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, 27 February 2015

Apart from several dozen deer we had Glen Shiel to ourselves today. It seems like anywhere north and west of The Great Glen is the back of beyond and very quiet. Chris, Martin, David and I climbed The Forcan Ridge and we had the route, the mountain and it seemed like the whole glen to ourselves.

It was a very dry day with no showers and dry air. The old snow was firming up nicely in the colder temperature and here was a bit of fresh snow blowing around in the wind. The Forcan Ridge offers fine ridge climbing with a great view that is not quite as exposed as the Aonach Eagach but narrower and more delicate.

From the summit of The Saddle we went down to the north before descending easy snow slopes in the coire under the north side of the ridge. This gave us a quick and easy descent back to the col and the stalkers path to the glen. An excellent day.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Ben Nevis Winter Conditions Overview

A lot of snow fell over the last week with strong winds to blow it around and form cornices. The avalanche hazard was High on 180 degrees of aspects and above 700m. Basically all the climbing on Ben Nevis was very avalanche prone and the poor visibility and high wind speeds made it difficult to get anywhere safely.

Yesterday the fresh snow had settled enough for a few people to climb Vanishing Gully and The Curtain, Boomers Requiem and Harrison's Climb Direct.

Last night a rapid thaw and heavy rain on the summit was followed by an equally rapid refreeze. This resulted in much more stable snow but still with heavy conditions for travelling around. There is an icy crust over deep soft snow and now with some fresh snow on top from showers today.

The mid-level ice climbs which have been so good this winter are starting to suffer from these thaws. Vanishing Gully has a section before the cave which is now probably too thin to climb, The Curtain is hollow and thin at the base and at the top, and Boomer's Requiem is thin at the top of the main pitch. The direct start to Gemini is too thin but the rest of the climb looks good.

The good news is that the big face routes are looking better. There is snow and ice forming at the top of Orion Face now where we have had very little so far this winter. Point Five Gully, Zero Gully and Hadrian's Wall Direct are all fat along with several other grade V ice climbs.

The great ridges are all snowy and with solid neve in good places. The major gullies are very full and now have big cornices over many of them.

Mixed climbing has been good on Douglas Boulder but cracks could well be choked with ice higher up.

Looks like it will remain cold, windy and showery for several days to come. Full on winter conditions with lots of planning and decision making required!

Have fun.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Strong winds from the NW yesterday moved a bit of the soft snow off a few slopes on Ben Nevis. John, Luke and I went to climb Vanishing Gully which proved a popular wee spot. There were other people climbing Cutlass, Jacknife, SW Ridge Douglas Boulder and Fawlty Towers. There is still a good amount of soft snow on the slopes here but it had been eroded by the wind and seemed to be fairly well stuck in place.

Vanishing Gully was great fun today. There is a thin section in the narrow groove before the cave belay and the crux is steep and fat. After the rain tonight the thin section might have disappeared though. There is a large hanging icicle above the pegs on the left so it is well worth getting into the cave if you can find it.

Meanwhile there were lots of people on The Curtain and descending Ledge Route after climbing Harrison's Direct and Boomer's Requiem. We got there when it was free and made a quick ascent in two pitches. We approached as close to the edge of Carn Dearg Buttress as possible to keep clear of any possible avalanche coming down Number Five Gully and we descended quickly and close to the side for the same reason. 

Thankfully we did not see any avalanches during the day but tonight the temperature will rise (as it did during the day too) with rain so there will certainly be some avalanches over night. Tomorrow will be cold again and very windy (again) with more snow showers. The top half of Orion Face looks better and rapid thaw freeze cycles like this will help more ice build on the open faces.

Monday, 23 February 2015

It was a very snowy day today! Chaotic scenes slowed us up on the road to Buachaille Etive Mor . Snow on the road from The Study up the way had caused some cars and trucks to grind to a halt. My snow socks got us up the road very well and through all the stuck traffic to the layby. Thankfully the trail-breaking to North Buttress was made easier by a team going round to Curved Ridge.

The climb was buried in soft snow of course but was no worse for it. In fact I think it is at its best in these conditions because many other climbs become unpleasant with so much soft snow but this one still offers great climbing. Most of the route is steep enough but a couple of easier angle sections offered some quite arduous wading! We got to the top of the main section and abseiled off down the route again. There were not many other climbers out so the route was clear!

