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, 27 March 2014

A quick hit on Ben Nevis today with Will. We climbed Gremlins, just next to Thompson's Route. I had a good look at it yesterday and in fact I've been eyeing it up for years now waiting for it to ice up. Today was the day and it was a great climb.

Will led the first pitch with a nice bulge half way up. The second pitch was more sustained but never too full-on, just a little thought provoking with the slightly variable ice. The snow is now solid everywhere and there is some great climbing on offer. Orion Direct and Astral Highway look brilliant and have no cornice or avalanche danger at all now. 

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Brilliant weather and great climbing today for Mike and me on Ben Nevis. It's been a while since Mike has been out climbing but with what he's been through it was great to share such a good day with him on his return to climbing.

The clouds did not clear last night so there was no frost and the snow low down was quite soft and wet still. Higher up it was cold enough though and on Thompson's Route the ice was great for climbing. It was dripping a little still but really not much. The last pitch was on perfect snow and ice. On top we soaked up the warm sunshine and admired the view before enjoying the best slide down the Red Burn I've had for a while. A top day.

There were not many other people out and the Orion Face was empty. Big cornices still threaten the climbs from Hadrian's Wall Direct to Point Five Gully which is a shame because it looks like Nemesis is iced up. Dave, Ezra and Arlo had fun and enjoyed the sunshine on NE Buttress.

There are cornices above the cascades still and many of the gullies on Number Three Gully Buttress and Creag Coire na Ciste. They are reasonably stable but you would not want one to fall off while you are underneath due to their size.

Vanishing Gully is complete but thin and probably a bit cruddy. Italian Right Hand was climbed today and looked good. Tower Ridge also had a few ascents as did Gremlins.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Blue sky this morning gave way to cloud and light drizzle for much of the day. The wind dropped but it was still a soggy that will be consolidating the soft snow quite nicely. Alex, Yasin and I are ticking off the great ridges of Ben Nevis with one climb each year. We have done Ledge Route and Tower Ridge so today it was Castle Ridge.

The wind yesterday scoured much of the soft snow from the ridge and indeed much of the Castle Coire seemed to be scoured too. The Castle was back to the old snow as well as what I could see of the slope above The Shroud. So the climbing on Castle Ridge was not buried, there was just enough snow to make it a bit footery. The first crux corner had some snow in it but the main crux chimney was mostly just rock. Good fun climbing though and a good introduction to technical mixed climbing for Yasin and Alex.

Dave, Ezra and Arlo climbed Douglas Boulder SW Ridge including the steep first pitch. This is much more mixed than it was before the big thaw a week ago giving entertaining climbing all the way up. Looks like sunshine and colder temperatures tomorrow and Thursday.

Monday, 24 March 2014

At long last we have high pressure building which will bring stable, dry, cold weather this week. We had another huge fall of snow at the end of last week (down to sea level) and it is currently being blown around a lot by the strong wind high up. The avalanche hazard will be tricky but if you can get to the climbs I think there will be some great climbing to have a go at this week.

Friday, 21 March 2014

Another challenging day on Ben Nevis! Claire and I walked up the Allt a'Mhuilinn with big plans and a rack of ice screws for Orion Direct. When it started snowing once we got to the CIC Hut we started to have doubts. It continued to snow so by the time we got to the bowl under the Minus Face we swithered a bit then changed plans completely. Two teams went up Slingsby's Chimney heading for NE Buttress by the look of it.

We went back round into Coire na Ciste heading for Mercury, a great looking route next to Green Gully that looked to be iced up yesterday. We approached this from the bottom left side of The Comb by a steep snow slope of firm neve. Unfortunately Mercury was made of cruddy ice not well frozen to the rocks and coming away in big chunks. We climbed a pitch up to the right of Green Gully (which looks fantastic).

