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.

Friday, 30 January 2015

Another cold, breezy and snowy day on Ben Nevis today. Alastair and I went through a couple of options (The Shroud not quite fat enough, Mega Route X too much snow blowing around it) and decided on a big classic. We were first into Observatory Gully so we decided on Hadrian's Wall Direct which had least spin drift coming down it. It was quite calm at lower levels but windy on top. The wind was going straight on to Hadrian's Wall so it was being kept free of fresh snow. Fantastic solid ice all the way gave us great climbing. Where the ground is scoured the old snow is frozen bone hard.

The trainee BMG guides were out in force too. John climbed Sickle after the first pitch of Hadrian's Wall Direct and Tom climbed Point Five Gully, both of which are great. Gemini, The Shield Direct and Italian Climb Right Hand were also climbed and are all in good condition.

With a run of cold northerly winds we will have a great spell of climbing with little avalanche hazard. Hopefully the wind will not be too strong to enjoy the climbing.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Lots of snow fell last night down to sea level causing some disruption on the roads and great skiing in the hills! It has remained very cold and ice is forming well on the climbs. It will be hard to get anywhere for a few days and there will be some avalanche hazard from the new snow but it looks beautiful and if you choose your route carefully there will be some great climbing.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Ben Nevis Winter Conditions Overview

So far on Ben Nevis, the winter climbing has been working out very well this winter. It all started in early December with cold conditions and rapid build up of snow. December storms brought snow and thaw freeze cycles to consolidate it. The end of December gave us the first settled spell of good weather and since then January has been a succession of cold periods with plenty of snow brought in by westerly gales and brief but deep thaws.

Over the last three days we had saturating thaws up to summit levels but today hail is hammering off the windows at sea level and it is -6C at 900m. We will have a sustained cold spell for several days to come by the look of the forecasts.

Currently there is very good snow cover. Old neve is found in sheltered areas down to 400m and general cover from 600m up the way. However, west facing slopes were scoured and have little old snow on them. Fresh snow is falling nearly to sea level today.

The major gullies are all complete and very well filled in. The chockstones of Number Five Gully and South Castle Gully are buried. Cornices are not too large in general but fresh cornices will be forming today.

The great ridges are well filled in as well with good solid snow. Ledge Route is snow all the way (no ice on the first ramp), Castle Ridge has a enough to make the first crux not too bad and Tower Ridge, NE Buttress and Observatory Ridge are all great.

The best ice climbing currently is on the mid-level cascade type routes such as The Curtain, Vanishing Gully, Italian Right Hand, The Cascade, Compression Crack, Gemini and Waterfall Gully. Gully lines and climbs with a water source are good as well. Zero Gully, Hadrian's Wall Direct, Point Five Gully, Smith's Route, Green Gully, Comb Gully, the Creag Coire na Ciste Gullies are all in good shape. The open face climbs are not well formed at the top though - Orion Direct is not formed from the Second Slab Rib up the way for example. The Minus Gullies are half way formed.

Buttress Routes have ice in the cracks and thick rime on the higher rocks. The ground is very well frozen though and the turf is frozen solid.

I'm hopeful that the big face ice routes will form up very soon given the cold and snowy conditions we have now after some good thaws. Watch this space - I'll be up on Orion Face as soon as I can!

Have fun.

Mike Pescod

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

The rocks in Glen Coe looked really quite black this morning as the gentle thaw of today took hold. With strong winds forecast and some rain too David and I went for North Buttress on Buachaille Etive Mor. This is always an enjoyable climb and today was no exception. It was also a brilliant introduction to the world of torquing and tweeking with axes on rock for David. There was some good ice in the chimney higher up and lots of ice in the easier angle ground above the steepest section of the climb. Coire na Tullach also has plenty of ice as well as a very helpful glisade (AKA bum slide) all the way down into the gorge. Bring on the cold weather and let the ice grow!

Monday, 26 January 2015

Yesterday's thaw saturated the snow pack at all levels and it had not quite re-frozen properly in Coire na Ciste this morning despite the colder temperature. We did not lose too much ice though and David and I went for the Cold Climbs Classic double of The Curtain and Vanishing Gully. The slab pitch of The Curtain was a bit cruddy but there was enough ice underneath for secure climbing if you found the thickest line of ice. I opted for a belay on ice screws out of the cave so we did not end up soaked by the steady stream of water over the entrance to the ice cave! The second and third pitch were on dry and fantastic ice to the top.

