In some ways I feel like I should apologise for our social media feeds. I put up nice pictures of all the adventures I experience and describe them in detail, and you might feel like you have missed out on something. It is a common theme in the outdoor community and is enhanced by the ephemeral nature of what we seek. We quite like, secretly or openly, to get one up on our friends. Knowing that we have got to a climb in perfect condition, when most other people have not, is quite satisfying.
If this FOMO (fear of missing out) generates the drive to get out and have your own adventures I’m delighted. Going climbing and walking and biking (and even kayaking, although that’s not one I enjoy as much) is brilliant in so many ways. I hope to encourage people to get out and engage with our beautiful landscape. The benefits of exercise and challenge in nature to our physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing are profound. And it’s a lot of fun too!
One-upmanship can be a fun game but let’s not let it get out of hand. What I don’t want to encourage is a kind of outdoor consumerism. If we start to get the idea that climbing a certain route makes you better than someone else we will start to follow the wrong path.
I have fallen into this trap before myself. Many years ago, my friend Jonny and I enjoyed soloing big ice climbs on Ben Nevis. We compared notes on climbing Point Five Gully, Zero Gully, Hadrian’s Wall Direct, all solo. It started to get competitive and we started to think about whether we could go for a grade VI and who would do it first. So I found myself standing underneath Mega Route X with every intention of climbing it but with a slightly unsettled feeling inside. The climb was in great shape and the weather was good but something wasn’t quite right.
So, I went home, without climbing the route, and I’m very happy with this decision. It became clear to me that the main reason for climbing that route was to get one up on Jonny. That’s no reason to do such a serious thing as climb vertical ice solo.
A couple of weeks later I went back up with my wife Louise and my friend Tony. We were deciding what to do when I suggested I could climb Mega Route X before doing something else. This time it felt so good to climb the route, even with Louise watching me at the bottom of the coire. We went off and did another climb together afterwards and had a lovely day. We did the climbs we wanted to do for us and for no other reason.
We praise achievement and we are right to do so. When Dave MacLeod completes another of the world’s hardest climbs we all celebrate his success. When we first climbed Everest the whole nation celebrated. Now, some people climb Everest to be able to say that they have climbed Everest thinking that this status gives them something other people don’t have. We might complete the Munro’s, or the Cuillin Traverse or climb Orion Direct and feel like this makes us better than others. This is not universal, it is only a few people but it is not healthy.
We should not collect outdoor objectives like badges we can wear on our sleeves. We should not do things so that we can say we have done them with the intention of making our audience feel small.
The challenge is ours and ours alone. It is so hard to do but we should not measure ourselves up with other people. We should push ourselves to new things, new places and new adventures for the experience it gives us. Let’s share our experiences to encourage others to have their own adventures but the reward is entirely personal. It’s about the struggle, the escape from everyday life, the sense of perspective, the focus on what actually matters right here, right now. It’s not actually about what you do at all.
Doing great things in the outdoors does not make us better than anyone else but it might just make us better people.
So I hope we inspire action and not envy, that people get out and have adventures of their own instead of feeling that they are missing out. Don’t read it and think about what I have been up to. Read it and think about what you can get up to.
Is mountain guiding ethical? Does the outdoor industry fit with the way that we approach access and enjoyment of our mountains? Do people in the professions of leading people on walks, guiding them on climbs or teaching them mountaineering skills add or take away from the traditions of our activities?
You will probably have an instant reaction to these questions, but it is worth thinking about them a bit longer. After a conversation online, these topics came to my mind again. So, here are my thoughts.
We have a tradition in the UK, and especially in Scotland, that is put into statute in the Land Reform Act of 2003 with the Scottish Outdoor Access Code (SOAC). It is similar in Access Areas in England and Wales. The SOAC principles are:
• Respect the interests of other people.
• Care for the environment.
• Take responsibility for your own actions.
We have the right to access most land in Scotland to do what we want, as long as we behave responsibly. What we’re thinking about here is this last bit, that we must take responsibility for our own actions, for example care for our own safety, keep alert for hazards and take special care with children.
We also have a tradition of self-reliance. Our approach to climbing and walking should be that we are fully prepared and skilled for the route that we take on. We should not rely on outside assistance as a matter of course. There will not be navigation aids, shelter, food outlets on hand. It is down to us to learn the skills that we need, to carry the equipment and try to make sure that we are capable of the route we go for.
