Scottish Winter 2007/08 Climbing and Mountaineering Reports

Scottish Winter Courses

31/12/07 - Merry Hogmenay and Bonne Annee

It's been an eventful start to this winter season as the reports below demonstrate. Fingers crossed for more good conditions in 2008. A very happy new year, on and off the hill, to all the visitors to this site.

I'm off to the Pyrenees to bring in the New Year with a few turns on the skis and a bit of Cascade ice. If you need to contact me regarding a course booking you can call me on 0791 777 3995. All the best, Rob.

 
Stob Coire Nan Lochain 30/12/07

30/12/07 "Ordinary Route", Glen Coe; "The Secret" is repeated & Another fine new route on Ben Nevis....

A bright moon illuminated the fresh snow on Stob Coire Nan Lochain this morning. Steve and I climbed this excellent mountaineering route up the crest of the Central Buttress, see photo below. The lower section would benefit from a bit more snow and a bit more freeze to keep the odd loose block in check! Over on the other side of the Coire Mike Pescod and client were enjoying good turfy mixed climbing on the 'Dorsalgrat'.

But the big news this winters night in Lochaber is a rapid second ascent of "The Secret" has been made (Turner, Ashworth and Scott's recent X,10). Ian Parnell, Guy Robertson and Mark Garthwaite climbed the route earlier today. No doubt more information will soon be forthcoming on the information super highway of the WWW.

Blair Fyffe and Kenny Grant also put up a good new route on the Ben today. Based around the summer HVS 'Chinook' high on 3-Gully Buttress, their new winter line avoids the main 5a pitch by taking a fine icy groove further right. Excellent climbing at a relatively amenable VI,6.

Nearing the end of pitch 2, Stob Coire Nan Lochain 30/12/07
Ordinary Route, Stob Coire Nan Lochain,  fine mixed climbing in Glen Coe  30/12/07
Charlie approaching Stob Coire An Laoigh, Grey Corries, Lochaber.  The line of Loopy Louie is marked in red.

29/12/07 Stob Coire An Laoigh

Charlie and I made the extra effort to get off the beaten track today and headed up to this fine crag situated at 1000m in the Grey Corries, Lochaber. Fresh overnight snow and a freezing level around 650m gave a good wintery feel to the day.

Charlie is a pretty good rock climber who was keen to develop his more technical mixed climbing skills. He's got an eye for a line too and picked Andy Nisbet and Dave Mcgimpsey's 1*, IV,5 "Loopy Louie" as the itinerary for the day.

The upper section of Loopy Louie

Only done in February 2002 this fine route shows what potential there still is for good new routes in the Highlands.

We didn't quite finish the route due to the drive-in, walk-in and climb-in (hard first pitch!) all taking longer than expected but enjoyed the technical obstacles the steep quartzite tiers keep throwing at you.

 

Charlie on the first belay of 'Loopy Louie'.

There was upto 30cm of fresh windslab at the base of the crag and a soft fresh covering on the ledges throughout the route.

28/12/07 Snowy but damp in the Northern Cairngorms

It was pouring with rain and 4C in Fort William this morning and it rained all the way on the drive over to the Cairngorms. However at Coire Cas Car Park we met the isotherm (0C) and, pleasantly, the heavens closed and the clouds parted - we could see snow plastered crags! Unfortunately the freezing level followed us into the corries and by the time we were established on the Mess of Pottage the steeper routes were rapidly being stripped of snow.

Coire an Lochain 28/12/07 (0900 - looked different by 1500!)

Loch Morlich and The Monadh Liath from the Northern Cairngorms

We managed to avoid any 'wet tooling' however by following the excellent left, then right, trending ramp and series of snowy ledges that is 'The Hybrid'. The snow was soggy but the turf was frozen and firm and we enjoyed the short well protected, technical little walls this fine route keep throwing at you. We climbed the route in 7 (short!) pitches. The freezing level is dropping considerably tomorrow and with more overnight snow we look set fair for a good wintery weekend - See you out there!
Lower Falls, Poll Dubh, Glen Nevis 27/12/07

27/12/07 Great Conditions in Lochaber...For Kayaking!

