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.

Friday, 28 February 2014

It was a proper Scottish winter climbing day today with all the challenges that involves! Chris, Martin and I climbed Tower Ridge last year under blue skies and on solid crispy snow. Today we climbed NE Buttress in the white room on soft snow and got quite soggy. It was a top day.

We approached by Slingsby's Chimney which is well filled in and makes for a quick way up to the First Platform. The route has some great solid snow on it low down and very few rocks sticking out for belays. A month ago The Man Trap gave the only two technical moves on the whole route. Today there is only one due to the build up of snow at its foot. If you want some ice climbing at the weekend you might try the Minus Face. Routes on Minus Three Buttress looked good today and had the wind blowing onto them. Lots more snow fell last night and today so walking down was a real test of navigation.

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Jimmy Marshall and Robin Smith have come to mind quite a lot this winter. Jimmy said the best ice for climbing with one ice axe, cutting steps and hand holds as you go, is firm snow. Hard ice is too much work for reasonable progress. With the constant soft conditions this winter I've been using my hands much more than I might normally when the snow and ice is strong enough to hold a pick. This year I've been holding, pushing, bridging and hoping a whole lot more than normal. Today though, I got my crampons into some well frozen, icy snow and it was a joy!

Bryn and I climbed Castle Ridge, an excellent climb and a popular choice today. The freezing level came down during the day but the snow on the crux mixed section was not very good. Most teams on the route missed out this section which is around to the right and not very obvious. Since there is a lot of snow this year it is more simple to go straight up big snowy ledges. However, the crux is spectacular and well worth finding. The snow on the descent, in the wind and quite high up, was well frozen, hard and icy. Hopefully all the snow on the big faces and gullies will freeze hard too. Still looking like quite a cold and dry weekend.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Despite the forecast, today was a very pleasant day. Bryn and I walked up to Coire nan Lochan in sunshine surrounded by deer and buzzards. Snow capped peaks and blue sky set it of very nicely. There were a few showers during the day but over all it was very nice.

The temperature did rise during the day so the snow was wet of sloppy. We had another fall of fresh snow last night to fill in the gaps! Raeburn's Route on central Buttress has some firm snow though and the climbing was good. The rocks are less covered now after a few warmer days so finding protection is slightly easier.

With the slight thaw the snow felt a bit precarious and the ice was falling off the rocks. All the routes looked quite white and you could have done some mixed climbing today but most people were climbing the easier ridges; Dorsal Arete, Boomerang Arete and Raeburn's Route. The forecast for the weekend looks promising - there is a chance that this wet snow will freeze into the crispy snow-ice we've been dreaming of all winter so far!

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

It was a nice bright start to today but with stronger winds and snow forecast for the afternoon few people went up very high on Ben Nevis. The snow was a litle firmer since the temperature was down a degree or two but there is still some soft and wind blown snow about. A large avalanche came down from The Cascade area into the coire yesterday as we crossed Tower Gap that is yet another very big pile of avalanche debris now.

When the snow does finally settle down there will be some enormous cornices to deal with! When you look at the picture above remember that Point Five Gully is 300m to give you some scale on the size of the cornice! There are cornices above many long sections of cliff tops and gullies. Getting out of Green Gully could be tricky just now!

Because of the limited range of climbs safe to tackle at the moment they are getting busy sometimes. Bryn and I climbed SW Ridge of Douglas Boulder today along with most other climbing teams on Ben Nevis including some charismatic French folk. A little patience is useful when it gets very busy. I was overtaken then held up all day by one team which seemed a little unnecessary. The Curtain was climbed today along with a small selection of other routes.

Monday, 24 February 2014

The Fort William Mountain Festival was a brilliant event last week that took up quite a bit of my time. Normal blogging service will resume now that it is all done and dusted for another year.

Yesterday was very wet and warmer than we've had it so far this winter. Consequently some big avalanches released. There were a couple out of the Castle Coire, Number Five Gully and Observatory Gully both released too. It did cool down a little today but not as much as was hoped for. With more fresh snow falling today and soft cornices forming quickly there were a few more avalanches during the day. A big slide down from the Cascade area was observed and another on the Little Brenva Face caught some climbers on the face resulting in some injuries. The snow is not settled yet!

I was very happy to be on a ridge climb today. Tower Ridge made a great climb today for Kieran, Ger and Jim with Louisa and me. The ridge is almost unrecognisable due to the depth of snow on it and I belayed in very different places to those I've used before. Most of it is quite simple but the Great Tower is as tricky as ever.

The old snow was frozen on the summit with extra wind chill but the freezing level seemed to be up at about 1300m. The Red Burn is a very easy way down at the moment but even here there are some large blocks of snow that fell off the cornice running up the south edge of the gully. The crossing of the Red Burn on the Pony Track is completely banked out and looks quite intimidating for walkers expecting to follow a trail. It's going to be another breezy week with yet more snow fall.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

No change in the weather pattern or climbing conditions over the last few days apart from the snow line has descended to sea level! This is the first time this winter that we've had snow down to sea level and we've barely had a frost. However, we've not seen as much snow on the hills for very many years.

Rintje and I had an aborted attempt on North Buttress on Buachaille Etive Mor on Monday - I forgot my crampons so we had to go all the way back down again with no climbing. Yesterday Rintje and Gareth climbed 999 on the side of Gearr Aonach which was fun. Andy and Michael waded in and swam up North Buttress on Buachaille Etive Mor.

