Friday, 31 January 2014

Snow, wind and more snow!

Last weekend I was working for Maximum Adventure on a Ben Nevis Winter trip. Due to high winds and the Gondola being off, we headed up to the top car park and into Coire na Ciste for some Winter skills. We had good fun practicing some ice axe arrest in the large quantities of snow that had built up. The Ben is absolutely plastered just now and climbing looks like it will be great once we get a good thaw and refreeze. Who knows when that will happen though!

Sunday saw us heading up the Ben Track. Struggling to open the car doors at Achintee we were prepared for a bit of a battle. The winds were forecast to be 100-120mph so we were pretty sure the summit was out of the question. Thankfully there was a slight lull in the winds that allowed us to reach the Red Burn and beyond to about 750m before calling it a day. A great weekend with Mamie, Harry, Xenia and Dan, thanks for the good company!

Yesterday I was out with Kev, Joe and James on a trip round the Carn Mor Dearg Arete. Blue skies and sunshine was the forecast with some light winds. The sunshine didn't arrive until our descent so we had so atmospheric conditions on the route. The Arete was loaded with snow, with some large cornices building on the North side of the ridge. Very good value for an easy route, it felt like a good day's mountaineering. The Mountain Track on the Ben was totally buried under the snow which meant for a quick descent towards the Red Burn. With more snow in the forecast, this could be a long Winter indeed!

CMD from Lochaber Guides on Vimeo.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Winter update

On Tuesday I was guiding Michel from Canada on the Ben Track. Michel is an experienced hiker and had done a fair bit of mountaineering before but was keen to benefit from some local knowledge of the area. We headed off abut 0730hrs by headtorch and although there was some high cloud rolling in, we were treated to some stunning views. Hard going again on the plateau with a bit of wading through the softer snow. We enjoyed a leisurely stop on the summit until our increasingly cold hands forced us to head down. A fantastic day, with some great stories from Michel about his previous adventures.

On Thursday I headed onto the Ben with Kev and Chris from the BBC Radio Scotland 'Out of Doors Show'. We had planned on ascending Green Gully but as we approached we saw a a lot of fresh avalanche debris, a crown wall just under the first pitch and the snow wasn't nearly as firm or icy as we had hoped. Whilst there was nothing blatantly telling us not to climb the route, we agreed the top pitch could be quite emotional if the snow was unconsolidated and protection as hard to find as was expected. So, plan B it was, and we cut across the top of Moonlight Gully Buttress and nipped onto Ledge Route. This gave us plenty of time for Kev to get his interview done whilst still enjoying a trip on the Ben. Ledge Route was in the easiest conditions I had ever seen, allowing us to walk the whole route! A bit of nav off of the top of Carn Dearg to find the Red Burn and we had an leisurely stroll back to the car for early afternoon.

On Friday, Andy invited me out for his birthday tradition of a winter climbing day! We headed up Aonach Mor with the intention of climbing Morwind (III/IV,4). Very poor visibilty saw us carefully locating the edge of Easy gully followed by an ab off a bollard and we traversed to the base of the route. Conditions were mixed with some good ice but a lot of cruddy snow too. Protection and belays were hard to find so in those conditions the route was good value. A good way for Andy to celebrate being 21 (again)!

Morwind from Lochaber Guides on Vimeo.

Monday, 13 January 2014

Promising starts

Once all the Christmas and New Year festivities quietened down, it was time to get the ice tools out and see what was worth a look. With so much fresh snow recently and the avalanche forecast looking interesting, Andy and I headed to Lurcher's Crag in the Cairngorms.

looking into the Northern Corries
Being West facing, the slopes were scoured rather than loaded but there was some ice to climb. We had a quick look and saw one of the ice falls on the Northern part of the crag looked fun. The ice was a bit thin and cruddy in placed to start with but soon improved with height. The hardest section was a nice grade III so it felt good to get back into the swing of winter climbing.

With the Ben still looking loaded and reports of massive avalanches down No. 5 and Observatory Gullies, Andy and I headed back East on Thursday into Coire an-t Sneachda. Without any objectives in mind, and not having done much climbing here, we were drawn to the inviting line of Patey's Route (IV,5). Andy took the first pitch which had a nice icy step. The second pitch has a large chockstone which was iced up quite well although just as things got interesting the snow turned to powder it was like trying to climb in sand. Thankfully there was some good ice hiding under the powder and before long we were on the plateau. A bit of nav practice and we were back at the ski centre for about 1330hrs, a civilised early finish!

Patey's route 090114 from Lochaber Guides on Vimeo.

This weekend, I was working for Maximum Adventure. I met with Andy, Connor and Rob for a briefing and kit check on Friday and on Saturday we were straight up the hill at Aonach Mor for some Winter Skills. The snow conditions were perfect and we covered step kicking, step cutting, cramponing, ice axe arrest. We even had enough snow to have a play at emergency shelters. The goggles came out for the short walk back though as some squally weather blew through!

 Yesterday was putting everything into practice on Ben Nevis. A nice early start saw us at the Red Burn for 0900hrs. The snow soon built up and we donned crampons and axes from there. The spindrift blowing down the zig zags was horrendous but a fighting approach saw us reach the plateau. From there, the winds died slightly and we even had some sunshine! Lots of snow on the plateau and most of the cairns were buried. Well done to the team for a very strong performance and earning a place on the summit!

This week is looking busy with some more guiding, a day out with BBC Radio Scotland and perhaps some more climbing!