Third and fourth year students on an Adventure degree at West Highland College get to plan and carry out an expedition. This year students will be going to Morocco, Mongolia, Georgia and Iceland. Unfortunately I will not be going with any of them but I did spend today with three students who will be going to Iceland. They have a ten day trip to explore some of the mountains and ice caps there and today we were looking at some skills to help with late snow patches, snow bridges over streams, stream crossing, glacier travel and crevasse rescue.
We went up Ben Nevis to the Allt a Mhuilinn a bit above the CIC Hut. The snow cover has been melting away much faster than I thought it would. Just six days ago I walked across a snow bridge covering the stream about 500m below the CIC Hut - today there was no snow there at all. We had very deep snow covering the stream a month ago and it is melting and breaking up now, but also the snow is still covering the stream in many places. There are lots of places where you could easily fall through the snow into the stream. This would be a horrible accident and it would be very hard to get out in some places.
I remember a couple of accidents when people fell into the cavern underneath the snow at the foot of Number Five Gully. If you go up the gully or onto Ledge Route do take care. It is very hard to be sure the snow is solid beneath you and not just covering a big cavern.
Today we found some excellent bits to practice glacier travel and crevasse rescue. It all had a sense of realism too with the streams underneath! It's mnot all about pully systems and hoists. There is a lot to know about glacier travel, avoiding crevasses in the first place, and methods of extraction without resorting to using a hoist off a buried axe anchor. We did the pully syustem as well though and my rucksack was successfully rescued a couple of times!
None of the big ice climbs are still complete. They all have water running down sections of them and even the great ridges do not have much snow on them now. You can get up Castle Ridge without touching snow, Ledge Route has patchy cover, Tower Ridge is the same. The coires are full of snow as are the big easy gullies. The bum slide down the Red Burn is still excellent though!
So I guess we will not be doing any more ice climbing this year. It is surprising to me how quickly it all went. My last winter climb was Point Five Gully exactly three weeks ago and it started to warm up straight after that day. We can get some late cold spells and falls of snow in late April and May. If it cools down a bit the big gullies will be very nice to climb too and the skiing is really good. Don't hang around though, it's melting fast.
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.