Saturday, 31 December 2011

Another day of climbing in the rain.

Grahams last day today and he wanted to just do more of the same as yesterday just to consolidate what he had learnt. We decided to take a wonder up to the Ben but it wasn't long before we saw the extent of last nights rain. Nearly all of the fresh snow was stripped back right up to the bottom of Coire na Ciste with water pouring over or out of anything it possibly could. We didn't see the upper part of the mountain but I can't imagine it would have been much better. Graham also wanted a reasonably early finish so he could start his drive back to London.

We made our way up towards the South-West ridge of Douglas Boulder thinking we'd be better just not trying to find anything to climb in winter that is but it turned out West gully was pretty much complete. So up we went using short pitches so Graham could practise some more rope work at the stance and change overs. At the top we had a quick look at abseiling and headed down East gully and traversed into Observatory gully.

Set to get colder again with more snow forecast for the next couple of days which should greatly improve climbing conditions. There was still ice hanging on today. The curtain and the bottom of Hadrian's and Point 5 were still iced but not climbable at the moment. Today I was working for West Coast Mountain Guides.

Friday, 30 December 2011

Shame it isn't going to last.

Day 3 of working for West Coast Mountain Guides and after having spent the last two days making the best of the weather, today we were keen to get out into the snow and do some climbing. Both of the guys were chomping at the bit to get on the sharp end and put some learning into practise. We headed up to Stob Coire Nan Lochain to see what was about for us to do.

Arriving in the Corrie we saw a couple of teams high up on Dorsal Arete and that was it. So we made are way up to the start of the climb and both Graham and Richard did well. Four pitches later they had climbed the whole route by themselves with me just soloing along side. The conditions did worsen as the day went on and a lot of snow fell. The forecasted temperature rise was definitely happening as the snow in the bottom of the corrie was wet on our way back down.

It got a bit wild later on.

Other teams out on Ordinary route, Original summer route, NC gully and one brave team went up Broad gully. There was wind slab around today but the strong winds of yesterday meant that moving around was fairly easy as there were either very deep areas of snow or a shallow layer of fresh stuff on the firm old snow. All set to change again with warmer temps and rain overnight and into tomorrow. As I write this the Aonach Mor summit weather station is reading 3.8 degrees. 

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Wet and wild again but at least winter has returned.

I'm working a 4 day climbing course this week for West Coast Mountain Guides and the weather hasn't been ideal so far. With strong winds and rain forecast pretty much up to the summits yesterday we opted to depend the day looking at rope work and theory sessions before we headed up to Glen Nevis to put some of this into practise and looked at Glacier travel techniques too.

Not a nice day to be outside.

Today was set to be a better day but not by much and with the recent conditions meaning there was little or no ice to climb we decided to hit the Ice Factor this morning giving Richard and Graham a chance to actually climb some ice. We spent a lot of time looking at technique and movement and finished the session looking at placing ice screws.
After lunch we headed to Ballachulish Bridge to go Dry tooling and get an idea of what some harder mixed climbing would be like. A good couple of sessions with a lot of things learnt and ready to put into practise tomorrow when we head out.

Starting to get the pump going with some dry tooling.
There were people out climbing today but as would be expected they reported difficult conditions with the wind and a lot of snow, some releasing very easily.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Fat Boy Slim and Ben Nevis Conditions

John arrived at mine late last night (late for me any way) so we opted on a later start and a shorter day because there was still a lot of unconsolidated snow higher on the mountain. So at the CIC we had a discussion about what to do and we had friends that had done Fat Boy Slim over the last couple of weeks and they had said it was at least worth a look. So off we headed avoiding a couple of patches of windslab on the way up and geared up before we went up the steeper grade 1 ground to the bottom of the route.

John on the crux pitch.

It's a nice route and definitely worth doing if you are in that neck of the woods but it is just a one pitch wonder really. We abseiled back down 1934 and back to the bags. Good frozen turf at this level and with some helpful ice in places but cruddy in others. A couple of teams out today with routes on Douglas boulder seeing the most traffic, probably because it requires less trail breaking. There was a team up under Slingsby's chimney but I didn't see were they went and one team braved the walk up to Gargoyle wall but said the cracks on the first pitch where heavily iced so they changed their mind and went for Lost the place.

