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Today was my final day of work this winter, and for a second year running, the season ended with a climb on Ben Nevis with Mick. The freezing levels have crept above the summits over the past 36hrs or so, which was going to affect the ice climbs, just to what extent was hard to gauge without getting up close. I had a few routes in mind, but on reaching the CIC Hut, it seemed that Orion Direct was complete and looked ok, so we ventured up to the foot of it, and found the snow quite soft underfoot. The ice on the first couple of pitches looked ok, if a bit thin, but with ice falling down and for the temps to rise through the day, we decided that ‘it might be ok’ wasn’t good enough, and so we about turned, and made our way down and onto Observatory Ridge, which was distinctly alpine (a lot of bare rock, with ledges holding snow, of which some of it was quite useful).
The first three pitches contain the meat of the climbing, with a series of rocky steps and slabs, however, even after gaining the snow covered ridge above, the odd rocky step thrown in for good measure still provided some thought provoking moves. On nearing the top, we moved across into Zero Gully, and were able to make the most of gear placements in the exposed rocks on the right (ice screws in the gully would have been useless).
It was a very quiet day on the mountain, with the only other teams we could see enjoying Tower Ridge. There is still plenty of ice on the mountain, but whether it lasts this current thaw is another matter. Point 5 and other deep, ice holding gullies, with snow fields above may make it to the next freeze, whenever that happens, but that’s it for my Scottish winter season, and despite the wild weather and conditions, it’s been a great season, with many fantastic days out across the Highlands.
We’re now off ski touring in Norway and Austria…
Over the past couple of days, Han and I have been working for Bigfoot Adventures on a graduate selection course for Applied Drilling Technology International (ADTI). The two days involved running various challenges during which the final 26 participants (of 800 initial applicants) were presented with ample opportunity to demonstrate their skills in a team environment. Of the 26, only 8 will make the final cut, so needless to say that everyone gave it their all.
Today was back to bread and butter, and for me, a day of winter climbing with Wes & Gary, who I’ve been climbing with a number of times before, and always look forward to getting out with. We headed into the thick mist sitting in Coire Na Ciste, and with a bit of navigation, made our way to the foot of Thompson’s Route. It seemed that all the other climbers emanating from the North Face Car Park & CIC Hut were heading up into Observatory Gully, which was good of them, as it meant we had the route all to ourselves.
The route was in great condition, with first time placements throughout. We climbed the route in three pitches, taking a steeper direct line at the top, giving a nice sustained outing. The visibility didn’t improve until we were well off the mountain, but it sounded like a team were in Green Gully. No doubt Hadrian’s Wall, Orion Direct, NE Buttress etc. were quite busy today. Glover’s Chimney is also reported to be good condition. The temperatures are set to be slightly warmer for the next few days, but so long as it stays dry, the ice should be good for a while yet.
Han was also out today, working for Alan Kimber Mountaineering. She walked with Tom & Derek, who were over from Canada. They were interested in seeing Ben Nevis in it’s winter glory, so after a latish start, they walked from The Achintee, over Halfway Lochain and down to the North Face Car Park.
A violently shaken snow globe that is! I was out today with Ken (another one, I’m not going mad), and working for West Coast Mountain Guides. Ken has a number of classic routes under his belt, and was keen to add to his tally, unfortunately the wind on Ben Nevis had other ideas. It was clear on the approach that the SE winds were much stronger than forecasted, and with plumes of spindrift streaming off the crests and engulfing the corries, we chose not to climb NE Buttress, or anything else high on the mountain.
After taking shelter in the lee of the CIC Hut, and weighing up our options, we settled for the SW Ridge of the Douglas Boulder. This gave us a reasonable amount of shelter, and was in good condition, and a little less buried than last time I was up there. In the past Ken has swayed towards ice climbing, so the SW Ridge gave him a healthy dose of mixed climbing. We finished by abseiling down the East Gully, and with the winds showing no sign of easing, called it a day. Very few routes climbed today, although a number of teams were braving the winds on Tower Ridge. The shifting winds have redistributed snow on many aspects, making route choice and travel around the mountain quite tricky, but the snow is slowly but surely consolidating.
A couple of videos to show the spindrift:
For day 2 with Trish, James and Mike, we opted for the shorter, less wading required, approach of School House Ridge II, (ENE Ridge) of Sgorr Bhan. It’s the second time this season that I’ve been up the ridge, yet after the heavy snow fall from a couple of days ago, the route felt quite different, with many of the rocky steps being completely buried in snow. There were some impressive wind sculpted features (sastrugi and cornices) on both sides of the ridge, indicating a significant and recent change in wind direction to redistribute the loose snow.
The team enjoyed the brilliant weather (as did I!) and technicalities of the ridge, and on gaining the main ridge, we continued to the summit of Sgorr Bhan. The ridge leading up to Sgorr Dhearg, and it’s NE Face looked particularly impressive with the imposing quantities of snow present. On the way down, we stopped to look at various snow belays, before making a very snow covered descent back to the valley floor, which felt distinctly springlike. It’s been a great couple of days with the trio, and they’ve been quite fortunate with the weather, long may it continue!
Today I was out with Trish, James & Mike, who are up for a couple of days of winter mountaineering. Yesterday and overnight, we had far more snow, and down to lower levels than expected, so we made use of the lifts at Aonach Mor to then gain the West Face. Immediately on leaving the top station, we were wading through waist deeps snow, but fortunately there was enough exposed ground to allow us to make steady progress round to the Summit Ribs. I wouldn’t say it was easy breaking trail though!
We did notice a number of cracks propagating as we made our way up to Golden Oldy, suggesting that the avalanche hazard was a bit higher than the ‘low on westerly aspects at all heights’ forecasted. There had also clearly been a significant amount of cross-loading taking place, as the gullies were quite full, and there were cornices present on the ridge.
The route itself was again buried, but the trio enjoyed it and we made good progress to the summit of Aonach Mor.
March 31st, 2014
March 29th, 2014
March 24th, 2014
March 23rd, 2014
March 22nd, 2014
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