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I can tell you what’s not vanishing any time soon: winter and all that snow! Mike and I walked in to Ben Nevis to find more fresh snow lying and plenty more falling and being blown about. It felt more like the depths of winter today rather than the end of March.
Mike was after some coaching on steeper ice, so that he could gain the confidence to attempt more grade IV and in turn V routes, which will open up a whole host of classic climbs. With so much fresh snow making travel higher up the mountain difficult, not to mention more avalanche prone, we opted to stay low and made our way to the foot of Vanishing Gully. The route isn’t in bad condition, however, there are a number of patches where the snow is soft all the way to the rock beneath, so care is required. The crux icefall was in good shape.
In order to make the most of the route, and with no one behind us, I suggested to Mike that he be lowered back down the crux pitch, and have a go with my BD Fusions, to give him a taste of climbing leashless, with more technical tools than his own. He popped up at the belay above the crux icefall for a second time, with a smile on his face, I think I know what his next purchase might be…
We finished the route off, and abseiled back down the line. Very few people out and about today, it was a pretty burly day up there, but we had the odd clear spell. One team headed round to Castle Ridge area, one team went to try Gutless, and from what I could see, two teams binned it early on. The weather has since deteriorated this afternoon.
This weekend, I was out with father and son team of Michael and Mark, who have their sights on Island Peak (6189m) in the Everest Region of Nepal later this year. They were after two days of tuition in the mountaineering skills required, and whilst Island Peak is classified as a trekking peak, it really is an alpine peak (see our blog of our ascent of Island Peak & Ama Dablam here), with scrambling required lower down, an intricate glacier to negotiate further up, and a steep snow slope and exposed ridge to the summit, which will have fixed lines in place.
In order to make the most of the weekend, and partly due to the poor weather forecast for Saturday, we visited Glen Nevis after an indoor session looking at fitting crampons and useful knots, and spent the first part of the day looking at movement and scrambling on Scimitar Ridge, before a productive afternoon spent ascending and descending fixed lines in a variety of situations in and around Pinnacle Ridge. With the inclement weather, I was quite surprised when a soloist passed us!
Today, we hit a very wintery Ben Nevis, and made an ascent of a very snowy Ledge Route, so that Michael and Mark could get to grips with using their crampons and axe on steep and in places, exposed terrain. Both enjoyed the route and coped well with the conditions, both in the air and underfoot. It proved to be a social affair, as we were joined by Steve & his client. We then made our way to the summit of Ben Nevis, which whilst not at high altitude, is similar in the amount of total ascent as from base camp to the summit of Island Peak.
Meanwhile, Paddy has also been out with Andrew this weekend, they managed to snatch Green gully for the jaws of a storm on Saturday, and described the climb as atmospheric. Today, they made the most of the lower lying ice and climbed Vanishing Gully.
Since my last blog, Fransisca and I have spent Thursday in Glen Nevis, looking at ropework, ascending fixed lines and abseiling in and around the Pinnacle Ridge area. For someone who hasn’t rock climbed before, she picked the skills up quickly, which will prove beneficial for her future aspirations of climbing the seven summits.
Today, we were back on the mountains, and climbed the brilliant and varied Western Rib on the West Face of Aonach Mor. I caught a glimpse of the West Face last Saturday, and it was looking rather devoid of winter, however, the weather over the past few days has converted it back to full winter garb, complete with a sharp crest of snow and plenty of windslab forming in sheltered spots either side of the rib. We didn’t hang around, as conditions were distinctly ‘Scottish’, which naturally was great for Fransisca to experience. If you can survive Scotland…
Only one other team out on the West Face, enjoying Golden Oldie. The turf was a little soft lower down on the route, but improved quickly with height. With four varied days, Fransisca has gained many mountaineering skills that she can take to the world’s higher mountains, but she’s also had a great taste of the absorbing (and worryingly addictive) world of Scottish Winter Climbing…
Both Han and I were out enjoying an alpine Glencoe today. Han was out with good friend, John, and they climbed the Cold Climb: Crowberry Gully, on Buachaille Etive Mor and reported the route to be in easy condition, with the crux getting a bit thin with all the recent traffic.
Meanwhile, on Stob Coire Nan Lochan, I was out again with Fransisca. Having climbed Ledge Route on Ben Nevis yesterday, it was time to up the ante a bit, and go for something a bit steeper, and Dorsal Arete fitted the bill perfectly. Fransisca took to the steeper climbing, and having to front point like a duck to water, although I think I saw her wings flapping a couple of times as she tackled the steep crux moves on the arete itself. Still, she managed the moves well, and enjoyed the exposure on the sharp ridge above. Not bad for day two in crampons!
We descended Broad Gully, giving Fransisca further experience of descending steeper snow, which again, she had no problems with and is therefore progressing very well in her bid to gain the skills required to tackle some of the world’s higher peaks.
I think we were all lulled into a false sense that Spring was arriving after the great weather and conditions of last week. Cue overnight snow down to 300m! So that’s what greeted Fransisca and I as we made our way up the Allt a’ Mhuilinn. Fransisca has Mounts Elbrus and Vinson on the cards for later this year, and felt that a few days up in Scotland would be good preparation, and with a wintery forecast for the rest of the week, I’d agree.
We made our way up Ledge Route, which with the fresh snow, meant blazing a trail, which I think adds to the quality of the day. With a bit of coaching, Fransisca quickly got to grips with using crampons and an ice axe, and gained plenty of confidence as we approached the summit of Carn Dearg. We then continued to the summit of Ben Nevis, before making a descent, largely by way of a brilliant bumslide down No.4 Gully and Coire na Ciste, made all the more better by the fresh snow. Watch out for the man-eating glide cracks at the top of No.4 Gully! Hadrians, Indicator RH, Point 5, Italian RH, Orion Direct and 2 Step Corner all reported to be in great nick.
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