Last Friday was a very wet day. Rain at all levels fell for much of the day. Sensible people stayed indoors. Saturday was cold though so all the wet snow froze into solid snow-ice. The rain did not last long enough to melt away much of the snow cover, so we now have a really good cover of very well frozen hard snow all over the place. We've had some fresh snow since and variable wind directions so there are areas of fresh soft snow but also lots of scoured slopes, especially on the North Face climbs on Ben Nevis.
So, Tower Ridge on Monday was pretty serious. Doug, Brad and I barely touched rock once we were above Douglas Gap. The ridge is cover in hard icy snow that is great for cramponing but if you were to get it wrong and slip, you'd be off like a shot. Protection is hard won as well being buried under icy snow and cracks being full of ice. To add to this, it was a blustery day with the wind gusting on many different directions, scouring the slopes and reducing the avalanche risk, but also blowing us around all over the place.
Once we made it to the top through blasts of sharp ice and cold flukey gusts of wind, the walk down was quite serene. The Red Burn was sheltered, had a nice cover of soft snow to ease the walking, and we had some beautiful stellar dendrites (snowflakes) gently falling onto our jackets. What a relief after a real battle on the ridge.
Today was mercifully calmer but just as cold, dry and with fewer snow showers. Doug, Brad and I watched a long line of people go up towards the Minus and Orion Faces so we turned right and were pleased to find The Curtain with nobody there. The ice on The Curtain is now taking good ice screws and is quite fat. A gentle walk down Ledge Route and across the coire to Vanishing Gully got us there just before a Belgium team. Vanishing Gully is super hooky right now after many ascents and also has really good ice. So, three uber-classic climbs for Doug on his first two days of Scottish winter climbing.
Lots of big ice climbs are starting to be climbed now. All three minus gullies have seen ascents, Orion Direct, Sickle and Hadrian's Wall are all fat and have been climbed, and Point Five Gully is very well formed but also under near constant spin drift! Mixed climbing is pretty tough with icy cracks and thick rime but the big ridges are all very well covered with hard snow. There are big cornices in quite a few places, especially Creag Coire na Ciste. Tune in to the excellent International Meet organised by Simon Richardson and Mountaineering Scotland for more updates - https://www.facebook.com/MountaineeringScotland/
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.