here and a gentle amble up to the Hornli Hut we were in the right place at the right time for our climb.
The hut was only half full so it was not too busy at the start of the climb. There was also a staggered start so the Zermatt Guides could get ahead and the rest of us were not left standing at the first steep section waiting for 10 or 15 minutes. Even so, Marc and I felt the pressure and headed off a bit too fast in the first hour. It's so easy to get caught up in the rush and push too hard. We settled to a nice pace for us and enjoyed a spectacular sunrise just before we got to the Solvay Hut for a rest and a bite to eat.
We put on our crampons at the foot of the fixed ropes and managed to get past all the racing snakes already on their way down without too much fuss. The snow cover was just right and the weather was perfect with no wind at all and a little warm sunshine through the high level cloud to keep us warm but not too hot. We got to the summit and shared the moment with a group of French guides and climbers who were just as delighted to be there as we were. Sometimes everything does come together very nicely and this is how it was for Marc and me this time. The weather, climbing conditions, training and acclimatisation all came together at the same time to give us a brilliant climb and a very important summit for us. Well done Marc, great climbing.
It's never too soon to start thinking about the winter in Scotland! After many years of climbing Tower Ridge, I’m convinced that it is a one ice axe route. Most of it is relatively straight forward and long sections of it are really quite simple. You might need two ice axes in certain snow conditions on the Great Tower but you can always borrow your partner’s axe for that one move. This is the conclusion I’ve reached after many ascents in all sorts of conditions. But when I look back on my first ascent of Tower Ridge in winter it’s an odd conclusion to come to.
My friend Richard was up staying with me soon after I moved to Fort William in 1995. Before I moved here I thought it would be very easy to find climbing partners but that’s not how it was. In the days before the internet was there to help like minded people come together I spent a lot of time out soloing routes, walking the Munro’s and getting to know the hills and crags. When Richard came up for a visit he came predominantly for a skiing trip. I had other plans though and I wanted to make use of having a climbing partner.
Tower Ridge is a climb I had done in summer not too long before. It’s not hard and the route finding is quite simple on a relaxed, warm and dry summer’s day. In winter I had been climbing routes at harder grades than Tower Ridge and they had all gone well. One of my solo climbs had been Point Five Gully which felt great. I did not realise at the time that the Spring of ’95 was to go down as one of the best for a decade and Point Five Gully was probably more like grade IV than the benchmark V it is more commonly. Still, for my third ice climb I was quite chuffed.
So I was full of confidence as we walked in and I even felt slightly aggrieved at having to bring the grade down to a lowly III (as it was then) to give Richard a chance at being able to climb it. He was a skier after all. It was an average day with good snow cover. We got to Douglas Gap fine and up the awkward groove onto the crest of the ridge. The ridge looks completely different in winter and the best route is not always obvious. There was no trail to follow so I just followed my nose. Since we were climbing a ridge it made sense to stick to the crest of the ridge so off I went.
After the first horizontal section the usual route in winter follows a snow ramp out right to avoid a steep section of the ridge and up simple enough ground back onto the crest from the end of the ramp. If you follow the crest this steep section is quite tricky and draws you left up steepening grooves. After a look up one of these and a bit of head scratching I thought I spied a way forward but not with just my one ice axe. I would like to say I scurried back to Richard but it was a lot slower and more precarious than that. I teetered back down, got his axe and carried on up the pitch with a good deal of swearing. Richard now needed the ice axes and a bit of time to follow the pitch. It was certainly ground that required two ice axes. So after a few more, thankfully easier, pitches we got to a level section of the ridge.
Time wasn’t marching on as much as leapfrogging forward. A check of the watch at one point would reassure me that we were doing OK. The next time I checked, the time had taken a great leap forward and we were well behind schedule. It seemed like we had done a significant amount of climbing already so I convinced myself that we had climbed the Little Tower and the steep section ahead must be The Great Tower. If this was right, the time of day was OK but we still needed to crack on, so we did.
What we thought was The Great Tower went much more smoothly even though we did not find anything much like an Eastern Traverse. At the top of this tower our hearts sank. Not only was the light starting to leave the mountain but what was obviously The Great Tower was standing high above us still. We found the Eastern Traverse, blindingly obvious when we got there, and successfully traversed along to the foot of the Fallen Block Chimney just as it was about to get dark. With all of my confidence from the start of the day chipped away by the relentless ridge it was me that suggested extending the Eastern Traverse and making our escape. I had heard of many enforced bivouacs at Tower Gap and I was determined not to make it another one. So we went across to the foot of Tower Gully and kept going to make the long descent of Observatory Gully and back home in the dark. My drive for the summit had been completely broken so even the thought of climbing the grade I gully of Tower Gully was too much. My tail was firmly between my legs.
