Thursday, 26 February 2009

Wet weather on the Ben

Today Isi and I went up to Ben Nevis to see if anything was in condition on the North Face. Initially the weather was not promising, with driving rain in Glencoe, and it did not improve considerably on the walk-in. The face was clagged to coire level and the rain didn't really let up until the afternoon.

From what little we could see, there wasn't a lot of snow around. Through gaps in the hill fog we could see that Castle Ridge was entirely bare (and streaming with water), as was the Douglas Boulder. A fleeting view of the North East Buttress suggested that was almost entirely black as well. Hardly any snow in the Castle Gullies. We couldn't see far into Coire na Ciste, but given how mild and wet it was at the CIC hut we didn't hold much hope for anything to be in acceptable condition. What little snow remained at CIC hut level was saturated.

Soaking wet and disinclined to swim up an avalanche-prone gully or scramble the Ledge Route in the rain, we followed the line of depressed-looking climbers retreating from the face, and went to the Grog and Gruel for a whisky instead!

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Turning colder

Snow flurries today were observed to settle above around 900m on Aonach Dubh, and things are at last starting to feel a little wintry again; however it is also unsettled, with some monster gusts of wind.

Alan Halewood's blog for today indicates that there is still a fair bit of snow left in Coire nan Lochan to play in.

We're definitely getting out on the hill tomorrow so will report back. Not sure what the venue will be yet, but it is likely to be further afield.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

No news

Little news from Glencoe, as the weather remains much the same: mild, misty, and damp. Teams doing the Aonach Eagach today reported the ridge itself to be entirely dry of snow, if not 'dry' in the real sense of the word! They did however report some snow lingering on the northern side of the ridge.

Despite all the doom and gloom, the thaw is obviously quite slow as there has been little change to the remaining snow patches on Aonach Dubh visible from the pub. I haven't been up to Coire nan Lochan in a few days but I expect there will still be lots of (wet) snow left up there.

We're still praying for a freeze but the long-distance forecast continues to promise more mild weather. There is hope for the late season to come together, but in the meantime we're probably going to Aonach Mor this week, which is probably the last place where any form of half-decent conditions remain in Lochaber.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

East Face Aonach Dubh

With continuing mild conditions in the glen, we decided to say 'sod it' to the prospect of winter climbing, and packed our rock shoes instead of crampons today. A visit to the East Face of Aonach Dubh demonstrated that most of the main crags are still streaming with meltwater, except the faces that are exposed to the sun and wind, which were comparatively dry.

We began the scramble towards the start of Quiver Rib, a classic Diff rock climb. With water running over the holds and puddles everywhere, I found the scrambling approach along exposed ledges rather unnerving. This stems from a fear of wet rock in big boots, hard-earned by a serious fall while soloing a few years ago; it's a phobia I have yet to get over. I will happily solo far more exposed and difficult winter routes in crampons, but wet rock does not make me happy!

The climb itself was damp at the start, where meltwater was streaming from the adjacent climb, but the upper section was sound and more or less dry. The climbing was very steep for a Diff but also very easy, with enormous holds and an obvious line. The upper pitch was magnificently exposed and in a great situation. We climbed the two pitches in about twenty minutes all in all. Mike only placed one piece of gear, which fell out and hit me on the head before I even started climbing!

In terms of winter conditions, there is a surprising amount of snow left in Coire nan Lochan. Most of the major gully lines are still complete, although obviously Twising and SC have no ice in them. Buttresses are black and probably very wet. The snow patches at our maximum level near the summit of Aonach Dubh were saturated slush, leading me to suspect that the easy gullies are probably still in bad nick, as the promised cold front has not yet arrived (or is significantly weaker than was forecasted).

The snow remaining in Coire nan Lochan is not going to vanish in a hurry, so when things finally turn cold again good conditions should return reasonably quickly. Unfortunately the forecast is for more mild weather into next week!

For pictures from today, including reference shots into Coire nan Lochan and Coire nam Beithach, click below.

Facebook album

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Light at the end of the tunnel?

The long-range forecast from MWIS indicates that there may be some more cold air coming in to the West Coast next week, which is what we've been praying for. It is looking like the brief cold front forecasted tomorrow and Friday is not going to do a lot of good in the long run, although it will doubtless firm up what snow remains.

Several teams did the Aonach Eagach today and reported excellent scrambling conditions, with only a few small patches of snow left on the ridge. There are no longer any winter routes in condition on the West Face of Aonach Dubh at all, as almost all of the snow has been stripped away, except some snowfields above the upper tier and patches in the gullies.

It's looking unlikely we will get to Arrochar tomorrow and Friday, so will probably do something in this area instead ... quite possibly rock climbing if it remains dry!

Monday, 16 February 2009

The thaw continues

Glencoe is still in the grip of an increasingly serious thaw. Almost all the snow has now been stripped from Aonach Dubh West Face; none of the gully lines are even complete after several days of thaw, and there is no visible ice left. Reports indicate it has been raining at summit levels. Temperatures are mild in the glen and there is much hill fog around.

It's unlikely that all the snow in the highest corries will be stripped out, but we could really do with another freeze before the thaw does too much damage!

Isi and I are planning on going to the Arrochar Alps on Thursday and Friday so I should have a report from that area, whatever we end up doing.

