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.

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Winter is far from over in the Outdoor Capital of the UK. The daffodils are flowering, the sunshine is warm in the glens and the clocks have sprung forward to summer time but fresh snow fell down to 600m and the freezing level will stay at 500m or lower this week.

We had a day of rain and strong winds yesterday, melting back the 40cm of fresh snow we had at the end of last week. Last night and today fresh snow fell down to 600m and it will be very cold tonight. Instead of melting away, the ice high on Ben Nevis has been building. Thaw freeze cycles, strong winds and snow fall all add up to fatter ice.

The classic ice climbs of Zero Gully, Orion Direct, Hadrian's Wall Direct, Sickle, Point Five Gully, Indicator Wall, Psychedelic Wall, Smith's Route and many others have all been climbed. We also have the possibility if high pressure building from the end of the week over the Easter weekend. Traditionally, Easter is the best time for ice climbing on Ben Nevis and it looks like this might well be the case this year.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

We are in a spell of excellent spring ice climbing, especially on Ben Nevis. After the slightly soggy day last Friday it was a colder weekend with many classic ice climbs being enjoyed by many people. Monday and Tuesday were a bit breezy with some fresh snow which has left a covering of 10cm to 15cm on many aspects. A hard frost last night brought in a beautiful calm sunny day today. Kevin and Dave enjoyed Green Gully yesterday as a warm up to Point Five Gully today which was excellent. They had the gully to themselves which was a bonus as well.

I was up at Nevis Range enjoying the skiing. Primary 7 pupils in the area all get to have a week of ski or snowboard tuition and my son Owen was up for one of his days with me as the parent helper. As well as being a brilliant opportunity for the youngsters it was an opportunity for me to do some laps of the back coires! The excellent coaches at Nevis Range were looking after the pupils so what else was I to do? Two laps of Chancer and two of Easy Gully gave me plenty of fresh tracks on soft snow on a very firm base in bright sunshine. What a great place to live!

Friday, 20 March 2015

When the light starts to fade it is not usually a good thing when you are climbing. Either a big black cloud is about to empty its contents on you or night time has arrived before you have finished the climb. So when the eclipse made it go quite gloomy this morning Mick and I had a sense of bad things about to happen. As it turned out, Boomers Requiem turned out to be too soggy and steep for me and a fall of ice from above was the last encouragement I needed to go back down. There is an ice screw still in place if anyone wants to retrieve it for me!

Instead Mick and I went for Raeburn's Buttress Intermediary Gully. The less than snappy name for this climb makes it less well remembered which is a shame because it is an excellent route. The initial icefall is sustained and has an awkward belay before the tricky second pitch into the long snow gully. The cave at the top was full of snow but there was a steep bulge of ice to exit the gully which I've not seen there before. Mick then had a go on the sharp end, leading us up the final pitch of ice to the summit of Carn Dearg.

We descended Ledge Route which has very little rock sticking out at all. I joked with a skier walking up Number Five Gully that you could ski Ledge Route at the moment. He replied that it was skied on Monday!

Colder conditions return tomorrow and there is still lots of ice on Ben Nevis.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Orion Direct is a classic amongst classics. Mick and I had it in good condition today and we even got to see the view all the way to the top. The route has been climbed a few times recently and in fact we were the third team on it today. With no spindrift or wind, a comfortable air temperature and friendly snow as well as good company it was a very good climb.

There is not much ice on the first pitch and the traverse out from The Basin is quite thin as well. A reasonable thaw will strip these sections quickly. Elsewhere the route has fat blue ice, great for ice screws on the pitches and belays.

Other routes climbed today include Minus Two Gully (thin at the bottom), Zero Gully, Point Five Gully and many others. There is still lots of ice on Ben Nevis and it is not going anywhere fast. We will be climbing well into April I think.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Mike and I experienced three seasons in one climb today. The climb was Crowberry Gully on Buachaille Etive Mor and we had warm Summer sunshine on the walk in, soft Spring snow at the bottom of the gully and good Winter ice climbing on the steep pitches.

The gully is very filled in with snow. The first chockstone is buried and easily walked over. In fact we walked all the way up to where the gully turns left slightly. The pitch here (Thin Crack Chimney?) is also very well filled so the climbing starts just below The Junction. The cave is spacious and deep, and the cave pitch steady away.

