Winter returns! Dorsal Arete & Pincer

Finally, it’s what we’ve all been waiting for, snow! And a reasonable amount of it at that.  As we drove through to Glencoe this morning, it was actually a little disappointing to only see the lightest of dustings on the Pap of Glencoe, but as the morning progressed, the snow continued to accumulate and by the time we got up to Coire nan Lochan this morning, it felt like winter had properly returned.

Winter Conditions Glencoe

A welcome sight this morning in Glencoe

I was out, working for Hebridean Pursuits, with Ruth and Rob, who were part of a large contingent from the University of Manchester Mountaineering Club. They had both rock climbed quite a bit in the past, and were keen to transfer those skills to Scottish winter climbing. On gaining the corrie floor, we decided that the turf would be frozen enough to warrant an ascent of Dorsal Arete, which after the cold, clear days of late, it was. The climbing still required a bit of care as some of the blocks were still a bit loose. Ruth and Rob did a great job of leading themselves up the route, with me climbing alongside, coaching en route. We topped out into fairly fresh winds, which were transporting the snow and causing rime to build on the rocks. It all felt rather wintry, which was reassuring!

Winter Climbing Course

Rob enjoying the route

Winter Climbing Course

Ruth belaying

Winter Climbing Course

Rob on the final pitch

Plenty of teams in Broad Gully. The fresh snow has covered any patches that have survived, so expect hidden patches of icy snow lurking beneath the fresh, particularly in gullies and east facing slopes.

Winter Climbing Conditions Glencoe

Rob and Ruth at the top of the route

Hannah and Mark had an adventure on Ben Nevis today, where they climbed Pincer, which is mentioned as a good early season route in Chasing the Ephemeral. They said that finding the start was a bit tricky, but once on it, by following your nose, it was fairly straight forward route finding, and that conditions were quite good. Quite a few teams on Creag Coire na Ciste and Trident Buttresses, as well as rocky, mixed routes on the East Face of Aonach Mor.  All things considered, it’s shaping up to be a pretty good weekend for winter climbing.

Lost the Place, Ben Nevis & East Ridge, Stob Ban

We’ve had a few brilliant days recently, and we’ve been out making the most of it.  Yesterday, Hannah was out on a personal climbing day with Mark. They decided to head up to Coire na Ciste and climb the neglected gem that is Lost the Place, a mixed route high on Creag Coire na Ciste. The route doesn’t really see the attention it deserves, particularly as it’s probably one of the best mixed routes of it’s grade (V,5) in the region.  The final chimney wasn’t particularly iced up, but they climbed it reporting it probably a grade harder than normal.

Heading up to Lost the Place, Ben Nevis

Heading up to Coire na Ciste

Han on Lost the Place, Ben Nevis

Han enjoying herself

Final Chimney, Lost the Place

Mark on the final chimney

Meanwhile, Steve, Rich and I had a bit of an exploratory day in Glencoe. We spent a bit of time looking at options on Far East Buttress, before making our way up to Stob Coire nan Lochan. By the time we had reached the crags, geared up and I had led the first pitch of East Face Route, time was slipping away, and coupled with not quite perfectly frozen turf, we decided to ab off.  Nice to get a steep pitch of mixed climbing in though.

Pitch 1, East Face, Stob Coire nan Lochan

Me heading off up pitch 1 of East Face

First pitch of East Face Route, Glencoe

Steve looking up at Rich climbing the first pitch

Today was another fine day, and I was back to work, this time with Colin and his son Alistair, working for my good friend Kirkhope Mountaineering. They had attempted the East Ridge of the North Buttress of Stob Ban last year, but were defeated when Alistair developed blisters on the walk-in. This time, armed with new boots, there was nothing to hold us back.  Having climbed the route a couple of days ago, little had changed, although there was a little less snow on the rocks higher up. Both Colin and Alistair rose up the the numerous challenges along the ridge, and we topped out in sunshine, with expansive views across the West Highlands.  A great day to be out!

