April 11th, 2015
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It seems almost ironic that despite being plunged back into mid-winter overnight, today was my last day of work this winter season. Still, all good things…
Having been out quite a bit over the past few days, and having seen things close up yesterday, I made last minute plans with Mike, who I had been out with a couple of weeks ago on Vanishing Gully. Mike was after some further mileage on steep ice, and having been into Observatory Gully yesterday and see the state of the ice first hand, I felt that we would find just what he was after, but, having caught wind that the CIC Hut was fully booked last night, I was keen to find some steep ice that was less likely to be on everyone’s radars (Smiths, Hadrian’s, Indicator, Point 5 etc.), so I scanned through a few photos of Coire na Ciste that I had taken over the past few days, and one thing stood out… The fat, blue icefall of The Gutter. Having heard that there were a number of variations available, we made our way up to it.
The initial pitch of Glovers was ok, although a bit mushy pulling onto the easier angled snow slope above the first icefall. We soon found ourselves at the foot of the brilliantly blue icefall of The Gutter, which looked to be in fantastic condition. It was. Mike felt it was more sustained than the crux icefall of Vanishing Gully, and required a bit more thought. I too, am not sure that IV,4 is the right grade, perhaps more like IV/V,5 today. Anyway regardless of the grade, it was good fun.
We then finished off on a line parallel to Tower Ridge, which took in a couple more short icy steps before gaining the plateau. Conditions throughout the day were quite wild, with plenty of spindrift pouring down, which was quite a contrast to the last few days!
So that’s it, what has been a fantastic and varied winter is now over for another year, thanks to all those that have employed us, worked for us, walked with us and shared a rope with us! We’re off to the Alps on Monday for some ski touring, can’t wait!
After climbing one of the closest routes to the car park on Ben Nevis yesterday, Paul and I thought we would go for the polar opposite today and head high into Observatory Gully and climb Good Friday Climb, one of the highest winter climbs on the mountain. With the clear skies overnight, the approach slopes were quite firm, however, as the sun caught the eastern flanks of Tower Ridge, debris was peeling off, so we stayed hard left as we made our way up to the climb.
Much of the exposed ice is now rock hard, and quite glassy and brittle in places, which meant bombproof ice screw belays, so long as the ice was well attached to the rock! We pitched up the steep snow slopes that lie beneath Indicator Wall, before gaining the steep ice pitch on Good Friday Climb, which Paul made short work of, however, he quickly appreciated that ice is often steeper than it looks! To make the most of the route we finished up the final pitch of Indicator R/H, enabling us to top out right by the summit cairn of Ben Nevis, the UK’s highest belay.
It’s been a great and varied couple of days, and it was interesting to see what had survived the steady thaws of late, and to see how firm the ice is in places. Hadrian’s Wall is complete, the pitch above the main ice fall is definitely thin, but looks climbable. Tower Scoop looks brilliant, Point 5, Indicator & R/H and Smith’s Route all look fine, Shot in the Back and Shot in the Foot look complete, however, the first pitch of Zero Gully looks thin and broken.
When the weather is as good as it has been here in Lochaber over the past few days, I think that it’s one of the best places to be. The variety of activities that can be done is almost endless, mountain biking, river kayaking, sea kayaking, backcountry skiing, winter climbing, rock climbing, the list goes on…
I was back out on an alpine Ben Nevis with Paul today, who was happy to climb anything, more so as most of his trips over the past few winters have coincided with stormy conditions. Today things were very different. We walked in without a breath of wind and settled on the idea of an alpine ascent of Castle Ridge. A continuous line of snow gave us a nice easy approach to the foot of the ridge, from where we roped up. The rock was largely dry, however, there were still some sizeable, yet soft, patches of snow that were dripping onto some of the slabs higher up. That said, the route really was in summer ‘nick’ and with the snow being so soft, crampons weren’t required for the ascent. We did both use an axe though.
On topping out, we donned our crampons and made our way down the snow filled gully that runs parallel to the Red Burn and joins the mountain path slightly to the north.
Both Castle Gullies are still complete, with their respective chockstones still buried.
I was out again, introducing another climber to the wacky and rather addictive world of winter climbing, however, today, it was a 12 year old by the name of Matt. Stewy, who has bags of experience had brought Matt, his son, along to hopefully share his passions for the Scottish mountains and for winter climbing, and felt that an ascent of Ledge Route on Ben Nevis, on a beautiful day should do the trick. It did!
The approach to Ledge Route was through largely soft snow, and I was quite surprised by how much snow has since disappeared from the lower rocks of Ledge Route, but the upper ridge was still as snow covered as ever. Matt showed no signs of tiring as we made our ascent, and maintained care with his footwork throughout. I don’t think that the exposure high on the snowy ridge had any affect on him either! A budding mountaineer in the making!
With no hanging around, we made the summit plateau in no time, and to add the icing on the cake, we took in the summit of Ben Nevis, so not only was it Matt’s first winter climb, but his first Munro too. Not bad for anyone, never mind a 12 year old! Tower Ridge next? I was working for Abacus Mountain Guides.
Yesterday, I was out with Jenny, Catherine, Tina, John & Margret, who have their sights set on the Classic Haute Route (Chamonix to Zermatt) later this year, and were after a day of skills in preparation. We visited Aonach Mor and spent time focusing on movement skills both on and off crampons, as well as using an ice axe to cut steps and in self-arrest.
Today, it was back to winter (or alpine!) climbing on Ben Nevis. I was out with Tom & Siegfried. I had met Tom whilst in Nepal last November, and we had summited Island Peak on the same day, so it was great to see him again. A Jersey lad, he had not been up to the Highlands before, and was keen to reach the summit of Ben Nevis via an exciting route. Luckily, he had also managed to convince Siegfried to join him, so with a steady thaw in progress, Tower Ridge seemed like the perfect route, free from objective dangers of falling ice and debris, and climbable in most conditions, and always good fun.
The weather was a bit grey and windy as we reached the CIC Hut, but the gusts soon died down, and we were soon established on the ridge. Snow cover on the ridge is quite patchy at the moment, particularly up to the top of the Little Tower, but what snow there is, is generally quite firm and icy. Both Tom & Siegfried enjoyed the route, although I think that Tom perhaps enjoyed it more at the time! We wore crampons throughout, giving the route quite an alpine feel.
Very little visibility up there today, until we were a way down the Red Burn, but I could just about see that Hadrian’s was hanging on in there. There is a cold snap due this coming weekend, but after the forthcoming three warm days, it may be too late… Then again…
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