Back in the sunshine on the summit the raven that appears every time people are there came to say hello. It was back to Spring conditions on top with a very light wind and warm sunshine. The descent down Coire na Tullach is straightforward but quite firm. The snow cover extends all the way down into the gorge so it is a quick descent to the road.

All the mid-grade gullies high up in Glen Coe are in great conditions and well filled in. SC Gully and Twisting Gully are as good as I've ever seen them. The current calm spell of weather will carry on through the weekend but with a little cloud and a slight breeze over the next couple of days.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

The Lorn and Lochaber Ramblers is a dynamic local group of walkers with a busy programme of walks right across the area. We have provided training for their members this winter in night navigation, winter skills and today we looked at avalanche awareness. We went to Glen Coe Mountain and were very lucky to be able to use the Glen Coe Ski Club Hut as a base.

We went through current thinking in avoiding avalanches which is presented very well in the Be Avalanche Aware information. We did find a couple of areas of windslab which was very handy. Everyone went away able to identify different types of snow including windslab and to work out how likely it is to slide away.

Meanwhile on Ben Nevis, Steve and Rob climbed Harrison's Climb Direct in great weather again. Yesterday they went for Hadrian's Wall Direct in the mist so they climbed a pair of super classic climbs in the two days. Donald went for Crowberry Gully today with Tomas and had a fine time too.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

What a stunner of a weekend! Unbroken sunshine, cold calm air and brilliant ice climbing gave us quite some success. Abacus Mountain Guides Donald, Ali, Steve, Louisa and Dave climbed Ledge Route, Tower Ridge, Crowberry Gully, Curved Ridge, Comb Gully, Ledge Route again, Gear Aonach Zig-Zags, Dorsal Arete, Twisting Gully and SC Gully.

With a mix of coaching leading, Alpine climbing, crevasse rescue, core movement skills as well as top quality guiding I think we made full use of the good conditions.

Most classic ice climbs were quite busy. There were people on Orion Face as well as Point Five Gully, Zero Gully, Hadrian's Wall Direct, Smith's Route, Psychedelic Wall and many others. It looks like we will have quite stable weather for the coming week too although not quite a sunny.

Friday, 13 March 2015

Beautiful spring weather has arrived in Lochaber. It's easy to see why this is the Outdoor Capital of the UK when it is like this. In a break from the winter climbing I was on a TCL assessment course with Anna and Dave. Both had done a lot of preparation and have great experience in delivering adventure experiences to groups of youngsters. They both passed comfortably. It's great to have another couple of really good mountain bike leaders working here.

Up on Ben Nevis there was some fresh snow last night but mostly there is hard frozen snow and great ice climbing. We have calm cold weather forecast for a few days to come, a taste of the great spring ice climbing to come over the next month or two hopefully!

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

The flip flop weather continues. After yesterday's beautiful day, today was forecast to go downhill rapidly. Will and I got an earlier start and walked up the Allt a'Mhuillin in the dry frosty conditions but already the wind up high was gusting and blowing a lot of snow off the ridges. We went to the first bit of ice we saw which was Harrison's Climb Direct.

After the big thaw of Saturday there is still lots of ice on The Shroud and Harrison's Climb Direct. Boomer's Requiem also looks good as well as Raeburn's Buttress Intermediary Gully. In previous years when I have climbed Harrison's Climb Direct it has always felt quite spicy for a IV,4 and I understand why now. The first pitch was a delight but the second pitch was a 5m wide wall of ice which has a couple of steeper steps but nothing more than IV,4. In previous years it has formed a shallow chimney on the left which was a good bit steeper.

The wind certainly picked up and the temperature rose quickly when the snowfall arrived so we had spindrift avalanches which hung in the air next to The Shroud being blown upwards before being dumped down on us! It was quite atmospheric, especially with the huge umbrellas and icicles of The Shroud overhead. So after two pitches we traversed right to Boomer's Requiem and made one long abseil down this to simple snow.

