Nate is over from Washington State for a taste of Scottish winter climbing and the fabled tough conditions it is known for. We spent the day in a white room on Tower Ridge, Ben Nevis and I think we got enough conditiuons for several days. It started out good with a view of the crags as we walked in a it was dry too. As forecast though the snow started to fall early on and continued all day. There was a lot of soft snow on the route already so it was quite a workout. On the way down Nate sent a message to order two haggises and several puddings!
Thankfully a team went up Tower Ridge yesterday and there was a hint of a trail in the snow. The rocks are starting to fill in well but it is all quite soft snow. A thaw and refreeze would be great to turn the snow into solid snow-ice. As it is, the climbing does not feel very secure since the hooks and ledges are underneath the snow somewhere and the snow itself is pretty useless. If you don't know the route very well it will take a lot of time to climb the ridge. That said, ridges and buttresses are the best routes to climb right now. There is little ice (although it is starting to form again) and the gullies are deep in soft snow.
On the summit the visibility terrible, as you'd expect. We followed the compass bearing down and were grateful to get the reassurance of the cairns we passed. Being able to follow a compass bearing (preferably the right one) and to measure your distance covered over the ground are essential skills for navigating in this weather. The cairns are not sufficient to guide you down by themselves.
At last we dropped below the cloud at the crossing of the Red Burn on the Pony Track. It was quite strange to see some colour other than our red jackets, and a light down in Glen Nevis looked odd because we had seen no sign of anyone all day after we saw Ken and team cross over to Castle Ridge. So it was a great test of fitness, climbing and navigation, not to mention putting up with some uncomfortable weather. Perfect Scottish winter climbing!
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.