On this background, hiring a guide to do much of this stuff for you does not fit with our traditional approach or our access code. If we hire someone more competent than us to take on a particular route that is beyond our current capability, we are not self-reliant, and we divest some of the responsibility to the guide. So, there is an argument that guiding does not fit with our mountaineering ethics.
If we carry on with this argument though, it starts to break down. What if we go out with a friend who is better than us and who leads the hard pitches of a climb. Is this being self-reliant? Should we all go out by ourselves then? And if we are being completely responsible for our actions, mountain rescue is also unethical. If we want to be completely self-reliant, we should not call on mountain rescue if things go wrong, we should take responsibility for our actions and sort it out ourselves, or suffer the consequences.
Clearly these are daft notions. Going out with friends or a club to learn your craft of mountaineering is a brilliant way to get into it and to progress. It’s how most of us start out, me included. We can learn a lot by ourselves, but it has inherent risks, it does not always go well, and you can get through the dangerous early stages of learning much more quickly by learning from someone with more experience than you.
There is of course no suggestion that the amazing service provided by our mountain rescue teams is unethical! In fact, anyone out in the mountains who sees someone that needs help is very likely to feel a responsibility to help when they can. I am always deeply moved by the work of our voluntary rescue teams and of individuals who will go to offer help. It is a very positive aspect of our community that should be acknowledged far more than it is currently.
So, while we aim to be self-reliant and responsible for our own actions, there are some cases when it is OK accept help from a more experienced friend, and I think that hiring a guide falls into this category. A small group or climbing pair will aim to be self-reliant, whatever the makeup of that group. In fact, we need experienced people to help new people into mountaineering, it is useful to have instructors and guides helping people learn their craft well, so that it does not become elitist.
However, there is, potentially, a problem. Currently we have free access to our mountains as long as we take responsibility for our own actions. One aspect of this is that we can do whatever we want, as long as we accept the consequences (and as long as we respect the environment and other people). What I mean is that we can take on whatever challenge we like, any grade of climb, any length of walk or run. There is no certification required, no test that we have to pass, no statement of competence that needs to be presented to an authority to allow us to take part in any of these activities. In this regard, we have free access to do what we want. And this is a fundamental right that we need to preserve. We should celebrate this and come together to defend this right.
We have had this right for a very long time so it would be easy to think that it is not under threat. Generally, I think this is right, but there have been a couple of worrying moments in recent years. A few years ago, after a spate of fatal avalanche accidents, there were calls for access to our mountains to be restricted to summer months on account of the burden placed on our rescue teams and NHS. The argument was that the cost of rescue and medical treatment is very high just for the sake of a few reckless, selfish climbers. Dorothy Grace Elder, a journalist and former SNP MSP said exactly this many times in 2013. Thankfully, nobody took this seriously and our access in winter has been retained.
Much more recently, a few people have been arrested for culpable and reckless conduct after calling for mountain rescue. Most of these were aggravated by breaking covid travel restrictions, but at least one was not. This is a worry, and I hope it is not a trend. We do not want to be in a position of being unwilling to call for help when we need it due to the fear of being arrested. Police Scotland has reassured us that this is not the case, but these arrests do demonstrate that we need to make sure that our right to access is maintained in its current form. It would be a disaster if there were consequences to legitimately calling for help or if access was taken away from us when someone else decides that it is too dangerous. Equally, we do not want to have any requirement for certification, training or statement of competence in order to go climbing. Some other countries only allow people to climb certain peaks if they hire a qualified guide. I certainly don’t want any system like this in the UK.
So, it seems to me that the current system is pretty good. In fact, I think it is world leading. As individuals we can do what we want as long as we follow the Scottish Outdoor Access Code. We can go out by ourselves in any conditions, or we can ask or hire someone to help us. This does not erode our principle of self-reliance, or in any way affect those who want to go out and do it all by themselves. In fact, I encourage everyone to go out and have adventures, I try to instil the confidence in my clients and anyone else that they can try stuff by themselves and that they should do this. It is brilliant for me to hear from my clients that they have been out climbing by themselves after we have been climbing together.