It's a short walk across the coire to Vanishing Gully which was still quite wet in the first pitch. We thought a new grading system might be in order - this was M4 (Mush 4). A dry and comfortable belay in the cave was great though and the steep section was soft but stepped and great fun.

I have always wondered about the grades of these two climbs. The Curtain (IV,5) often feels trickier and more serious than Vanishing Gully (V,5) and today was no exception. Vanishing Gully has two fixed runners in the first pitch and rock protection is possible in the steep second pitch. It is very easy to escape the route by abseil. It is steep but being straight up it is quite simple. The Curtain is just as easy to abseil off but has tricky sideways climbing and is only protected by ice screws. So why is Vanishing Gully V,5 and The Curtain IV,5? Should they both be IV,5? Let me know what you think.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Slightly different conditions on Ben Nevis today compared with yesterday! Warm and damp this morning, warm and very wet this afternoon. Lots of melting was going on and, although we tried valiantly to climb some steep ice, it was not to be. Mark and I did some nice little steps up the ground taken by Faulty Towers before retreating as fast as possible!

The good news is that we will have cold conditions for the coming week, very cold in fact at the end of the week by the look of it. As we all know, to make ice you need water and there is certainly lots of water around now.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

It was busy on Ben Nevis today, especially the mid level cascades. Al, Rich and I waited while a few teams got going on Waterfall Gully and Gemini before getting going ourselves up Gemini. After a wee thaw yesterday, today's colder conditions made the ice fantastic and even fatter. The first pitch is still steep and long so the key to success is making sure you have the strength for the whole pitch by resting when you can. I try to tell myself to climb with better technique when I'm tired, after all that's when you'll need it. It is so easy for all your good technique to be forgotten a soon as strength starts to fade.

We did the icy bits in three pitches which worked well. Each pitch has great climbing and very comfortable belay ledges. The big smear is still excellent and well protected with a sling over the huge flake.

After the big ice smear it turns to classic Ben Nevis mixed climbing. Rock, turf, snow and ice all mixed in together with fun moves in an outrageous position. The last pitch up the twin grooves now has some very nice ice in them after the thaw freeze yesterday. It feels completely different to how it was two days ago.

Donald, Mark and Bob climbed most of Route I before retreating due to verglas on the last couple of metres. They then climbed Waterfall Gully and The Curtain. Ali and Christian climbed the big, steep cascade under Carn Dearg Buttress and Waterfall Gully. Lou and team climbed Boomers Requiem saying it was superb. Basically all the ice on mid-level cascade climbs is fantastic!

Another thaw tomorrow before colder and brighter weather next week. Keep your picks sharp!

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Two years ago I managed to drop my ice axe from the big ice smear of Gemini. Thankfully today's ascent was a bit smoother! Another day of cold and dry weather with not too much wind brought a few ice climbers to Ben Nevis. The Curtain was popular as well as Point Five Gully, Green Gully and plenty of others. Tommy and I went for the big classic of Gemini on the side of Carn Dearg Buttress and had a great time!

The ice was solid but not brittle and there is lots of it. The first pitch is as steep as usual but the big smear higher up is quite friendly at the moment. There are blobs of ice on the mixed pitches and the twin grooves provide a spicy finish! Always a memorable experience.

Over the next few days we will get some rapid thaw freeze cycles as waves of warm air wash over us in quick succession. The current snow will consolidate and fresh snow will drift into sheltered areas and cascade down the gullies. There could be quite a bit of spindrift on Saturday so buttress routes might be the best option.

It has been fantastic climbing with Tommy and great for him to spend some more time doing what inspired him to create Jottnar. It is outstanding gear and perfect for the challenging weather we will get over the next few days!

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Just to mix things up a bit, Tommy and I went mixed climbing today. Tommy is a very good ice climber but has done little mixed climbing before so we went to Buachaille Etive Mor to climb Shelf Route. I have done this climb a few times over the last three or four years and for good reason. It has punchy mixed sections with simple snow slopes in between and very comfortable belays on the first three pitches. The fourth pitch has a great move near the start and then more sustained climbing to the crest of Crowberry Ridge. You then get to climb Crowberry Tower before reaching the summit.