East Ridge of the North Buttress of Stob Ban catching the sun

The East Ridge catching the morning sun

Great situations on the East Ridge

Great situations on the route

Crux of the East Ridge of the North Top of Stob Ban

Alistair and Colin on the crux

Brilliant day in the Scottish Highlands

Brilliant views to the north west

Alpine conditions on the East Ridge of the North Top of Stob Ban

Alpine conditions on the East Ridge

Final fin of the East Ridge of Stob Ban

The final fin of rock on the East Ridge

Descending the North Ridge of Stob Ban

Father and son

East Ridge of the North Buttress, Stob Ban

After sitting out a rather stormy day yesterday (amazingly a hardy team of visiting Swiss climbers managed to climb Green Gully, but reported that the ice wasn’t good for ice screws), I was back out with Joe and Kirsty for another day of coached lead climbing.  Despite the promise of snow yesterday, with the strong winds, much of it dissipated back up into the atmosphere, so the real saving grace was some overnight fresh snow, which fell down to sea level.

East Ridge Stob Ban

Stob Ban this morning

We decided to head up Glen Nevis, and make our way up to the East Ridge of the North Buttress of Stob Ban, a great, and often neglected grade II/III mountaineering route, with plenty of varied climbing and situations.  I was happy for Joe to lead the whole route, with Kirtsy following, so that’s exactly what we did.  This was the first time for either of them to climb mixed terrain, but with both of them having a solid back ground in rock climbing, they took to it like ducks to water and were soon hooking, torquing and bridging up the corners and grooves.

Kirsty on East Ridge, Stob Ban

Kirsty seconding

Couple winter climbing on the East Ridge of the North Buttress of Stob Ban

Happy couple enjoying the winter conditions

Joe enjoying the East Ridge of the North Buttress of Stob Ban

Joe also enjoying the situations

On finishing the route, after the final knife edge ridge, we made our way back down the North Ridge of Stob Ban. We saw a couple of hillwalkers, but asides from that, it was a quiet day. We were nicely sheltered from the westerly winds today.

Final ridge of the East Ridge of the North Buttress of Stob Ban

Kirtsy negotiating the final ridge

Kenny was also out, with returning client John. They climbed Scabbard Chimney on Stob Coire na Lochan, and reported good conditions for mixed climbing up there. Winter’s back!

Brilliant day on The Overseer Direct, Cairngorms

With the forecast for the weekend not looking quite as favourable as the past week or so, Steve, Dave and I decided to make the most of the current cold and calm weather, and headed over to Coire an Lochain in the Northern Coires of the Cairngorms with an open mind.

on our way to climb the Overseer Direct, Cairngorms

A fine morning in the Cairngorms

The Overseer Diret and surrounding routes

A wintry Coire an Lochain


Conditions on the west have been good, but with more snow, patches of less frozen turf and bonded rocks, we thought that a change of scenery would be worthwhile, so made our way into Coire an Lochain, home to a number of steep (and less steep) mixed routes.  It was clear on the approach to the coire that no one had been in for a couple of days, and with that, many of the routes clearly hadn’t been cleared of rime and ice, so we picked The Overseer Direct, which looked less chocked up with ice and so more amenable than Deep Throat and some of the other surrounding routes for arranging protection.

Steve on pitch one of the Overseer Direct

Steve on pitch one of the Overseer Direct

The route takes in a couple of steep corners, which Steve cruised up (clearly the indoor dry tooling has paid off), before I jumped on the sharp end and climbed a slabby groove, before tackling an awkward pull onto a good ledge and a steep corner with good hooks to finish with.  Great fun!

Me on pitch two of the Overseer Direct

Me on pitch two of the Overseer Direct

Steve topping out of The Overseer Direct

Steve topping out of The Overseer Direct

Dave just after the steep final corner of The Overseer Direct

Dave just after the steep final corner

It was another stunning day in the Highlands, with views as far as the eye could see, I could get used to this.  Plenty of other folk out making the most of the conditions, with teams on a number on routes in Coire an t’Sneachda including Fiacaill Ridge, Invernookie, Fiaciall Buttress, Stirling Bomber, Finger’s Ridge, Fluted Buttress Direct, Broken Gully and The Haston Line.  Plenty of other folk out skiing, snowshoeing and generally enjoying these brilliant winter conditions.

