Monday, 28 March 2011

The Ben is hanging on in.

I spent the weekend working for West Coast Mountain guides climbing with Anne. Anne had climbed some of the classic routes on the Ben already so already our choice of routes was starting to shrink. On Saturday morning after a bit of a chat we decided on Green gully. This is a fine route going through some good scenery giving a no. of good pitches on ice. We arrived at the bottom of the route at the same time as another team but there was enough room for us to climb it at the same time which made it a very sociable outing. The first pitch of this route is the crux but at this time of year it is banked out giving a very short and straight forward pitch. The ice was in excellent condition and had seen a lot of traffic in the past week meaning we just had to hook our way up the route hardly ever having to swing. We finished by the direct route which gave another fantastic pitch. The Freezing level was above the summit all day which made for a slightly damp day but other than that a good one.

Anne enjoying good ice on Green gully.

After chatting with Alan on the Saturday evening we decided to head up to Indicator wall on the Sunday. About half way up Observatory gully the snow started to firm up showing that the freezing level had dropped from the previous day. We made our way to the foot of indicator wall and pitched round the corner because of the steep firm snow. I could see one team at the foot of our route and was happy to wait a little but as I arrived at the belay I saw a team of three that were waiting around the corner. So with a very long wait on our hands we made a decision to climb The good Friday climb instead. This is another Ben Classic which at the moment has a very good 30m pitch of ice at grade III.

Anne at the top of the crux ice pitch on The Good Friday climb. 

Other teams this weekend have been on Point 5, Smiths, Hadrian's(looking a bit thin now), Indicator wall, Tower scoop, Tower ridge, Glover's chimney, The whit line, The cascade, Combe gully, Central gully left and right. There is still plenty of ice to go at you just need to go high and start early. 

Thursday, 24 March 2011

A beautiful day.

I was out on the Ben today just walking up the tourist track with a couple for Abacus Mountaineering. It was a cloudy start but it soon started to brighten up We made our way up into the cloud and popped back out of it into blue skies. The summit of the Ben was the only thing sticking above the clouds and the view was spectacular.

The snow was soft most of the way and had only refrozen in the last couple of hundred metres. I spoke to one pair that had been on Tower ridge and said it was almost alpine with firm snow and dry rock for most of the way. Mike climbed Combe gully and said it was in surprisingly good condition.

Routes high up on the mountain would be your best bet at the moment or even routes like Tower ridge and N.E. Buttress would be worth a look too. It is supposed to cool down over the weekend which should firm up the ice nicely.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

A weekend of rest.

My work for the weekend fell through which means I've taken the opportunity to rest, repair some kit and catch up with some domestic chores. I repaired all of the kit yesterday and ended up dodging the chores by making a small movie this morning. Anything to avoid doing what actually needs doing.
With this thaw starting it almost feels like winter is coming to an end. It still has a way to go yet but it has been going for 5 months for me any way. Apparently it was busy on the Ben yesterday with a lot of teams on the Orion face but still no one really venturing into Coire na Ciste.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Cutlass and Ben Nevis conditions.

Cutlass(VI,7) is a route I have been wanting to get on for a while but as always conditions and partners and work haven't lined up, yesterday though it all came together. James had a long day on Hadrians the day before and wasn't too fussed about getting a route in but was happy to hold my ropes for me so off we went. A nice leisurely start and we were at the foot of the Douglas Boulder for about lunch. James ran up the first pitch and put in the belay before the crux corner and I followed him up. The crux of this route is a 15-20m corner with a helpful crack in the back but is still sustained climbing even once the crux has been passed. Today though the crack was chocked full of ice and from the belay I was struggling to see any gear. So after a bit of a talk to myself I launched up the crux pull to get established in the corner. As I had thought from the belay gear was at a minimum. In total I only managed to get in six pieces of gear and three of those were in the first five metres. It was a full on winter day with spindrift pouring down the corner and then being blown back up and smacking you in the face but one of those rewarding days where you feel you really earned it. James ticked off the third pitch and we abseiled into West gully which thankfully the wind had been blowing up so we could walk down safely.

Me nearing the top of the corner on pitch 2.

James making the last couple of steep moves.

There were about two hours of snowfall yesterday which fell on some strong winds. Wind slab was building underneath Vanishing gully which saw three teams battle against the spindrift coming down. There were no signs of anyone having been into Coire na Ciste but their tracks might have just been blown in. Other teams were out on Hadrians wall direct, Tower scoop, Astral Highway and Compression cracks but a quiet day on the mountain. Creag coire na Ciste and Number three gully buttress looked white as did the Combe but getting to them I think is still a problem.

Looking into the Observatory gully area and the Orion face.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Winter ML skills on Aonach Mor.