But the Highlands go back 2 white 4 the weekend...

The last couple of days here on the West Coast have been pretty wet and wild. I was woken at 5am this morning by a wheely bin being blown down the street! The Isotherm has also crept up the hill and risen above the summits during the day. However the overnight showers have given a fresh dusting of snow above 900m and the Isotherm is definitely coming back down the hill as we head for the weekend.

Any good winter requires a stormy period with precipitation falling as snow high up and getting blown into pack out the gullies and plaster the faces. We have our first category 3 avalanche risk of the season here in Lochaber tomorrow and the fresh snow on the way will serve as a useful building block for the rest of the season. It's a category 3 in the N. Cairngorms also tomorrow on the basis of fresh overnight snow and strong SW winds. I'll be heading over there tomorrow for some snowy buttress climbing and dust the christmas cobwebs off the axes!

27/12/07 - Thanks to Rich Bentley of Mountain Motion for these photos from Ben Nevis today. Hover over the image with your mouse cursor for a caption.

From Green Gully to 3 Gully - Ben Nevis Ice Climbing conditions 27/12/07
Start of 3 Gully Buttress, Ben Nevis 27/12/07
Ice Climbing Conditions in the Cascade area of Ben Nevis 27/ 12/07

So there you go - fairly good icy conditions on 3-Gully Buttress and a decent descent of No. 4 Gully....just shows what you can get done if you get out there - even on the wet days!

25/12/07 - Joyeux Noël from the Nevis North Face....

Blair and I walked in to the North Face of Ben Nevis today to assess snow conditions for the Scottish Avalanche Information Service (SAIS), Lochaber section. There was a small layer of fresh snow on top of the old firm base producing a moderate and very localised avalanche hazard - check out the detailed forecast here.
Blair Fyffe walking into the north face of Ben Nevis
Ice building in Point Five Gully, Ben Nevis
Snow profile analysis on Ben Nevis

Conditions were cooler and icier than expected, especially on the roads early this morning! Point Five Gully again had some ice in it with much of the upper section of the route looking climbable. We had a brew in the CIC hut on the way down and, more festively, erected our inflatable christmas tree. This took rather more 'puff' than expected leaving us glad the hut was at 600, not 6000m! We then gave a live interview to local radio station 'Nevis FM' and were thus broadcasting out to literally tens, if not dozens, of listeners!

A brew and some festive cheer in the CIC hut beneath the North Face of Ben Nevis
Live radio broadcast from the CIC hut!

Merry Christmas to all the visitors to this site - may all your winter views be bright!

 

24/12/07 - White Christmas Across the Hills of the West Highlands...

Fresh snow on the tops of Aonach Mor, Ben Nevis and Carn Mor Dearg, Christmas Eve 2007

Cool and showery weather here in Fort William has left a covering of light and fresh snow down to 700m across the Aonachs, Mamores, Glen Coe and Ben Nevis. Strong westerly winds during the night will have deposited some fresh snow onto sheltered (mainly Easterly) aspects above about 900m. Christmas Day promises a bright start here in Lochaber with snow spreading in from the west above 900m. Sun AND snow - neh bad! Now all we want for christmas is a few big dumps of snow followed by a hard and sustained freeze - Come on Santa....work some winter magic!

23/12/07 - Low Level Ice, High Level Wind in Lochaber

Aoanch Beag West Face 23/12/07

The recent pattern of frosty Glens and milder tops due to the Inversions has been broken. The legacy of this long cold snap lives on however in well frozen turf and lots of low level ice in the Glens. Jenny and I encountered an ice smothered road this morning attempting to get into the Mamores above Spean Bridge. The 15km round trip on foot deterred us, a shame as the fine mixed crag at Stob Coire an Laoigh looked in good condition. Over at Aonach Mor the Gondola wasn't running due to strong winds and later on in the Mamores we nearly got blown over just trying to get to the bottom of the route. Difficult mountain conditions but at least we now have some more snow on the way - check out the MWIS forecast here.