By the time we walked down heavy rain and 80mph gusts of wind chased us down the Allt a'Mhuillin for 1pm. A quick hit and a great taste of ice climbing and the drama of a good Scottish day out in winter! Right now we have blue sky and light winds again but tomorrow will be a repeat of today, a six hour storm will pass through the day. From Friday onwards it looks like we might have more settled calm dry weather which will be great. There are very many ice climbs fully formed (including The Pink Panther) and little soft snow and avalanche hazard at the moment. Good spring ice climbing conditions.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

What an outstanding day it was on Ben Nevis today. After the violent storm last night it was much calmer this morning and the wind dropped t nothing as the sun came out this afternoon just as promised. Tower Ridge made the perfect climb to soak up the great weather, climbing conditions and atmosphere of this world class climbing venue on a good day.

The snow is hard and icy and good for climbing. A slip at the wrong moment would be very serious but with good crampon technique the snow made progress very simple and quick. We got to the Great Tower just as the sun came out.

There were lots of ice climbers out enjoying great ice climbing. Hadrian's Wall Direct, Point Five Gully, Indicator Wall (regular and right hand), Psychedelic Wall, Smith's Route, Good Friday Climb, Tower Scoop, Glover's Chimney, Comb Gully, The White Line and many others were climbed today. 

The down side to this fantastic day was that my Gopro camera fell off my helmet at Tower Gap! It went down the length of Glover's Chimney at some speed, thankfully missing the people climbing, and continued into Coire na Ciste. It probably stopped in the coire at the level of the lochans I guess. Will and I looked in the coire after descending Number Four Gully with no luck. If someone picked it up I'd be grateful for its return.

Also I found a down jacket  in a waterproof bag in a Cotswold plastic bag in Allt a'Mhuillin below CIC Hut today. It is currently in the tumble drier! Contact me to get it sent back to you.

Monday, 9 March 2015

It's flip-flop weather this week. By that I do not mean it will be warm and sunny, rather that it will be low pressure one day, high pressure the next. Today was a low pressure day with a storm passing over the north of Scotland and bringing snow, rising temperatures and stronger winds as the day went on. Will and I wanted a quick hit, a nice climb sheltered from the wind that was quick and easy to access and escape from.

North Buttress on Stob Ban was a great choice for this. We walked up the glen and round to the foot of the climb in gusty winds and hail and snow showers. Big gusts were sweeping the ridge as we geared up. However on the route we had a very nice time and even on top it was not so windy at all. The climb has several fun mixed steps and it is possible to quite the ridge in a couple of places. The crest gets more and more narrow as you get higher but always with good blocks for protection.

It ends on the north top of Stob Ban which is quickly descended by scrambling down a rocky section onto open slopes. We were back at the van at 2pm when the worst of the wind arrived! Tomorrow will be a much nicer day with improving weather ... hopefully.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Yesterday's mega thaw (which was still raging at 11pm last night) gave way to a colder and much brighter day today. Fresh snow above 600m and the freezing level below the start of the climbs made the remaining ice just about climbable but much of it was still wet and soft. Several teams were out grabbing the chance of a climb even so.

Ali and Stephan went to climb Hadrian's Wall Direct which can be seen clearly from the glen and which is still big and fat. Despite problems with wet ropes freezing up and the chimney on pitch three being on steep mush they enjoyed the climb. There were a couple of teams ahead of them and another in Point Five Gully. There was also quite a lot of spindrift from periods of snowfall during the day.

Indicator Wall was climbed and, incredibly, The Shroud is still kind of complete! Ben Nevis ice is durable stuff in the thaws!

Looks like we have another week of mixed weather followed by a more settled period of calm and colder weather next weekend onward. Fingers crossed this works out.

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Today we had a proper west coast thaw with continuous heavy rain, very strong wind and much of the lovely snow and ice on the mountains racing down the streams to the loch. While we wait to see what will be left behind the best use of a day like this is to go to the climbing wall. Unfortunately we still don't have a climbing wall in Fort William but, with your help, we could have.