By this time there were several large avalanches going off including from Number Four Gully, Number Three Gully and from above Two Step Corner. We took this as a hint and abseiled off! The slope under Green Gully had 40cm fresh wind slab on a weak layer. Blocks one metre across were releasing once isolated! So we descended with some care and got down as quickly as we could! Ben Nevis 1 - Team Abacus 0. An excellent learning day and although we did not climb anything we made good decisions and came away satisfied. Altogether a great and challenging week of climbing with Claire.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

A perfect Scottish winter day today full of harsh weather, decisions, challenging climbing, harsh weather, avalanches, navigation and harsh weather with a little sunshine right at the end! Claire and I walked up to the CIC Hut on Ben Nevis in the rain with the tops just starting to get some fresh snow fall on them. The teams in the hut were not in a rush to get going with the forecast being for an improvement later on. We were tempted to follow the French to climb NE Buttress but the wind was still swirling around quite a lot so we went in to Coire na Ciste instead.

We climbed Thompson's Route which is a great snowy mixed route. The old snow had not yet frozen at the bottom and there was lots of spindrift but we persevered and were rewarded with a great climb. The snow on the last few metres was re-freezing well already and with a cold spell coming I think there will be lots of great climbing to enjoy.

From what I could see Orion Direct and Zero Gully are still complete but the Minus Gullies are washed out. Hadrians Wall is very fat still as well as Smith's Route. Observatory Buttress, Tower Scoop and the Tower Cascades were climbed today. The ice routes on the flank of Tower Ridge are no longer there but higher up there is still lots of ice. Gremlins looks excellent and is not often formed. Generally the cornices appear to be smaller and more stable however I certainly did not see all of them. It would be tricky climbing out of Number Three Gully but I don't think much more of the cornice will fall off in the cold weather over the next few days.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Yesterday I forgot my camera so thanks to Claire for these pictures. We went to climb Curved Ridge which was a good choice. We even got a touch of sunshine and the views were very good much of the time. Claire led me up the whole route including Crowberry Tower (much more slippery than Curved Ridge) which was great practice at the front end of the rope, making decisions and setting up belays.

We descended the west ridge of Coire na Tulloch and cut back in to the coire low down to see the avalanche debris from a few weeks ago. There are a couple of snow patches on Curved Ridge and generally excellent snow cover in the coire. It was all very wet though of course. Today we went to the Ice Factor to do some coaching on climbing ice and then under Ballachulish Bridge for the mixed climbing. Hopefully we'll be able to get onto a good climb tomorrow as the temperature drops.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Claire was the lucky winner of the Jottnar prize draw on UKClimbing with the prize of a week of climbing with me. Unfortunately the weather has not been quite what we hoped for but, thankfully, Claire is very open minded and happy to get whatever we can out of the week. The sustained thaw is continuing to wash away snow at quite a rapid rate and ice is falling off the crags. Water ice is quite durable in a thaw but we had snowy ice on the climbs and I'm concerned that we'll loose this quite quickly.

Today Claire and I went in to Coire na Ciste to try to see what is holding on to the snow but the visibility was very poor and all we could hear was continuous rock and ice fall off Tower Ridge west flank and a sizable chunk of cornice falling off from above Creag Coire na Ciste. We retreated to Castle Ridge and had a very enjoyable climb up it on rock with snow patches in between.

Thursday and Friday look colder this week so fingers crossed we'll get some ice to climb then. In the meantime Claire and I will enjoy some great mountaineering days.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Sustained, persistent, slow thaw continues to be with us. It started on Thursday and will be with us until early next week. There will be lots of snow and ice left to climb when it freezes again. We just have to wait and make do while it's soggy.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

It was Big Wednesday on Ben Nevis today. A better frost last night and slightly colder day with a perfect blue sky and light enough wind made it a brilliant day for ice climbing. There were many teams out enjoying the great conditions. In the picture below you might be able to see teams in all three minus gullies, Left Hand Route, Right Hand Route, Minus One Buttress, Long Climb Finish to Orion Direct, Orion Diretisima and Slav Route. There were also teams climbing Point Blank and Integration.