The team heading for Curved Ridge came back after they got close to Crowberry Basin. There was a lot of soft windslab which was releasing readily with little in the way of a trigger. More snow is forecast tonight and tomorrow making route selection even more difficult. It is hard to get to many places and avalanche prone if you try! Take care for a few days while it all settles down.

Friday, 20 February 2015

Ben Nevis Winter Conditions Overview

The big thaw of Wednesday saturated the snow pack at all levels and melted back the snow cover but left behind plenty of ice. The Shroud is still standing, Mega Route X is a bit thin at the bottom and The Curtain and Vanishing Gully have both been climbed now that it has gone a bit colder. In fact, with cold conditions for several days to come the big ice climbs will get fatter with the dribbles running down them now forming ice.

Yesterday and last night we had fresh snow falling down to 400m. Snow showers continued today so we now have about 30cm of general fresh snow cover which has been blown by westerly winds into deep drifts in many places. There was plenty of spindrift coming down the gullies and faces so ridge climbing was the best option today. I climbed Tower Ridge with Paul today and had great fun. The soft snow is fairly useless and the old snow quite icy in many places underneath. It is all well filed in though and despite wading up the whole ridge we made good time. The other big ridges are much the same with old icy snow and lots of fresh snow on top.

Point Five Gully, Zero Gully, Hadrian's Wall Direct, Smith's Route, The Cascade, Vanishing Gully and The Curtain are all still well formed. Many more grade III and IV ice climbs are formed as well. However with all this fresh snow it will be tricky getting to the climbs and spindrift and avalanche hazard will detract from their enjoyment. We have much more snow forecast to fall on Sunday too. Skiing might be a good option for a few days to come!

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Curved Ridge on Buachaille Etive Mor is well sheltered from a strong SW wind so it made a good choice for Paul, Will and me today. Everywhere else seemed to get quite breezy today and progressively more and more soggy. It is also a great climb for coaching leading in winter and making choices and transitions between pitched climbing and moving together. Will and Paul swung leads to practice both at the sharp end.

The ground was covered an a few centimetres of fresh snow down to 700m and the old snow was reasonably firm. As the temperature rose wet sloughs started to come down the gullies so we were glad to be on a ridge. We stayed well to the left edge of Crowberry Basin and to the right of the snow at the top of the ridge. However there were not so many areas of deep deposit of soft snow.

Other teams climbed D Gully Buttress and Crowberry Gully looks very well filled in. Elsewhere, the soft snow under NC Gully stopped Louisa, Adam and Susie getting on to Raeburn's (Central) Buttress on Stob Coire nan Lochan so the went to climb Dorsal Arete instead. On Ben Nevis it seems like very few people did what they planned to do before running down "like rats from a sinking ship". Ali, Greig and Charlotte managed to traverse Douglas Gap and others were on Douglas Boulder SW Ridge.

Big thaw tomorrow with heavy rain to the summits to make the drips and dribbles run again to form more ice when it re-freezes on Thursday and through the weekend.

Monday, 16 February 2015

Fresh snow fell last night above 700m and continued today in showers with falling temperatures. It was nice to see the crags covered in a fresh coating of snow today, especially this afternoon in the sunshine. Paul and I climbed Ledge Route to practice all sorts of winter climbing skills such as placing ice screws and snow anchors, taking coils and moving together on rock and snow ridges, climbing ice and abseiling off a snow bollard when we went down Number Four Gully.

There was about 40cm of fresh snow on the scarp slope in Number Four Gully which did not seem to be to slabby but we saw a big pile of avalanche debris under Moonlight Gully on the way back down the coire. There was certainly some spindrift in the gullies!

Mega Route X, Mega Reve, Gemini and The Shroud are all good to climb still as well as The Curtain, Italian Right Hand, The Cascade, Vanishing Gully and many more. Ice seems to be forming everywhere in the coire!

Around in Glen Coe, Ali, Greig and Charlotte climbed Dorsal Arete on Stob Coire nan Lochan which was not so busy for once! It was quite windy on top and well below freezing by the end of the day.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Back in 1999 I climbed Mega Route X. It had been well formed for quite a while and it had been climbed several times along with The Shroud and Gemini. This winter seems to be turning out much the same 16 years later. Mega Route X has had many ascents, as has The Shroud by its right hand pillar and its Left Hand Pillar. These climbs have had one or two ascents in the intervening 16 years but not many at all.

Feeding Frenzy has also been climbed, a wild, hanging icicle to the left of Mega Route X. So perhaps Pink Panther (Le Panthere Rose) and Levitation will be climbed next.

