For the last three days, Al Halewood and I have been working with students and staff at West Highland College getting them ready for the winter. We had a day inside on Wednesday going over all sorts of theory about what to expect, what the hazards are, avalanche awareness, human factors and decision making. We went through the very excellent Be Avalanche Aware process which I recommend everyone to study up on and to follow. Along with the theort we did some practical exercises for the students to work through and gave them some real world methods of following the advice such as making sure everyone knows the avalanche hazard and what the route is, giving everyone the chance to voice any concerns and to vocalise everything that you see, giving the right to veto to anyone in the group and making a Ullyses contract about places not to go to.
Yesterday during Storm Caroline we went into the Lost Valley to make sure we stayed out of the worst of the wind. We did get the ice axes out on a steep grass slope too! Then we went to the ice wall in the Ice Factor for some climbing coaching! Today was much more wintry after th etemperature dropped dramatically yesterday and the snow started to build up. We went into Coire na Ciste on Ben Nevis and found some good old frozen now and plenty of pillows of fresh snow and windslab.
Since the rocks were wet yesterday when the temperature dropped super quickly they were icy today. With a covering of soft useless snow it was fairly tortuous moving around in the coire. The great ridges will be the same right now, slippery icy rocks with soft snow on them, so expect them to take a long time and to be pretty heavy going. There is some rime on the steeper rocks and ice has been growing very quickly. There is lots of water in the crags after the rain earlier this week and it is freezing fast in the -10C temperture on the summit. A team climbed Number Three Gully Buttress today which had a really nice pitch of ice at he start. Green Gully was complete as well but, to be clear, it is definitely not grade IV at the moment, nor guaranteed to be good ice in it! It is a good indicator of things to come though.
So the students and staff from the college had a great preparation for the winter and the crags have also had a very good preparation for the winter to come. The rocks are cold, ice is quick to form and snow is starting to build up. The MWIS forecast says that the ground is frozen from sea level upwards but don't read this as saying the turf is frozen everywhere. It is not frozen everywhere but it will be very soon in this cold weather!
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.