Seventeen years and perhaps a hundred ascents later, I climbed Tower Ridge with Martin and Chris in April of 2013. The ice climbing conditions were spectacular that spring and we had long periods of settled weather to enjoy them. The guys had booked just one day with me, specifically to climb Tower Ridge. We were very lucky to have a day of perfect weather and brilliant snow on the route. Not only was the climbing brilliant on the squeaky solid snow and occasional bits of dry rock but we were surrounded by the best climbs in Scotland perfectly iced and glistening in the sunshine. We watched the black dots of climbers on Orion Face pick their way up, dwarfed by the scale of the face.
Chris and Martin had been on a winter climbing course at Glenmore Lodge. They wanted to experience the next level in their climbing progression and to enjoy a classic at the same time. They were both competent and secure climbers and they had no problem with the level of climbing. Had they known that the conditions would be so good they might have decided to tackle the climb by themselves. However, they were just as happy to enjoy the experience without the extra pressure of having to make route choice decisions and find the belays. They got to enjoy an amazing day on an amazing route and to soak up every detail of the experience.
It’s easy to think that hiring a guide takes away all the challenge and satisfaction of climbing. But winter climbing is a team game. I depend on my clients to do their bit just as much as they depend on me to do mine. I try to make sure they realise the seriousness of the climb and to include them in the decisions we make on the day. Hopefully, my clients feel like they are climbing with another of their regular climbing partners, one who is quite keen to do most of the leading.
I dread the day that someone on my rope takes a tumble off the Eastern Traverse. It is a drop of a couple of hundred metres below your feet and the protection is quite spaced. A slip would result in quite a swing across this void, leaving you dangling on very steep ground and probably unable to climb back up to the traverse ledge, especially with just one ice axe. It would be a tricky situation to resolve and in a very intimidating place. I coach people in what to do on the traverse and try to make sure they are doing it right but at the end of the day I just have to hope there is no slip or stumble. Similarly at Tower Gap, I need my clients to make themselves secure after they climb down into the gap and to belay me as I climb down. If I slip I rely on them to hold the rope properly and that the anchor they have tied in to is secure.
So as Martin and Chris climbed out into the sunshine at the top of the route to see the view from the Paps of Jura to Ben Wyvis and the Skye Cullin to Schiehallion they knew they’d had one of the best climbs of their lives. Tower Ridge is always a brilliant experience however you climb it and whatever kind of weather you get. But on days like this, there is nothing better in Scotland and, therefore, the world.
Is there anything more satisfying than exploring the Scottish mountains on a winters day? Staring out into a sea of snow-blanketed mountains? Solving the puzzle of which climb is the best option in Scotland's ever-changing conditions? Taking on the elements to stand at the top of the UK's highest mountain? Returning home exhausted but already looking forward to what the next day's adventure might bring?
We don't think so, and that's why we want to share this incredible season with you! Join us this winter! https://www.abacusmountainguides.com/winter-guiding.html
We've been enjoying some warm and mostly dry weather here in the Outdoor Capital of the UK. Yesterday I was lucky enough to enjoy the company of Jim, Keith and George on a climb of Tower Ridge on Ben Nevis. The mist came and went a bit on the summit during the day but we got it clear at The Great Tower and Tower Gap, the best bits of the ridge near the top. The rock was dry and grippy and we had a great time.
We saw very few other people on the North Face of Ben Nevis which is normal for this time of year. It's a shame that not more people are enjoying the classic ridges of Ben Nevis or even the amazing rock climbs. All the ridges were mostly dry and many of the rock climbs looked pretty good as well. It was a different story once we were on the summit. Last year 160,000 went up Ben Nevis and this year looks likely to be the same or more. In fact the number of people on Ben Nevis has doubled in the last ten years, making the environmental management of the Nevis area a real challenge. Thankfully we have Nevis Landscape Partnership doing this work for us but it could do with all the support it can get right now.
Very well done to Jim, George and Keith. You all did really well on the climb and I had a great time climbing with you.
Today I enjoyed the company of Lisa and Oliver in Glen Coe. These guys have walked up about 50 Munros and want to explore some of the more technical routes now. So we went for Curved Ridge on Buachaille Etive Mor to get them into the swing of scrambling. It was another warm and dry day with lots of sunshine, and it went very well.
Curved Ridge in the sunshine is so nice! The scrambling on clean rhyolite with nice positive holds goes on and on. The views are expansive, the exposure immense and it leads directly to the Munro, Stob Dearg. On Buachaille Etive Mor there are four stobs. Stob Dearg is the northerly Munro, Stob na Doire is next, then Stob Choire Altruim with Stob na Broige at the southern end, the second Munro. We walked over all four peaks after climbing Curved Ridge for full effect and it is highly recommended, especially when the views are as good as they were today!
As they go on to other Munros, Lisa and Oliver will have to tackle Aonach Eagach, An Teallach, Liathach and all the Cuillin Munros on Skye. All of these involve some scrambling, narrow ridges, airy positions and demand a hands on approach. Have fun!
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.