 

19/12/07 - Crotched Gully, Coire an-t-Sneachda, Cairngorms

Winter Climbing in Crotched Gully, Cairngorms

After yesterdays training, team family Hansen and I enjoyed perfect stiff neve snow in Crotched Gully. We climbed this lean grade I/II in 5 pitches and great conditions. After topping out on the plateau we walked over to the summit of Cairngorm, sun setting in the West, moon rising in the East and yet more utterly stunning views of the Highlands - we could get used to this weather up here!

Winter Mountaineering at Sunset on the Cairngorm Plateau

Whilst the valley forests are cloaked in fairytaleesque frost, the buttresses are still black as the ace of spades. However when the next snow falls it will be onto dry rock, good neve and bomber turf - potentially excellent mixed climbing condtions.

18/12/07 - No.3 & 4 Gully's and Ice building on Ben Nevis

Continuing cold nights, inversions and immaculate visibility are giving seriously pleasant conditions on the hills throughout the Highlands.

The Curtain 18/12/07, Ben Nevis

The Cascade 18/12/07, Ben Nevis

Geoff, Rich, Phil and I did some mountaineering movement skills training in Coire na Ciste then enjoyed an ascent of No. 3 Gully. Before descending No. 4 we enjoyied more perfect summit views.

Ice is building across the crags of Ben Nevis - The CIC cascades had noticeably more ice on them at the end of the day than the start, although they are still too thin to climb. As pictured both the Curtain and Cascade were building ice and a team was setting off up No.3 Gully Buttress which looked in good lean, sporting condition.

No. 3 Gully, Ben NEvis

Good effort and Bon Courage to Emma and Jonathon who were setting off up to do Tower Ridge as we returned to the car park well after dark. They certainly had a perfect night for it!

17/12/07 - Into the Heart of the Cairngorms - Ben Macdui 1309m

Another really frosty and cold (-5C) day in the Glens gave another perfect clear day throughout the Highlands. As predicted by the forecast, visibility and air clarity was exceptional and from the summit of Ben Macdui (2nd highest peak in the UK) we could see most of the Scottish Highlands, a simply stunning view.

The Eastern Corries of Breariach and the West Highlands beyond - Lochaber, Skye, Torridon, the lot!

In Coire an-t-Sneachda there were many teams enjoying the firm snow and even some ice in the easier Gully lines such as The Runnel, Central, Crotched, Red and Goat Track Gullies. Snow cover on the plateau was surprisingly good and our team walked from the top of The Goat Track to the summit of Macdui almost entirely on 'stomper' neve and this would currently be a good journey on skis.

The Eastern corries of Breariach probably have as good snow cover as anywhere in the Highlands. Further South in the Cairngorms at Lochnager trainee IFMGA Guide and all round war hero Phil Ashby reported that Douglas Gibson Gully (grade V) was in good condition, but not much else was.

Traversing Coire Domhain en route to Ben Macdui

I was working with Rich Bentley and his company Mountain Motion today - Rich is running some ice climbing courses this january on the mega cascades of Norway.

16/12/07 - Dry, bright, cold and crisp in The Cairngorms

Cairn Toul, Angels Peak and Breareaich from the summit of Cairngorm

Mountaineering skills training in the Cairngorms

It was great so see lots of teams out enjoying the bright weather and fine conditions for winter mountaineering in the Cairngorms today. Temperatures were colder than forecast both in the East and West and down to a very frosty -4C in Spean Bridge. This has left the remaining lean snow pack bullet hard and superb for cramponing. Great training conditions for us, working for Mountain Motion with a lively large Bristol Uni group. After some movement skills training on the Coire Cas headwall we cramponed up to enjoy a chilly but fine sunset on the summit of Cairngorm.

Plenty of teams were out enjoying fine conditions on the easier gullies and buttresses in the Corries. Teams reported good stiff snow on Central Gully and bomber neve and Turf on Euan Buttress in Coire an Lochain.

Schlapping up the new Ben Nevis path from Torlundy North Face Car Park

14/12/07 - An early winter Ski on Ben Nevis....

And Snow profiles from Observatory Gully....

