Mountain Guide and Instructor

March 2008 Conditions Reports

27th March 2008

Sunshine today
More snowfall over night made the skiing brilliant today with the best snow cover for ten years. Very little wind and sunshine all day brought the first taste of spring in the air. However the ice climbing is never over until the daffodils have all gone over so we should have another month of climbing at least given some favourable weather. Tomorrow will bring a breakdown in the settled spell of cold weather so here's a couple of pictures of Orion and Minus Faces and Hadrians Wall and Observatory Buttress. We have availability for classic ice climbing and skills training from 7th April onwards - get in touch if want to book an adventure!

26th March 2008

Hadrian's Wall, Point Five Gully, Rubicon Wall and Observatory Buttress Marie enduring the spin drift
A little light snow last night cleared to give a very nice morning. Marie and I headed for Observatory Buttress on Ben Nevis, another big icy classic. The ice on this climb turned out to be mostly good solid water ice and as it has been climbed a few times recently it made for safe (good ice screws) and easy (good hooks and steps) climbing. This is just as well because the bulge getting in to the chimney is very steep and in an impressively exposed position! Gentle snowfall came in by lunch time and heavy spindrift avalanches started very soon afterwards - I imagine the teams in Point Five Gully will have felt the full force of it! More snow coming over the next few days.

25th March 2008

Mike in Minus Two Gully Abseiling NE Buttress The Snotter
A little cloud and a bit of a breeze today but just as cold. Mike and I enjoyed Minus Two Gully and found it in pretty good shape. The first section is on quite snowy ice, much the same as most other climbs just now. However the crux on the third pitch was on hard water ice with great ice screw protection (for a change!). The wind was whipping over NE Buttress so we elected to abseil two pitches of NE Buttress onto the First Platform and reverse the traverse into Coire Leis. It's much quieter now the Easter weekend is over and Mike and I were the only people on the Minus/Orion Face. Slowly over the last few days the ice has been getting harder on many routes - The Curtain now has great blue ice on the last pitch and has been climbed a few times in recent days. Also there is fantastic ice on the Little Brenva Face including (possibly) the last great ice route still to be climbed, "The Snotter". It will require some icy mixed climbing up the overhanging wall to reach the icicle which is around two or three metres long and free hanging.

24th March 2008

Buachaille Etive Mor Tom in Crowberry Gully Tom and Joy
Another cold and mostly dry day with the odd flurry of snow and a bit more wind. Crowberry Gully was very full of snow today, most of it hard and crunchy. It's been getting a few ascents recently and is very highly recommended. The atmosphere in the gully is brilliant with great views and the crux right at the top. Not a bad Easter weekend of climbing and the cold spell is set to continue for a couple of days to go yet.

23rd March 2008

Cornice above Hammerhead Pillar Big smiles
A couple of inches of fresh snow over night made the skiing very nice today but made for a bit of spin drift on the climbs on the east face of Aonach Mor. Huge cornices bar escape from many of the routes - the Ribbed Walls and Hammerhead Pillar (routes such as White Shark, Aquafresh and Tinsel Town) and right of Right Twin (Icicle Gully, Jet Stream etc.) all have big problems at the top. Central Buttress is fine though as ever and Joy, Tom and I climbed a slight variation on Morwind which felt like IV,4 today with nice neve but little good ice for protection. Morwind itself has great rock protection. Donald and Jono enjoyed a snowy Curved Ridge on Buachaille Etive Mor.

22nd March 2008

Joy and Tom on Number Three Gully Buttress Big smiles
While the rest of the country complains of a cold and snowy Easter break we're all up here celebrating a cold and snowy Easter break! It would be easier to tell you what climbs on Ben Nevis are not in condition as so many good lines are in superb icy shape and being climbed. It is certainly cold though - the air is dry so it is easy to stay comfortable but any exposed skin, especially in the breeze, is in for a harsh time. Tom, Joy and I enjoyed Number Three Gully Buttress with all the variations to make it a sustained grade III climb. Donald and Jono were in Moonlight Gully followed by the upper section of North Trident Buttress for a great day of mountaineering. A spell of snow over night tonight then cold and dry for the next few days.

20th March 2008

Today's thaw is progressing as forecast with rain to the tops making the snow wet and ready to refreeze into first class neve for the weekend. In fact it will cool down tonight ready for tomorrow (Friday) and with the possibility of high pressure establishing itself over us next week things are looking promissing for some great ice climbing to come. Meanwhile some exceptional climbing has been going on this week - Citadel on Shelterstone Crag used to be THE big climb to do in a day but on Sunday two teams climbed it as if it was just a wee climb in the Northern Corries. Nick, Pete, Mike and Gareth made up the two teams and the report is here on Alpha Mountaineering. Closer to home Dave MacLeod succeeded on his long standing project on The Comb on the same day. Don't Die of Ignorance finally gave itself up to the awesome strength and talent of Britain's best climber at a mighty XI,11. It involved some serious suffering as well by Joe French and Dave MacLeod and the story can be found here on Dave MacLeod's Blog and here on Claire MacLeod's Blog. The whole epic ascent was filmed by John Sutherland and Claire MacLeod so hopefully we'll all be able to watch just what it takes to get up the hardest climbs in the world!

