Self reliance is a fundamental principle of mountaineering. By participating we accept this and take responsibility for the decisions we make. These 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.

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Can you spot Kenton Cool?

At last we had a cold, dry day with some sunshine. I came home with dry gloves and a big smile on my (wind blown) face. Neil, Dan and I went up Ledge Route, abseiled into Number Five Gully to see how snow bollards work and came back down Ledge Route. They want to have a go at the Matterhorn in the future so climbing down stuff will be a good skill to have.

Where the wind has scoured the slopes, the snow is quite firm. This is the case on Ledge Route and will be the same on NE Buttress. Anywhere sheltered where the snow has been collecting now has deep, dense windslab on it making travel hard work and a bit hazardous.

From what I saw today Route One on Carn Dearg Buttress  was climbed, NE Buttress, Tower Ridge, Gutless and SW Ridge of Douglas Boulder. Green Hollow Route was climbed and a good team found the ice ran out on Newbiggin's Route Far Right Variation. The Shroud is a bit fatter and now has two columns touching down. Strong wind, cold temperatures and lots more snowfall at the weekend.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

The weather was not as good as forecast so Mick and I went for a very good second option on Ben Nevis. First option was NE Buttress in the afternoon sunshine, second option was Gutless on Douglas Boulder. There is some ice on Gutless and the chimney section was very good fun with a great bit of bridging to escape the chimney. The steep neve to the belay ledge was quite disturbing though with no protection for 12m or so and no secure axe placements. We went over to the SW Ridge and joined a few other teams going up this. 

Some big avalanches have released recently from the west side of Tower Ridge leaving behind big crown walls under Garadh Gully and Vanishing Gully. The Castle Gullies went twice and reached the half way lochain path both times! SE winds are very good for making big avalanches on Ben Nevis. On the plus side The Shroud has touched down!

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

The trench in the snow up to Coire nan Lochan is now well established as another big squad from the international meet went up there today. Mick and I went up to climb Scabbard Chimney but with all the climbers in the coire we ended up being the second team on the route. Scabbard Chimney is a mixed route that is best with a bit of neve - today it was entirely neve and ice so the climbing was quite straightforward. It felt a grade easier than normal but I do feel more confident on ice. There was even quite reasonable protection which is not too hard to dig out. The snow and ice come away from the rock easily enough.

We made the quick abseil down to the foot of The Tempest and back down to climb Specter. This is also climbed all on neve and ice with rock protection and ice screws. Two great climbs and good company. Most of the big climbs in the coire were being tackled today including Unicorn. Great craic seeing visitors from around the word enjoying some of the best climbs in great conditions.

Monday, 27 January 2014

The hills have been buried in snow! Steady rain last night fell as snow above 500m and lots of it came down. Sarah and I went up to Stob Coire nan Lochan to climb Raeburn's Route on Central Buttress  which worked out to be a good decision. The crag faces East so in this SE wind it seemed like a good bet to avoid the avalanches. We also arrived just after a big team from the BMC Scottish Winter Climbing Meet so there was a very nice trail (trench) all the way to the routes!

Only the very last we bit to the routes was spooky for the avalanche hazard but I was not keen to go any where near Broad Gully, SC or NC Gullies. The crag was very white, well frozen and with lots of smears of ice on it. Thinner patches of the old snow have firmed up a bit and are quite nice now but there is still a lot of soft neve. The stars of the climbing world were on big routes such as Inclination, Central Grooves, Scabbard Chimney and Crest Route. Looks like we might get a few days of slightly drier and colder Easterly winds before the mixed weather returns for the weekend so the international meet teams will hopefully be able to get some great climbs done.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

With rain hammering on the van, the wind blowing waterfalls back uphill and a couple of flashes of lightening, we were not keen to get going this morning. But after half an hour of swithering we finally got out and got going. It rained for half an hour more but it was then mostly dry for the rest of the day and the wind was not so bad most of the time. Donald and I went up to Church Door Buttress with Al, Bob, Rich and Bram - Donald, Rich and Bram climbed Crypt Route while Al, Bob and I climbed Flake Route.

It cooled down during the day but the snow was still wet and mushy. When it freezes it will make some fantastic ice. Donald emerged from Crypt Route as we got to The Arch and the final chimney which was well iced and good fun. It was a proper Scottish day with rain then freezing conditions, spindrift, squalls, soft snow, good ice, frozen ropes and good company. Fantastic!

Thursday, 23 January 2014

I did two jobs in one today - I helped Ed and Cathal reach the summit of Ben Nevis and we helped the Lochaber MRT find a lone walker who had spent the night in the summit shelter. Ed and Cathal were on a quick stag trip to Scotland. They played golf at St. Andrews yesterday and came across ready for the walk up Ben Nevis today. As we were getting things together for the walk the rescue team call out for the missing person went out.