In a former life, only a couple of winters ago actually, I could slip my skis on in the patio of my little alpine apartment and slide down to the largest ski lift in the world - offering a 2000m descent for a 40m ski downhill. Things felt a little different this morning as I strapped my Fat K2 skis to my pack and hoofed up a 1000m to find the snow high on Ben Nevis. This journey is now much improved though with the completion of an excellent new Forestry Commission path linking the North Face and Dam car parks.

The snow line in Observatory Gully started at 910m from from where I could skin up checking out various bits of ice that had formed. Point Five was complete with thin and thawing ice - I suspect an enterprising and cool headed team could have climbed it a few days ago. Tower Scoop and Smiths were similarly continuous with very thin and slightly thawing ice. Gardyloo and Tower Gully looked to be complete with good stiff snow.

Point Five Gully, Ben Nevis 14/12/07
Tower Scoop, Smith's Route and the left wall of Gradyloo Gully, Ben Nevis

So whilst the buttresses are now totally black and much snow has been stripped back from the gullies there is still good winter mountaineering to be had. I skied down from 1150m in Observatory Gully and got some good turns in on stiff, then soft snow.

I dug a large snow pit at the narrows between Tower Scoop and Indicator Wall which showed a good

Melt Freeze crystals at 1150m in Observatory Gully, Ben Nevis

depth of snow consisting of melt-freeze crystals varying from 0.5 - 1.5mm in diameter. The temperature in the snowpack was generally -0.5C, the snow surface temperature was 0C and the air temperature was 0.5C. As the weather has been mild, but not warm, with a freeze at night and no fresh snow the snowpack is fairly stable and I couldn't get an isolated block on a 35 degree slope at 1150m to shear at all.

The SAIS Lochaber section start their forecasting season today so be sure to tune in to sais.gov.uk and check the forecast before heading out on to the hill.

Snow Profile Analysis notes
Snow Profile Analysis notes

13/12/07 - Your Secret starter for 10 and dry but mild in the Highlands....

I've received a lot of emails over the last few days about Andy Turner's impressive lead of 'The Secret' on Ben Nevis. Most were expressing enthusiasm, inspiration and congratulations in equal measures. Quite a few folk were puzzled, even frustrated, as to why we hadn't published a grade for the route as part of the 'News Flash'. Some even suggested it could be considered egotistical to not give at least an opinion of the grade. In reality the lads had just got off the hill after climbing the hardest winter route to have a ground-up, onsight ascent. They were buzzing and of course, like everyone else, had no experience of on-sighting at this level! Steve and Viv both indicated though, having seconded the pitch, that it was likely to be harder than Dave Mcleod's IX, 9 in the Southern Highlands. So it's taken a day or so for the guys to suggest the grade should be X,10.....Gulp!

Back down to earth here in the Highlands it's been a dry and slightly mild day. Much of the buttresses will have been stripped of frost but the gullies, which had a decent early season build-up will still have a good covering. So some of the classic easier winter lines could be in good condition after an overnight frost high on the mountain. Steeper mixed action may be put on hold for a wee while though - so you'll have to wait before you can go and make the 2nd ascent of The Secret to confirm the grade!

Andy Turner leading the 2nd pitch of The Secret, Ben Nevis.  Photo Sam Loveday

Andy Turner leading pitch 2 of 'The Secret', Ben Nevis. Steve Ashworth and Viv Scott belaying.

Photo: Thanks to Sam Loveday

11/12/07 - Nevis Mixed Bonanza Continues....

Another frosty night continued the fine mixed climbing conditions on Ben Nevis and 6 of us walked up the Allt a' Mhuillin early this morning to see this dawn view of the Orion Face plastered in snow.

The Orion Face and Tower Ridge, Ben Nevis 11/12/07

Martin hanging out to get good gear on the steep and excellent wall at the start of pitch 2, Darth Vader

Content and fairly weary from yesterdays 'wee outing' Steve and Andy did well to haul themselves up onto the North Face again to try a new line. They did 3 good pitches but a return match will be necessary before yet another fine & hard new winter route is in the bag. Over on South Trident Buttress Blair and Rich climbed 'Slab Climb' and up on Creag na Ciste Martin and I climbed Darth Vader.