We saw nobody else climbing. Curved Ridge was covered in snow with no boot trail, as was North Buttress. Crowberry Gully was very full of snow but it will be very deep soft snow. Ravens Gully was the same, very well filled in but with soft snow.

At the top of Crowberry Tower we were treated to some outstanding views. With mist down below us and bright sunshine above we had the best brochenspectres I've ever seen. Crisp colours in the rainbow circles and our shadows so clear we could make out individual limbs.

The temperature at sea has hardly risen above zero in the glens for the last few days and it is very cold on top. Cold and calm again tomorrow, a wee thaw freeze on Friday, a good day on Saturday and a poor day on Sunday coming up by the look of it.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Hadrian's Wall Direct on Ben Nevis is one of my favourite ice climbs because it is such an open and exposed face it goes up. Add brilliant ice, calm and cold conditions and nobody else climbing out of Observatory Gully and you get a fantastic day of climbing. The approach slopes are reasonably stable and the ice on the route (although not as fat as I've seen it) is plentiful and solid. The chimney pitch was great fun and we went up Sickle for a couple of pitches to avoid the simple snow slopes. Fun all the way.

Tommy (founder of Jottnar) is up for a few days of climbing, putting his excellent clothing to good use in the environment it was designed for. I've been enjoying wearing the gear over the last year and I find it the most comfortable gear to wear in any conditions. We are trying not to look like Tweedledum and Twedledee in matching Jottnar clothing from head to foot! 

Up on Ben Nevis the ice that is in place is good. We need more storms and thaw freeze cycles to build ice in the Minus Gullies, Orion Face. However, drainage lines and big gullies are looking good - The Curtain, Waterfall Gully, Gemini, Compression Cracks, Boomers Requiem, all the grade IV gullies in Coire na Ciste, Zero Gully, Point Five Gully, Smith's Route are complete. Mega Route X is half way there too. The ice is currently very cold and hard so make sure your picks are sharp!

Monday, 19 January 2015

As a member of British Mountain Guides I do CPD training days to keep my qualification current and valid. Today I spent an excellent day with fellow BMG member Mark Diggins of SAIS looking at current thinking in avalanche prediction, reporting and avoidance. We spent as short a time as possible indoors because we were all keen to get outside into the sunshine and beautiful weather. We took the gondola at Nevis Range and walked around Nid Ridge digging, probing and assessing. The snow has settled down quite quickly since the storms brought it last week. However with a steep temperature gradient there is some evidence of faceting in the snow crystals which is a bad sign for stability. If you'd like to learn more about avalanches come along to the Avalanche Workshops we run at the Fort William Mountain Festival.

The cold weather has also formed lots of ice on Ben Nevis. There were three teams climbing Point Five Gully and another one on Hadrian's Wall Direct. The Curtain was climbed today and Gemini has also reportedly seen an ascent recently. Cold weather all week is forecast with a little fresh snow - things are looking good!

Sunday, 18 January 2015

After a very stormy and snowy week, sheltered parts of the hills were cover in deep snow this weekend. A few people were out climbing buttresses and ridges in the beautiful weather and a couple of people got caught out in the deep snow. Two guys found the Eastern Traverse of Tower Ridge just as it got dark and spent a cold night under the stars before being picked up by Rescue 147 this morning. Tower Ridge is never a good choice for your first winter route and especially so in the current heavy snow cover. However the guys were well prepared and survived the night cold but fine.

Scott, Gary and Angus stayed at low level on the SW Ribs of Meall an t'Suidhe yesterday and the Pink Rib of Beinn a'Chrulaiste today. With snow cover and ice down to sea level you don't need to go far for winter climbing. Western Rib on Aonach Mor is also reported to be good fun.

