Winter arrives on Ben Nevis and Aonach Mor!

First things first. We’ve had a bit of a shuffle around at West Coast Mountain Guides, so I (Ken) am please to announce that I will now be joined by Steve Holmes to assist me in the running of the company. Steve has been based in Fort William for a number of years, and has a huge passion for mountaineering and climbing across most if not all of it’s disciplines. He has a number of first ascents both on rock and in winter on the nearby crags and mountains and is keen to share that enthusiasm and knowledge with everyone he’s out with.

Hannah will still be looking after the bulk of the winter skills and walking side of things, but has decided to step down from the role of director to have a bit more time to focus on other things alongside being in the mountains. Huge thanks to her for her assistance over the past couple of years.  I’ve no doubt that she will still manage to climb more personal routes than most Mountaineering Instructors will this coming season!

Finally, Bruce and Vicky, who were also directors of West Coast Mountain Guides, have decided to focus on their lives down south. They have a thriving construction company, which they are keen to grow, so I wish them all the best with the venture.

By the way, 2017-18 dates for all of our Winter Walking, Winter Mountaineering, Introductory and Advanced Winter Climbing Courses for the coming season are now on-line, as well as dates for our CIC Hut Weeks.
Private Guiding is also available throughout the winter season.

If you would like further information regarding the above courses, please get in touch.


Right, on with the show…

It’s that time of year again, where the temperatures take a dip, and the mountains up in the Highlands start to try on their winter coats. Over the past couple of nights, we’ve had a fair bit of fresh snow down to about 600m, and with today being such a clear day, the results of all of this fresh snow were quite visible.

Steve ran up to the CIC Hut to have a look at how things were forming on the North Face of Ben Nevis. It’s largely cosmetic at the moment, but a good start, and if the forecast is anything to go by, should consolidate a bit over the coming few days.

Winter Climbing Conditions Ben Nevis 008

Winter Climbing Conditions Ben Nevis 005

Winter Climbing Conditions Ben Nevis 006

Winter Climbing Conditions Ben Nevis 007

Good friends and neighbours, Phil and Lucy also went out for a wander. They headed up Aonach Mor, and found the smallest of cornices forming over Easy Gully. Thanks to them for the great shots.

Winter Climbing Conditions Aonach Mor

Winter Climbing Conditions Aonach Mor

Winter Climbing Conditions Aonach Mor

Winter Climbing Conditions Aonach Mor

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More chimney action: The Guardian, Aonach Mor

Nick wanted  a slightly shorter day than yesterday, as had to get down to Glasgow this afternoon in order to catch an evening flight, so we settled for climbing on the East Face of Aonach Mor.

Coire Lochan, Aonach Mor

Another glorious day

Surprisingly, it was very quiet as we geared up on the summit plateau of Aonach Mor, with just Mark with two friends who went on to climb Grooved Arete. From the bottom of Easy Gully, we went the other direction, to The Prow area, where we climbed The Guardian. The route, whilst fairly short, packs a lot of high quality climbing into it’s two steep, contrasting pitches. The first follows a corner groove steeply, before a series of turfy ledges out right lead up to a steep step to gain a rocky slab, which has just enough turf dotted here and there to allow secure progress. From here, the route enters the main event, a wide and steep off-width chimney, which is surprisingly accommodating with plenty of good hooks and ledges for feet. It’s also very well protected. On exiting the chimney, easy snow slopes and a final steepening leads to the exit slopes. Today, a few moves to the right avoided the small cornice that’s present at the moment. The turf is well frozen (which it needs to be) but there is some cruddy ice low down. Overall, the climb is excellent, and quite reminiscent of Deep Cut Chimney on Hell’s Lum.

The Guardian Aonach Mor

Top of pitch 1

The Guardian Aonach Mor

Looking up at the chimney

The Guardian Aonach Mor

Looking down the chimney

Nick found the climbing challenging, but enjoyed it throughout. We did contemplate a second route, but thought we should quit whilst we were ahead, so that he wouldn’t have to rush for his flight. Thanks to Nick for a great couple of days. Unfortunately, it looks like he’s taking this cold, clear weather away with him.