To me this does not seem like commodification of the mountains or of climbing. But of course, I would say that, I’m a guide. While I do advertise online and try to promote my services, when I am out guiding there is nothing commercial about what I do. Nearly all of my clients are committed walkers or climbers already and the rest want to be. Some of them are incredibly proficient with extensive experience. Climbing with me is just one part of their climbing activities.
I am a strong defender of the Scottish Outdoor Access Code and of our ethics and principles of mountaineering, and I don’t think that the few people who hire guides are doing anything against these.
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 as well as our vulnerability in it.
In his book Beyond Adventure, Colin Mortlock talks about the value of adventure in Nature. He relates this contradiction of scale to snowflakes. Each one of us is as unique as a snow flake and beautiful in our own way. Collectively though we can feel insignificantly small, just one tiny part of a much bigger thing. We are each unique and we all have a unique role to play in life, but it is good to remember that everyone else is also unique and on the scale of the whole snow pack our significance is very small.
Colin Mortlock goes on to say “The more effort you have to make, the more exposed you are to the influences of Nature and the greater the likelihood of being aware of its beauty. What this implies is that the greater the self-sufficiency and the fewer the barriers imposed by equipment and man-made features the greater the potential for heightened awareness. Being alone can further increase this awareness. These factors all point to the value of simplicity rather than complexity as an approach to life.”
We need determination, self-discipline, an open and inquisitive mind that is ready to learn from experiences and we need to work hard. We need to take on risk, measure it and manage it so that we are challenged but not being reckless. We need to be honest to ourselves about our capability and not measure ourselves up to other people and their capabilities.
I go to the wild to be put in my place, to be battered and
embraced by wind, rain and sun;
I go to the wild to be reminded of what matters in this world;
I go to the wild to remember who I am;
I go to the wild to feel;
I go to the wild.
R. Bradley 25th April 2017
The great weather is continuing to bring lots of sunshine to Lochaber, The Outdoor Capital of the UK. We have been enjoying wonderful conditions for rock climbing, mountaineering, walking, biking and just about everything. But, it has now gone seriously colder. On Tuesday night the temperature dropped and the soft, soggy snow froze solid.
If you are thinking about walking up Ben Nevis at the weekend on any route, it is essential that you have winter boots, crampons and an ice axe. You will also need lots of warm clothing, hats, gloves and good shell clothing. If it gets cloudy, it will be hard to navigate since the trail is covered in snow from corner 6 at 1100m. It is seriously wintry on top despite what it might feel like in the glen.
If you are going ice climbing, there are lots of classic climbs in good condition. People have been climbing Zero Gully, Hadrian's Wall Direct, Point Five Gully, Indicator Wall, Smith's Route, Tower Scoop, Glover's Chimney, The White Line, The Cascade and Expert's Choice, Comb Gully, Green Gully and many other climbs are looking good. Orion Direct is broken at the crux pitch unfortunately.
Many, but not all, of the cornices fell off in the warmer weather, but what is left is now very well frozen in place. It's easy to get out of Number Four Gully, Number Three Gully is OK on the left and it's the same in Number Two Gully.
The great ridges are OK too but they have lost a bit of snow low down. Tower Ridge was lovely on Monday and it has not changed since. Castle Ridge and NE Buttress are a bit dry but Ledge Route is mostly on snow.
Did I say it has gone cold again? It has, and it's a bit of a shock to the system after al the warm sunshine. So, don't get caught out. Take lots of warm clothing, hats and gloves, as well as good waterproof shell gear to keep the wind out. Here's a reminder of some useful things to take with you.
Have a great weekend.
Way up in the north west, within sight of Cape Wrath, lies one of the finest beaches in the country. Sandwood Bay is a peaceful paradise, a two mile strip of white sand facing the wild ocean. Just along from the beach is Am Buachaille, a beautiful stack of sandstone standing proud of the headland, out in the sea. It sits, listing to seaward, on a pedestal that submerges beneath the waves at mid-tide and stays underneath for half of the tidal cycle. Climbing Am Buachaille is a wonderful experience, a great adventure despite the quality of the climbing!
Firstly, get the tides right. The stack is on a tidal base which is separated from the mainland by a sea channel of a few metres. This itself is about 50m out from the mainland cliff over more tidal slabs. As the tide is dropping, you need to be ready to swim the channel as soon as possible so that you can climb the three pitch route, abseil off and swim back across the channel before the tide comes back in again. There is enough time, but you do need to get the tides right.
