Well I don’t think anyone is complaining about too little snow this year! We have more snow than you can shake a stick at and the getting anywhere on the hill is hard going. We had two mountaineering courses this weekend with two parallel groups.
Saturday was quite a good day weather-wise so we headed up the glen to Buchaille Etive Beag, a great wee hill for a training day. We had a good roll about in the snow looking at confident footwork and did some self-arrest training. It was busy up there with several big groups out and about. After a good session we climbed up onto the high ridge and put on crampons then walked to the Munro summit. On the way down we dug an emergency shelter in a deep drift which soon warmed us up.
Sunday looked like the best day so both the mountaineering groups decided to go for Ben Nevis. There was a lot of snow but we made it up the track and walked up to the CIC hut under the north face. By this time the snow was knee deep in places and hard going. Our intended route was to ascend the Abseil Post in Coire Leiss.
We made good progress into the Coire finding some low angle ice to play on en-route. As we went up the visibility reduced and the wind picked up. We roped up for the first time to climb up to the ridge and waded up the steep snow, linking rocks to mitigate the avalanche risk. On the top it was wild so after a brief discussion the summit attempt was abandoned and we descended back the way we came, which was a good experience reversing the ground we had just climbed.
Monday – time for an epic! The weather was mixed with heavy snow showers but lighter winds so we decided that we wanted to try to get to a summit again, so we chose Stob Bhan in the Mamores. We ascended the north ridge which was hard work as we were the first team on the hill. We broke trail all the way up to the scrambly bit. The rope section was probably the easiest ground we covered and the rocks showing made the visibility more manageable. After the rope section the visibility reduced to total whiteout. Some full on navigation ensued and with some more tiring trail breaking we eventually made the summit. The group had a full Scottish experience on this trip and did really well surviving a very hard day – good work all round!
Saturday: we walked up into Stob Coire nan Lochan in Glencoe, the weather forecast wasn’t great but we had loads of snow to play in. We covered some basic rope work and dug a few snow belays under the cliffs then after lunch (yes some of us do stop for lunch!) we did the first couple of pitches of Dorsal arête to practise our rope work before traversing off and scuttling down the gully as the weather deteriorated.
Sunday was a grim forecast with wind and rain predicted later so we went a bit further east to Beinn a Chaorainn and its classic east ridge, to practise some alpine style rope work and a few small pitches. We managed to stay dry until just after lunch and the ridge was still in good condition. But it did bucket down with rain on the way down.
Monday: A good forecast suggested a classic route so it was off to the Buchaille to do Curved Ridge. It was still in great condition despite the previous day’s rain and proved a challenge to the guys who hooked and scratched their way up it to a view on the top.
Tuesday: Awful! Warm and wet. With the cloud base on the loch we decided that the Ice Factor was the only way we were going to get anything constructive done today. So we had a couple of hours on the ice refining movement plus put in a few screws and made some ice threads. Outside the ice we reviewed the rope work we had covered and looked at belay building skills, all in all a useful day snatched from the weather.
Wednesday: A good day for our last one so it was another ridgey sort of day on the romantically named East Ridge of the North Peak of Stob Bhan. Great fun route with some tricky buttresses and a few scary ridge sections and another view from the top.
Photos courtesy of Andy Ravenhill
27th Jan – With very high winds, poor visibility, and snow forecast for the day, Rob, Alan, Andrew and I headed into Stob Coire nan Lochan in Glencoe, where the walk in is usually very sheltered, with the intention of staying low and as sheltered as possible in the bottom of the coire to go through the core winter skills. During a journey through the coire we looked at footwork, using axe and crampons, which was new for some and a bit of a refresher for others, then moved on to introduce some basic rope work skills to get everyone ready for the following days. We also started to look at the implications of avalanche dangers and their implications on mountaineers, as there was a lot to talk about today with the avalanche risk being at ‘considerable’ on the SAIS avalanche scale.
28th Jan – Aiming to get onto some grade I ground but with a windy and very wet forecast, we walked into the North face of Ben Nevis with the intent to do the ‘Traverse of the Douglas Boulder’ – an ascent up the west gully, with an abseil back down the east gully. Being relatively low on the North Face, and sheltered by the surrounding higher ridges and summits, we hoped to be protected from the worst of the weather. Sadly Alan, having picked up an injury on the walk out the preceding day, decided at the CIC hut below the north face after an uncomfortable walk in was not to join us on the climb in hope a bit of a rest would enable him to join in tomorrow. Despite the forecast the weather was fairly kind until after lunch allowing Rob and Andrew to climb the west gully in the dry, after which the heavy rain and high winds set in during the abseil decent and walk out.
29th Jan – Wanting to make the most of the last day and improved weather, our aim was an ascent of Sron na Lairig, a grade II mountaineering ridge to the south-east of Stob Coire Sgreamhach. Rob, Andrew and Alan all walked in together, but Alan’s injury was again causing him some considerable discomfort and opted not to join us on the ridge. Today’s focus was on the techniques involved in ‘moving together’ using a rope, and transitioning between that and pitched climbing.
Photos courtesy of David Fisher
13th Jan – Headed to Buachaille Etive Beag with Chris, Ben, Mick and Jon for a look at using ice axe, crampons and foot work, which was new for some and a refresher for others. This was done as part of a journey, taking in the summit of Stob Dubh as part of the day. We then took a quick look at some introductory rope work and snow anchors before finishing for the day. There was a cold wind meaning high wind-chill today, with intermittent views through the patchy low cloud.
14th Jan – We ascended Stob Coire nan Lochan via Broad Gully (grade 1), this was a quick up and down trying to beat the bad weather before it moved in mid-afternoon. Managing to get back to the carpark just as the heavy rain and high winds started.