Looking into the Ciste.

The snow is still largely unconsolidated on the higher part of the mountain with pockets of windslab around even at around 800m. More heavy snow forecast tonight and tomorrow before a slight thaw and cold again on Tuesday before the weather really turns on Wednesday.

A very wintery scene at the CIC.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Winter skills on Stob Ban.

Descending the rocky step just below the summit.

I was out with a group today from West Coast Mountain Guides who wanted a day of basic skills and to try and get a peak in. We opted for Stob Ban from Glen Nevis and with the snow level reasonably low it wasn't long before we were starting to look at how to move around on the snow. We carried on up to the head of the glen and found a good area to look at Ice Axe arrest and then carried on to the summit from there, putting the crampons on not far after the bealach. The conditions are good at the moment for looking at moving around in the mountains and avoiding areas that might be an issue and looking at the snow pack too. The snow is starting to show some signs of consolidation at about 900-1000m with an icy crust but there are still weak layers within the snow pack that would be of concern on steeper ground on N-E aspects and a couple of pockets in other places.

You can see the amount of snow on the slopes on the right.

Ice Axe arrest practise.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Wild and wet again.

So after a period of calmer weather and a bit of freeze thaw to help consolidate some of the snow we are back to stormy weather. It rained heavily overnight in Fort William and hasn't stopped all day. This has been falling as snow above about 200-300m. We also have strong winds at the moment with the Aonach Mor weather station currently showing a gust of 94mph blowing from the South-west.

So it looks like when it does settle down we'll be back to wading through deep snow to get to the routes. It might seem difficult at the moment but all of this snow hopefully will help the winter be a long and fruitful one. Again the East seems to be getting less snow and there was a lot of action in the Cairngorms over the weekend.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Route I Direct, Carn Dearg, Ben Nevis.

With a nice forecast today after the wild weather of the last few days Ken and I were keen to get out. The snow high up on the Ben didn't really have a chance to consolidate over the last couple of days but the conditions lower down on the mountain are much improved and with a really good cover of snow above 500m we decided to stay low again. We decided on Route I Direct (VI,6), which turned out to be in brilliant condition. A lot of the cracks were full of ice so gear needed some digging out but this ice was also very helpful giving first time placements and good, secure hooks. The guide book breaks this route down into 8 pitches but we did it in 4 and had no problems. All 4 pitches gave some fantastic climbing with every pitch having at least one move of tech 6.

Ken on Pitch 1.
The conditions on the mountain are shaping up well. The amount of snow cover for this time of year is fantastic. Ice is starting to form in most places on the mountain with routes like Vanishing gully, Italian climb and the CIC cascades filling in nicely. The mixed routes are still in great 'nick' too with frozen turf and a good covering of rime and helpful neve. Snow conditions on the ground are variable. There is a hard crust to the snow on the lower part of the mountain which at times does break through making for harder going. As for higher up the mountain, I haven't been there myself but I would guess there is still a lot of unconsolidated snow lying around. It was quiet today with a couple of teams going up Ledge Route and a group doing winter skills. Other than that we saw no-one else really. The closure of the A82 this weekend probably has something to do with it.

The smile on his face says it all.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Avalanche Hazard Evaluation Workshop.

I was over in the Cairngorms again yesterday but on a training workshop on Avalanche Hazard Evaluation being run by Mark Diggins from the SportScotland Avalanche Information Service. Despite the weather we still managed to spend some out on the hill and it was a good day with lots of knowledge being shared and a good opportunity to refresh things before the winter season really kicks off.

The storms of yesterday have passed but there is still a lot going on with the roads, buildings and many other repairs going on. With regards to the hill conditions the snow pack has been through some changes and there is currently a 'Considerable' risk here in Lochaber and 'High' over in the Cairngorms. The avalanche forecasts weren't supposed to start until the 15th but they have started early in these two areas. So remember to keep up to date with this information before you go out onto the hill and keep your eyes open whilst you're out.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Wild weather in the Northern Corries. Pot of Gold.