Craig, John and I wanted to get onto some solid ice after the soft snow we found yesterday. We enjoyed the steep steps and great ice on Minus Three Gully despite not being able to get into the cave due to it being banked out with snow. We abseiled down Slingsby's Chimney and got back down in good time. So John and I went back for more, this time climbing Left Hand Route to the shelf coming round from NE Buttress. Three pitches of great climbing and a swift descent got us back to the van just after 5pm!

Tomorrow looks like it will be wet and warm but not a wash out completely. Hopefully next week we'll get some more cold days to enjoy the amazing ice we have right now.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Beautiful sunshine again today with a reasonable frost so it was time to find out if there is ice to climb in the gullies. John, Craig and I went for Crowberry Gully which was certainly going to be full of snow but what kind of snow was still in question. When the sunshine is so warm on the walk in it's always a bit strange thinking you're going ice climbing. It was a good day to go for the Crowberry Gully / Agag's Groove combination.

The gully is certainly very full of snow and most of it is quite straight forward. Unfortunately the snow has still not turned to ice higher up and the climbing is quite delicate and insecure. This led to the comment of the day "Mike, do you have to wear a special harness .... to fit your balls in!" Ballsy leads with no protection are still the order of the winter!

Good news from Ben Nevis. Lots of big ice climbs were climbed today including Minus One Gully, Minus Two Gully, Minus Three Gully, Left Hand Route, various lines on Orion Face and Observatory Buttress. Cornice collapse is a serious hazard at the moment with the hot sunshine on the cornices all day long. Several avalanches have been triggered by collapsing cornices - don't be caught underneath one when it falls off! Another good day tomorrow before it goes a bit soggy at the end of the week.

Monday, 10 March 2014

After getting soaked on Wednesday last week there was a substantial thaw for a few days with some very strong winds too. Many very large avalanches went off, triggered often by cornice collapses. The general snow cover is still very good though and, especially on Ben Nevis, there is plenty of ice on the routes. I was working with a team from The One Show on BBC TV today wanting to do a short piece on the development of ice axes and what's possible in the winter hills. We ended up on the West Face of Aonach Mor which looked magnificent even if it was not technical climbing. A team climbed Golden Oldie today in the sunshine and there were folk out on Ben Nevis climbing Mercury, Number Three Gully Buttress and the great ridges. It's a little too warm to be perfect but it's a lot better than what we've had so far this winter!

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Sub-optimal conditions today on North Buttress, Buachaille Etive Mor. Despite this we had views across Rannoch Moor for the whole climb and some quite worthwhile snow on the route making the climbing very pleasant.

The walk down was less comfortable. Heavy rain with a little stingy hail blown at us on 80mph gusts while we waded through knee deep saturated snow. We got quite wet. Despite this it was an excellent day out. Remember, we don't do it because it's easy. And drying out when you get home feels great ... unfortunately you have to go out and get wet in the first place!

Tony and John enjoyed the experience which was capped off by seeing the monstrous avalanche trail and debris from a couple of weeks ago. It's going to take a few months to melt that lot away.

Monday, 3 March 2014

Raeburn's Arete faces you as you walk up the Allt a'Mhuilinn and is an alluring line. In winter is very rarely holds much snow and ice. This winter it's been covered for quite a while so today it was time to give it a bash with Tony and John.

The climb gave us four very nice pitches of slightly tenuous climbing with occasional rock runners. The position is excellent too with the views into the coires and down to the Great Glen. An easy fifth pitch got us to the First Platform. I dug out a block and we abseiled into Slingsby's Chimney before sliding down towards the CIC Hut.

Matt and team climbed Newbiggin's Far Right Variation and NE Buttress, there were teams on Tower Ridge and The Curtain as well. Orion Face is still buried.