Fresh snow fell last night down to 500m or so and there was a good cover this morning. There was about 10 to 15cm of dry, soft powder in most places so the skiing must have been excellent. It was colder than it has been as well so the old snow was quite firm underneath. Unfortunately the visibility on the summit was very poor which is why the lone walker decided not to leave the summit shelter for fear of losing his way without a map and compass.

Walking off the hill was a good test of compass work! We could barely see the ground under our feet. Without a compass and the ability to use it there would be no chance of finding your way. The cairns above 1200m are buried and almost useless; you certainly can not rely on them to find the way. It's an excellent reminder of just how challenging the hills here can be and how good your mountaineering skills need to be even on quite a nice day like today.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Slightly warmer today so Mick and I headed slightly higher. We climbed Pinnacle Arete on Ben Nevis which was good fun. The SE wind has been blowing onto the Trident Buttresses and there was less of the fresh snow. The old snow is still soft but there were one or two blobs of ice that made quite a nice change. It was quite windy on the top section of ridge but not too bad.

We had time to go down Ledge Route which was actually quick and easy. There is so much snow on it you could ski down! There is a little ice around and today's slight warming followed by tomorrow's freeze will help. However we are forecast yet more snow and strong winds. Other teams climbed Tower Ridge and one team walked up to Minus Three Gully ... I'll be interested to hear how they got on.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

It was a swirly, whirly snow storm today. There was no way under it, no way over it so we had to go through it. We didn't find a bear in the caves of Shelf Route but we did find fun climbing. The forecast made me quite indecisive first thing and D Gully Buttress was the first option for Mick and me. This looked quite black from the walk in and the snow was not falling so heavily so we went for Shelf Route instead. This follows the line of the right hand chimney on the side of Crowberry Tower in the picture above.

The snow was soft of course and the ground underneath was not frozen - turf and loose rocks were coming out from underneath the deeper bits of snow. There were a few blobs of ice but as with most routes there is a very good cover of snow on it.

The wind on Crowberry Tower was not so strong and on the summit it was fine. There was snow falling for part of the day but not that much accumulated and the descent down Coire na Tulloch was fine. Curved Ridge is in great condition and it has seen some traffic so the snow is compacted. Some ice is forming but it was only just freezing on the summit.

Monday, 20 January 2014

A great day on the Aonach Eagach today with Chris, Martin and David. Light enough wind and great snow cover helped us along the ridge and we even got a bit of sunshine. It was slightly warmer than I had hoped which made the snow a bit soft. This was fine for this level of mountaineering but not really what you want for steep climbing. The snow forms a nice crest along much of the ridge and there are cornices in several places. Most of the tricky bits are a bit easier with this snow cover and there is enough rock sticking out to use the ropes on.

The descent into Glen Coe was also very good - turn down into the glen from the final Munro summit and follow the long line of firm snow to the bottom of the screes. We managed to get down in less than an hour and a half and you get brilliant views back up the glen and onto the ridge. An excellent day.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

In previous winters we have had too many thaws that stripped back the snow and did not allow ice to build at all. This winter seems determined not to give us a proper thaw for weeks at a time! The weather yesterday was not as wet as forecast but it was warm enough to make the snow mostly all wet. It certainly triggered a few big avalanches again.

Today the snow was very stable in the cooler conditions. Despite some stars being out last night and a wee frost at sea level the snow did not freeze completely. There is still soft and crusty snow in the coires and gullies of Ben Nevis. I was hoping for a day in crunchy hard snow but it was not as good as expected. Water was running down the ice and it seemed to be above freezing at 1000m.

However, ice has been forming and we have an amazing cover of snow. There is ice on The Shroud and Waterfall Gully has formed again. The Curtain is complete but too thin for secure climbing and it's the same on other routes such as The Chute. Gully climbs such as Green Gully and Point Five Gully might be quite nice now but it's hard to say - I think they might be a bit soft still. The higher crags are rimed up. There were people climbing SW Ridge of Douglas Boulder, Tower Ridge, Ledge Route and something on South Trident Buttress. A hard freeze would be nice now.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Going by all the green on the Lochaber SAIS Avalanche Forecast it looks like today's thaw has finally penetrated the snow at all levels. I'm going up Ben Nevis for a wee look around tomorrow. Should be good and crispy!

Monday, 13 January 2014

Going climbing with Donald King and Andy Nelson means I'm going to have sore arms at the end of the day! Donald spotted a new line to have a go at on Church Door Buttress, Bidean nam Bian recently and today was the day. It was very nice for climbing with light winds, cold and dry. The rocks were well rimed up and had quite a few bits of usable ice with clean rock underneath for placing protection.

Donald pulled out all the stops on the first pitch. The first half of the pitch was up thin cracks with reasonable footholds and a nice warm up to the second half of the pitch. This was much more of a battle and required a few hard pulls and lock-offs with nothing much for the feet to reach a ledge at the top of the flake of Flake Route. A fully committed lead from Donald up very difficult climbing, probably VIII,8/9 and sustained for the 35m first pitch.