I decided that skiing was the best option on Saturday. The snow cover at Nevis Range is excellent and the groomer drivers have done a great job of filling in any gaps so that the front of the ski area has some very good fun skiing. We even had clouds down in the glens with sunshine on top! It will remain cold this week so the snow will stay soft and mobile in the wind. Buttresses might be the better option for a while but it is so cold that low level ice falls will form quickly so look out for these.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Snow down to sea level last night made the drive round to Glen Coe look even more dramatic than normal. It also made the venue choice more tricky for good climbing; out of the wind but without too much avalanche hazard. Mick, Paul and I went for the West Face of Aonach Dubh and a climb on B Buttress. The approach is short and being on the windy side of the hill there was not too much snow. There was some wind, quite a lot at times, but mostly only in the squalls (of which there were a few).

We climbed Pinnacle Face but instead of starting 10m right of the chimney (as described for the winter line) we climbed the chimney itself (as for the summer line) which I climbed with Mike last year. This gave us a great pitch of fun chimneys and steep little walls. although there was one block that seemed to move slightly when I torqued underneath it. Apart from this it was all pretty solid and entertaining. I'm not sure if it was a first winter ascent but it was a wee adventure anyway.

Higher up on the route the steep wall on the right certainly adds a little extra spice. It is steep and positive but feels a bit pushy for a IV even in the friendly conditions we had. The turf was pretty well frozen and the snow dry and easy to clear away but there was no ice or neve. Elsewhere ice is forming fast in the much colder temperatures of the last two days with plenty of snow blowing around. The Screen and The Smear are not yet fat enough to climb but if they keep growing at this rate they will be by the weekend.

Mick, Paul and I went along The Rake to finish up the North Ridge of The Amphitheatre) for a breezy finish followed by a descent of the top bit of Number Two Gully and out onto the slopes under Dinner Time Buttress. A top day in wonderful rock architecture.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Dolly Parton once said "The way I see it, if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain". Translated for ice climbers it means "If you want the ice you have to put up with a few storms". Well the last few days have been very stormy with temperatures going up and down wildly. On balance it looks like we have lost some ice but over the next couple of days (colder and snowier) we should get some back again.

Have a look at the SAIS Lochaber Blog for today's pictures showing some classic gully climbs still complete but smaller snow fields at their bases.

Dolly Parton also said "Storms make trees take deeper roots". I don't think this means ice climbers should go out climbing in the storms to make them better climbers but it's a nice thought anyway.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Thaw freeze cycles have continued on the west coast. We had a very good weekend with lots of ice being enjoyed and a few incidents (two falls on grade V ice routes and a cornice collapse in Number Four Gully - take care out there folks!). Yesterday was warm but mostly dry then rain followed by snow last night gave a covering of about 10cm on average down to about 500m. Mick, Tom and I were hoping to get into Point Five Gully but with that much fresh snow and a breeze on the top it was clear that spindrift would be a problem. So we went for something much more open and ended up climbing The Cascade.

We warmed up first on a few pitches of less steep ice down and left of Raeburn's Easy Route until we were level with The Cascade. The ice is fat (fat, fat) on The Cascade and many variations are possible. We did the long diagonal to stay off the arms as much as possible and get most value out of the pitch. Above this route a rising right trending line gets you to Experts Choice, a fine wee finish onto the plateau with no cornice at all and a very helpful belay block right where you want it. Seven pitches of climbing plus a traverse across to The Cascade made for a very fine day!

Having read Alan's report of their climb in Green Gully I was glad we fared better with the spindrift. That's two teams I know of who have abseiled Green Gully this year due to spindrift! Nathan and Mark climbed Number Two Gully Buttress and another team climbed Tower Ridge. Big thaw again briefly tomorrow before colder but very windy weather for a few days. Expect more ice high on Ben Nevis next week when the wind calms down and we might even get a colder, calmer spell of weather to enjoy it.

Friday, 2 January 2015

After a couple of days of full on thaw with heavy rain, the temperature dropped today and we got some fresh snow down to 400m this morning. I had a quick look at the North Face of Ben Nevis (from a distance) and saw that Point Five Gully and Hadrian's Wall Direct are still complete so we did not lose everything up there. As is often the way, Ben Nevis delivers the goods.

Take a look at the SAIS Lochaber Blog for a close up picture from today of Point Five Gully, Tower Scoop and Smith's Route. It was very windy though and the fresh snow was just being blown around all over the place. After a calmer weekend it looks windy and mixed again next week. It is only January after all!

Happy New Year!