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, 14 August 2015

So that was the Ben Nevis North Face Survey 2015. About 24 people each day for five days, all experts in their field, working in small teams all over the North Face looking, learning and discovering new things about this amazing place. The more we learn about the details, the more we can appreciate the scale of the whole thing. The more we work together, the more we can share knowledge and passion for Ben Nevis.

Today I was with Cathy Mayne of SNH (who thought up the whole project) and Donald, Dave A, Alex and Alan. We went to Raeburn's Buttress which tops out near South Castle Gully. We abseiled down the very impressive line of The Great Corner in one 80m drop to explore the obvious lush ledges that you cross if you climb Compression Cracks in winter. These ledges are knee deep in Alpine Lady Fern, Rose Root, Lady's Mantle and Globe Flowers. We found quite a few Arctic Mouse Ear, Alpine Saw Wort and many other things.

Can you spot Donald?
We carried on down into SC Gully where there is a very impressive amount of snow still and managed to squeeze down the side of it into the Castle Coire and back to the CIC Hut. So after two weeks of surveying over two years we have covered a lot of ground. There are significant areas still to be looked at but we should get to these last places next year. Many thanks must go to Nevis Landscape Partnership and Heritage Lottery Fund, SNH and DMM. Thanks to my team of guides Donald King, Alan Halewood, Scott Kirkhope, Dave Buckett, Dave Anderson, Connor Holdsworth and Will Rowland along with base camp manager Ed Holt. Like most adventures, it was challenging, inspiring, hard work and rewarding.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

The Ben Nevis North Face Survey has been going very well this week. We have had up to six teams of botanists or geologists with guides working on the four corners of the North Face, from Coire Leis to Castle Ridge North Face, Coire na Ciste to the summit plateau. We have found lots of very rare plants (and a sedge that we have not yet identified) and the geological picture is forming with ever more detail.

Yesterday I helped retrieve ropes from Castle Ridge where Donald, Blair and Jenny made a 90m abseil down a wall, 70m of which was overhanging! I also found the Highland Saxifrage recorded a long time ago near the top of South castle Gully. Today I went up Secondary Tower Ridge looking at geology with Hugh and Ali; Donald and Cathy climbed on Orion Face; Dave, Roddy and Dave climbed Observatory Ridge; Jim and Will worked in Coire Leis; Scott, Ian and Connor made new records of Highland Saxifrage on Number Three Gully Buttress; and Gordon, Al and Blair worked above the Tridents Buttresses, all in great sunshine. Busy, busy!

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Day two of the North Face Survey, put together by Nevis Landscape Partnership, got some good results. I spent the day with Ian (botanist) and Will in the top of Raeburn's Easy Route. There is so much snow left on the faces that we could not get to all the rock but we did find some new records of Highland Saxifrage, Arctic Mouse Ear and Alpine Meadow Grass. One area of Highland Saxifrage had about 100 plants and several of them were flowering.

Over on the flanks of Tower Ridge we had teams that found more Highland Saxifrage and the best find of the day, a group of about 100 Hare's Foot Sedge. This is a great find as it was known to grow only at one site on Ben Nevis at the foot of South Trident Buttress.

Roddy found several newly recorded geological features on Tower Ridge and Jenny had a very exciting day abseiling down the steepest part of the North Face of Castle Ridge. This included a 90m abseil, most of which was overhanging! Well done to Donald and Blair for making this bit of surveying possible. It's my job to retrieve their ropes tomorrow.

We had some dry weather today and some views as well. Unfortunately we don't get to enjoy much dry rock climbing though. The plants we want to record grow in wet, loose, slimy locations, well away from the classic rock climbs.

Thankfully, geologists like to see dry clean rock so we might get up Observatory Ridge and NE Buttress later this week. The weather has finally settled down a bit with some high pressure bringing reasonable conditions. Thursday looks like a good day and we might even get another dry day on Friday. Finger's crossed!

Friday, 7 August 2015

Twenty experts in botany, geology and mountain access gathered today for the training day of the 2015 North Face Survey. We went up to Coire na Ciste to get a refresher in using the excellent Field Move Clino app developed by Midland Valley geologists, a reminder in all the various plants, grasses and sedges we are looking for as well as a big abseil to get us all in the mood! Thanks to DMM for supplying the hardware and endless rope we need for such a big project.

We found some Alpine Meadow Grass  and a granite dyke cutting into the andesite of Ben Nevis under the Organ Pipes wall. A good start and a lot of fun to the main survey next week.

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Along with the Trainee Voluntary Rangers (TVRs) we carried 1400m of rope to the CIC Hut on Ben Nevis today. It must be time for the North Face Survey! Nevis Landscape Partnership (NLP) is again managing this project with Scottish Natural Heritage. The same team of guides as last year is all set to go and we have the same expert botanists and geologists coming back as well. Today I was working with the TVRs (another NLP project) who will be with us helping look after the survey team and inform the public what is going on.

We went in to Coire na Ciste and out to Ledge Route. On the way past Number Five Gully we found all sorts of interesting plants such as dwarf cudweed and sibaldia. We had a few views from Ledge Route but the rain came on towards the top and we wandered around in the wet mist finding the tops of the major gullies. These all have big areas of snow in and there is more snow in the coire than last year by quite a way.

We found the mouse ears around the base of the cairn at the top of Number Four Gully which are doing well. The Starwort Mouse Ears are in flower but the Arctic Mouse Ears are not. Tomorrow we have a training day with the main survey team which will be great fun.