“The Three Wise Monkeys Climbing project is a truly exciting prospect for Fort William and the climbing community in the UK that visit for the world class summer and winter climbing. Having a new indoor activity for all ages and abilities open year round would be a huge benefit to people who love this amazing area, but get stuck when the weather is poor. We’re crowdfunding because we want the Lochaber locals and visiting outdoor community to have a chance to be part of the history of our project, we’ve put together some great rewards too so as well as a brilliant new climbing centre in town, everyone will get something back for supporting us.”
With exactly 96 hours to go to raise their final amount, they have only £7,444 to go! This will make a huge difference to Fort William whether you visit us here or whether you live here. Please support the project if you can.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

The thaw has set in and Andreas and I had a very wet day on D Gully Buttress. It was good training though and a good test of the waterproofs. Nobody had put in a boot trail beyond Great Gully so we waded through thigh deep saturated snow past The Waterslide and up to the buttresses. I can't say I enjoyed this very much but once on the climb we got on fine. Andreas and I swapped leads all the way up and moved together Alpine style from the top of the climb, across to Curved Ridge and all the way up this to the summit.

There were 80mph gusts on the summit and steady rain. We walked down the west ridge of Coire na Tulloch and we were very careful to stay away from avalanche paths down in the foot of the coire - any avalanches will travel a long way down the slope in the current wet conditions. Back at the van I was amazed to find my Jottnar Bergelmir jacket had kept me completely dry underneath - I did not expect anything would keep me dry enough let alone keep me completely dry in the conditions today!

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

We had a relief from the battering by wind and snow today with blue skies and a gentle and dry breeze. With so much fresh snow about (more last night) Andreas, Simon and I went to the West face of Aonach Dubh to stay well clear of any avalanche hazard and enjoy some mixed climbing. We climbed Cyclops (IV,5) in two pitches (great fun despite cruddy ice and not quite frozen turf on the first pitch) and abseiled directly down the route so we could climb Pinnacle Face.

Where Cyclops felt slightly bold and tenuous on soggy placements, Pinnacle Face (by the summer route) was positive and technical with great hooks and torques all the way. It is probably about the same grade too at IV,5 and the third pitch up the wall on the right of the pinnacles is just as spicy.

We managed to avoid the cross loaded slopes at the top of Number Two Gully so we could descend underneath Dinner Time Buttress. There was a slow warming up during the day and the wet snow on steep grass on the way down was the most dangerous part of the day!

So we now have a prolonged thaw forecast with high pressure to the south drawing SW winds from the mid-Atlantic over Scotland for several days. The deep soft snow will settle rapidly (or avalanche) and we will lose snow cover and ice on some routes. However, gully climbs such as Point Five Gully are so fat that they will survive this thaw for when the weather improves, whenever that might be.

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Another fall of snow last night came down to just about sea level. My snow socks got my van up the forest track though and we were about the only people who made the wade in to Ben Nevis. Andreas and Simon swapped leads up SW Ridge of Douglas Boulder which felt awesome today under the heavy snow conditions. It is a real adventure to reach the Douglas Boulder and abseil off so it is not surprising that this climb has got so popular in recent years. Nobody else was on it today though!

The wind had swung round a bit to blow up Douglas Gap East Gully and load up the West Gully and slopes near Fawlty Towers. As we abseiled to Douglas Gap we triggered a slab avalanche down the West Gully. In fact we made an abseil from the foot of the ridge to the easy slopes below to avoid any more avalanches! Lots and lots of snow around at the moment, take care.

Monday, 2 March 2015

A swirly, whirly day today on Ben Nevis with strong westerly winds blowing lots of fresh snow around. We had fresh snow falling at sea level over night and it continued during the day in showers. There was lots of spindrift and transportation of snow with windslab building up quickly. Andreas, Steve and I decided to go to Minus Two Gully which worked out OK but I was quite careful with the line of the approach to get there safely enough, even though it is a NW facing slope.

Once we got to the route, the first section looked very thin and patchy. I went up the gully for a few metres before making a couple of steps left into grooves in the slab leading to the fixed belay at 55m. The rest of the route is fat with blue ice and lots of snow. We abseiled down NE Buttress to the First Platform then down Slingsby's Chimney.

The wind was blowing up the gully making our eyebrows rime up quite well. When the wind dropped the spindrift came down the gully!

On the descent I triggered a wee slab avalanche on the First Platform and another one at the foot of Slingsby's Chimney. Both were quite obviously going to go and we were not in any danger of being caught up in them but it was quite spooky for a while and we were quite cautious on the way down from the face. I did hear of other people being caught up in powder avalanches today and it was interesting to see that, although it was forecast a considerable avalanche hazard today, it turned out be observed by SAIS as a high hazard. More snow and more wind tomorrow!