I hope that those of us who proclaimed the winter was over last week are now hiding in shame….I'm just down from Ben Nevis, and snow conditions high up are pretty damn good.
Knowing that the snow was going to be good, I decided to really make the most of today, especially as I'm going to be down in England for a lot of March.
An amazing dawn but a threatening sky...the cloud rolled in later in the evening.
Despite having lived in the area for almost 2 years, I'd still never got around to Number 3 and Number 4 Gully on Ben Nevis until today….so this is what I did first. Up Number 3 and down Number 4. The down-climb into Number 4 Gully is fairly steep just now, but there is a real trench cut through the cornice and bucket steps all the way down.
A climber enjoying good ice on Comb Gully Buttress
After descending Number 4, I headed towards Moonlight Gully, which weaves up beside the Trident Buttresses and joins Number 5 Gully higher up. In order to make it more fun I climbed a short mixed chimney to gain the gully, a "direct start" I suppose. The gully itself was straightforward, but the traverse into Number 5 Gully is fairly exposed…it would be very spicy indeed in poor snow conditions!!
Climbing a thin direct start to Moonlight Gully
Down Number 4 Gully again. I saw that South Gully (grade III) was looking very fat indeed and knowing the cornice had been by-passed recently I decided to have a tentative look. I climbed the first traversing pitch, but once I got to the first exposed ice step I decided it was too bold a solo. I'm far happier soloing mixed Grade III climbs than ice routes.
Number Five Gully from the top of Moonlight Gully
So I headed towards Garadh gully, the curving gully hidden away underneath the Coire na Ciste side of Tower Ridge. Earlier in the season it had contained two steep Grade III ice pitches, but these are now buried under deep snow. But you can see where they were, as the snow has slumped onto them making some deep crevasses.
A deep crevasse in Garadh Gully
The top of the Garadh is a fantastic viewpoint. I had an amazing view of people in the Comb Gully area, enjoying amazing late season conditions. Lots of people on the Ben…and many of the classics being ticked. Green Gully, Comb Gully, Tower Ridge, No.3 Gully Buttress, Indicator Wall, Italian Climb, North Gully, Central Gully of Creag Coire na Ciste….to name but a few.
Italian Climb (III)
So there we go - lovely late season conditions on the Ben. And my guess is that despite what some people have been saying on UKClimbing.com, there are other venues with similar conditions.
In Glencoe you'll still find a lot of snow about above 900m, but be warned, the Coe did suffer a massive sustained thaw not so long ago and there hasn't been considerable snow fall since, so be prepared to be open minded if you intend to climb here!