The Guardian Aonach Mor

Topping out

Meanwhile, Lou and Steve were also enjoying the good weather, whilst climbing Curved Ridge to the summit of Buachaille Etive Mor. It seemed that it was windier in Glencoe than in and around Ben Nevis today, but they were on their way down before the winds really picked up. Tom was out again with Jan and Ariana. They too were in Glencoe, and had a productive and enjoyable day on Meall a’Bhuiridh. Lastly, Hannah was out with Chris and Andy on the Ballachulish Horseshoe.


Another fine day: Morwind, Aonach Mor

For Jess and Rich’s final day, they wanted to climb something challenging, and with the need to get away fairly swiftly for their drive back to Yorkshire, we made use of the gondola at Nevis Range, and made our way up to the East Face of Aonach Mor. It was completely still on the summit plateau, which boded well for the day ahead. Abseiling into the East Face, via the line of Morwind, gave us the opportunity to have a look at abseiling off a snow bollard and setting our personal multi-pitch abseils up with a cow’s tail and a means of back-up.

The initial chimney of Morwind, may well be graded for a greater accumulation of snow. Currently it’s quite a long and tricky step, and got both Jess and Rich thinking and having to work quite hard to unlock the sequence of moves required to escape it.  Both managed to find ways to rest whilst in the chimney, and managed to use traditional back-and-foot techniques to thrutch their way up. Jess and Rich enjoyed the remainder of the route, which doesn’t ease up until the upper snow slopes.

East Face Aonach Mor

South of Easy Gully today



Jess clearly enjoying herself

Conditions on the route were pretty good, with the turf well frozen and some useful ice. Again, a bit of consolidation would help the snow to no end, but all things considered, we can’t grumble at the prolonged dry and cold spell we’re currently enjoying.

Henry, Alun and Clive climbed Left Twin and reported it to be thin (particularly on the first pitch) but climbable. Another team were slowly making progress up Tinsel Town.

Clear views to Ben Nevis

Blustery Day: South Gully, Ben Nevis

Steve and I headed out early this morning up to Ben Nevis for a day of personal climbing.  The mountain was looking brilliant this morning, with clear views to the summit, so we headed up high to have a go at a mixed route that both of us have had on our radars for some time now.

Unfortunately, despite the crags looking white, it was clear from the first few moves that the rocks weren’t bonded well due to the lack of ice holding it all together, so rather than force our way up on wobbly hooks and blocks, we decided to change tact. Having heard that both Central Gullies had been climbed quite a bit recently, we thought that South Gully, a route that neither of us had done, might be worth investigating. However, on starting up the second pitch, which is quite tricky to see into from below, we found it to be rather lean, and required a bit more mixed climbing than snow/ice climbing as we had expected. Good to climb it, but I wouldn’t rush up there if I were you.

Winter conditions Ben Nevis

Clear on Ben Nevis this morning

Quite quiet on the mountain today, with only a few teams out, climbing Ledge Route, No. 3&4 Gullies, North Gully and Central Gully R/H. The winds picked up quite a bit as the morning progressed, forming noticeable wind slab in a number of sheltered areas. Temperatures are slowly rising this evening, which will help consolidate the snow and start binding the rock together when it cools back down.

South Gully Ben Nevis

The lean second pitch of South Gully

South Gully Ben Nevis

Me setting off on the final pitch of South Gully

South Gully Ben Nevis

Steve on the final slopes of South Gully

Meanwhile over on the East Face of Aonach Mor, it seems that with the face catching a bit more morning sunshine, the ice up there has formed much better in places than on Ben Nevis.  Hannah, Lena and Dave enjoyed a couple of unnamed ice routes at about grade III/IV, and reported good ice. Looks like we should have gone there instead!

East Face Aonach Mor

Dave enjoying good ice on Aonach Mor

Ice East Face Aonach Mor

Lena getting stuck into great ice on Aonach Mor

Another stunning day in the Highlands

It proved to be another stunning day in the Highlands, so long as you were prepared to head up to 800m.  Aonach Mor proved to be a great place to enjoy being above the inversion, particularly as the effort of getting above the clouds was lessened by the gondola.

Cloud inversion in the Highlands

The start of another great day in the Highlands!