Tide tables can be found on various apps and websites, or by buying a wee book. For planning far in advance this will cost a couple of pounds and it is the Lochinver or Kinlochbervie tide table that you want. Find a spring tide (a low low-tide) that is at lunchtime or early afternoon. It's a long way to get there so you will probably be best to drive north the day before.
There is a good car park for Sandwood Bay that is maintained by John Muir Trust. JMT also maintains the path to the beach and they do an excellent job. Become a member to support their work.
Set off four hours before low tide. The walk (or bike ride) along the track is 4.5km followed by another 1.5km walk across untracked heather to the headland. Follow the track to it's high point at 90m, just south of Druim na Buainn, then head north west through a slight col, past a lochain to the headland.
This is the first test of nerve. You will look down on the stack, still washed by the waves at the base, seemingly miles out to sea, and wonder how on earth this is going to work. Don't be put off.
From the headland walk back east along the top of the north facing cliff to find a slight path that goes down blocks and steep grass to sea level. The path goes down diagonally left, heading towards the stack (west) and is steep. At the bottom there is a very loose section that is unpleasant. Then follow incredibly slippery boulders along the beach for a couple of hundred metres to the stack.
Get changed. The swim is obligatory, you can't set up a tyrolean traverse. Take with you some dry bags to put all your gear in. Once one person has swum across, throw an end of rope across and use the rope to transfer bags of gear across, holding them up out of the water. Once you are all across with all the gear, get dressed into your climbing gear and find the start of the route.
The usual climb is up a corner on the left side of the landward face. I think HVS 4c is about right. The protection is spaced and there is ground-fall potential from the move to get to the first belay. A rack of medium cams and big rocks will do. This is the second test of nerve, starting climbing.
Pitch one climbs the open corner and steps right, up the wall and steps back left to the belay in a left facing corner. There is a lot of very old, corroded gear in the corner which you can back up with a small hex.
Pitch two climbs rightwards out of the corner around the arete. It's a wee move to step around but once you are on the front face again it's all pretty good. Find a crack to climb up and belay underneath a very steep chimney.
Pitch three is very good. It climbs the very steep chimney which seems outrageous. The quality of the rock is not amazing on the first two pitches so the idea of pulling on overhanging spikes does not feel right, but the rock is much better on this pitch and it all works out. Easier climbing gets you to the top.
One long pitch of abseiling will get you down to the bottom. Please do not add any more rope to the anchors without cleaning away some of it. As is typical, people often add rope to the anchors and none is ever taken away, leaving a huge pile of rotting rope on the top. It's only ever us climbers who go up this thing so it is down to us to tidy up after ourselves.
Don't celebrate too much yet because you have to reverse the gear haulage and swim back across the channel before the tide comes in again. The stack is 60m or so out from the mainland cliff so once the tide is up over the flat rocks at the base of the stack it would be a long swim back to shore, or a long cold night waiting for the next low tide.
The climbing is on sandy, sloping ledges with spaced protection and there are often fulmars on the stack that will vomit on you. We should try not to disturb the birds but they make a welcome distraction from the slightly scary climbing. This route is not climbed for the sake of the quality of the climbing (although in sections it is quite good). But the package as a whole is a fantastic adventure in one of the furthest away corners of our beautiful country. It's a wonderful excuse to go to Sandwood Bay and you can always do some really high quality climbing at Sheigra while you are there.
If you want to climb this and a couple of other stacks (Old Man of Stoer and Old Man of Hoy) you might be interested in our Sea Stack Odyssey which aims to climb all three in six days, 13th to 18th June 2022.
In just over six weeks we will start our regular Guided Group Walks up Ben Nevis. These run all summer, every Sunday and Wednesday and cost just £90 per person. They are a great way for summer walkers to get some help to try to reach the summit of Ben Nevis. However, looking at the depth of snow on the top half of the mountain right now, we will certainly be walking over snow for the first few walks in May!
This is normally the case. In the spring when flowers are blooming in the glens and warm sunshine washes over the woodland, the summit is still in the icy grip of winter. Reaching the summit in May very often takes unprepared people by surprise. Snow on the summit covers the path making it very difficult to follow in the mist, the temperature can be very cold and snow overhangs the tops of the crags in dangerous cornices which are very difficult to see from above.