18th March 2008

Today's weather turned out far cloudier than forecast with some snow showers so the day of skiing Peter and I planned was curtailed half way through. Having crossed Aonach Mor and climbed Aonach Beag we descended to the col next to Carn Mor Dearg with a plan of climbing the watershed ridge and skiing down one of the east corries back to the ski area. However we just skied down the Allt Daim as the cloud was down and the light was very flat. Aonach Beag N Face has some ice on it - Stand and Deliver, King's Ransom and Royal Pardon all have a fair amount of ice on them. Looks like a thaw on Thursday and refreeze over the Easter weekend will make it a fantastic holiday of ice climbing!

17th March 2008

Ben Nevis The exit chimney
A perfect day in the Outdoor Capital! I met Abib at 7am ready for Orion Direct with a plane to catch at 9.30pm so the pressure was on. A frosty start to the day set the tone for a cold, dry day with light winds. Several teams were out already and we were third onto the route with a few more teams behind us! We made it to the top of the eight pitches by 1.30pm and were back down by 3.30pm - plenty of time to catch the plane! The route is in average condition, the first half is great, the second half more patchy ice and snowy. Andy's team was first onto Orion Direct and they went on to climb Smith's Route with an easy descent of Tower Gully. Darth Vader was also climbed along with many other big and icy routes. Donald found Stirling Bridge very icy and had a hard time clearing it all away - mixed climbs can be tricky when there is a lot of ice around.

16th March 2008

Gavin leading out of the gully Gavin, Shayne, Gerry and Niall on The Dragon's Tooth The view towards Jura
Another spectacular day with plenty of sunshine. Not as cold as forecast and the sun is really softening the snow but all the snow and ice in the shade and exposed to the cool NE wind is firming up slowly. My team headed to Glenachulish to climb the Dragon's Tooth - we went up the grade I gully on it's E side before traversing the horizontal ridge, making the wee abseil half way along, and climbing up to Sgurr Dearg for the magificent view. We practiced some crevasse rescue techniques on the way down and it all felt very alpine with slightly sunburnt faces, soggy snow and sunshine! Donald and his team went to Stob Coire nam Beith and climbed NW Gully giving them 500m of snow and ice up to grade III after a wee traverse into the gully.

15th March 2008

Lots of snow and ice on Ben Nevis Gavin, Shayne, Gerry and Niall on Ledge Route
Ledge Route again for both Abacus teams out today. Gav, Gerry, Shayne and Niall were with me on their first of two Alpine training days and Rob and James were with Donald on the first of four lead climbing training days. It was a day for big classics - teams were on Minus One Gully, Orion Direct, Slav Route, Observatory Ridge, Hadrian's Wall Direct, Sickle, Rubicon Wall, Observatory Buttress, Good Friday Climb, Tower Ridge, The Cascade, Green Gully, Number Three Gully Buttress, Thompson's Route, Castle Ridge and Boomer's Requiem. There is still some cruddy ice around and of course lots of soft snow but it is settling down slowly. Several days of cold and dry conditions to come so make the most of it.

14th March 2008

Lots of snow and sunshine
Sunshine on Ben Nevis this morning and some settled weather for a while to come. Over the weekend it will be slightly warmer followed by cold N winds next week so the recent fresh snow should settle down a bit and we should be able to get onto the big climbs. There is certainly lots of ice around and plenty of snow on the ski slopes as well.

13th March 2008

Lots of snow and ice on Ben Nevis Trevor and Brendan wading up Ledge Route
Ledge Route is a narrow ridge in it's upper half that has had the wind blowing across it recently - despite this Trevor, Brendan and I were wading in snow up above our knees! The approach through Number Five Gully was particularly arduous and thanks should go to Andy of Alba Mountaineering for breaking trail. All slopes and gullies on all the hills above 700m have deep accumulations of snow that will be tough going for a while.

12th March 2008

Lots of snow
We now have a massive amount of snow on the hills! Windy weather today brought further snow showers and the snow line is sitting at 500m. Cold temperatures over the next few days will mean the snow will stay soft and avalanche prone so take care over the weekend. If you can get to any of it there is lots of ice on the crags including many of the big classics and several less well known and quiter gems tucked away in secret corners.

11th March 2008

Owen (4) on skis for the first time Megan
Yesterday's storms didn't materialise up here as we were in the centre of the depression, the eye of the storm. The sun came out, light winds and snow down to low levels (500m). Today family Pescod made it to the ski slope of Nevis Range for Owen's first taste of skiing. The snow cover on the pistes is very good and skiing to the top restaurant is very easy. There are areas for beginers and the back corries are very full. Fresh snow started falling at 2pm and is due to carry on overnight.