First climbed by Simon Richardson and Chris Cartwright only 10 years ago this massively obvious line, just right of Number 3 Gully, is a superb, steep 4 pitch mixed route. The middle 2 pitches provide really good chimney climbing with some very satisfying hooks around well jammed chockstones - great stuff!

 

Martin emerging from the Chimney at the end of pitch 3 with Sioux Wall above his left shoulder.

As we walked down off the hill we met the freezing level coming up and bringing with it soggy snow and, lower down, blackening buttresses.

10/12/07 - Perfect early season weather & conditions in Lochaber....

And first ascent of Major new winter route on Ben Nevis.....

From L - R : Aonach Mor West face looking wintery, Carn mor Dearg, Ben Nevis and Sgurr a Mhaim, Mamores.

A clear, cold night and hard ground frost gave rise to the perfect early season winter day here in Lochaber - Simply superb weather and I've just heard from an active new router who had taken a drive up the West Coast just for a look - he said The Buachaille in Glen Coe was looking superb and had caught the snow very well. Up here it was good to see the Mamores and Aonachs looking very white and wintery too.

Teams up on the Ben were enjoying great mixed climbing conditions again and Sam Loveday and Konrad climbed Gargoyle Wall and Kenny and partner climbed Darth Vader.....But the big news is a major winter first ascent has been completed by Andy Turner and Steve Ashworth....We're going to take a short commercial break now (as they are still walking down from the CIC!!) but stay tuned as there will be an update later....ooohhh the anticipation!!

"The Secret", 70m - Andy Turner, Steve Ashworth, Viv Scott, 10 December 2007

The often eyed but rarely tried (except by one or two very strong teams) crack on the right wall of Number 3 Gully, Ben Nevis had it's first ascent today. The strong team - Turnemater, Ashworth and Scott timed their raid from the South to perfection and experienced superb frosty conditions and great weather for the ascent.

Ashworth described the "approach" pitch as harder than Sioux Wall and the main pitch, led by Andy, as much, much harder than Knuckleduster. The main pitch involved a mind-boggling array of axe techniques from double can openers to wacky arm hooks around tools to effect some kind of rest. This brutally sustained 35m crack pitch ranged from fist to finger width and was fully iced inside meaning the payload of large cams carried was for ballast only!

The route was led entirely on-sight and in perfect style. A fantastic example of the traditional Scottish winter ethic and perhaps the hardest winter route in the UK led in this style. Discuss!

Thanks to Steve Ashworth, Viv Scott and Sam Loveday for the following photos and video footage.

Andy Turner leading the main pitch of The Secret, Photo Sam Loveday.

 

Photo Viv Scott
Photo Steve Ashworth
Photo Viv Scott
Photo Viv Scott

 

The route continues the great tradition of dossers at our house in Fort William going up onto the Ben, strapping it on and doing the business. Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner, Knuckleduster and now the Secret. Not sponsored heroes, but like Colton and Mcyntire in the 70's just getting out there, trying hard and producing some fantastic first ascents......Good effort boys!!

 

Visit the UK climbing forums to see the current discusion regarding the ascent of The Secret.

Andy Turner after the FA of The Secret

9/12/07 - On the Strident Edge, Brilliant Mixed climbing on Ben Nevis....

You had to be pretty keen to walk through the persistent "dreich" on the West Coast this morning. Four of us were and finally found a freezing level at around 900m at the base of South trident buttress on Ben Nevis. Nick and Mark enjoyed Slab Climb and Martin and I thought 'Strident Edge' was a brilliant snowed up rock route.

First climbed in winter only a few seasons ago, by Gareth Hughes and Erik Brunskill, these routes are indicative of the modern trend towards high quality mixed routes on Nevis. Contrary to the traditional image of the Ben being all too compact and unfriendly for mixed climbing Strident Edge gave a series of exciting steep sections on positive hooks with small footholds.

