Friday, 7 March 2014

Winter Update

Its been a super busy few weeks and an early finish today has finally given me a bit of time to update the blog!

Firstly, I was taking Dan up Ben Nevis via the Mountain Track. This is a bit misleading as there was pretty much a continuous snow slope beyond half way rather than a track! This meant for some hard leg work and persevering but after a sterling effort from Dan, and a bit of whiteout navigation, we were enjoying having the summit to ourselves.

The 19th of February saw the start of the Fort William Mountain Festival. This year, funded by the Nevis Landscape Partnership, Lochaber Guides as well as four other local guiding companies took part in the Carpe Diem stand. This initiative to 'seize the day' involves us offering a FREE guided ascent of Ben Nevis on the 20th September 2014. There were four routes on offer and the only catch was that the participants agreed to spend 1 hour on the summit clearing up litter. A genuine, 'win win' for everyone involved! We saw our target of 20 volunteers exceeded and even have a reserve list now! If anyone is interested, there may still be the odd space left on the Mountain Track or Carn Mor Dearg Arete so drop us an email if you're interested.

Next up was a great weekend with Rachael and Jen. We had a days Winter Skills up on the West slopes of Carn Mor Dearg with some great views over to the North Face of Ben Nevis and of the impressive avalanche debris that had piled down from number 5 gully amongst others!
Our original plan had been to ascend Ben Nevis the next day, but due to winds forecast to be gusting 90mph+, we thought we'd have a go at something a bit smaller. Buachaille Etive Beag was the perfect choice and a late start after a visit to the Craft Cafe in Glencoe, saw us avoiding most of the rain. It was a bit of a battle through wet snow to reach the saddle between Stob Dubh and Stob Coire Rainneach and even more of a battle to stand up on the summit! Still, the girls were made of tough stuff and it was great to reach a Munro summit in such challenging conditions! There was some large avalanche debris from Stob Coire Altrium on the Buachaille into the Lairig Gartain.

Last week, I was working on a Winter Workshop with some of the Degree students from West Highland College. The students involved had chosen Winter Navigation as their choice. On the first day we headed to Aonach Mor with some blustery conditions. After a quick revision on timing, orientating the map and a bit of pacing we headed onto the plateau to practice some 'whiteout' techniques. The monstrous cornices having over Easy Gully quickly put into context the need for good navigation in Winter and we had a really productive day considering the constant battering of spindrift!

The cornice on Easy gully 

For the second day, we wanted to go on more of a journey so we headed on to Meall a Chaorainn and over to Mullach nan Coirean. The chaps got to practice some challenging legs in pretty tough conditions and all came away feeling they had a few more tools in the navigation box!

Someone staying cosy in the snow!

James was also out working for us, taking Julia on a walk to the North Face of Ben Nevis. This is always worth a trip and really showcases the spectacular side of the mountain!

Last weekend Sam and Ben were up for a Ben Nevis Winter Weekend. Both Sam and Ben are pretty experienced having done a fair bit of summer hillwalking before and Ben has done some climbing in the Alps. We had a smashing sunny day on Aonach Mor going over our basic Winter skills including use of ice axe and crampons, emergency shelters and some basic Winter navigation.

 The Carn Mor Dearg Arete was the top choice for the guys and after a careful look at the forecast, we reckoned on a good weather window on Sunday morning. We made it onto the summit of CMD in 2hrs 30 and had a total trip time of a speedy 7 hours. Just as we arrived in the Ben Nevis Inn for a celebratory drink, the winds picked up and the rain started. A great feeling when a plan works out! Well done to Ben and Sam for a fantastic effort.

Monday was a day of highs and lows. Nadir was up in the area looking at a filming project. Myself, Nadir, Kev and Joe started the steep walk up to Coire nan Lochan in Glencoe with some climbing in mind. Unfortunately after a while, Kev's fused ankle was causing him excruciating pain and he made a tough decision to head down. Kev's written about it in his blog here
 Feeling a bit deflated we decided to carry on as the weather was looking promising. The aim was to climb Scabbard Chimney (V,6) which has been a popular climb this season. Due to the Considerable avalanche forecast, we headed up the scoured slope beneath Summit Buttress and hugged the crag line to the base of the route. I took the first pitch, Joe the second and we abbed back down. The climbing felt about V,4. Technically pretty straightforward but there were very few runners ( think we got  no more than 5 on the entire route). 

Nadir got some smashing shots on our way back down(no prizes for guessing which ones are his!).

Nadir Khan Photography

Nadir Khan Photography

On Wednesday, Nadir and I decided on a quick trip to the Cairngorms to try and stay dry for a while! We were planning to head into Coire an-t Sneachda and see what the conditions were like. Straight away, the wind was gathering speed and the constant waves of spindrift livened up our walk in. We got to the base of Original Summer Route (IV,5) on Aladdin's Buttress but the spindrift was blasting over the rocks and some sloughs started sliding down the Couloir. After having a quick chat and deciding that keeping the camera dry was going to pretty much impossible, as well as getting a general uneasy feeling, we bailed to the Mountain Cafe! After seeing quite a few pictures of avalanches that came down later that day, we felt pretty happy with our decision!
Posy shot! Nadir Khan Photography
Nadir Khan Photography

The last couple of days I've been out with Simon. Yesterday was an enjoyable Winter Skills day on Aonach Mor. We covered lots including ice axe arrest, cramponing, some winter navigation and avalanche awareness.

Today, we headed for a trip on Ben Nevis. With most of the weather forecasts predicting a stormy day, Simon was happy to call things a day at the Red Burn. Lots of people thoroughly ill- equipped for the conditions at the moment- it's still very much Winter on the mountain and it looks like it will be for quite some time! Thanks to Simon for a grand couple of days and for being great company on the hill!

Some fractures on the snow just above the Red Burn crossing...