December 18th, 2014
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From one East Ridge to another, this time we stayed local, and ventured up the Allt Coire a’Mhusgain to climb the East Ridge of the North Buttress of Stob Ban (there’s a mouthful!). The thaw had continued through the night, so sticking to something east facing meant that there was a greater chance of still finding snow on the ridges. Not only did we find snow, but plenty of frozen turf too.
The East Ridge gets II or III depending on the line taken, and with that in mind, Nick was introduced to climbing with two axes today, which allowed us to take in some of the steeper variations on this brilliant and atmospheric mountaineering route, that has a bit of everything, from narrow gullies, steep open corners and exposed arêtes. Nick took an instant liking to climbing more technical ground, using hooks and having to be more precise with his crampons. We flew up the route, and so on topping out, decided to take in the summit of Stob Ban at 999m. We descended via the North Ridge, which was quite bare today.
Today was day 2 of Nick’s mountaineering course, and with an overnight thaw, and fresh westerly winds forecasted, I decided that something east facing would be more snow-sure and a bit more sheltered, and with that in mind, opted for the East Ridge of Beinn a’Chaorainn. We left the car as day was breaking, and realised that the track in through the forest was also very snow-sure. Since I had last been up there a couple of years ago, there’s been a fair bit of new windblown trees, adding to what was already a bit of a gauntlet, so we ended up following our noses through a couple of fire-breaks to eventually pop out on the main snow covered forestry track. From here it was a bit of a wade through calf to knee deep snow through the second forest, and quite tough going! Fortunately the slopes up to the East Ridge were marginally more scoured, so we were able to make quicker progress to the route, it still took a while!
The route, as hoped for, had very good covering right from the start, and only some of the steeper sections were a little thin, but still perfectly climbable, giving interesting steps throughout. Over the course of the route, we looked at a number of belaying techniques for winter mountaineering, and soon found ourselves being buffeted by the wind on the summit plateau. We chose not to hang around, and quickly navigated to the mountain’s southern flank and down.
It’s been another brilliant day in the Outdoor Capital of the UK! Today was day 1 of a winter mountaineering course with Nick, who has brought with him a fair bit of experience and plenty of enthusiasm for adventure. Perfect! Also perfect was the weather forecast for the day, and so it made sense to make the most of the great weather window and go big, which of course, meant Ben Nevis.
We walked in under clear skies and with a crisp feel in the air, and again, with very little wind ( I could get accustom to this!). The recent weather has meant a good build up of ice on the crags, long may that continue! With Ledge Route in mind, we made our way to the base of Moonlight Gully Buttress, conveniently following ready-made tracks from teams that had pushed on to Darth Vader on Creag Coire na Ciste. There’s a fair bit of fresh avalanche debris, possibly caused by cornice collapse from a couple of days ago, which gave us a good opportunity to focus on avalanche awareness and route choice. From there, we made our way above the Curtain (which is getting there) and on to Ledge Route itself. The route is in brilliant conditions, with plenty of snow covering up the gaps between the boulders and a beautifully sharp crest of snow on it’s upper reaches.
With Nick clearly enjoying himself and making good time, we decided to make the most of the stunning day and to continue over the summit, and round onto the Carn Mor Dearg Arête, which was also in good condition, and made slightly easier with a number of tracks from folk coming the other way. This combination of Ledge Route and Carn Mor Dearg must give one of the finest mountaineering routes in the UK. There were a few other folk out making the most of the stunning conditions, and I was able to do it all in just my soft shell. Perfect!
Just back in from a great day out with two very enthusiastic lads, Dave & Will. They were keen to get a jump start to their week of winter climbing (looks like they’ve picked a good week), and so having climbed a bit in the past, wanted to push their grade, and pick up a few tips and tricks on the way. We decided that Stob Coire Nan Lochan would be the ideal venue, and Ordinary (Raeburn’s) Route on Central Buttress the ideal route.
Overnight there had been quite a lot of fresh snow, so we were fortunate to be following tracks all the way up to our route, under a blue (in places) sky, and with perhaps the biggest blessing, no wind! The first couple of pitches were a little buried under the fresh snow, so care was required to find suitable axe placements but both lads did brilliantly. The final pitch, which has far more easy to find hooks, proved to be the highlight of the day, offering plenty of short but steep mixed steps, requiring a range of mixed climbing techniques, which again the lads thoroughly enjoyed.
Meanwhile, Scott was out with John & Simon, friends of Dave & Will, and they climbed Dorsal Arete, which clearly ticked their boxes, for they were all smiling when we met up with them. All in all, a great first outing for the four this season.
A few others were out too; Steve & Joe were climbing Crest Route, and looked to be thoroughly absorbed on the top pitch as we left, and another team reported good conditions on Inclination. One other team swam up NC Gully, which looked like tough going given the amount of snow about.
Rich and I went for a bit of an exploratory winter climbing mission on Ben Nevis today. Following the stormy weather of the last few days, there has been a lot fresh snow and subsequent drifting, leading to some quite deep deposits as low down as the top car park. That said, the walk up to the CIC hut was reasonable, particularly as a keen runner (who I think runs up and down the track every single day before work) had already put a set of early morning tracks in. Thank you!
Once at the CIC hut, we pushed on to the crags bound by Carn Dearg and Castle Ridge, a much less frequented part of the mountain to see whether anything inspiring jumped out at us, but on arrival it was clear that most of the cracks were well choked with ice and the rocks coated in a thick veneer of verglass, and would mean that gear would be hard won and fewer axe placements. In the end we opted for an interesting chimney and groove, giving two pitches of ok climbing up to grade V which brought us out onto a large terrace, from where we had a go at forcing a further couple of pitches but with plenty of soft and not particularly usable snow insulating the only partially frozen turf, and with cracks and rocks awkwardly verglassed, we decided that today wasn’t the day to explore any further and abbed back down to where we started.
Still, it was nice to get out, explore a bit and climb a couple of pitches. Three other teams out today, two of which talked about trying Brass Monkeys and one successful team on the East Ridge of the Douglas Boulder, who reported good conditions, with very little ice in the cracks.