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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…
Over the past couple of days, I’ve been working for Hebridean Pursuits, and out with Shane and Tom, two Kiwis living in London. They wanted to get stuck into some winter mountaineering routes that would challenge them, so plan a for Friday was No.2 Gully on Ben Nevis.
However, plan a wasn’t too be, as despite the snow pack having stabilised, it was still very soft, and as we drew level with the (well buried) start of Comb Gully Buttress, it became quite clear that progress was going to be very time and energy consuming. So, one huge bumslide down into Coire na Ciste, and a quick traverse of Moonlight Gully Buttress and No.5 Gully later saw us on Ledge Route instead. The snow on Ledge Route was of far better quality, so both Shane and Tom found it quite straight forward, but really appreciated getting back to grips with moving around with crampons on again. We topped out and made our way round to the summit in quite low visibility, before descending the Red Burn.
Having had a great introduction to Scottish winter mountaineering yesterday, Shane and Tom were ready for something a bit more challenging, so we jumped on the climber’s gondola at Nevis Range (one of only two teams!), and made our way round to Golden Oldie on the West Face or Aonach Mor. The current thaw has stripped a fair bit of snow, particularly lower down, giving it an alpine character (the climbing, not the weather!)
, but with plenty of snow higher up, the route lived up to their expectations. So, a great Easter hit for Shane and Tom, and amazingly, we’ve only come across one other team climbing the same route as us over the two days.
As to winter conditions for the forthcoming week, it’s a bit tricky to say. There is a high pressure system set to move in, however, it also looks like it could be cloudy, which will limit that all important night time heat loss.
Today I was out with Ezra and Arlo, two competent climbers from Bristol, who having climbed a number of mid grade winter routes, were keen to experience something slightly steeper and icy. Luckily the forecast for today was great and so after two wild days, walking into Ben Nevis this morning was a pleasant change, with clear skies and very little wind. There were also only four teams in front of us, one on Hadrian’s Wall, two heading to Orion Direct and one to Minus Two Gully, which gave us plenty of options, but with arguably the most famous ice gully in the world free of climbers, we made our way up to the foot of Point Five Gully.
The first pitch was in great condition, however, the second and third pitches required a bit more care as there was a mixture of good ice and crusty snow. Both Ezra and Arlo did well to climb the steeper pitches, as they certainly weren’t straight forward in the current conditions. We continued to pitch above the rogue pitch, where again, the crust was a common feature, but didn’t in anyway detract from the climb. Plenty of ice bosses for ice screws/belays.
We topped out onto a sunny plateau, and were greeted with fantastic views in every direction. It wasn’t a bad day to be out on the hill, and for Ezra and Arlo, not a bad introduction to the world of steeper ice climbing. I was working for West Coast Mountain Guides.
Meanwhile, Hannah was also out, enjoying the sunshine and vast quantities of skiable snow. She was out with Gill and Nigel, ski touring between Glencoe and Kinlochleven.
For the past two days, I have been with Howie and Ed, who have come up for an Improvers Snow and Ice Course. With a pretty burly forecast for Tuesday, and with fresh snow forecasted to sea level, we went for North Buttress on Buachaille Etive Mor, which provided the guys with their first taste of steeper mixed climbing. The snow on the route was rather cosmetic, making the climbing a bit awkward at times, but they both coped well. During the ascent, we looked at stance management and belaying two seconds whilst using parallel ropes, and then finished off by abseiling the line of the route. We did get a few glimpses of sunshine in amongst the falling snow.
Today, with a much better forecast, and with plenty of fresh snow now on the ledges, we went up to Stob Coire Nan Lochan to climb Raeburn’s (Ordinary) Route on Central Buttress. We were the first of only two teams to head up there today (the other team went off to Far Eastern Buttress), and so we blazed a trail through some quite deep drifts. The whole route was very snowy, with some of the short mixed steps completely buried. The turf on the first pitch was frozen where exposed, but the snow was on the soft side. Again, both Ed & Howie made steady progress on the route, and in doing so, experienced another Glencoe classic. They also witnessed a huge cornice collapsing and landing in NC Gully.
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