Guiding Comb Gully on a Winter Climbing Course

Comb Gully before the thaw

This week, I’m running a five day climbing course, with Katie and Austin. Conditions since the weekend haven’t exactly been what I would describe as stellar, but we’ve had a productive three days so far.

On Monday, we made an ascent of No. 3 Gully Buttress, which was as reliable as ever. The first pitch of ice is now shorter than it was a couple of weeks ago, due to recent snows, and the final pitch of the direct finish is a bit easier now too.

With a rather wild forecast yesterday, we thought we would go into Coire na Ciste to see how wild it was, and whether we could find shelter somewhere… The wind was howling, so rather than press on into the foul weather, we changed plans and after coffee and cake at the Pinemarten Cafe, we went to  Glen Nevis to look at gear placements, belays and personal abseiling.

Today was all about starting (and finishing early), as the forecast was for a marked deterioration and thaw from late morning onwards. Along with a number of others, we headed into Coire na Ciste in the hope of seeing what the previous day’s thaw had done. Unfortunately, the cloud base was about level with the base of The Comb, so we decided to wonder up and have a look in Comb Gully.  The entry pitches were quite promising, filled with firm snow, so we pushed on and found the climbing to be great fun, with enough reasonable ice and firm snow where necessary. The ice wasn’t good enough for ice screws today, but axe placements were mostly ok. With verglass on the rocks, spindrift funnelling down the route and being enclosed in one of the finest gullies on Ben Nevis, it all felt like a traditional Scottish winter day, until the freezing level shot passed us on the final pitch. Then it felt wet. This was Austin’s first taste of grade IV climbing, and there’s no better route (or mountain) to sample it on! Katie also enjoyed herself and couldn’t stop smiling throughout.

Comb Gully Winter Climbing Course

First of the steeper pitches


Comb Gully Winter Climbing Course

Looking up the gully


Comb Gully Winter Climbing Course

Austin enjoying the steep climbing


Comb Gully Winter Climbing Course

Katie above the crux pitch

It was quite still in the corrie early on, so we could hear Mike and his team on The Cascade, and Steve with Marie on Glover’s Chimney, which he reported to have a mushy and serious first pitch. There were a couple of teams making their way up No. 3 Gully as well.

Mike Thomas was also out for us today. He was with another Mike, and they climbed No. 3 Gully Buttress, again with an early start.

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