Today Rintje and I went up Ben Nevis. We walked from North Face car park as there is too much snow on the track to drive up in my van. The wind was more from the SE already so we were careful in how we got to the foot of Gutless on Douglas Boulder. The climb was great, the ice nice and the snow quite firm after leaving the chimney. We made the abseil from Douglas Boulder in quite violent gusts of wind and got back down to find Rintje's rucksack had been blown away.

If you find an orange North Face rucksack with only a couple of things in it please let me know. Unfortunately it is probably under quite a lot of snow already.

A brave team went up under Number Five Gully and climbed The Curtain. They said the ice was very nice on the second pitch. They also said they had been avalanched but this is not surprising in a High avalanche hazard!

Friday, 7 February 2014

On the last day of Kiernan's launch into the world of mixed climbing we went to Douglas Boulder to climb Jacknife and SW Ridge. Jacknife is a great pitch of V,6 climbing with a tricky last groove to the belay ledge. The digging required today made it all the more absorbing! Kiernan and I then swung leads to the top of the boulder before descending the East Gully of the gap.

SW Ridge was a popular choice today as well as Ledge Route. There was a team making a late start to NE Buttress, one on Moonlight Gully and a team on Carn Dearg Buttress (Centurion I think). It was cold, calm and very pleasant for climbing today and there is a layer of soft powder everywhere - the skiing will be magic!

On the way up we saw debris from an avalanche out of Observatory Gully that had turned at the foot of the gully and headed towards the CIC Hut. It only stopped when it go to within 50m of the hut! The big avalanches I've seen out of Observatory Gully have all gone straight towards the Allt a'Mhuilinn. To turn towards the hut and very nearly reach it is quite remarkable. Yet another big slide at about the same time as the great slab in the Cairngorms went.

It's been said before but this is an amazingly snowy winter and big avalanches have been occurring as a result. Eventually all this snow will turn to ice. In the meantime the best ice is on Carn Dearg Buttress where Gemini is getting fatter and The Shroud is fat.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

A rare calm day took Keirnan, Louisa and me to Stob Coire nan Lochain, home to some of the best mixed climbing on the west coast. The walk in was very pleasant, a little warm but dry. We climbed Crest Route on North Buttress, a fantastic climb on which every move is a winner. There were many teams climbing Raeburn's Buttress, a couple on Twisting Grooves and Dorsal Arete.

We did get a bit of fresh snow fall during the day and there were a few small avalanches in the coire. The gullies are best avoided still but there was a good bit of firm snow around. The neve on Crest Route was very helpful but the fresh snow covering everything was not!

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

With strong winds forecast again Kiernan, Louisa and I stayed low down in 999 on the west side of Gear Aonach. There is a lot of snow in the gully which takes the narrow line to the right of the steep buttress in the picture above. Despite this there is plenty of great climbing around many big chockstones.

The turf is very mushy at this low altitude but you do not need to rely in it to do the climb. Most of it is on solid rock and snow. This route is given III in the current guidebooks but IV,5 is closer to the mark and it's worth a couple of stars. The wind was not so strong when we got to the top and it turned out to be a bright day. After a quick descent of Rescue Team Gully we were back at the van before 3pm with time to do some dry tooling under Ballachulish Bridge.

Tuesday 4th February 2014

It was clear that the weather was going to be a bit nicer than forecast today so Kiernan, Louisa and I went up Ben Nevis and climbed NE Buttress. This is an absolute classic climb and with SE winds recently it was likely to be clear of too much fresh snow. We approached by the traverse to the First Platform from Coire Leis on hard snow and took the variation onto the Minus Face at the start. The Minus Face has little ice and lots of snow on it still, as expected.

Even NE Buttress is so buried in snow that there is very little climbing on it. There is lots of wading and digging for protection but really only the Mantrap is difficult climbing. Even the 40' Corner is steady away but with no protection.

It was calm on top and just below freezing. We even had a clear spell on the descent and good views of the crags. There is a sizeable cornice above the descent into Coire Leis, Number Two Gully has a monster cornice at the top and Number Four Gully has a big one too. Ridges and Buttresses are still the best option but The Shroud looks fat now and a bit more blue.

Monday, 3 February 2014

It was a soggy weekend and it only started to cool down a little during today. There were some impressive avalanches on Buachaille Etive Mor yesterday as a result of the warmer conditions. One down the back of Coire na Tulloch on a NW facing slope and one down the side of the coire on an E facing slope! Lots of aspects were loaded up but hopefully they will all have been settled down now it is colder.

Kiernan and I went to climb North Buttress as a warm up to a week of mixed climbing. With plenty of experience on ice Kiernan is keen to explore the world of mixed climbing which is a good plan with the current conditions. On the way we saw into Raven's Gully which I've  never seen so full of snow. There is also a big pile of avalanche debris on Great Gully!

The climb was soggy but there is some old snow higher up which is quite nice and the climbing was good. We walked off but did not go down the coire. The cornice has fallen off in a couple of bits (which triggered the big avalanche) but there is still a big chunk hanging over the edge. I've never seen the exit as steep as it is now either. We walked down the ridge to the west of the coire instead where there is now a trail in the snow.