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.

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

It was a soggy start this morning with drizzle and some wind on the walk up to the CIC Hut on Ben Nevis. Jack, Jackie and I were passed by a few teams on the way back down already with reports of soft snow and black rocks. This is what we saw too but a carried on up to climb some (rather wet) ice under Douglas Gap West Gully before traversing the gap. We got a wee taste of ice climbing and another adventure which was rewarded with a brilliant clearing of the clouds as we left Douglas Gap.

Meanwhile Donald and Geaspar also stuck with it and they found fantastic ice in Green Gully. The best gamblers were the two guys on Sickle who emerged from the mist just above the crux. The bottom pitches are not formed so they must have traversed in from Hadrian's Wall Direct but it was a bold move to head up there this morning!

Once the clouds had cleared completely we could see there is an amazing amount of ice on the crags for this time of year and since it only started to snow properly less than four weeks ago. The thaw did not strip the rime from the rocks above 1200m.

Jackie, Jack and I descended Douglas Gap East Gully and walked out after four great days of climbing. Looking back up at the crags it is clear there is lots more to do!

Creag Coire na Ciste.

The Comb.

Walking out tired but happy.

Monday, 29 December 2014

Another cracking day in the Outdoor Capital of the UK but there were signs of the stable weather starting to break down. Jack, Jackie and I went to Stob Coire nan Lochan to climb NC Gully. The walk in is quite tricky with ice and compacted snow on the trail and the exposed step half way in focused the mind for a moment. The rocks were quite well rimed but the snow is still soft and not very helpful. NC Gully is a very atmospheric gully with steep walls and the spindrift pouring down the walls into the gully made it even more so. There were lots of climbs being tackled today including Scabbard Chimney, Spectre, Dorsal Arete, Chimney Route and something next to Raeburn's Route. SC Gully was abandoned due to lack of ice though.

Over on Ben Nevis Donald and Geaspar enjoyed a speedy ascent of Tower Ridge despite it being a bit awkward with soft snow on slippy rocks. They saw teams climbing Point Five Gully, Zero Gully and Hadrian's Wall Direct. These big ice classics are still thin but have reasonable ice. Green Gully and other grade III and IV routes are better well filled out.

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Ten years ago today I got caught up in an avalanche and ended up with a broken back, pelvis and various other things. Today was very different and a stunning day. Jack, Jackie and I went to climb Sron na Lairig in Glen Coe. The snow was not very useful on the route and the turf only partly frozen but with sunshine all day and light winds it was spectacular. The bottom section of the ridge is open to plenty of variation and the different teams all went different ways today. Higher up the ridge narrows to a dramatic finish along very narrow crests.

We made the most of the day by going up over Stob Coire Sgreamhach and down along Beinn Fadha, a brilliant, narrow ridge with rock steps and great views. Ice is forming low down but there is little in the Eilde Canyon and with the temperature rising tomorrow we might not get low level ice climbs this time. However, the snow higher up will consolidate further and high level ice routes will continue to improve.

Saturday, 27 December 2014

While some people enjoyed a Christmas Day present of climbing Point Five Gully or Tower Ridge I was tucking into a turkey dinner! Today though I was back out on Ben Nevis with Jack and Jackie enjoying some brilliant weather after a wee fall of snow last night. With very little wind the fresh snow was light and airy and the older stuff underneath was quite well bonded where we were so the avalanche hazard is not too bad. In fact, what breeze there was came in from the NW so it was blowing up most of the crags.

All this made for great climbing conditions. Jack and Jackie are just starting out on winter mountaineering ridges after doing some climbing in Ecuador. Ledge Route is very well filled in with no ice at all and most of the rocks are looking white with rime. There were a few teams climbing Green Gully today and one in Thompson's Route as well. Apart from that it was quite quiet which was a shame because there are very many climbs in nice icy condition on Ben Nevis.

