Self reliance is a fundamental principle of mountaineering. By participating we accept this and take responsibility for the decisions we make. These Conditions Reports are intended to help you make good decisions. They do not remove the need for you to make your own judgements when out in the hills.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Donald, Guy and I made a rare trip to the Cairngorms today. I spoke with the lovely Susan during the day who's first question was "is it really bad in the west?". It is normally bad weather that drives me east but this time it is to work with a group of students and staff from St. Pauls School in London. Donald took them out for a day yeasterday to cover all sorts of core winter skills so that today we could tackle something a bit more ropy.

There has not been the same volume of snow fall here compared with the west and what has fallen has been blasted by some severe winds. Areas of snow are restricted to the very sheltered slopes but the easy gully lines have enough snow and some ice in them for fun climbing. Guy and team climbed and then descended Jacob's Ladder while Donald and I took our teams up Alladin's Couloir. The icy bit of Alladin's Couloir is quite icy but it is a simple firm snow slope otherwise. We enjoyed the ice climbing, placing ice screws and the calf burn of the first ice climb for my team. We were also treated to great views right across the plateau and a calm spell to have some lunch on top.

There were several teams out (including one team which had spent the whole night out after a navigational error) most of which kept away from the soft snow by climbing on the Mess of Pottage. The rocks here seemed quite black to me but there was snow on the ledges and it was certainly well below freezing. More thaw and rain tomorrow everywhere then another freeze early next week.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

We saved the best day for last for the Welbeck College students with a mass ascent of Ledge Route on Ben Nevis. More fresh snow last night was blown in on westerly winds and buried the route. There was a little avalanche debris at the foot of Number Five Gully (from Sunday probably) and lots of fresh snow on the first ledges of the route. The tricky slab is very well covered!

The team was split into groups of four to move together Alpine style for the whole route and this worked out very well. There is lots of ice hanging off the crags but none on the route so most of the climbing was on big snowy boot prints. The narrow section is also very well filled in with soft snow and some older snow underneath that is firming up.

It is such a nice thing to be able to enable these 17 year old students to experience such a great climb up through Ben Nevis' North Face on a brilliant day. They all rose to the occasion very well and in fact have been brilliant to work with for all four days. Many thanks to Donald King and Louisa Reynolds for their excellent work as always.

The crags were well rimed up and there were a few teams out climbing. Creag Coire na Ciste had a couple of hard routes tackled today and there was a team in Good Friday Climb as well which might not have been as good - this route usually needs ice on the crux and there was none there today by the look of it. However the gullies are filling in nicely and the seeps from the rocks are running well after the wet autumn so ice is forming quickly. Another thaw tomorrow and refreeze later this week will further improve the climbing. It all looking very good, especially when you consider winter only arrived two weeks ago!

Monday, 15 December 2014

Yesterday was warm and very wet in the morning with rain on the summits but by the afternoon the temperature had started to drop, the clouds cleared a little and a few snow showers put some snow down on the hills again. We took our group of students from Welbeck College to the Ice Factor where we did some ice climbing, dry tooling and abseiling. This is a great facility and the day was a very useful training opportunity for the students.

Today was much brighter and in fact turned out better than forecast. Fresh snow over night down to 400m above sea level and much colder temperature made The Zig Zags on Gearr Aonach very good fun. There is quite a bit of the old snow on the route as well as the new snow and from 700m and above the old snow was firming up very well.

We walked back along the ridge and dropped in to Coire nan Lochan down a nice wee gully where we did some ice axe arrest practice on the way down. There were a few people climbing on Stob Coire nan Lochan which looked very nice. The rocks were mostly quite white and gullies quite full of snow. I don't know if the turf is well frozen (I guess it is only half way there() but the rest of this week looks very cold so we might be in luck at the weekend.

Ice has been forming on some of the rocks in the coire and there are large smears of ice on the wee crags on the side of Gearr Aonach. Looks like we'll have a nice day tomorrow for Ben Nevis to finish our four days of mountaineering.