Winter climbing in Scotland is a bit like the board game "Snakes and Ladders". We throw the dice and see if we move a few squares forward, get a wee helping hand from a ladder or slide backwards down a snake. Right now it seems like we slid down a snake back just about to where we started. High pressure centred to the south of the UK is drawing warm moise air from the Canaries all the way up to Scotland where it is melting the little bit of snow and ice that had accumulated so far. We have another few days of it left too before it startes to cool down on 1st or 2nd January.
Climbing Tower Ridge with Alasdair and Euan today was great fun, as it always is. It's a stunning, long and varied climb, but it was not at all wintry. The Eastern Traverse had a bit of snow on it and there were a couple of small patches elsewhere. The very last 20m to the plateau was completely on snow as well. Today it was not frozen but it might be tomorrow and crampons might be needed if the snow freezes solid. We walked over to Number Four Gully and descended this back into Coire na Ciste just as the clouds cleared and gave us a view of the whole of the North Face.
The coires have snow in the top sections, above about 1000m. If you want to find some snow to stomp around on and learn some basic winter skills you might just about find something. The big easy gullies such as Tower Gully, Gullies Number Two, Three and Four, are all OK but there is good amount of rubble and a bare patch in Number Four Gully. There are no cornices to worry about. The mountain track has some ice and sections of hard snow on which are good for cramponing but it is easy enough to walk along the edges of the ice too.
The big ridges are mostly clear of snow - Tower Ridge has a few patches dotted around, the Eastern Traverse and last 20m are also covered. Castle Ridge is clear of snow, Ledge Route has a few patches, Observatory Ridge and NE Buttress have a few patches which might not be very helpful. Green Gully has melted away in the first pitch but you might still climb Number Three Gully Buttress on ice at the start and snow then rock at the top. There is still a huge patch of ice high on Hadrian's Wall Direct, just below the top. This is the most reliable patch of ice on Ben Nevis I think and is looking good but it is quite a long way to get to!
So, in general, it's a bit lean at the moment. Thankfully we have big mountaineering ridges such as Tower Ridge which are always great to climb. Curved Ridge and North Buttress on Buachaille Etive Mor are also good easy climbs, Barn Wall Route, Aonach Eagach and a few more ridges in Glen Coe are excellent fun while we wait for the snow and freezing conditions to return early in the New Year.
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.