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.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

In the centre of the depression (the eye of the storm) we had light winds and just a few showers and broken clouds drifting around Ben Nevis. In fact it was all sunshine and blue sky as Mike and I walked up towards Castle Ridge. In the last few weeks, Mike and I have climbed Crowberry Gully, Vanishing Gully and Number Two Gully Buttress as well as Castle Ridge today. It is reasonable to say we have had more than our fair share of sunshine on these days.

As it is now late April there is a lot of heat in the sunshine and it got to work on the fresh soft snow straight away. As we walked up to the foot of the ridge a point release avalanche of wet snow slid slowly down from The Castle. This buttress and the two Castle Gullies on either side have large areas of steep snow and they are well know for threatening the approach to Castle Ridge with avalanches. We were very careful to choose a protected line and got on to the ridge before the heat of the day caused more avalanches.

The ridge itself had plenty of soft useless snow and some dry rock sticking out. It was scratchy and awkward but impossible to complain about in the brilliant weather. A few times during the day the temperature dropped by about 10C as a snow shower drifted over but it warmed up again as soon as the sun came out.

Castle Ridge is a fabulous climb with a steep and brilliantly exposed crux high up on the ridge. Afterwards there is an excellent narrow crest up to the top, probably the nicest narrow section of ridge on Ben Nevis. The crux was dry rock but there was soft snow and old snow in patches all along the ridge so it felt very Alpine.

The walk down the boulder slope towards Lochain Meall an t'Suidhe was tedious with soft snow on the rocks but the view of the North Face when we got back to the van was one to remember for a long time. Bright white snow on immense ridges and buttresses reaching up towards the heavens. What a great couple of days I've had in the Outdoor Capital of the UK.

There was debris visible from an avalanche out of Observatory Gully and I would be surprised if there was not avalanche activity in Coire na Ciste as well. The sunshine is making the fresh snow wet and heavy and it is sliding down in slow, wet point release avalanches. These might not look very serious but they will easily engulf you and trap you so stay clear of them.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Fresh, soft, fluffy snow covers the hills above 700m after three days of heavy snow showers. Climbing on Ben Nevis today felt like a mix of early season awkwardness with fresh snow on loose rocks and late season warmth from the sun. We certainly had the North Face to ourselves.

I climbed a slight variation on Number Three Gully Buttress with David Wilson. David has some great climbing experience from a few years back but he left his 1972 Terrodactyls at home in favour of my BD Reactor ice axes! The approach slopes were heavy going with the new snow and there is certainly some avalanche hazard. When the sun gets onto the fresh snow I think we will get some point release slides. The old snow is frozen hard and the ice on the climb is fat and firm.

The last pitch or two do not have much old snow or ice on, the sun melted it away last week. There is plenty of new snow though. It was well below freezing on the plateau and in the breeze and it would be very easy to get lost without good navigation. If you are planning on walking up Ben Nevis please make sure you can use a compass.

We are forecast cold weather with more snowfall this week so don't expect it to be much different at the bank holiday weekend.

Monday, 27 April 2015

Fresh snow fell to sea level today in Fort William. It did not stay around long but there is now a good cover of fresh snow on the hills above 500m. It has been cold (-5C on the tops) for a few days now and the remaining ice on Ben Nevis is freezing back onto the rocks underneath.

I wonder if we will be ice climbing in May this year. I have only climbed grade V ice in May once before so it is about time to do it again. Fingers crossed!

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Sitting outside this afternoon in shorts and a t-shirt it seemed strange to think that I had been ice climbing today. Mike and I went up Ben Nevis after a slight frost but the sun already high above Carn Mor Dearg. It was a very warm walk in and the snow in the sunshine was already very soft. However in the shade the snow was really quite firm and the climbing was good.

As the snow and ice melts away there is a much greater hazard of rock and ice fall as well as collapsing cornices. A large collapse above North Gully recently has left debris all the way down into the coire. So careful route selection is very important. Mike and I went for Number Two Gully Buttress. There is no cornice above the route and no ice hanging above the climb. Also the sun stays off the face for most of the day and this is the most important thing. The ice was very nice although detached in some places and the views spectacular.

