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Just a quick catch up from winter climbing over the past couple of day. Firstly, two new routes that I’ve climbed recently have been confirmed as first ascents. The first was Highway Robbery III on the north face of Aonach Beag, with Scott & Hannah. We actually mistook it for Stand & Deliver in the cloud, and having quickly realised our error, finished the line anyway before nipping back round to climb our intended route. It won’t ever be a classic, but nice to do anyway. Details here: http://www.scottishwinter.com/?p=5137
The second new route was climbed whilst out guiding Nick just over a week ago. We were close to finishing Deep Cut Chimney on Stob Coire nam Beith, when we stumbled across a brilliant and sustained pitch of grade IV ice high on the mountain, leading out of NW Gully. It was far too inviting to resist, and gave a fantastic pitch of about 40m, which we’ve called Cartouche. Details here: http://www.scottishwinter.com/?p=5152
Then yesterday, I was out with Karen, working for Mountain Motion. This was her 4th and final day of winter mountaineering, and so we made an ascent of the long and complex Summit Gully on Stob Coire nam Beith. If the term atmospheric means ‘in the cloud with poor visibility’, then this route was bathed in the stuff. Route finding wasn’t always immediately obvious, but the scenery it went through, which we could see was quite dramatic. The route is quite long at 400m, so Karen’s legs were quite pleased when we finally reached the summit! A great route, and it must be one of the longest grade IIs in the area.
Finally onto today. A last minute booking with The Highland Mountain Company saw me guiding David on Neptune Gully on Ben Nevis. This morning, the mountain was in as good a condition for winter climbing as I’ve ever seen, and so of course 90% of the UK’s winter climbers were there today. A little secret, which I’ve shared in the past… Neptune Gully receives no stars, so I had a feeling that it wouldn’t be busy. It is in fact one of the best grade IIIs on the mountain, it’s long, follows a strong line, contains a number of interesting icy pitches, takes in some impressive ground, and has a brilliant picnic spot 3/4s of the way up, overlooking No.5 Gully & Ledge Route. What’s not to like about that? David certainly couldn’t find anything to not like about it. We started early, and made good progress, finishing the route just gone 1pm. For David, it wasn’t a bad introduction to the north face of Ben Nevis, and we only saw one other team on the route, for about 10 mins at the bottom. Multiple teams on most routes today!
Does a day of winter climbing really get any better? I suggested to Ali last night that we should have a look at the very rarely formed and therefore even more rarely climbed ‘The Chute’, thinking that if it was ever going to be in, then now was the time. It was in, and having never seen anyone climb it before, or knowing anyone that has, we turned into Coire na Ciste to see a French team starting up the first pitch! The audacity of it! We continued up into Coire na Ciste, whilst chatting about Mega Route X, and found ourselves gravitating towards the base of it, and before either of realised, we were standing at the foot of one of one of the most spectacular pitches of ice in Scotland, geared up and ready to go!
I led the first pitch, a steep and sustained pitch of brilliant ice, which eased just as the arms began to feel the pump. Ali then took over, and then cruised up to the in-situ belay at the top. Having descended, and chatted briefly to Kev and Joe, who were belaying Dave nearby, we stomped over to The Chute, and started up that.
Pitch one was quite sustained, quite thin to begin with, and not overly easy to protect in places, and both Ali and I felt that it was definitely harder than it’s grade of V,4 suggested. It was however, great fun, with plenty of interest throughout. Ali then led pitch two, and me the final pitch, both of which were a bit easier than the initial pitch, but enjoyable none the less. We followed the line in Godefroy Perroux’s guidebook, which trends rightwards up an icefall on the 3rd pitch, rather than the line of the SMC Guidebooks, which finishes a bit sooner. We descended Broad Gully, which made life nice and simple. So, it turned out to be a great route, and one well worth hunting out when in condition!
Most photos are Ali’s, as he’s a better photographer than me!
Both Han and I were on Ben Nevis today. I was with Jason, and we walked in with no definite plan, thinking we could just see which routes were free, and on seeing only one party making their way round the foot of Carn Dearg (they may have climbed The Shroud), we made a beeline for Boomer’s Requiem. The ice on the route throughout was in great condition, taking first time axe placements. The main icefall was great fun, as was the long pitch of ice afterwards, which was made longer by sticking to the left and making a rising traverse. We soon found ourselves on the summit of Carn Dearg, and with much of the day still left, decided to head down Ledge Route, and climb The Curtain as well. This worked out perfectly, with no one waiting at the bottom, so after a quick bite, we made quick work of the chewy ice on The Curtain, which we climbed in two pitches.
Jason and I have racked up 17 pitches and 8 guidebook stars (although Nordwand deserves more!) over the weekend, we’ve been pretty fortunate to have such good conditions, and even today’s slightly damp air this afternoon did nothing to dampen our spirits from the two brilliant days.
As Ken has mentioned I was out too. Today was day 2 of a weekend course I was running for Maximum Adventure. Yesterday we went up to Aonach Mor to experience crampons, ice axes and moving about the winter hills. Having perfected our skills yesterday, today the 2 Craigs, James, Jon, Simon and Eleanor all set off eagerly for the summit of Ben Nevis this morning. The crampons went on pretty soon after setting off and on reaching the red burn we discovered it has some steepish snow drifts on either side of it which tested yesterdays skills well! 4 and 3/4 hours after setting off, we were all proudly standing on the top. It was a great weekend and the company was excellent, as was the celebratory drink at the end!
The grading might be wrong (might be current conditions), but the route itself is brilliant! Today I was out with Jason, who has quite a bit of experience both on rock and in winter, and was keen for something fun. With a shorter walk-in, particularly with the sit-down start to Ben Nevis, than the rest of the mountain, the long (420m) and lesser travelled Nordwand seemed to fit our objectives nicely. The direct start was in better condition, and made for a far more logical line, so we started up on the steep ice, which was a bit steeper than the grade of IV,4 suggests.
Each of the remaining 8 pitches had their fair share of interesting ice climbing, with most pitches tackling an icefall, all of which were in great condition. With first time axe placements, we made good progress, and were able to enjoy lunch at the top. Not a bad morning’s climb!
Both Hannah and I were out today. My original plans were to head up to Stob Coire Nan Lochan, as it had been a bit on the mild side, yesterday, but on checking the overnight temperatures, it was clear that things had been a lot cooler, and with a hard frost on the ground outside, quickly changed plans to instead head to climb another Cold Climb, No. 6 Gully on Aonach Dubh.
With verglas coating the path, and the snow a lot crisper and drier than yesterday, I was quite confident that the ice would be fine to climb, and so we made the short way up to the foot of the gully, passing a team who had there sights on Deep Cut Chimney on Stob Coire Nam Beith, having read my blog entry last night. It’s always nice to meet people who make use of this blog. We were able to climb the bottom pitch, which doesn’t always form, and often is the first to fall apart, and continued up the gully, enjoying the solitude and delicate climbing. The crux pitch was in good condition, but again, required a gentle touch in places, which Nick enjoyed, as it was more akin to rock climbing at times, rather than just bashing up the ice.
So, two brilliant days with Nick, with two classic Cold Climbs climbed, that should keep a smile on his face for a while!
Meanwhile, Hannah was out with Steve Holmes they were both working for Lochaber guides and with 9 students from Sheffield University on a different Aonach, Aonach Mor. The group were keen to refresh their winter knowledge and skills. It was a stunning day up there, and whilst Fort William and the surrounding area were in the cloud all day, they were above it and had some fantastic views.
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