Stunning afternoon views

Stunning afternoon views

We have a couple of thaw/freeze cycles coming up in the next week, with it cooling down again considerably towards the back end of next week, so it’s looking very promising for this early in the season.

A great day out!

A great day out!

More snow covered rock: SW Ridge of the Douglas Boulder

Chris and I decided to continue the theme of climbing snow covered rock by making an ascent of the SW Ridge of the Douglas Boulder on Ben Nevis today.  After yesterday’s ploughing up to No. 3 Gully Buttress, our legs appreciated the shorter approach and the tracks of the team in front of us.  We gained the route at the entrance to West Gully, by traversing across an awkward ledge which is easier later in the season when the floor of West Gully is a bit higher.

The route was as expected, snow covered rocks, some of which were frozen in place, some of which weren’t, but overall, the climb was in great early season condition, which in this case means covered in lots of soft snow.  Chris took well to the steeper and slightly more  sustained climbing found on the ridge compared with No. 3 Gully Buttress yesterday.


From the summit of the Douglas Boulder, we abseiled into a soft snow filled East Gully, and waded our way down it.  It’s all very safe in the gully at the moment, and where deep enough, enjoyable and easy on the knees.

Despite a favourable forecast, the north face was relatively quiet, with a couple of teams up by No. 3 Gully Buttress area, one team on Route I and a team ahead of us.  Interestingly, the freezing level did rise quite a bit this afternoon, and was accompanied by moderate precipitation, which I don’t think many forecasts had predicted, however, I doubt that it will change anything above 600m.  It’s still looking very promising for this coming week, with a continuation of cold and calm conditions.

Hannah was also out today with Emily, Chris’ partner.  They enjoyed a winter hill day on Buachaille Etive Beag in Glencoe and even managed to find a patch of firmer snow on which to practise using crampons.

New website & Winter 2016/17 is underway!

We are pleased to announce that we’ve got a new website, which we’ve been working on over the past couple of weeks, and we’re really pleased with, but please have a look and let us know what you think.

Now, back to the mountains.  We’ve had quite a warm spell over last weekend, which ended rather abruptly, with quite a bit of fresh snow on Wednesday and Thursday.  Today was cold and calm, a pattern which looks to stay with us for the next 6 days or so, which for this time of year, is hugely promising.

I was back to work today, and was able to enjoy these cold and calm conditions with Chris, who arrived with plenty of rock climbing under his belt, but had yet to climb a winter route, so today was about rectifying that! Conditions are quite typical of this time of year, with plenty of soft snow, sitting on rocks, with little consolidation, so, inspired by Simon Richardson’s new book, Chasing the Ephemeral, we decided to go for the classic grade III on Ben Nevis, No. 3 Gully Buttress, which is recommended as an early season climb.  Having only climbed it later in the season, I was interested to see how it would be with next to no ice, and it turned out to be great fun, if a little trickier than the grade suggests.

Getting to the route was the toughest part of the day, as we waded through the soft snow and yet to be buried boulders, but we made it in reasonable time, and there’s now a track up that way for the weekend!

It was great to back out winter climbing again, and although a bit of consolidation wouldn’t go amiss, neither of us could complain with such stunning weather, views and enjoyable climbing.  Chris relished the challenges of awkward rocky steps, steep snow slopes, thrutching up chimneys and journeying through some pretty impressive scenery.  Not a bad first Scottish winter route!

Needless to say, very few other folk out today.  We met one team heading up towards Carn Mor Dearg, Scott was out working on Ledge Route and the CMD Arete (he owes me a beer for the track we put in), and numerous folk from the Forces, based in Ballachulish, were making a mass ascent of Castle Ridge.

With these wintry conditions set to continue for the next wee while, other routes worth considering at the moment include North Buttress on Buachaille Etive Mor and other snowed up rocky routes and mountaineering ridges (Aonach Eagach, Sron na Larig, Curved Ridge, Ledge Route).  Harder routes high on Ben Nevis, such as Slab Climb and those on No. 3 Gully Buttress may also be good sport. The turf is frozen in places and there are dribbles of ice about, but care is still required, as all this snow has insulated what’s underneath.

