There is a wonderful world of single ice axe mountaineering to enjoy here in the Outdoor Capital of the UK. Our first Classic Winter Mountaineering week has coincided with a rapid return to cold and snowy conditions after a big thaw at the weekend. Rupert and Tom have been enjoying some excellent days out with our mountaineering and climbing instructor Dave, and a useful but less comfortable day out today in the rain!
Ledge Route on Ben Nevis was a perfect start to the week. The drop in temperature on Sunday night and during Monday was remarkable, and there was ice and a little snow on the rocks by the time the team got there. Ledge Route has an awkward rock slab low down on the climb that had enough ice to make it difficult, but not enough ice to be useful for climbing. The tricky theme continued for the rest of the way up the ridge as well. A little snow on the rocks covered the hand and foot holds but was not useful for climbing at all. Despite all this the team got up the route very well and descended Number Four Gully back down into Coire na Ciste, looking at ways to safeguard descents with the rope.
Tuesday was a bit more windy and cloudy so the team went to climb Curved Ridge on Buachaille Etive Mor, a fantastic, long route that stays well sheltered from the wind most of the time. As well as climbing these routes, Rupert and Tom are keen to learn the ropes, the techniques and skills for future winter mountaineering. Dave has been teaching them all sorts of useful things to take them from winter walkers to winter mountaineers.
When the weather is good and there is fresh snow on the ground, there is nothing better than a traverse of an t'Aonach Eagach in Glen Coe. Standing proud above the glen and reaching down the length if it, the Aonach Eagach is a mountaineering must do. It is several kilometres long, committing, exposed and brilliant. Being able to move sufficiently quickly whilst also making sure it is safe enough is the balancing act you need to do, just as much as balancing act along the narrow crest of the ridge.
So, after three superb days of burly wintry goodness, today was a different kind of day altogether. Heavy rain, snow above 900m and very strong winds battered Scotland. The west coast does seems to enjoy the worst of the storms and we need the storms to bring the snow and pack it into the gullies and corries, as well as the rapidly changing temperatures needed to consolidate the snow and hold it in place. We do need to endure the January storms, but enduring them is not much fun sometimes. So, Dave and the guys spent a very useful day learning more about avalanches and how to avoid them, and in doing some more technical ropework in Glen Nevis when it brightened up a bit this afternoon.
And Glen Nevis is on the cards for the team tomorrow as well. Stob Ban, a beautiful pointy peak in the Mamores, is most likely where the team will finish the week, enjoying the East Ridge of North Buttress and traversing the summit. We have another Classic Winter Mountaineering trip in the spring (11th to 15th April) when the conditions will be very different. It will be interesting to see how the two weeks will compare, one at the start of the winter and one at the very end, but equally good in different ways.
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.