Over on Creag Meagaidh, The Fly Direct and Ecstasy have been climbed among many other big ice routes.

It was another dry, cold enough weekend with good views and great ice climbing. All the same ice climbs have been climbed again on Ben Nevis but it has not snowed for two and a half weeks now so there has been little change in what climbs are formed.

Tonight we will get some fresh snow and it looks like this week will bring us much more mixed weather. We will even have a proper thaw on Wednesday for a day so we might get more snow and ice building up on the top of Orion Face but with the loss of some ice lower down.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Ben Nevis Winter Conditions Overview

Mick and I got up early today to get to Point Five Gully first. Light wind, no spindrift and top quality ice made it a popular choice today and we did not want to be behind anyone. The plan worked and we enjoyed a very mellow climb with great views and brilliant climbing. We got to the top at 1pm so we had time to go down Number Three Gully to climb Thompson's Route as well which is also in brilliant condition.

The first three pitches are all quite steady at the moment with no real hard bits. The bulge on the first pitch can be avoided on the left as usual when it is formed well enough, the Chimney Pitch is fun all the way and the Rogue Pitch is straightforward and well protected with ice screws.

Meanwhile Louisa, Andy and Ritchie climbed Hadrian's Wall Direct and had great fun too. The ice was very good and there were a few teams climbing the route.

Over all there is little change from last week. We have had gentle thaws and gentle refreezes which has made general snow cover very hard and icy in most places with just a few patches of softer snow. The snow line is at about 650m or so. All the major gullies are full and have small or no cornices. Number Four Gully cairn is nearly buried and a snow bollard is in place.

Minus Two and Minus One Gullies have both been climbed but they are quite thin. Orion Face is still not formed at the Second Slab Rib. Zero Gully, Hadrian's Wall Direct, Point Five Gully, Smith's Route, The Cascade, Vanishing Gully, The Curtain and Boomer's Requiem are all very good. Plenty of lower grade ice climbs are well formed as well. Mega Route X is very good and The Shroud has been climbed on the right side. The bottom pitches of The Shield Direct and Gemini are a bit skinny now and Nordwand is a bit hollow in the first pitches.

The great ridges are well filled in and good fun. Mixed climbs high up have lots of ice in the cracks.

On other hills, Aonach Beag North Face has good climbing including Stand and Deliver, Royal Pardon and Camilla; Aonach Mor East Face is good with plenty of ice routes including Typhoon.

So with great climbing and a good enough weather forecast next week, make sure you come to Fort William for climbing and The Mountain Festival 18th to 22nd February

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

My friend Andrew (crazy Andrew the mad Pole) recommended Nordwand to me many years ago and today at last I got to climb it. The reports from others this winter are all quite right ... it is long, difficult and very nice. At the moment there is plenty of ice on the face and lots of variation is possible on the line you take. I chose the left hand line of icy steps all the way to the top which were all good fun. I thought I would have the climb to myself but John (Spider) McKenzie had had the same thought. So now I can say I've climbed with Spider McKenzie (although we were not roped together we were on the same climb at the same time!). The bottom half was on soft ice which has melted back a bit in the last few days and become slightly detached. The top half was really nice ice.

Drizzle was blowing over the summit of Carn Dearg as it has done over the last couple of days producing icy rime on the rocks and surface of the snow. Travel without crampons would be very difficult. Number Four Gully has a cornice with a slot and snow bollard but the cairn is nearly buried in snow. Number Three Gully is easy to climb down but the snow is very hard near the top with the same icy crust. The ice in Coire na Ciste is really very good. Louisa, Ritchie and Andy climbed Thompson's Route and other folk were climbing The White Line and Green Gully. Mega Route X looks mega as well as the other ice routes close to it. However the first pitches of Gemini and The Shield Direct are perhaps a bit too thin for fun climbing now. As usual these days, there were ten people on the two pitches of The Curtain.

Monday, 9 February 2015

The calm weather and good climbing conditions are still going with very slight thaw freeze cycles to settle the snow. Andy, Laura and Hannah climbed Curved Ridge on Saturday which was nice and snowy. Laura and Hannah practised some leading and moving together for which Curved Ridge is perfect. They were rewarded with the most spectacular sunset at the end of the day too. Many thanks to Andy for the pictures.