Comb Gully Buttress does get the sunshine and a few large blocks of ice fell off it as we were climbing. There are also some very overhanging cornices baking in the sunshine over several faces and gullies.

The air was crystal clear and Mike and I enjoyed the views of The Cuillin, Rhum, Mull and even further away in all directions. We also got a great bum slide down the Red Burn! One more dry day then it goes colder and more mixed so if you are keen there will be plenty of ice climbing and skiing still to enjoy.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Like many parts of the UK today we had unbroken sunshine all day here in Lochaber. The sunshine is as warm as it is in August so on the white sandy beach at Arisaig it is great weather for lounging around. In the shade and especially early in the morning the ice is good to climb and there is plenty of it on Ben Nevis. The snow is firm in the morning for skiing but the sun gets to work early and softens the snow during the day. High up we have similar snow cover to last year's record breaking winter so the spring skiing is good.

High pressure is set in place so calm and dry conditions will be with us for quite a long time to come. Don't you just love the Spring?

Friday, 17 April 2015

With the sun still shining and the crags dry I went rock climbing with my family today in Glen Nevis. Owen did his first trad lead and Katie enjoyed here first multi-pitch climb. We did some ace zip lining too.

Meanwhile Hadrian's Wall Direct was climbed on Ben Nevis on fat soft ice with bomber neve higher up. What a wonderful time of year this is with so much on offer.

Friday, 10 April 2015

This week has been brilliantly hot and sunny. The rock has been dry in the glens and the air warm with a gentle breeze, great rock climbing weather. I have been helping Al Halewood deliver two SPA Training Courses for West Highland College UHI degree students and it has been very good fun.

On Wednesday we went to Kingussie Crag which has a clutch of fine single pitch climbs at easier grades to look at personal climbing skills and abseiling. Yesterday we covered group management on a few crags at Poldubh in Glen Nevis and today we finished with a short session at The Ice Factor climbing wall. We then met the group on the second course and tried to make the most of the dry weather by staying out later this evening going over group work stuff at Poldubh again.

It has been really nice to see so many friends out climbing on the crags over the last few days. After a good winter of ice climbing, getting on to the rock in the glen with the sun on your back feels like a very nice gentle way to go climbing.

Up in the mountains there is of course a very good cover of snow still and the ice is still there on many climbs. Steve and Andy climbed Tower Ridge on Monday and Ken took Stewart and his 12 year old son Matty up Ledge Route on Wednesday. Matty did fantastically well and went up to the summit of Ben Nevis as well. We have a colder weekend forecast with snow down to 600m in heavy showers so it will all feel very different again tomorrow. There is lots of fat ice to go and enjoy still with long days and few other climbers around so make the most of it.

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Unexpectedly, today turned out to be a stunning day in the Outdoor Capital of the UK. Yesterday was cloudy and soggy and today was forecast much the same. As it turned out the cloud stayed in the valley and then burned away so the tops were in brilliant sunshine all day long. The snow in the shade was slightly more crispy as a result and there was no wind. It was serene.

Jo and I wanted to enjoy some ice climbing as well as climb Tower Ridge. The best solution was Italian Climb Right Hand which is still fat with blue ice. Because it was a bit warm the ice was soft and plastic, not at all like the hard, brittle Canadian ice Jo was used to. We went up the usual two first pitches then found several other great fun bits of ice in the pitches up to Tower Ridge.

There were very few other people out climbing today. One team climbed Sickle I think, another climbed Smith's Route and Glover's Chimney was climbed as well as the White Line. The ice is not as fat as it was a few days ago but many climbs are still very well formed. The Cascade and upper cascades looks great for example.

Indicator Wall looks really good but Psychedelic Wall and others on this face are too thin I think. We had a big rock fall down Italian Climb and several pieces of ice. These were naturally released due to the thaw and Spring conditions. Take care with these hazards at this time of year and belay in safe spots, avoid climbing under cornices and anything in the sunshine.

