Today was my last scheduled day of winter work, which is rather convenient, as the weather is turning as of tomorrow. I was working for Abacus Mountain Guides, and out with Peter, who was keen for a classic ice climb on Ben Nevis. We walked in with an open plan, but knowing that there was a fair amount of awkward crust on a lot of the steeper ice, and on entering Observatory Gully, and seeing teams veer off to Hadrian’s Wall, Point 5, Tower Scoop and Smith’s Route, an ascent of Indicator Wall seemed to make perfect sense.
I did have in the back of my mind that having a look at one of the ice pitches directly below Indicator Wall (Lower Indicator Wall) would be a nice start, however, only the Intermediate Start (as per Godefroy Perroux’s excellent guidebook) was thick enough to climb. It gave a nice, and quite steep, pitch of ice (a bit cruddy on the surface in places) for starters.
We then crossed the snow slopes to gain Indicator Wall itself, which was in reasonable condition, if again, a bit cruddy on the surface in places, and just required a bit more work to secure tools and feet. It sounded like folk were experiencing similar conditions on Smith’s Route too. One of the things I love about Indicator Wall is that it is the highest route in the UK, and tops out metres away from the summit cairn, which is then used as the final belay, much to the intrigue of folk who have walked up the mountain track.
Quite a few folk out making the most of the last good day for a while, with people on Smith’s Route, Tower Scoop, Hadrian’s Wall, Point 5 Gully (not sure what conditions it’s in), Tower Ridge and a fair few heading into Coire na Ciste too.
Do I think winter is over? I doubt it, the upcoming milder air and rain will strip a lot of the loose snow, of which there is lots, and start to erode the ice, but there are hints of cooler air sneaking in for the following weekend (http://www.wetterzentrale.de/pics/avnpanel1.html)… Temperatures will still remain reasonably low, with the freezing levels hovering just above the summits, so the ice (where thicker) should survive until it cools down again… Time will tell!