A friend who did the route last winter suggested a grade of VI,7 but we both thought it a little tougher than that, not that the numbers matter - it's just a great route and it does look rather wild when viewed from the Coire!

We descended into No. 4 Gully which had deep fresh windblown snow in it. This was giving a considerable avalanche risk but also potentially providing a good base for the rest of the winter.

Martin enjoying the sustained main pitch on Stridetn Edge

8/12/07 - Good wintery conditions in the Northern Cairngorms....

úúCoire an-t-Sneachda 08/12/07
Nick on Wachacha cha cha, good climbing in the Cairngorms

The drive from West to East this morning had a welcome mix of a starry night and frosty ground and with temperatures at -3C in Kingussie I was glad to see the Gritters working away. However the pinkish dawn gave the same warning that the MWIS had already suggested about the approaching front. By the time Nick and I topped out on the Mess of Pottage conditions were fairly blizzard like and a lot of the recent fresh snow was getting blown onto the top of North facing slopes on a strong southerly wind. Take care with this tomorrow.

We climbed Wachacha cha cha, two good sustained pitches up a summer rock climb with a fairly sustained crux section on the second pitch well led by Nick. The rock was lightly frosted with a fairly liberal coating of verglass in places. Check out a few more snaps and video on Nick's blog.

7/12/07 ~ A Wintery but Wild weekend in store on the West & A Promising Forecast for good winter weather next week.....

Sea level temperatures as low as 4C in Fort William today ensured the considerable amounts of precipitation fell as snow and settled above about 500m. There's certainly some winter mountaineering to be had this weekend. It looks like an early start will pay dividends as the forecast front tracks off the Atlantic and across the Highlands giving blizzards by early afternoon. It looks like the East Highlands may stay a bit cooler and calmer longer and I will be heading for an early start in the Cairngorms.

Sunday looks a better day all round although a little warmer so climbers would be advised to stay high. The MWIS forecasting team are suggesting a possible period of good settled weather next week as a high pressure area becomes slow moving over the UK. Bring it on!

6/12/07 ~ "Back in Black" in the Highlands....

Aonach Mor, Carn Mor Dearg and Ben Nevis North Faces 6/12/07

My arrival back in the Highlands seems to have coincided with some rather wild weather here on the West Coast. Strong winds and mildish temperatures 0ver the last couple of days have given rain at all levels.

After a fine frosty start to the winter with good mixed climbing conditions this is only a minor setback. There was some accumulation of snow in the gullies before the milder weather and this should remain as cooler weather returns to the Highlands tomorrow and remains over the weekend and into next week.

So, tools out and eyes down for a great season. I will be posting reports here regularly throughout the winter so keep an eye out, get it bookmarked and send me any photos & reports of your latest outing on the hill.

23 November 2007 ~ Great Conditions for hard mixed on Nevis & in the Cairngorms.

Tim Blakemore on Sioux Wall, Ben Nevis.  Photo Steve Ashworth

The Scottish Highland Winter began in earnest today with both the hills of Lochaber and Cairngorms looking crisp and wintery under cobalt blue skies. Nick Carter climbed a properly frosty Hookers Corner and Rich Cross tackled the serious Prore in Coire an Lochain and reported that temperatures never made it above a hot achingly chilly -5C.

Also keenly anticipating the forthcoming winter, Glenmore Lodge have produced an excellent on-line avalanche quiz....Click here to check out and improve your current snow sense skills.

Dave Hollinger and I finished our winter essentials lecture tour in Essex last night and are looking forward to getting back north and amongst the developing winter.

To celebrate winters arrival Highland Guides are offering a 10% course discount to any client booking and paying the complete balance before christmas 07. So get in touch and get your winter mountaineering for the forthcoming season sorted!

Stop Press! I've just heard from Steve Ashworth and Tim Blakemore, down from an early season foray high on Ben Nevis. In a fine display of early season enthusiasm and talent they made what is perhaps the 3rd ascent of Sioux Wall, a summer HVS on 3 Gully Buttress. More details and photos are available on Tim's own site www.northernmountainsport.co.uk and Steve's blog.

 

 

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