So far on Ben Nevis, the winter climbing has been working out very well this winter. It all started in early December with cold conditions and rapid build up of snow. December storms brought snow and thaw freeze cycles to consolidate it. The end of December gave us the first settled spell of good weather and since then January has been a succession of cold periods with plenty of snow brought in by westerly gales and brief but deep thaws.
Over the last three days we had saturating thaws up to summit levels but today hail is hammering off the windows at sea level and it is -6C at 900m. We will have a sustained cold spell for several days to come by the look of the forecasts.
Currently there is very good snow cover. Old neve is found in sheltered areas down to 400m and general cover from 600m up the way. However, west facing slopes were scoured and have little old snow on them. Fresh snow is falling nearly to sea level today.
The major gullies are all complete and very well filled in. The chockstones of Number Five Gully and South Castle Gully are buried. Cornices are not too large in general but fresh cornices will be forming today.
The great ridges are well filled in as well with good solid snow. Ledge Route is snow all the way (no ice on the first ramp), Castle Ridge has a enough to make the first crux not too bad and Tower Ridge, NE Buttress and Observatory Ridge are all great.
The best ice climbing currently is on the mid-level cascade type routes such as The Curtain, Vanishing Gully, Italian Right Hand, The Cascade, Compression Crack, Gemini and Waterfall Gully. Gully lines and climbs with a water source are good as well. Zero Gully, Hadrian's Wall Direct, Point Five Gully, Smith's Route, Green Gully, Comb Gully, the Creag Coire na Ciste Gullies are all in good shape. The open face climbs are not well formed at the top though - Orion Direct is not formed from the Second Slab Rib up the way for example. The Minus Gullies are half way formed.
Buttress Routes have ice in the cracks and thick rime on the higher rocks. The ground is very well frozen though and the turf is frozen solid.
I'm hopeful that the big face ice routes will form up very soon given the cold and snowy conditions we have now after some good thaws. Watch this space - I'll be up on Orion Face as soon as I can!