Tower Ridge is in very good Alpine condition. It has plenty of snow cover and lots of ice on it but also dry rock with all the belays and protection exposed. The steps in the snow are crispy but the snow elsewhere is soft. It gets quite a lot of sunshine at this time of year so it really is very nice climbing surrounded by huge ice climbs. Also we could see the Paps of Jura, Rhum, Skye, the Cairngorms, Ben Wyvis and many others.

Jo had a smile on her face all day and, I suspect, might be back for some more big Ben Nevis classic ice climbing.

Thursday, 2 April 2015

What a fabulous day for climbing and skiing in Scotland it was today. Warm sunshine, light wind, great snow cover and very nice ice made it a day to remember. I was back up on Ben Nevis again with Ronny and Bob for their first day of mountaineering and they could not have chosen a better day.

With lots of soft snow on East facing slopes and gullies we decided not to go up Ledge Route because it starts up Number Five Gully which faces just about East. Instead we went all the way up into Coire Leis and climbed the slope onto the last section of the Carn Mor Dearg Arete. This is a great way to see the North Face of Ben Nevis and also enjoy the last and narrowest section of the CMD Arete.

Several teams of climbers were on the big ice climbs of Orion Direct (including Ali and Kevin who found good ice all the way up), Hadrian's Wall Direct, Point Five Gully, Italian Climb Right Hand and some others. There is quite a lot of snow in Coire na Ciste so getting to the climbs will be quite hard work at the moment and the top of Observatory Gully might well be about the same.

In some ways, the CMD Arete gives bigger and more open views than Ledge Route. It was certainly very snowy today and you don't need to touch rock very much at all. Most of it is just a nice narrow snow crest!

In the very bright sunshine the Little Brenva Face had lots of snow and ice falling down it today and the slope up the back of Ben Nevis was a long slow plod. Good training for Ronnie who plans to go up Mont Blanc soon. For a first day out in winter Bob and Ronnie did very well today ... the first of many hopefully.

As always on top in good weather there were several people with no crampons, ice axes or appropriate clothing for a day in the winter hills. With such good weather you can get away with it and most people do but there are also a good number of accidents every year which are avoidable. If you want to walk up Ben Nevis over the Easter break please make sure you have winter boots, crampons and an ice axe as a minimum. You will also need a map and compass as well as the ability to use all these things. The next few days will be cloudy and you will not be able to see for a hundred miles like we could today!

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Figures on Orion Direct today.
Daffodils and primroses are flowering in the glens in the warm sunshine. The lambs are about to be born and it certainly feels like spring. Above 600m though there is a considerable cover of snow and it has been well below freezing on the tops for many days. It was warmer last Saturday with rain to the summits and we have had a couple of very rapid thaw freeze cycles since then. Thinking about this it's not surprising that ice has been forming on Ben Nevis despite what it feels like in the glen.

As you walk up the Allt a'Mhuillin, the ice formation of The Shroud looks down on you and it has been better formed this year than for a very long time. It thawed back to one skinny column on the right a couple of weeks ago but it is now fatter and has the column on the left again. There is also new ice on the North Face of Castle Ridge and many other places.

There is also a lot of fresh snow around. Since Saturday we have had steady snowfall off strong westerly (and now north westerly) winds which has drifted in to very deep areas and formed big soft cornices. The west side of Tower Ridge is OK to get to in this wind direction so Mike and I went to climb Vanishing Gully today and another team climbed Italian Right Hand. Vanishing Gully was fantastic. It has thin but good snow ice on the first pitch and the entrance to the cave is clear. The second pitch is steep and solid, everything you want on a grade V ice climb!

This was Mike's first grade V climb after many grade IV ice climbs including Crowberry Gully two weeks ago. Unfortunately the spindrift started just as Mike stepped out of the cave and carried on for the entire time it took him to climb the pitch. I have to say Mike did an amazing job because it was particularly heavy spindrift and he just kept on climbing. It must have felt like grade VI in the spindrift with your eyes closed!

There was a team climbing Orion Direct (see top picture) and making good progress but otherwise the hill was very quiet. I don't think it will be quiet at the weekend with the promise of good calm weather and lots of ice climbing to enjoy!