After my day out with Hannah last week when the weather was pretty nasty we head up to the Nid area again. For today Hannah had put some thought into the things she wanted to look at or revisit. We made our way round the bottom of the Nid to keep an eye out for any good spots to practice ice axe arrest later in the day. We put our crampons on and headed up hill. One of the things Hannah wanted to look at was managing a group on steeper ground so we had a look at bringing people up or lowering them and also built a bollard so Hannah could protect herself as she abseiled over the cornice to check the slope below.

Hannah peering over the cornice.

Once She was happy with this we walked a way down the Nid and I got Hannah to lower me down some steeper ground this time using a bucket seat with a bollard. We continued down to a spot we had seen earlier and had a good session on ice axe arrest looking at possible ways of teaching these skills to a group. 

It was a nice day to be out with a lot of sunshine and only a few showers passing through. What was coming down in the showers though was large grains of graupel and these were very quickly building on Easterly aspects. There is snow forecast for tonight and tomorrow and this layer of graupel might cause some issues if it is buried.

A handful of the Graupel that was falling today.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

A day of contrasting conditions.

With the Mountains being covered in a blanket of snow making travel time consuming and the lower mixed routes stripped after the freezing level rose yesterday we decided to go cragging. It was a beautiful day in Glen Nevis with dry rock but the air temperature was still very cold after last night. I had a few work e-mails to send after lunch and then headed in to meet up with some friends. I soloed up pinnacle ridge (S) and then continued up upper pinnacle (about D) to meet up with the guys who were climbing on Styx buttress just above the Alp. Whilst they were climbing I soloed Right wall (VD), Pine wall (HS 4a) and then built up enough courage to solo Tear (HS 4b). The last time I climbed this was about 4 years ago and I had forgotten how polished it was so it was a bit unnerving at the crux but other than that it was fine.

Me soloing Pine wall (HS 4a)

Report from the Ben are it is still heavy going but the ice on the Orion face is in good condition a team backed off Observatory ridge, which the guide book says is difficult under powder. There was an avalanche today in Garadh gully which caught three people, best wishes to them.

Monday, 14 March 2011

A swimming lesson.

On Saturday Simon and I headed up to the Ben with N.E. buttress as our objective. The forecast was for heavy and persistent snow to come in late afternoon so we were hoping to be at least high on the route if not finished by the time it came in. As we left the car a few snow flakes were falling but nothing much. By the time we had arrived at the foot of Observatory gully the snow was now coming down hard and there was wave after wave of spin drift coming down the faces.We had planned to get onto the ridge by Slingby's chimney which is a grade II and gives you quick and easy access to the ridge without having to make the long and exposed traverse onto the first platform. As we arrived at the foot of the chimney it became very obvious that we needed to change our plans. The wind had now picked up and the snow had built at the bottom of the chimney and was only getting more loaded with each wave of snow coming down. We had a quick discussion and decided to run away and go and do a shorter route lower down on the mountain.
We ended up on Faulty Towers on the west flank of Tower ridge and even here the conditions were still pretty full on. This area was again a popular choice for a lot of people given the conditions.

Nearing the top of Faulty Towers, the picture really doesn't do justice as to how wild it was.

Yesterday morning I woke up to look out the window only to find it was still snowing heavily. Given this we decided on a short route low down again so we went to Far Eastern Buttress in Glen Coe. The guide book describes this crag as a good option when the higher crags are buried, unfortunately it doesn't recommend where to go when this crag is buried. It took us just under two hours to reach the foot of the crag and that was only because a pair in front of us had kindly broken trail most of the way. We started up the first pitch of Eastern slant which gave a great little pitch at about III,4 but with everything buried gear was at a minimum. As I pulled out of the gully onto the easier angled part of the Buttress I realised just how much snow there was as pitch two of Orient Express was no longer there. It was buried under about six foot of snow. We swam up this for 20m and then slinked off right up some easier ground at about grade III. Two hours of swimming back down hill and we were back at the car just in time for Simon to listen to the rugby on his drive home. I forgot my camera so no photos but Stob Coire nan Lochan is looking white. The only real problem at the moment is getting to the crags.

Things are due to warm up slightly over the next few days so hopefully that will firm up some of the snow that is around. Hopefully not too much though as the mixed climbing is looking great again.

Friday, 11 March 2011

A bit of shelter on the Buachaille.

Simon at the top of the crux pitch.

Day one of three with Simon and with the weather set to continue being on the wild side we opted for North Buttress on the Buachaille. This gave us four great pitches of fairly sustained climbing with bomber hooks the whole way and even some helpful neve in places. We abseiled off from the top of the difficulties, the route breaks out left at the top of the chimney and to get to the Ab you have to traverse left. All of the Belays were in-situ today and it was quite a busy route but that was to be expected for the forecasts. Today I was working for Abacus Mountaineering and for the next two days.