Views towards Carn Mor Dearg and Ben Nevis

Views towards Carn Mor Dearg and Ben Nevis

Buttresses to the north of Easy Gully

Buttresses to the north of Easy Gully

Descending into Easy Gully, Aonach Mor

Descending into Easy Gully

Buttresses to the south of Easy Gully

Buttresses to the south of Easy Gully

Looking down Easy Gully

Looking down Easy Gully

Left Twin looking lean

Left Twin looking lean

The snow on the East Face had firmed up quite a bit with the clear skies overnight, giving good, stable conditions in Easy Gully. Many of the routes on the East Face (particularly those to the north of Easy Gully, that are a bit more exposed to the sun) have suffered with the lack of snow and mild temperatures, but Forgotten Twin was good enough to climb today.  Unfortunately, the thin section at about mid-height is probably no longer feasible after our ascent.

We bumped into Euan, who had soloed a couple of unnamed gullies to the south of Homo Buttress, but care definitely required in these lean conditions.

This weekend will see more of the same conditions, so overall little change.

As a side note, the current thaw has unearthed and loosened a pile of loose blocks at the top of No. 2 Gully on Ben Nevis.  The sun will be beating down on the surrounding snow this weekend, loosening the pile even further. It’s worth avoiding at the minute, as it could prove to be catastrophic.

Not as good as yesterday: Golden Oldie, Aonach Mor

Unfortunately, the cold weather of late has come to an end for the moment, taking away with it much of the recent snow, which didn’t have an opportunity to consolidate. I was out with Gam and Tom, and working for and alongside Scott (Kirkhope Mountaineering), who was with Gary and Angus. We all climbed the East Ridge of Stob Ban this time last year.

With rather limited options, we decided to go for Golden Oldie on the West Face of Aonach Mor, which was still clinging onto snow, although the route could probably could be climbed without crampons at the moment.  Regardless of conditions, Tom and Gam enjoyed the route, which lends itself well to swift and efficient climbing.

It’s going to be a bit damp as the new week starts, but drying up and cooling down as the week progresses, with next weekend looking promising.

Golden Oldie, Aonach Mor

Gam and Tom enjoying the route


Golden Oldie, Aonach Mor Mor

Scott with Angus and Gary

Better than expected: Aonach Mor

If the Met Office’s forecast had been anything to go by today, we would have been in for a wet one, and whilst it wasn’t exactly brilliant today, it was still much drier than expected.

With a rise in the temperature and extensive cloud cover, Gareth, Mike, Matt and I decided to head round to the eastern flanks of the Nid Ridge on Aonach Mor to have a more skills and techniques based day, which worked well, as we were sheltered from the westerly winds for much of the day, and probably stayed drier as a result. We kicked the day off by focusing on some movement, before finding a good blob of ice to look at placing ice screws, ice screw belays and building abalakov threads.

Stomper Belay

Stomper Belay

After a bite to eat, we then looked at a number of snow belays and anchors before heading down. We didn’t see another soul up there all day, but then again, we couldn’t really see much.

Descending off the Nid Ridge

Descending off the Nid Ridge

NC (Not Complete) Gully, Stob Coire Nan Lochan

First things first, Happy New Year to you all! I hope that you all enjoyed yourselves whatever you did. Fortunately not working on the 1st meant a nice night out with friends to see the New Year in.

No. 3 Gully Buttress, Ben Nevis

No. 3 Gully Buttress was climbed by a few teams.

I was back to work yesterday, and out with Darren and Jackie, who were looking to develop their winter mountaineering skills with a trip up Mont Blanc on the cards for later in the year. With a favourable forecast, we decided to head up to Coire na Ciste on Ben Nevis, where we focused on movement skills, before making an ascent of No. 3 Gully, which was in very friendly condition, with no cornice at the top. We then made our way over the plateau and down No. 4 Gully, which again lacked a cornice.

In No. 3 Gully, Ben Nevis

In No. 3 Gully

Good conditions in No. 3 Gully

Good conditions in No. 3 Gully

No. 3 Gully, Ben Nevis

At the top of No. 3 Gully

Steve was also out working for West Coast Mountain Guides. He was out with Kieran and Richard, they had a productive day on the other side of Tower Ridge, in Tower Gully.

Many folk out yesterday, but unfortunately it’s rather slim pickings at the moment with the lack of snow and ice. Teams on Tower Gully, Tower Ridge, Gardyloo Gully (reported to be about grade IV and requires ice screws at the moment), No. 2 Gully, No. 3 Gully Buttress, one team backed off a very lean Thompson’s Route, Hobgoblin and multiple teams in No 3 Gully.

