Tuesday 30 December 2008

Comb Gully Monday

Yesterday (Monday) I took Richard up the classic ice route Comb Gully on Ben Nevis. The route was complete if steep and a little narrow in 1 place and hollow in another. We had another great weather day, the hoar crystals are a centimeter long in my garden in Corpach where the freezing fog hasnt lifted for days. Just a little higher though and its sunshine all the way. I saw parties on Glovers, Raeburns easy (and the great ice bulges to its left), North, South, Central , Thompsons and Green. Good Friday saw at least 2 ascents and was reported as in very good nick. At least a few more days of this weater to go. Even with a slightly stronger breeze conditions were pleasant enough that I was lighly dressed and wore thin softshell gloves all day - a rarity in Scotland.
I've had a few short notice enquiries about guiding in the last couple of days but as I've just moved house I wont have a new internet connection for a couple of weeks and only get online every second day. If you need me please follow the phone numbers on my website (links at top of this page) or call me on 07887766716.

Sunday 28 December 2008

Ben Nevis conditions

Merry Christmas, I hope Santa was good to you and that you have lots of new climbing toys to play with!
Superb weather in Lochaber just now. Cloud inversions and a hard frost around Fort William and blue sky cloudless conditions above. I've spent Christmas moving from Kinlochleven to Fort William and to take a break from the chaos I went for a walk up Ben Nevis yesterday.
The rock and ridges are bare and dry with just the odd snowpatch. The easy gullies are all very much complete and the snow in them and Coire na Ciste and Observatory Gully is perfect styrofoam condition for climbing. This does of course mean that a small slip can lead to a very quick and rapid descent as at least one person found out yesterday, crampons, axe and good footwork essesntial!
I went into Coire na Ciste and soloed South Gully (III) descended No.3 Gully (I - no cornice at top as there often is) then carried on up Raeburn's Easy Route (II) and came down No. 4 Gully. Throughout I found good ice and perfect snow for climbing. Other routes seeing attention were Central Gully Right hand with a nice start possible up the lower tier, North Gully and No. 2 Gully Buttress (but the first pitch was rock climbing). The Lower Cascade was complete if not fat, Green and Comb Gullys were both complete and Glover's looked great (even snow left visible in the last - mixed - pitch to the Gap). I hear that Point 5 and Good Friday Climb both also saw ascents yesterday too.
There is an amazing twenty foot high free standing ice column at the base of Comb Gully Buttress (visible in 2 of the pictures above) it was dripping water yesterday and wouldnt be pleasant to be close to when it collapses.
Its the same weather today and it looks set to last a few more days - enjoy!

Saturday 20 December 2008

Reclaiming Glen Nevis

Since my day out with Lochaber Colege i have been over at Glenmore Lodge for some prewinter season staff training. Word had reached the BBC down south that winter was in full flow in Scotland so they had come up to film and of course the weather was awful. The film crew asked to do a segment about winter preparation so we acted as a colourful backdrop to George McEwan's piece to camera by drytooling up and down the towers at the Lodge. I'm the one in the orange jacket at about 1:48 in this video: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7791250.stm
Today I joined a party from the Friends of Nevis at Polldubh crags in Glen Nevis. Many of the excellent rock climbs have begun to dissapear under leaves and moss in the last 20 years as birch trees have grown up next to the crags. The Friends have co-ordinated the landowner (Alcan), SNH (the area is a SSSI) and local volunteers to sort the paperwork and begin clearing the base of some of the routes. As a test day we started at th base of the popular Pinnacle Ridge area where about 15 trees were cut down by a licensed chainsaw operative and the timber cleared from access routes by the rest of us. The felled timber is to be left in place to rot to encourage natural growth in other areas. Next summer this should mean tht climbers gearing up at the base of Pinnacle Ridge, Clapham Junction and Tiptoe should feel more moving breeze (and therefore less midges) and next year the routes wont be treated to a coat of sap and leaves and should dry out much better.
I spoke to Alan Kimber who reported good conditions on Ben Nevis today - quite springlike - for his day's mountaineering. See his website for details.

Wednesday 17 December 2008

Lochaber College Hillwalking Assessment

Kevin and I have just spent a couple of days working in the area of Glen Suileag, west of Fort William, with students from the Outdoor course at Lochaber College. I had 3 second years to assess on their hillwalking knowledge, navigation, emergency procedures and their approach to an overnight session in a bothy. We had fairly wild walking weather with rain, snow and bright sun often all within the space of a minute! I've also put in a picture of some trumpet lichens often known as Devil's Matchstick which was growing in the crevices in a wall. The Lochaber hills have lost some of their snow coating (although there was a dusting last night as we were wandering around doing some night navigation) but the deeper gullys will have retained their snow. Fingers crossed for a little cold weather to firm up and sustain this snow pack.