After wading through the snow on the Ben yesterday Ken and I decided to give our legs an easier day. An interesting drive over to the Cairngorms this morning and a nice gentle walk in got us into Coire an t'Sneachda. We had planned to head to Aladdin's Buttress but this looked a bit black and the Mess of Pottage looked white and was quiet. We decided on Pot of Gold (V,6), which takes the groove line to the right of the Message. Out of the three pitches it gave two very good pitches and in some challenging conditions. The cracks are still very iced as a lot people have blogged over the last few days but there was a strong, cold wind today and heavy snow at times, a very Scottish day.

Pitch 3.

It was very quiet in the corrie today with only 3/4 other teams that we saw. Matt and Keith climbed Droidless, Jon and his friend climbed the Message and the Honey pot and there was a team on Original Summer route. 
I'm back over in the Cairngorms again tomorrow but on an AMI CPD day.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Jacknife, Douglas Boulder

With a good forecast today and more snow forecast for tonight Ken and I decided to take a walk up to the Ben. There was a faint track heading up from the bottom car park but it wasn't long before we were breaking trail through deep snow. It took us 2 1/2 hours to get to the CIC hut and from here we could see that the routes high up on the mountain looked in brilliant condition but getting there was going to be the issue. We made a decision to head toward Moonlight gully Buttress but very quickly changed that to Douglas Boulder due to the depth of the snow.

Ken on the Main pitch of Jacknife.

Both of us have done a couple of routes here but neither of us had done Jacknife (V,6) before so it was decided. This is a short route and only really had one pitch of worth but a good one at that. The exposed turf is frozen but on the larger ledges the snow has insulated it. There were only two other teams out today with one team on Cutlass and the other headed round towards the area of Fat Boy Slim but didn't actually see were they went.

The team on Cutlass.

There is now a trench up to the CIC but it is snowing heavily again in Fort William as I write this so I don't think it'll be there for long. Might head East tomorrow but we'll have to wait and see what the roads are like in the morning.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

More snow!

Day 2 of our Maximum Adventure course and we headed up the Ben just up the tourist path. There was heavy snow overnight and it continued to fall today with 3-4 hours of constant snow. There are a lot of drifts even on the windward slopes, where the fresh snow has been blown away the old snow is now very firm. There is now a good cover of snow above 500m and the turf was frozen at 700m.
There is more snow forecast overnight and tomorrow so staying low would be a good option. Areas like the Douglas boulder, the west flank of Tower ridge, Cairn Dearg or Stob Coire Nan Lochan in Glencoe might me a possibility. There has been a lot of action in The Northern Corries which I think has seen less snow.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Winter skills and Ben Nevis conditions.

First days of winter work this weekend and today was always going to be an interesting day judging by the forecast. We were looking for somewhere to do some skills and get out of the wind. There has been a lot of fresh snow on the West coast over the last week so I was expecting to spend the weekend swimming. Last night though the freezing level went up to about 1300m and dropped again early this morning so I was hoping we might find some firm snow. There is a lot of old snow still around but it hasn't really frozen solid yet and was more like it had a rain crust.

Coire na Ciste

We headed up into Coire na Ciste to see what we could find and managed to cover a few things despite the conditions. There was alot of fresh snow been blown around today and large areas of soft wind slab was forming below the Trident buttress', there was also evidence of an avalanche here and under No.3 gully. The exposed turf at this level was frozen and there was a good amount of icing going on too. The freeze-thaw lines such as Mega route X and the Shroud were visible but still a long way off being climbable. The higher buttress' were white and there was a couple of teams on No.3 gully Buttress and a team on Trident buttress climbing the Minge, I think.

NE Buttress and the Orion face.

Tomorrow is set to be a better day in terms of the wind but tomorrow night and Monday heavy snow is forecast only adding to the fresh snow that is already there. Getting to the routes may well be the most difficult part of the day. There is no Avalanche forecast at the moment so remember to pay attention to the weather forecasts and keep an eye out for what is going on around you.