15th Jan – Joined by additional MIC Andy, the aim today was for all of us to look at completing the ‘traverse of the Douglas Boulder’ at the base of Tower Ridge (Ben Nevis), with reservations over the weather and the possible avalanche risks on the Eastern side. With strong winds, snow showers, spin drift, and poor vis, it was definitely very Scottish conditions, managing to pitch most of the way up the West Gully of the Douglas Boulder (grade 1) before deciding to retreat abseil back down the same side whilst getting a battering from the wind/spindrift.
16th Jan – Just Mick and Jon today, the rest of the group having finished their course the previous day. A large dump of fresh snow overnight made getting anywhere hard work and very time consuming. We opted to head back into Stob Coire nan Lochan, and seeing how loaded the slopes were and how long it took to get into the coire, we changed plans and opted to climb up through an area known as Weeping Wall and Terrace Face lower down than the main coire where it was much more sheltered too. We climbed through ground with some small steps of around grade 4 to add to the interests, and giving Mick and Jon a chance to try out a pair of climbing tools for the first time, before abseiling back down again.
17th Jan – More fresh snow fell during the previous day and overnight, making very testing conditions and high avalanche risk. We opted to spend the morning dry tooling at Onich Slabs, giving belay practice and exploring new and interesting ways to use crampons and climbing tools. The afternoon was spent at the Ice Factor, 2 hrs of indoor ice climbing focusing on movement skills and the rest of the afternoon looking at building belays and pitching using the indoor climbing wall and the teaching platform.
Photos courtesy of David Fisher and Andy Cloquet
On the first day we used the chairlift at the Glencoe ski resort to reach the patches of snow to practise winter skills. Unfortunately we had pretty poor weather and bad vis most of the day, so we did some instruction in the use of the axe for walking and self protection, using the edges of the boots, cramponing and steep ground work. In the afternoon we had a session on planning, weather and avalanche awareness.
As high winds were forecast for day 2, along with heavy rain later on, Mark decided that a day at the ice factor on the climbing wall would make better use of the time so the group had a day indoor climbing instead of on the hill.
Sadly on day 3, strong westerly winds and snow were forecast so Mark concluded Ben Nevis would not be a good idea. Instead he led Emma and David up the East and down the North ridge of Stob Ban, which made for a great day out!
Photos courtesy of Mark Riley
Saturday: our first day dawned cold and snowy, a great winter day. Paul and Fearghal and I went up Buchaille Etive Beag for our first day. We had a good roll about in the snow practising self-arrest and other snow and avalanche skills. Plenty of people out enjoying the good weather. And we bagged the Munro as well.
Sunday: Another great forecast so I decided the best bet was to get the Ben in the bank. So our team combined with the walking group for a trip up the big bad Ben. Ledge Route was our target, luckily it had been tracked out the previous day so we had a smooth ascent practising some rope work and marvelling at the views with only two other teams on the face. Great experience for the guys who had done little on snow before.
Monday: We felt some more snow skills were needed and a slightly easier day so Stob Bhan on the Mamores fitted the bill on another stunning frosty day but with some added wind and spindrift for spice. The paths were a sheet of ice now, so crampons really came into their own here – we would have struggled to get up the path without them. A roll about review and some more avalanche hazard spotting ensued, along with some great views.
Tuesday: Beinn a Chaorainn east ridge. A slightly less good day which was just what we needed for some navigation practice. Beinn a Chaorainn is a classic mountain for navigational mistakes so we practised our pacing and timing and compass work. Then climbed the East Ridge into a whiteout on the summit we then put our training into practice by successfully navigating off the hill (we also found the scary edge at one point).
Wednesday: Back into Glencoe. So it was the Zig Zags on Gear Aonach and Stob Coire nan Lochan for us. It was a bit cloudy and mild but there was still ice on the zig zags and we practised some rope work and belaying on the way up then ascended the ridge of Gear Aonach towards Stob Coire na Lochan.
All in all a superb week, great weather and a great team. Paul is off to Aconcagua next week so we wish him luck on his trip!
Photos courtesy of Andy Ravenhill
We had 3 fantastic days out, we were lucky with very fine if cold weather, and all the guys had a good time!
Photos courtesy of Mark Riley
I was out with Will and Andy over the past three days, and conditions were fantastic. On the first day, we climbed the imposing Sron Na Lairig, with Will and Andy leading themselves up the upper half, with me offering coaching along the way. On day two, we decided to seek some adventure on the north face of Am Bodach, where we climbed the lesser travelled North Ridge. The climb gave 5 pitches of interesting mixed climbing in a stunning and wild setting. For the final day, we decided to climb the classic Curved Ridge on Buachaille Etive Mor. The route was almost in too good condition, so to add additional interest, we also climbed Crowberry Tower before reaching the summit of Stob Dearg. Not a bad way to start the new year!
Photos courtesy of Ken Applegate
Theme of the week was to practise in a hands on way in a safe location and then apply to a leading situation on a route. It’s a model that works well for those aspiring to apply techniques learnt on a course to their own personal climbing. Various belaying techniques, snow and rock anchors and moving together on easier ground and navigation were all put together in ascent and descent.
Photos courtesy of Clive Hebblethwaite
Despite fairly poor conditions on this 3 day course, the group had 3 good days out, with the aim to cover a wide range of skills. There were large areas of unconsolidated snowpack and on days 1 & 2 relatively damp air with considerable snow melt. This made for a tough course, but all of the group still had the opportunity to experience and practise some skills on a guided scramble.
Day 1 – Buachaille Etive Beag
Day 2 – Meall a Bhuiridh
Day 3 – Sgor Bhan ‘Schoolhouse Ridge’
Photos courtesy of Andy Cloquet