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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Eugster Couloir Direct, Aiguille du Midi, Chamonix

There can’t be many better ways to prepare for the forthcoming winter climbing season in Scotland than climbing the Eugster Couloir Direct on the 1000m north face of the Aiguille du Midi, so that’s what Alex and I set out to do last week, but our first attempt was far from successful.

With a reasonable forecast, Alex and I spent the night at the Aigulle du Plan, ‘enjoying’ a cold bivi, but with plenty of fresh snow lying on the ground, thought it would be best to scope out our approach that evening, for the following morning, so having stumbled our way through powder covered boulders to a point where we could see the obvious, or so we thought, snow cone beneath the Eugster Couloir and it’s direct variant, we got our heads down for a few hours of sleep. At 2:30am, we ‘woke up’ and retraced our tracks to what we thought was the snow cone we were after. Wrong! A few hundred meters of wading up a snow slope and two tricky pitches later, we realised that in the darkness we had in fact headed uphill too soon, and that our intended route was round the next spur of rock, and without a guidebook to help identify a suitable way up, we bailed, although not without interest, as we had opted to take a single 60m rope, halving our abseil potential to 30m at a time. Fortunately, three short abseils found us on easier snow slopes which we could descend with ease. Unfortunately, our efforts had already taken a fair few hours, meaning the only option was to head back down to Chamonix.

Three days later, we found ourselves, with 2x60m half ropes this time, back at the Aiguille du Plan, and biviing once again, but happy with where we should have gone, we chose not to check our approach again. Also, by this point, we had been back and forth along the approach a number of times, and had put in a fairly obvious track, not to mention we were quite tired of it. Alex made the call to start even earlier, so at 1:30am, we got ourselves ready, and trudged off. This time, we found our ‘obvious’ snow cone, and made our way up steep snow slopes to the base of a tricky and not overly inspiring steep step, featuring thin, un attached ice and no gear. I took the lead, and was quite grateful to reach the gully above, which continued with ceaselessness, but on easy ground.

After what felt like hours, we finally reached the bottom of the steeper pitches of the direct variant, the first of which was a steady grade 4 ice pitch. Alex then jumped onto the sharp end, and manged to string one and a half pitches together before a shorter, bold pitch, brought me to beneath a huge jammed block. The final exit from the narrow gully was what seemed to be a rather thin and steep mixed corner, which surprisingly Alex managed to squeeze into a long pitch from the jammed boulder. It was thin and steep, but well protected, and had just enough ice for axe placements. This brought us out onto snow slopes directly beneath the Aiguille du Midi lift station, which looked tantalisingly close… 2 hours of calf burning, variable steep snow later, we finally, with much relief, dropped into the entrance tunnel of the Aiguille du Midi lift station, in time for the final bin down of the day. Eugster Couloir Direct is given an alpine grade of IV,5 and probably equivalent to solid Scottish grade V (although the crux was probably closer to grade VI/VII), with plenty of grade II ground before and after the main pitches. It covers a total of 1500m from the Aiguille du Plan to the Aigulle du Midi, which is/was calf explodingly long.

Rest day today!

Sun setting at our bivi at the Aiguille du Plan  Looking up at the North Face of the Aiguille du Midi

Pitch 2 of the Eugster Couloir Direct Endless snow slopes up tot he Aiguille du Midi lift

The final move into the tunnel, Aiguille du Midi