Walking up Ben Nevis in the spring is very often a brilliant experience and the best time of year to do so. However, the winter snow on the ground does demand extra equipment and skills to keep an ascent safe enough. Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team has, unfortunately, had to help a lot of people recently who did not have the best boots and equipment.
With snow on the ground you will need winter walking boots that are rated to take crampons, as well as crampons and an ice axe each. All of these can be hired in Fort William from these excellent providers:
In good visibility, navigating up and back down Ben Nevis can seem quite straightforward. It is a busy mountain and there is often a well trodden path to the summit, as well as cairns above 1150m about every 50m along the way. When you can see as far as Skye to the west and Cairngorm to the east, it is not surprising that you should be able to find your way easily. Even then, the path above 900m or so is usually covered in snow between December and May and can be nearly impossible to find and follow. If there is no boot trail through the snow, it can be quite confusing, even in good visibility. And the summit is only clear about 20% of the time in winter.
You might read comments saying "just follow the path" which are fine when there is no snow, but until it has all melted away you will need to be able to navigate properly.
In the cloud, when there is no definition between the snow on the ground and the cloud all around you it is a very serious place, and navigation skills need to be very accurate. The skills you need are to be able to follow a compass bearing accurately, and to measure the distance you walk along the ground by counting your paces. With these skills, you can then follow your progress on the map and plan the next section of walking, as long as you are very used to using maps and identifying features on the ground that are marked on the map. Of course, most features will be covered by the snow, just to make it even harder!
Here is our guide to help with the navigation skills you will need.
Of course, on the summit of Ben Nevis, when everything is white, is not the best place or time to learn navigation skills! Do some preparation, practice in a safe place first, get some training before you need to use the skills for real.
The hazards on Ben Nevis are very real. It is not a tourist attraction, it is a mountain that many tourists are attracted to.
But it is still a mountain with real dangers and the very real chance of injury or worse. Please be prepared, take it seriously, and be rewarded all the more for the effort that you put into your climb.
Over the weekend we joined forces with Girls on Hills to run our first Women's Winter Festival. After a big Covid shaped spanner was thrown into our plans to launch the event last year it was absolutely fantastic to get the festival going this year, and to have so many keen and capable women join us for the various events.
Over the two days, courses run by Girls on Hills and ourselves included:
SATURDAY 12TH MARCH
Kicking off on day one, we were fortunate to have fairly calm weather, although there was a few very wintry squalls to keep things suitably Scottish! After a chat about kit, weather forecasts and avalanche forecasts, Kirsty and one of the Winter Hill Walking Skills teams headed to Aonach Mor, while I took the other team to the North Face of Ben Nevis. The aim for the first day of the Winter Skills course was to introduce basic skills such as using crampons and an ice axe, ice axe arrests, route planning and avalanche awareness. Both teams did brilliantly and were ready to put all their new skills into practice on a mountain journey on day two.
Keri took her group of Winter Trail Runners to Aonach Mor where they were able to quickly get onto the snow. There, they put their microspikes to the test and worked out the limitations of their winter kit before enjoying a run over Sgurr Finniosgaig and Meall Beag, then back down to the Nevis Range base station.
All four of our climbing teams opted for the North Face of Ben Nevis, with Becky and Sally, and Rachel, Lindsey and Bea heading to Garadh Gully. Julie, Katie and Cat, and Emma, Donna and Ellie went to Number Two Gully Buttress. The ladies on these courses all had varying degrees of winter climbing and mountaineering experience, generally as seconds, and were keen to develop their leading skills so they can start getting on the sharp end. Saturday saw them brushing up on gear placements, belays and movement skills to get them ready for leading on Sunday.
SUNDAY 13TH MARCH
Sunday's weather forecast wasn't ideal with 50 to 60 mph winds suggested. Fortunately the snow conditions were more favourable so we had plenty of options to try and find shelter from the wind.
Keri and the Descending Performance group made use of many of the descent options on Cow Hill to hone their technique on a variety of terrain. This great little hill just above Fort William has everything from rough landy track to slippery muddy path to pathless tussocky heather. Plenty to get to grips with!