Enjoying another spacious belay.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Wild day out.

I was out on Aonach Mor today just for half the day. Hannah had been kind enough to offer some of her time when I was preparing for my MIA and today it was my turn to repay the favour. She has her WML in a couple of weeks and she was keen to spend some time looking at the her rope work in preparation. We had a look at all of the text book stuff and a bit more but the conditions even at the bottom of the Nid were wild. It was blowing a pretty constant 35-40mph with a few extra strong gusts thrown in for luck. There is a lot of fresh snow on the Easterly aspect and there are a couple of weak layers in there that sheared very easily, thankfully we were able to stick to some broken ground when we did move about. No photos I'm afraid there wasn't really anything to see.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Orion Direct.

Climbers on Zero.

I was out on the Ben yesterday with Simon who wanted to get a classic V. He had shown some interest in Orion as he had already done point 5 and some of the other classics. It was a quiet walk in with very little sign of anyone else, as we came round into Observatory gully we saw a couple of teams heading round the corner, we geared up and kept our fingers crossed. Thankfully one team had gone for Orion and one for Zero gully so we had a clear run. The first pitch was booming a little but the ice just got better as we gained height with fantastic first time placements and good screw placements too. I was working for Abacus Mountaineering today and Mike was on Orion too.

Simon seconding Mike on the second slab rib.

There were a couple of snow showers during the afternoon but on the whole it stayed dry but cloudy. Other teams were on Zero which looked good, N.E. buttress and 0.5. The team on 0.5 said it was very stepped at the moment and said it felt about grade IV. Reports from friends said that it was busy in Coire na Ciste and Green gully, The cascade and Fine Gourmet were in similar conditions.

Simon just finishing off the exit chimney.

Conditions today have taken a turn for the worst with high winds and heavy snow fall on the tops. Although it might mean things are a bit grim for a couple of days it does hopefully mean winter will last a bit longer.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

A bit of Cragging.

Alex on the first pitch of Yir.

With the mild temperatures of the last week the conditions on the Ben were slowly deteriorating and with it being the weekend we thought we would give winter a miss for a couple of days and decided to go cragging at Ardnamurchan. This is one of my favourite places in Scotland and I can't really do it justice in a sentence.

James on Lava Lout.

We headed over on Saturday morning and arrived at the crag for lunch. We bagged four routes before it got dark and headed back to the car. We woke up this morning to a bitter wind which made the air temperature feel about freezing. We waited around for a couple of hours to see if things warmed up but finally cut our losses at about 10am and headed home.

Me on Gretta Gabbro.

Things have been busy on the Ben over the weekend and reports are coming in that conditions are improving as the temperatures drop and can only get better over the week.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Hadrian's wall direct

With conditions the way they are at the moment high up on the Ben is really the only place to climb on the West, so Spike and I made our way up this morning at a leisurely pace to see what we could find. We fancied something longer so we headed into Observatory gully to have a look. Options are a bit more limited at the moment and 0.5 and Tower scoop had teams on them. Smiths still looked good but up on Indicator wall things looked a bit thin so we headed for Hadrian's.

Looking up at Point 5 with Hadrian's just left of centre.

Stood at the first belay was like having a shower with the amount of water running off the slabs from above. Spike set off and made quick work of the first long pitch. The ice was still good but it was thawing and some of the hooks did shear through when you tested them but it still gave a great pitch. I set off up the chimney pitch which gave good placements to a point then it I was just climbing sugar for a few moves. We continued up to the final ice chimneys were the ice was of a much better quality and we got two great pitches to the top and the sunshine.

Spike heading off up the first pitch.

Reports from other teams said the same with regards to conditions. What is needed is day or two of freezing temperatures and the routes will be in fantastic nick again. Unfortunately it might be a few days before we get this.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Feels very spring like.

After a couple of days off to rest and deal with some logistics I was clawing at the window this morning when I could see the sun shining. After a long phone call to a certain mobile phone company because my phone has broken for the forth time in a year I headed round to mates for a cup of tea to catch up on what has been happening on the Ben. Sounds like the larger ice lines and gully lines are looking good as is Tower ridge and N.E. buttress. The ice on indicator wall area sounds like it is very thin but Smiths route has finally formed and Mike climbed it yesterday and Ken and James did Observatory Buttress.

Looking south towards Stob Ban across Glen Nevis.

By lunch I couldn't take it any more and headed up into Glen Nevis to go and spend a bit of time on the rock. I headed up to the Alp and first soloed the Gutter then Right wall then the first pitch of a v diff on the side of pine wall I can never remember the name of and then did Freds Delight on South west. The rock was perfectly dry and felt warm to the touch and it was warm enough for me to move around in a t-shirt. At the moment it feels more like the beginning of April instead of March.