The weather has been terrible this week. Part of my shed roof got blown off on Monday and streets have been flooded in Caol, despite being used to a bit of rain every now and again. Today was a very good day though, a big change in the weather caused by a ridge of high pressure giving us a freeze and fresh snow down to 500m or so. Light winds and just a few clouds way above the tops made the views very good too.
Nigel and I had planned to go out climbing on Monday, and I'm very glad he was able to change to today. We went up to Coire na Ciste on Ben Nevis to see what was there. We found a little fresh snow that freshened up the look of the place, making it look and feel much more wintry. The snow has blown in to the heads of the big gullies but hasn't added much to the snow pack. The rocks were not rimed below about 1250m and most of the buttresse were black. However, the old snow was very nicely frozen and there was just a tiny bit more ice than there was on Friday of last week. It was +15C at sea level at the start of the week but even this didn't strip everything!
If I had a pair of ropes today instead of just one single rope, I would have gone to climb Green Gully. That's not to say it would be steady away grade IV ice climbing, it would not be! But it did look like there would be enough ice and build up of snow-ice to make it possible to climb with a few hooks and steps on rock. A strong Swiss team climbed Two Step Corner on thin and patchy ice before finishing up Quickstep (I think) on true mixed ground. The mid-grade gullies on Creag Coire na Ciste are still basically bare of ice. Glover's Chimney has no ice on the first pitch but the rest of it is fine! Bumber Two Gully and the big easy gullies are all complete apart from Number Five Gully and the Castle Gullies.
Nigel and I took some variations to the normal route of Number Three Gully Buttress. We went right and up a groove after the first ice pitch, theen right and up another groove to get straight onto the rock step of the normal route. This is a really nice variation that adds a lot more climbing but at the same grade. There are many different finishes to the route and we took the most exciting! Straight up from the last belay is a thin chimney that gets you onto a ramp going right to a brilliant wee pedestal in a fantastic position. Climb this and step off the top to the top of the crag.
We enjoyed the views from the top before cutting a snow bollard and abseiling into Number Three Gully. There is no cornice to speak of and it is possible to climb down from the top but we wanted to refresh the details of cutting snow bollards.
If we get more of these lean winters, we need to start thinking about climbs differently. In my mind, Two Step Corner is an ice climb that needs to be fat with ice to make it a good climb. However, the Swiss team that climbed it today were having a great time, and had been put off by any preconceptions about it. Last winter I climbed the Central Gullies on Creag Coire na Ciste when they were very thin and patchy, and we enjoyed really good climbing. Some ice climbs will not be fun in mixed conditions, but many of them will be. I wonder when someone will make the first ascent of Point Five Gully as a mixed climb!
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.