Emma and her team of navigators also took advantage of the fantastic Cow Hill with all it's contour squiggles to brush up on their skills. Accurate navigation is vital in the mountains, and particularly in the winter when you can be faced with zero visibility. Practising skills such as contour interpretation, pacing, timing and following a bearing in a friendly and inconsequential environment is a great way to make sure you know what to do when it really matters.
Both Winter Skills teams opted for a day in Glencoe on day two. Kirsty's group went for the Wee Buachaille (Buachaille Etive Beag) where they practised more movement skills on the steeper ground up to pt. 902, and then got themselves out the wind by digging some emergency shelters. My team were psyched to try a circular walk where they could practice a bit of navigation so we planned a route with a few options, depending on how the wind was when we got up high. We found shelter by heading into the Lost Valley and up towards the south west ridge of Stob Coire nan Lochan. The wind was lighter than expected so we were able to quickly tag the summit before descending off the north west ridge just as the squalls started to pick up.
After a big day on Saturday, two of the climbing teams had tired legs on Sunday morning so a visit to the Ice Factor and an afternoon at Onich Slabs was a good choice. They practised lots of movement skills and climbing techniques on ice and rock, so they're ready to go when they aim for their next mountain route. The other two groups both headed to Stob Coire nan Lochan, with Emma's team going for Dorsal Arete, and Julie's team opting for NC Gully. Ellie, Donna, Katie and Cat all had a turn on the sharp end, leading at least one pitch and absolutely crushing it!
What an incredible weekend!! For me, one stand out memory from the weekend was listening to one woman tell me on Saturday morning that she lacks confidence in the mountains. Then on Sunday afternoon I watched her lead the way confidently up a steep snow slope, 100% at ease with where she was and what she was doing. So awesome! The purpose of the weekend was to empower, encourage and enthuse women to explore the mountains in winter. I really hope that this weekend has done that, and everyone who took part has gone away with new skills and a massive boost to their confidence. It has been an absolute pleasure to share two days in the mountains with such an amazing and strong group of women.
Big thank you to all the participants and instructors, Girls on Hills for collaborating, and Ellis Brigham in Fort William for hosting. Hope to see you all on a mountain soon!
The 2023 Women's Winter Festival will take place on the 10th to 12th March. See you there!
The Scottish Highlands in winter can be wild and intimidating, but they can also be awe-inspiring and beautiful. With the right skills and knowledge, you can make these mountains your playground throughout the winter months.
This weekend we are teaming up with Girls on Hills to bring you a weekend of new experiences, new skills and a chance to push yourself physically or mentally, in a safe and supportive environment.
Whether you are new to snowy mountains or are an experienced winter climber looking to perfect your technique, the Women’s Winter Festival has something for you. Join us for a weekend of building confidence and having fun in a unique celebration of the great outdoors!
We have a huge range of workshops taking place as part of the inaugural Women's Winter Festival on 12th & 13th March 2022.
We are so looking forward to hearing from Becky Coles on Friday night, 7pm at Ellis Brigham in Fort William.
Climbing all the alpine 4000m peaks has yet to be completed by an all-women's team. Over two trips, one on skis in the Spring, the other throughout the summer, we climbed 56 peaks. She named it Project Alpine Spirit and discovered a fascinating history of women who shunned social norms and climbed in the Alps from the Victorian era to the present day. The talk tells the story of our journey and introduces some of the women who were at the forefront of Alpinism.
We have a couple of last minute spaces available. Get in touch, the weather looks good for the weekend!
Storms, snowfall and thaw-freeze cycles are all tough to endure but we need the bad weather to produce good ice. We now have some very good ice!
On Tuesday of this week the sun was shining, it was cold and calm. Many teams enjoyed climbing big classic ice climbs such as Orion Direct, Point Five Gully, Hadrian's Wall Direct, Observatory Buttress etc. I'm not sure about the Minus Gullies, but Vanishing Gully, Italian Right Hand, The Cascade, Green Gully, Comb Gully and many many more climbs are well iced and good to climb. The great ridges are also very good, icy mixed climbs are excellent, snow cover is good and there are some cornices but they are not terrifying.
This week I climbed Stringfellow with Ali on Monday. I have been wanting to climb this for many years and we picked an excellent day. Lots of ice on the rocks really helped the climbing, protection was OK, and it is a fantastic line on a great bit of Ben Nevis.