Friday, 13 February 2009

Thaw at all levels

Conditions continue to worsen today with hill fog, mild temperatures, continuous drizzle and a visible thaw at all levels. The West Face of Aonach Dubh is looking stripped, and reports from climbers who have been up in the hills indicate wet snow at all levels and melting ice. The forecast is also very bad until Monday at least.

If there is a decent freeze after the thaw things could improve, but at the moment conditions are looking pretty bleak for Glencoe. This just goes to prove how quickly things can change after our perfect day on the Aonach Eagach!

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Conditions worsening

Today Isi and I got up early with the intention of walking into Coire nan Lochan and climbing SC Gully. However, it was snowing as we walked down the glen towards the car park, and the weather quickly got worse: driving wet snow and milder temperatures, which will obviously be having an adverse affect on snow stability. It was quite windy too and the mountains were clagged in.

We decided to sack it in before even starting the walk-in to the corrie. It's a miserable sort of day to be doing a climb as excellent as I anticipate SC Gully to be, and the prospect of fresh unstable windslab was not appealing.

Won't have any more chances to climb until next week in all likelihood ... fingers crossed that good conditions return!

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

The Aonach Eagach

Accompanied by Jack and Tall Alex, today I did the Aonach Eagach. Words fail me to describe how perfect the day was. Low winds, bright sun, clear air and crisp snow--it's every mountaineers dream and I'm very thankful now that I waited until conditions were right before doing the ridge in winter conditions.

We made excellent time along the ridge (a little over seven hours from the car park to the pub), and only got the rope out for one of the trickier pinnacles. It was a good solo with a single mountaineering axe although there were two or three awkward descents, mostly with loose snow over slabby rock.

Now to discuss conditions. When we started just after 8am, most of the snow on the approach to Am Bodach was pretty hard, although there were the drifts of powder and little patches of windslab that I had expected in places. The ridge was nicely rimed here and there and the turf was well-frozen. Enough consolidated snow to qualify as 'good conditions', and in places the ridge was banked out to a fine snow arete, complete with cornice. Generally there was quite a lot of loose snow on the ridge although it almost always had solid, well-packed stuff underneath.

As the day wore on, the hot sun started to thaw the southern side of the ridge, soon stripping the ice from the rocks and softening the snow. The northern side, which was in the shade, remained more or less unchanged. As we descended to the col between Sgorr nam Fiannaidh and the Pap we encountered very deep soft snow and windslab, with very little consolidated stuff; even as high as 800m it was starting to slowly thaw in the sun.

No danger of all the snow vanishing, for the time being at least, and all this freeze-thaw can only be a good thing.

Click below for the photo album. I hope you enjoy the pictures ... it was certainly one of the best mountain days I've had for quite a while.
Photo album

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Little change, and a good forecast

Had a rest day due to my exertions of yesterday--a big mountain route followed by seven hours behind the bar! The temperature has gone up a degree or two in the glen and it has clouded up a little, but otherwise the weather remains more or less the same. Still low winds and there has been very little snow-melt even at valley level.

The forecast is excellent for several days yet although it does indicate there may be some minor thawing in the West. I'm probably doing the Aonach Eagach tomorrow so will post another entry when I get back, whatever I end up doing.

Monday, 9 February 2009

North Route, Icefall Variation

Today I climbed a variation on North Route / North Route Direct on Bidean's Diamond Buttress. Conditions are still not perfect after the recent snowfall, but they are improving considerably. Areas of powder are lying on top of excellent hard snow, nicely bonded and consolidated. Most of the powder drifts are on the ridge tops and are not troublesome.

Patches of weakly-bonded windslab are lying in sheltered hollows beneath boulders and crags on Northerly slopes. In practice it is easy to avoid the windslab and it did not cause me any trouble, although it is quite unstable where it exists. Currently the winds are very low and the weather is stable and sunny, but very cold overnight, which should be improving the snowpack even further.

In terms of ice, there is loads of it about! The main streams coming down from the corries are starting to freeze up again, and the cliffs of Stob Coire nam Beith and Bidean are plastered in good thick ice. The steep ice I climbed today was of excellent quality and held pick placements very well with minimal dinnerplating. Can't comment on which of the ice routes are in condition, but the ice is growing all the time so it's worth keeping an eye open.

For pictures from today, take a look here. You should be able to view them even if you're not a member of Facebook:
Facebook album

Sunday, 8 February 2009

New Glencoe blog

By popular demand, I have decided to start posting conditions reports again from Glencoe! However, due to the negative atmosphere on the winter forums on UKClimbing I will now only be posting on here, a new blog dedicated to winter mountaineering in Glencoe (although it will certainly also feature entries from other areas).

Firstly an important note. One of the issues raised on UKC was the question of responsibility. How this information is used is not my responsibility: it is offered in good faith, as a source of information amongst many used by modern climbers, not as a sole source of advice that should be relied upon. The most important information source for any climber should be his or her own judgement and experience.

I believe that information on conditions can only be a good thing. We live in the real world and for most of us that means travelling long distances to do our climbing. Any extra information that can help us decide where to go or what to climb should be welcomed by climbers, and it should not be seen as detracting from the spirit of adventure with which we set forth into the mountains. After all, you have to choose to read conditions updates--nobody is forcing you!

I hope that this will become a useful resource. Safe climbing.