Monday 15 December 2008

East Ridge of Beinn a Chaorainn

In the last few days I've run another Climbing Wall Award Assessment and attended a days staff training at Glenmore Lodge. Today Dimitri, Lorenzo and I went to the East Ridge of Beinn a Chaorainn. We decided on this option because of the fast approaching bad weather a little further west and it paid off for us. Dimitri wants to build his confidence in moving on Grade I/II ground prior to his Winter Mountain Leader Training and this ridge fits the bill well. We had quite good visibilty on the walk in without too much snow underfoot. The route itself was plastered in damp fresh snow and caught the odd strong gust as we climbed it. The guys both moved well and the rope we had ready wasn't used by us or the pair of staff from Outward Bound Loch Eil who were also there today. We found heavy rime on the rocks above 900m and some firm windslab on the lee side of the ridge. Topping out onto the plateau-like summt there was a little freezing rain in the air and we pactised some whiteout navigation to safely get ourselves back down again. Today I was working for Alan Kimber.

Thursday 11 December 2008

The Message

Derek and I went to the Mess of Pottage in Coire an t Sneachda today and climbed The Message (IV,6). The coire was very busy with half a dozen parties heading over to the Loch Avon Basin, another half a dozen heading for Fiacaille Buttress and where we were parties on Honeypot, Pot of Gold and a hybrid of Hidden Chimney Direct and Pot Doodles.
Our route had obviously had some attention yesterday as a darker 'hoover mark' showed through the rimeing from a distance. We still had a little clearing to do though and the rimeing on the top pitch was thick enough to make me thick that higher routes will be thickly covered. There was quite a bit of verglass in the cracks on the second pitch making gear a little hard to come at but the stunning blue sky views made up for that.
As we came down we could see the leading edge of a frontal system approaching from the west - looks a little wilder for the weekend.

Sunday 7 December 2008

Normal December service has been resumed!

Well it looked a lot wetter, greyer and milder today in Glencoe. I was out working again and went to Dorsal Arete where the snow was more useful and had settled a great deal. It was gusting about 50mph at the top of the route and there was some rimeing appearing on rocks. As we came back down out of the cloud we could see how much snow had melted in the 4 hours we'd been up in the coire. Now if we were to have another freeze all that snow in the gullies and high up would be lovely and hard. Nice job on the snowman to whoever built it whilst we were on our route. Twisitng Gully was done today too. Apparently the bottom was fine but the last pitch was mostly wet turf.

Saturday 6 December 2008

Today I took Oli out for his first day winter climbing. We went up into Stob Coire nan Lochan following a path that was covered in glassy ice on its bottom half and buried in powder over its top half. There were parties on Oringinal Route, NC Gully, Twisting Gully, Tilt (or posssibly Inclination?), Dorsal Arete was so busy people were abseiling into Broad Gully rather than wait in the queue and teams were also on both Scabbard Chimney and Spectre. The day started bright and sunny but Lochaber's coastal hills picked up a cloud cap at the end of the day.
We climbed bits of Boomerang Arete and Yankee Go Home to pick a route to ourselves at about III that didnt give us too much wading and digging and then descended via Broad Gully.

Monday 1 December 2008

Today Kenny and I went to Stob Coire an Laoigh. We were hoping that the steep nature of the rock would have given the turf a chance to freeze rather than be moist and buried as much has been in Glencoe. We were right. After a strenuous wade in I held Kenny's ropes as he started up Centre Point (VI,7). The first pitch was excellent, varied and well protected. Unfortunately by the time we were still only half way up the sustained second pitch both daylight and forearms alike were on the verge of giving out so we retreated having enjoyed our sport for the day.

Saturday 29 November 2008

Today I was out with Colin and Guy. After the heavy snowfall last night we opted for a rocky mountaineering route and went to Curved Ridge. The sun shone all day and a we joined a few friendly pairs on a well plastered ridge.
There was a very little ice around in drainage lines in the shade but we didnt hit the freezing level until about 900m when the powdery snow that had melted to water on my gear began to refreeze. Under this much soft powder we didnt even put crampons on until half way up and my axe spent most of the day tucked out of the way on my back as I used my hands to clear and climb the route.
It was much colder down in the continual shade of Coire na Tullaich but the ground wasnt really frozen off of the well compressed path although cars were well iced at the bottom.
Many thanks to the 2 teams who let us overtake them(it was just a cunning plan to let me break trail i'm sure ;-)
Had to put lots of pics up today - it just looked soooo good. Yey more pics at: http://guysteven.blogspot.com/