9th March 2008

Debris under Number Five Gully Rebecca setting out on Garadh Gully Belaying
Colder today with light winds and snow falling down to 500m this morning and reaching sea level this afternoon. Many parties on Ben Nevis turned back from the higher routes due to the fresh snow and wind slab. Douglas Gap West Gully and Douglas Boulder SW Ridge were popular and safe routes and Koon, Rebecca and I headed for Garadh Gully. There was lots of spin drift and we were constantly checking the state of the snow we were on but managed the climb with the steeper exit on the left before bum sliding back into the corrie. There is now so much snow up high we may be climbing ice routes for the next two months still! Cold for the next few days with further snowfall so take care in the gullies and open slopes - ridges and buttresses are the safer option for a while.

8th March 2008

Rebecca and Koon on East Ridge of N Buttress, Stob Ban The narrow arete at the top
A thaw last night took away much of yesterday's fresh snow. Heavy rain this morning stopped abruptly as Rebecca, Koon and I were walking in to the East Ridge of North Buttress, Stob Ban and it stayed dry for the whole climb. There is quite a lot of snow on the upper half of the ridge and big avalanche trails in the corrie between the main buttress and N Buttress caused by cornice collapses in the thaw. I've seen debris here a few times this winter so it looks like a place to avoid in high avalanche hazards. Danny, Steven and Ken watched more avalanches on the E side of Aonach Mor (G and T Gully) on their winter skills weekend. The good news is that temperatures will drop for tomorrow and refreeze the snowpack.

7th March 2008

A swirling, whirling snowstorm this morning put fresh snow down to 500m. It was very wet snow that forces its way through anything and we retreated from the CIC Hut due to gear failure! Several teams were out though and had a full on Scottish experience. The sun did come out in the afternoon.

6th March 2008

Another wet and windy day - Chris and I spent a couple of hours in the ice wall of The Ice Factor doing some coaching on movement up steep ice. Chris has been climbing for around 20 years and is very experienced but a little coaching can go a long way to make your climbing more fluid and efficient.

5th March 2008

Patchy rain today with occasional bits of snow at 1000m on Buachaille Etive Mor for Chris and me. We climbed N Buttress which was good fun especially as we had the view over Rannoch Moor all day. The strong W wind was whipping around the crags but we managed to get over the top and descend Coire na Tulloch. The route has some snow and ice in it and there are three easy pitches of great snow and ice after the steep climbing. Wet and windy again on the west coast tomorrow.

4th March 2008

The Shroud and Boomer's Requiem Chris
Another perfect day in the Outdoor Capital of the UK! Light winds, freezing at all levels and sunshine all day with ice all over the place. Chris and I went for Harrison's Direct (IV,4) which was tough for the grade but we had the whole Castle Coire to ourselves. We traversed onto Ledge Route to see the wonderful panarama of crags on Ben Nevis with people on Orion Direct, Zero Gully, Hadrian's Wall Direct, Point Five Gully, Indicator Wall, The Gutter, The Cascade, and Green Gully. Chris took Aidan and Alistair up NE Buttress and Garreth took Mike and Jim up Ledge Route.

3rd March 2008

Snow down to sea level Chris Looking down Platforms Rib
We were greeted to 15cms of fresh snow on the roads this morning! Getting up the track to Ben Nevis was hard work but once we got onto our climb the old icy snow was brilliant. Chris and I climbed Platforms Rib (IV,4) which ends on the first platform of NE Buttress. Fantastic climbing, sustained with a crux bulge just touching grade 5 and in a superb position, it's worth searching out. Minus 3 Gully wasn't quite iced enough but Orion Direct, Hadrians Wall Direct and Observatory Buttress were all climbed today. Same again tomorrow - cold with snow showers and NW winds.

2nd March 2008

Mark making a buried axe anchor Tim Leading the way up Number Three Gully Loch Linnhe
After a brilliant walk in to Ben Nevis and time enough to cover placing snow anchors and belaying for grade I gullies the snow came on and and continued fairly steadily for an hour or two. Tim and team were looking at all the skills required to climb major snow gullies which we did with an ascent of Number Three Gully. Despite the ice crust on the older snow from a rapid thaw and refreeze last night there were some weak layers deep down in the snow pack and we decided not to climb the bed of the gully. Instead we exited up slopes of hard icy snow on the left where there is also no cornice at grade II.

1st March 2008

Richard inspecting the avalanche debris Rope tangles on Number Three Gully Buttress Mike on Number Three Gully Buttress
Over the last six days we have had a three day snowfall, thaw and refreeze cycle repeated twice. These are perfect ingredients for building ice on Ben Nevis and today was another cracking day for enjoying our unique snow ice climbing. Richard, Mike and I went for a variation on Number Three Gully Buttress which involved only 30m of the usual route! There is brilliant snow all over the crags and lots of climbs have come into great condition very quickly. Ice is forming well in the Minus Gullies and Orion Face, there were teams on Hadrian's Wall Direct, Glovers Chimney, The Cascade, Green Gully, Hesperides Ledge and many others. With a cold and snowy forecast, things are looking good for a classic spring of ice climbing on Ben Nevis.