There was then a short link pitch for me and another pitch of more reasonable climbing for Andy to reach the great arch. We finished with a memorable abseil down the outside of the arch all the way back to the start. More fresh snow fell today and conditions are still generally soft for ice climbing.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

More fresh snow yesterday and today made for nice skiing yesterday but with lots of snow being transported into the gullies and fresh soft cornices growing quickly. Today was too windy for the gondola and you could see the snow being blown around from my house. It would be worth staying clear of cornices and gullies for a wee while.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

The stars were out last night and it cooled down rapidly, firming up the snow quite well. Today dawned bright and Andreas and I were looking to make the most of it on the last of five days of climbing. The snow above the CIC Hut was crusty and as we looked up at Point Five Gully it started to snow so we decided not to take a gamble with this route but to make sure we climbed something instead.

So our second option was Vanishing Gully which worked out well. I got one ice screw on the first pitch about five metres above the start and nothing else! The entrance to the cave was well buried but luckily I started digging in the right place to get inside and out of the spindrift. The second pitch is steep and soft but much better protected with a couple of good ice screws and a couple of rock runners as well. It's not time to push your grade up to V in the current conditions. In fact if you are a grade V climber this route will be an emotional experience for you. If you are a grade VI climber you'll find it absorbing and fun.

Andreas and I carried on up to Tower Ridge which we descended. One team made a trail up Tower Ridge which has a brilliant snow crest at the start. Donald and Guy climbed NW Face Route on Douglas Boulder, Rich and Gillian climbed Fawlty Towers I think and there were a couple of other teams in the coire. Conditions are still generally soft with excellent snow cover, a little ice and well rimed buttresses with ice filled cracks.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Andreas is keen to do some leading so we went up the gondola at Nevis Range and walked up to the top of the crags on the East Face. The chairlift is nearly fixed after it was derailed in the last storm but it was not quite ready to run today so we walked all the way up soft snow with an icy crust in places. The crag was well sheltered from the wind and there was a small soft cornice on the older big cornice with a band of fresh soft snow underneath.

We abseiled in to Easy Gully from a snow bollard which was easy to make in the soft snow and plenty strong enough. The walk across to Central Buttress was not too spooky and the climbing on Morwind was very nice. There is lots of soft snow and there is also a bit of ice in the lowest chimney which was fun to climb (but a bit harder than the normal route which avoids this on the left). The turf was very usable and the cracks are full of ice - it helps to know where to start digging to find protection! Andreas did a fine job of leading the third pitch which has a tricky step into a groove. It was raining on the top (1200m) when we walked back down. It was very pleasant climbing but it would be so much nicer if it froze properly!

Monday, 6 January 2014

While Andreas and I did lots of coaching in The Ice Factor, Donald and Mustafa went up Ledge Route on Ben Nevis. Mustafa has been up the Seven Summits and is keen to enjoy some Scottish climbing. Today the weather was not as bad as forecast - the wind was not so strong, it rained but not all the time and the clouds were higher than expected so there were some views to look at.

It is warmer though with rain below 1100m. This triggered some more avalanches, one down Number Five Gully which Donald and Mustafa watched and one down the gully north of the Red Burn of which they saw the debris. Hopefully this slight thaw will penetrate the deep weak layers in the snow and stabilise it all when it cools down again. It could also make some very nice climbing.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

With bad weather arriving at about lunch time Andreas and I went to Buachaille Etive Mor to climb North Buttress. Not surprisingly the route is buried in snow! In some places this was useful and in others it was a bit of pain. The approach up the broken rocks was a bit easier than normal because many of the rocks are covered in snow. We found a boot trail as well which made it much easier too.

On the climb the quality of the snow varied from weight bearing under foot to totally useless but hard work to dig away. A single pick would never have been sufficient to hold body weight but with two of them and by focusing on good footwork it all seemed to work out OK. Spreading my weight over three points of contact was usually enough to make me float. All very good for your technique but a bold approach is useful. It is also useful to learn the precise density of snow required to hold your weight.

Under the snow the rocks and turf are not frozen. There is a little ice but most of the rocks are not frozen in place. This made it easier to look at placing wires on belays (Andreas is Swiss and wants to practice placing anchors). I was grateful to know where some of the good spikes are for belays since everything was so well covered.

There is a trail up Curved Ridge and a large area of avalanche debris under Crowberry Basin. Crowberry Gully is very full of soft snow and even the mixed routes on Crowberry Tower such as Shelf Route are so buried that it will be hard to climb them. A big cornice and steep scarp slope have formed at the top of Coire na Tulloch but we managed to sneak down the east side of the coire and got down with a good glisade to find even more avalanche debris from a couple of nights ago down in the gorge. It's an Ice Factor day tomorrow - windy, warm and wet.

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