High pressure will give us cold frosty nights and calm sunny days for a wee while so make sure you get out climbing if you can for some middle of winter sunshine. Make sure to take sunglasses though!

Monday, 22 December 2014

Yesterday was a big thaw day. With 80mm of rain forecast on the west coast and 100mph winds on the tops we decided a low level day might be a good idea! So Guy, Donald and I took our group from St. Paul's School to Huntley's Cave near Grantown. This is a nice wee crag with very steep climbs on positive holds. You can do some good climbing here even in the wet and there is plenty of scope for rope tricks such as tyrolean traverses, guided abseils and even a wee rope swing from the top of the crag. We had a lot of fun and learned plenty of new skills in the process.

The drive back home was a slow process with lots of standing (and running) water on the road. One wee stream had burst over on to the road and it was still raining hard. The Lochy and Nevis rivers were in full spate and very impressive to see. This morning though there is a fresh dusting of snow on the tops so it has already cooled down again enough to stop the thaw. Also there is plenty of the old snow left in the gullies and coires to freeze up and form a nice bace of icy neve for the climbing. I'm now off for five days for a family Christmas so I'll need to wait until Saturday before my next mountain adventure but I'm quite positive that climbing conditions will be very nice by then. A wee Christmas present for all of us winter climbers!

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.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

After about ten days of snow fall and strong winds transporting it into gullies, hollows and sheltered slopes, it is quite hard walking around at the moment! Donald, Louisa and I took our group from Welbeck College to Beinn a'Chaorrain for the first of four days of mountaineering. Some of the guys had not walked in snow before but they certainly have now!

We found some great wind lips and small cornices to play on in safe locations which were ideal for showing the texture of windslab, layers in the snow pack and what trigger is nedded to cause a slab release. With the strong winds some areas have been scoured clean of soft snow and we found some little bits of ice at 600m to try out the crampons on. Tomorrow looks a little warmer and wet but then it's back to cold on Monday.

Friday, 5 December 2014

At long last it looks like the snow has started to arrive for the winter. It has kept us waiting quite late this autumn, we just had a brief flurry a few weeks ago but even that was enough for a few routes and a new route to be climbed. We now have a big high pressure system sat in the Atlantic which is keeping low pressure systems further north. As these track over the North of Scotland they bring a fairly continuous stream of polar maritime air to the west coast of Scotland. In other words, we'll have cold and wet weather for a week or so with snow on the hills. This graphic from shows what's happening quite well.

In fact the rest of December and into early January look much the same ( ). We're likely to have the usual mix of stormy weather and snow on the hills with occasional thaws and frosts on clear nights.  So the message is, get your ice axes and crampons out, dust them off and get ready to battle those mountain giants!

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

We go on at length about how good mountain biking is in Scotland. Here in the Outdoor Capital of the UK it is at its best when you think of the variety as well as the quality of what is on offer. The trail centres are excellent and the enduro riding is second to none in Kinlochleven, but for me it's the adventure riding which makes the biking here stand out.

At the end of last week I rode a three day tour of Ben Nevis with students on the Advanced Certificate in Outdoor Leadership Course at West Highland College. The first day was along the West Highland Way to Kinlochleven, a fabulous, technical ride with one of the best descent in the country, down to the shore of Loch Leven. We had brilliant weather for the second day which went up to Blackwater Dam first. The section from there past Chiarain Bothy to Loch Treig is outstanding and one of my favourite bits of trail anywhere. You then get a fast, mostly downhill section of double track in the back of beyond before emerging to stay at Tulloch. The Puggy Line then made a brilliant return to Fort William. World class mountain biking as part of a college course for these students. We were all very lucky!

As a counterpoint to the expedition we went to Laggan Wolftracks on Monday. The technical trails and fast flowing berms and bumps felt so much easier and more fun than the expedition trails but lacked the big wilderness feel. It's a great venue for coaching though and the students were doing some video analysis. See if you can pick up the learning points from these video clips.