What a great start to winter 2016/17!

Great conditions on Tower Ridge, Ben Nevis

Today, Simon and I were treated to some great views of the north face of Ben Nevis this morning on our walk in, with views all the way to the summit.  Unfortunately, the views didn’t hang around all day, but the deteriorating weather did enable Simon to have a taste of more traditional Scottish conditions, for every time he had been up in the past, he had enjoyed good weather.  Lucky chap!

Simon had booked a second day on a 1:1 basis, so that he could push himself, and have a crack at Tower Ridge, one of the finest winter ridge climbs in the UK, so that’s exactly where we headed to.  On our approach, we could see teams on Minus 2 Gully, Orion Face Direct, Orion Directissima, Point 5 Gully and Match Point.  One team also possibly headed round to Zero Gully.

Tower Ridge is as snowy as it has been all winter, and much of that snow has consolidated into firm snow/ice, allowing for solid first time axe placements for much of the ridge. The weather closed in as we made steady progress, obscuring any views, but I did catch a brief glimpse of a team topping out of Tower Scoop.

We topped out into almost white-out conditions, with fresh snow falling, but as we made our way to the summit, the weather did clear just momentarily.  Plenty of wind-blown snow made for a nice descent of the Red Burn, well most the way, the lower reaches are quite bare now.  I was working for Atlas Mountaineering.

I’m off to Skye tomorrow to deliver some ‘summer’ mountaineering this coming week, I wonder if all the snow will have melted by then…

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.

Pays to start later! SW Ridge of the Douglas Boulder

The day started with the rain lashing against the windows, and a thick blanket of cloud lying just a few metres above sea level, however, with a forecast suggesting a huge improvement from about 9ish, Andy, Hazel and I had a leisurely start, which was just as well, as they were therefore able to enjoy their cooked breakfast at the Lime Tree this morning.  By the time we were walking into Ben Nevis, the clouds had already lifted, revealing a very white mountain.

Plan A was the SW Ridge of the Douglas Boulder, which looked nice and white.  There was thin layer of windslab on the approach, but easily penetrable, down to the much older snow beneath.  The ridge was covered in fresh snow, so despite the lack of firm névé, was still very wintry. A bit of care was required with the odd loose block, but generally the climb relies on sinker hooks, and so didn’t require moves using loose blocks to make progress.

Andy and Hazel have mainly climbed ice when out in winter, so had to adapt some of their experiences to make the most of the cracks and tiny ledges for feet, as well as making the odd move with hands rather than axes.

It was eerily quiet on Ben Nevis today, with one team who headed round to NE Buttress, a set of tracks to and from the base of Hadrian’s Wall, one team who headed up to The Cascade and a couple of teams looking at skills in Coire na Ciste.  With the freezing level remaining at 800m or so for the next wee while, the snow will continue to consolidate, and should give good climbing conditions this week… Winter continues!

Another stunning day: Dorsal Arete, Glencoe

It’s been another stunning day in the Outdoor Capital of the UK, with wall to wall sunshine, firm snow and amazing, it was quite quiet on the hills today.

I was back out with Kevin and John, for their final day of coached leading, and we went to Stob Coire nan Lochan to climb Dorsal Arete, which I had heard was still in good nick.  It was.

We were the first of only a few teams in the corrie, and therefore had Dorsal Arete mostly to ourselves, the only others to climb the crest were Si and Becky (also part of Team Lowe Alpine), who soloed past with skis on their back, on their way to find a nice descent off Bidean.  What a great day for it!

The snow had once again firmed up overnight, and remained firm where in the shade, giving secure climbing all the way.  With the crux fin just in the sunshine, it would have been a shame to miss it out on such a day, so we took that in too, adding in some variety to an already great route.

It’s been a productive couple of days for Kevin and John, who have really got to grips with pitched climbing.  We’ve been able to look at a variety of belays and runner placements, they’ve now got a good understanding now of ropework and knots, and we’ve climbed two brilliant routes.

Very little in condition on Stob Coire nan Lochan now, Boomerang Gully looked ok, Langsam might be climbable, Forked, Broad and North Gullies are all complete.