On Sunday the team went up Ben Nevis for some ice climbing. After some training in the gulch at the foot of Coire na Ciste they went to climb The Gift to the right of North Gully on Creag Coire na Ciste. Nobody else was up high in the coire despite a good trail up there. Green Gully was empty which is rare at the weekends, and nobody else was on Creag Coire na Ciste. There was a team in Central gully in the Trident Buttresses and a team on Mega Route X. The Shroud was also climbed with a wee traverse in from the right (Harrison's Climb). Today was warmer and soggy right to the top of Buachaille Etive Mor for Louisa, Andy and Ritchie but the snow is melting only very slowly.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Ben Nevis Winter Conditions Overview

All of these pictures were taken yesterday, Wednesday 4th February.

Since the snow came down to sea level on Wednesday morning last week it has stayed there and is only now showing signs of melting away. It has been a cold week with generally northerly winds and just a few small falls of fresh snow.

Snow cover starts at sea level and is quite hard going in places. There has been some drifting of the snow and some slopes (mostly facing NW) are scoured. All the big gullies are very well filled out with snow and because the wind has been blowing up them the cornices are generally small.

The great ridges are well covered and have some very nice icy snow in corners and runnels. Ledge Route is entirely on snow apart from a few rocks poking out in the narrow sections. Tower Ridge has had many ascents and is very good.

Mid-level ice climbs have been very popular this week. The Curtain has had many ascents and is in great condition. Vanishing Gully, Italian Right Hand, The Shield Direct, Gemini and Waterfall Gully have all been in brilliant condition. Mega Route X and The Shroud are growing but only slowly. They need more water to drip from the snow fields above them for more ice to form. There is also plenty of ice in other locations. Norwand looks as good as I've ever seen it.

Of the big classic ice climbs Zero Gully, Hadrian's Wall Direct, Sickle (after the first pitch of Hadrian's Wall Direct) and Point Five Gully have all been enjoyed by several teams. The Minus Gullies are still a bit lean and the top half of Orion Face is not very icy so these routes have not been climbed as far as I'm aware. Smith's Route and The Cascade are well iced up but a long way up deep soft snow to get to!

The climbs higher up in Coire na Ciste have not been climbed much at all because it is hard work getting there but just about all the grade III and IV routes are looking good. The crags are rimed up with thick icy rime and there is ice in the cracks so mixed climbing could be a bit tricky.

We now have slightly more humid and slightly warmer conditions which will soften the ice and make the snow go a bit soggy lower down and in the sunshine. However it is not a big thaw and in fact we might get some days when the climbs are above a sea of cloud.

Have fun.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

For our last day of ice climbing Rintje and I went back up Ben Nevis. There was a long queue on The Curtain already so we went to climb Italian Climb Right Hand. This is in great shape with fantastic ice up the big slab. In fact the fixed anchors at its base are buried in ice! The thread at the top of the main pitch is fine though and one 60m abseil gets you back down to the bottom of the climb.

We wandered back over to The Curtain where the queue was shorter so we joined in the sociable line of people climbing. It warmed up slightly and the ice was very nice to climb, especially with all the steps and hooks in place already. 

Vanishing Gully, Hadrian's Wall Direct, The Shield Direct and Gemini were all climbed again today. Nordwand looks brilliant, the Shroud is still there and climbable but not fat.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

After a big climb yesterday on Sickle, Rintje and I went for a more mellow route in Glen Coe today. We climbed Number Six Gully on the West Face of Aonach Dubh which has a short (but steep) approach and a quick and easy descent. The climbing is in a brilliant position, overlooking The Clachaig and Glen Coe village. A little light snow last night was blowing around this morning but the sun came out this afternoon to take the edge off another cold day.

Number Six Gully is not well iced up. It has enough ice to climb and it was fun but the ice is in blobs stuck to the rocks beneath. It will not take much of a thaw to strip it out. Protection is not great with ice screws on the pitches but the belay stances are very large and friendly with rock anchors so at least the belays are as good as you want them to be.

Strangely the wee direct finish in the corner above the main ice pitch of the normal route is quite well iced. I have seen less ice on it when the route lower down is much better formed. So Rintje and I climbed this and thought IV,5 is about right. It brings you onto the traverse ledge where a walk right (towards Stob Coire nam Beith) gets you into the coire for a sandwich and an easy descent.

There is good looking ice on Stob Coire nam Beith including in Deep Cut Chimney. The crags of Bidean nam Bien are well rimed up and look brilliant.

As we walked down the sun came out and gave us a spectacular view of Glen Coe. Another beautiful day.