Tuesday was sunny and cold, and busy. Bob, Tony and I went to Coire Leis to stay away from trouble since we have climbed most of the big classics already. Cresta Direct gave us some lovely ice climbing in the sunshine! We had the whole coire to ourselves and the view over CMD Arete to Aonach Beag. The Little Brenva Face feels like a very different place to anyone else on Ben Nevis and is well worth visiting.
Wednesday started out sunny and frosty, but the strong SE wind barrelled down the Allt a'Mhuilinn and made it quite a cold, serious day. Tony, Bob and I went to climb a really cool route called Fatal Error on Pinnacle Buttress of The Tower, close to Stringfellow. This is an icy mixed climb that is really worth hunting down. The main pitch gives a long lead up a gully full of icy snow which is steep but you can get a foot out to a wee ledge every time to take the weight off your arms. Four long pitches of really interesting climbing lands you on Tower Ridge at the foot of The Great Tower. We chose to continue the Eastern Traverse into Observatory Gully to descend due to the strong winds.
I must admit that my enthusiasm for climbing today was much lower due to a forecast for drizzle and a thaw to summit level. However, we persevered and were rewarded with a much nicer day than expected. It didn't rain very much at all and the wind was much lighter than forecast. The freezing level was at about 1200m but because it was very cold for the last few days and the snow is quite well transformed into snow-ice, the climbing was good. We went to Nevis Range to use the gondola, and climbed on the East Face in Coire an Lochain. We were first there so we abseiled Left Twin and climbed Typhoon and Left Twin. Both were excellent and the gondola was still running so we got a ride down as well.
With so much good ice and a good forecast for the weekend, it's going to be busy on Ben Nevis. So, instead of queueing for Orion Direct try Pinnacle Buttress Direct or Raeburn's Buttress Intermediary Gully. Have a look at Nasturtium and Morton's Neuroma. Stringfellow, Tower Face of The Comb, Fatal Error. There are lots of outstanding climbs to explore. Or go to Nevis Range and climb on Aonach Mor or Aonach Beag.
It has been a tricky week demanding lots of careful planning, route choice and studying of the forecasts. Three nights in a row gave us thaws with a refreeze at dawn or during the day. Lots more snow fell, plenty of wind and general storminess kept us battered and embraced. It's mentally exhausting, as well as physically demanding, and I love it. But I am looking forward to a more settled period of weather.
On Monday, Mike and I were climbing Tower Ridge in improving weather until Mike became unwell and we had to go down. It was a real shame because it turned into a lovely afternoon, but these things happen sometimes and being ill on the traverse of Tower Gap is not ideal. Descending is a skills in itself and we got a good bit of practice. On climbs like an t'Aonach Eagach in Glen Coe there are many sections that are downclimbed, and we don't often get much practice. Climbing down is very often faster than abseiling, especially if there are several of you.
Tuesday was windy and not very cold. Wednesday was extremely windy, not very cold and very wet. Will and Jonathan had a nasty reminder of the challenges of gearing up in the wind and rain at just above freezing before we climbed Twisting Gully/Grooves in Coire nan Lochan. It was all a bit soggy, cold and wet. The crux of the day was getting out of the van in the morning but we were glad that we did. It was type 2 fun, but it was very well worth doing.
Today was very cold and very windy at times. We woke to snow at sea level and it didn't warm up much at all. Nobody ventured high on Ben Nevis due to the winds and fresh snow building up, so the west flank of Tower Ridge was popular. Vanishing Gully was fat and busy so we went over to 1931 Route. This is great fun and well worth looking up. You go underneath the first chockstone on some lovely icy steps, then under or over the second one depending on the build up of snow. There was not so much snow, so we went underneath but there is only just enough room to squeeze through if you exhale and push/pull at the same time. We were glad of some caving experience!
Tomorrow looks like it will be the day of the week. There is a lot of snow that has built up above 1000m now so it will be hard to get onto any of the big classic ice climbs. Point Five Gully is now fat, Hadrian's Wall Direct looks mega and I'm pretty sure that Orion Direct is good to climb as well. However, there is a significant avalanche hazard getting to any of these and I will certainly give it some time to settle before I go near them. The great ridges now all have some brilliant snow cover and usable snow-ice. Steep mixed climbs are pretty icy and will be hard work to clear. The big snow gullies are very full and general snow cover is pretty good.
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.