(No photos from today as my camera is still on the blink.)
The weather in the Glen is still extremely mild, but the rapid thawing seems to have slowed somewhat: there are still ice runnels left on the Upper Tier of Aonach Dubh, although virtually all the ice has gone from the lower two tiers. Needless to say, all ice at this altitude is going to be disintegrating.
I headed up into the Bidean coire again to give me a fighting chance of getting above the freezing level. From 850m to 1000m the snow was disgusting mush, exhausting to break trail through. All around me, icefalls were disintegrating. Central Gully on Stob Coire nam Beith was falling down as I watched. At the base of Collie's Pinnacle on the Bidean main cliff, the icicles were dripping and everything was very very damp. The start to Central Gully was very dodgy indeed.
The good news is that the snow is starting to consolidate well and avalanche risk has dropped, although clearly things are a bit soggy until you get up high.
I decided to head to the Gangway area again, for the maximum chance of getting high enough. Above 1000m things started to freeze again and the ice was in prime condition, with a fantastic toffee-like consistency. Turf was also frozen.
Three chimneys had caught my eye on our visit last week. The leftmost one looks relatively easy but needed more ice. I climbed most of the central one, which was in excellent mixed condition. It involved a nifty set of traversing/mantelshelf moves to overcome the lower crux, which was a set of heavily iced bulges. I liked the look of the upper crux rather less: a 3m high vertical wall right at the top of the gully, with poorer ice than the steps lower down. I made a tentative go at it but was not bold enough to climb it by myself in the conditions. My estimate for the grade of this gully is either III or possibly III,4 (although allowances should be made for its short length). Looks like the upper step in the narrows is tech. 4 in an exposed position, which is partially why I didn't commit to it as this is my maximum leading grade with a rope on!
The rightmost chimney is the shortest and easiest. Grade II ice climbing leads within about 15m to an icy bulge and corner, some 3m in height. An ungainly struggle ensued as I hung from my ice axes and tried to wedge my crampons in the corner, while simultaneously belly-flopping over the top of the ice bulge! Great fun, and a nice little move of tech. 4 in a non-serious situation, which is why I have graded this chimney II/III.
I finished up the regular line of the Gangway. The summit of Bidean nam Bian was a raging whiteout, with thick ice covering everything and very disorienting conditions. I navigated down the West Ridge mostly using my knowledge of the mountain (I know that ridge pretty well by now!) Care was required to avoid the gigantic cornices which are starting to overhang the North Face couloirs. Some of the cornices overhang by over four metres already.
As I reached the col between Bidean West Peak and Stob Coire nam Beith, I noticed the small gully cutting up the centre of the upper South East Face. This gully caught my eye last year, but it's in no guidebooks and is quite small--only about 60m in height. The ascent was a pure delight. Basic snow climbing up an ever-narrowing ice runnel between impressive buttresses of rock, leading to a short steeper step and a corniced exit. The gully was like a scaled-down version of the big Nevis gullies. I can't find out what it's called, but it must have been climbed before as it's easily accessed from the ridge. My name of preference would be Miniature Gully, Grade I/II.
I descended via Coire nam Bheithach, which is now a safer descent thanks to the snow having settled down. The upper snowfield was even complete enough to glissade, saving me much tedious work.
Some forecasts predict a cold snap towards the end of the week, which will bring the gullies into good condition rapidly, if it appears! Unfortunately we will need more snow before the lower buttress routes come back into condition.