Gardylook Gully, Ben Nevis

Gardyloo Gully looking sporting, and certainly NOT grade II (thanks to Andy Wyatt for the photo)

Today, I was out with Gareth, Mike and Matt for the start of their Winter Mountaineering Course. With a slightly less than ideal forecast, but with another thaw due for later in the week, we decided to go for something in Glencoe, as nothing there (apart from Board Gully) is likely to survive another thaw.  It turns out that we may already have been one or two days late, but after recapping on movement skills, and bringing some these movement drills and skills to their conscientiousness, rather than doing things without realising, we made for NC Gully, where the effects of the thaw are making themselves known. The lads led where suitable, but I took over for the more exposed rocky steps.  We finished off by descending Broad Gully, which is complete. Some more unsettled weather next week, which fingers crossed, brings with it some well needed snow.

Glencoe Conditions

A rather black Stob Coire nan Lochan


White ptarmigan looking rather out of place.

NC Gully, Glencoe

Matt nearer the top of NC Gully

NC Gully, Glencoe

Mike and Gareth near the top of NC Gully

Scott was out with Darren and Jackie, they enjoyed a productive day covering further winter mountaineering skills around the Nid area of Aonach Mor. Good luck with Mont Blanc you two!

No shortage of snow! Golden Oldie, Aonach Mor

Please excuse the lack of blogs recently.  Hannah and I were away ski touring in the Ortler Alps, in Italy for a good chunk of this month, so will blog about it when I get the chance.  Generally great conditions, although the weather did deteriorate as the trip progressed.  Still, it was very nice to get plenty of skiing and summits under the belt.

I’m sure that most of you are well aware that winter is not just holding on with the very tips of its fingers, but has its hand firmly clenched around The Highlands, including coastal regions and islands, at the moment.  We’ve had a number of snow showers recently, down to sea level at times.

Today, Simon, Peter and I made the most of the current conditions, and made an ascent of Golden Oldie on the West Face of Aonach Mor. Both Simon and Peter have ambitions to scale higher peaks in the Alps and The Greater Ranges later on this year, and felt that squeezing in a trip up to Scotland would be useful preparation, not to mention fun in its own right.  They both cruised their way up, whilst paying attention to belays and ropework along the way, all of which will prove useful for their future trips.

The recent easterly winds have deposited quite a bit of snow on the Summit Ribs, ensuring good cover throughout.  The turf, particularly where exposed was nicely frozen too.  The gullies running parallel to Golden Oldie are quite laden with snow, and would give great ski descents at the moment, it’s just a shame that the lifts beyond the gondola aren’t running.  The summit plateau of Aonach Mor currently has much more snow on it than it did for all of winter, with the summit cairn only just visible at the moment.  Not another soul beyond the Snowgoose restaurant at the top station.

Looks like quite a bit more snow up high in the pipeline…

Today I was working for Atlas Mountaineering.

Great day on North Buttress, Buachaille Etive Mor

Well, the weekends seem to be coming up trumps when it comes to weather and conditions recently!  It’s been yet another clear and cold day, although it did start off a bit windier than expected.

I was out with Wes and Gary, who had come up for the regular fix of winter climbing, and I think that today hit the spot.  They’re both keen to stretch themselves and get stuck into some (all?) of the classic winter climbs in the area, and so we decided to head to Glencoe, to climb the brilliant North Buttress, which starts low down on Buachaille Etive Mor, and keeps going until pretty much at the summit.

Conditions on the route were probably the best I’ve encountered, with solid, useful neve and ice all the way.  The technical sections of the route can be climbed in three pitches, but there is still plenty of interest on the approach and exit.  It’s a journey of great value!

We topped out to clear views of the surrounding hills and bumped into a number of teams that had enjoyed themselves in Crowberry Gully.  The descent down Coire na Tulaich was also in great condition.  Some tracks on Naismith’s Route too.

Back in the Fort William area, Julie and Rich were running a winter skills course for Nottingham Trent University Mountaineering Club.  They also enjoyed themselves, on Aonach Mor, getting to grips with core winter skills that they will then put into context tomorrow by perfecting those newly learnt skills on a classic hill day.  It’s great to be able to help folk on their respective pathways to becoming independent and confident mountaineers.

Mark and I will be heading up to the CIC Hut tomorrow for the first of two five day long courses based from the hut this month.  Conditions are looking good, and the weather looks to hold through most of the coming week.