Saturday, 31 December 2011


We had our final day on the hill on Mount Keen, the most Easterly of the Munro's. It's a beautiful and easy walk up through Glen Tanar, made even better with a bike, being a very easy angle for many kilometres. But we had a leisurely start and set off at 11 am by foot,  finishing the last hour in the dark and a crescent moon. Hardly any snow on the hill so felt like summer conditions. Seems to have been a lot more snow over in the west this winter.  Happy New Year!

Thursday, 29 December 2011


Plenty of Bergschrund's around
Great cramponing ground below Moonlight Buttress
Large winter skills group below Trident Buttress
Battling against the winds, another goggle day
There was overnight snow showers and more snow showers again through out today down to 500m bringing winter back to the mountains. Paul was on day two of his winter skills course with me today. There were quite a few folk out on the north face of The Ben, including a large winter skills group just in front of us. We headed into the Ciste Corrie and soon found some ice low down for Paul and I to go through crampon technique. A party of climbers passed by us who'd just retreated from No.2 Gully, severe winds forcing them down. It was much better than yesterday's ferocious blast, we only had 40-50mph winds to contend with today. There was excellent snow cover in the corrie with some good neve in places. The strong winds and snow showers were building up fresh wind slab today. The goggles made an appearence again today, with groupel flying about most of the day. On the way down we also covered some avalanche awareness. It was great to see and feel that winter was definitely back on The Ben after the recent tropical temperatures. If the winds ease and some thaw/freeze it looks like conditions could be brilliant.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011


Starting up Observatory Gully
Goggles compulsory!
Ice axe arrest, or was it to stop flying away?
CIC Hut leaking roof
No access to the NF carpark today!
Another intense Atlantic low over the west coast of Scotland today, seems a regular phenomenon this winter. Paul was on day one of his winter skills course with me today and we headed up to the North Face of Ben Nevis. With gale force winds at sea level from a SW/W direction I thought we may get a bit of shelter there, as well as the only snow still left from the tropical Xmas storms. The fun began at the NF carpark this morning, a quite large tree had been toppled over by the gales at some point during last night/the early hours this morning I would assume. It's down right before the actual carpark and so anyone there today expecting to get their car out would be in for a surprise! It was rain from the word go but the winds not too bad until just before the river crossing at the CIC Hut where mobility was a struggle. We grabbed a quick rest beside the hut and watched the wind turbine look like it was going to take off! There are still sizable areas of snow just below the Douglas Boulder so we headed up there and into Observatory Gully, thinking once in there we may have a bit of respite from the gales but it just seemed to follow us and get behind us! The guys from the SAIS were just below the DB doing their test pit for the avalanche forecast. We then had the place to ourselves (funnily enough). Paul was coping well with the conditions as we went through various boot and ice axe techniques, including axe arrests.  Today's main theme though was just coping with staying upright and making sure we had a few points of contact with the snow! Observatory Gully is well covered in snow and we got up to around 850m today. With glimpses of NE Buttress and Observatory Ridge looking quite wintry now, even ice forming higher up and on the side of Tower Ridge. We headed back to the CIC Hut after our good tussle with the conditions and the two guys at the hut kindly let us have a bite to eat in luxury. Sad to see the leaking roof at the hut, one half of the bunk room is unusable due to the water poring in. Paul had a good taste of how bad conditions get in winter and coped well with the testing conditions today. Some folk tend to neglect that preparation, looking after yourself, keeping dry, warm, having  plenty of spare gloves, hats, warm clothing, carrying  ski goggles ( and having a sense of humour) are a major aspect of heading out into the Scottish winter mountains. Oh and maybe I should think about carrying a two way radio on days like this too!

Tuesday, 27 December 2011


Remaining snow on The Mamores today
After one of the warmest, wettest Christmas periods I can remember it was a welcome relief to feel a bit chilly today and temperatures back to 'normal' single digits. It rained non stop from Christmas Eve daytime right through to early hours of this morning. With gales at low levels and  hurricane force winds on the tops (if you could get there!) it really was a depressing time to be out on the hills. Thankfully the temperatures and freezing levels will  be dropping for a few days and snowfall down to lower levels so looking hopeful for a return to winter! There are still big areas of snow on The Ben, Aonach Mor and The Mamores. We did get out over the Christmas period on some low level walks in the rain and wind, a good chance to test out any waterproof Christmas pressies for outdoor enthusiasts!

Friday, 23 December 2011


Comb Buttress & No.3 Gully
Avalanche debris from No.3 Gully
North Gully & No.4 Gully avalanche debris
Still plenty of snow even at lower levels
A welcome relief  today with much cooler temperatures after a couple of days of monsoon weather on the west coast. I headed up onto the North Face of Ben Nevis to see how much damage the warm and wet weather had done to the snow. Pleased to see there is still vast amounts and depths of snow in the Ciste Corrie and even ice hanging on above 800m. It was a very quiet Ben today but I did bump into Al Halewood and Lucy who were heading over to have a look at Raeburns' Easy Route. I headed up to have a wee look at No.4 Gully. All the major gullies have avalanche debris strewn out of them, including No2, No.3, North Gully, No.4 Gully and No.5 Gully. The avalanche debris from No.3 is huge and finishes down at the lochan area. Having got to the foot of No.4 I decided not to go up, thinking only one day of cooler temperatures hasn't consolidated the snow enough, especially as the cornices are probably quite big and fragile at the moment. There were constant snow showers above 500m today and a brisk NW wind. Unfortunately it looks like the monsoons will be back for the next couple of days. 

Tuesday, 20 December 2011


A very snowy Coire Ardair
Easier going on the ridge. Loch Laggan beyond
Fine views toward Creag Meagaidh before the cloud came in
A well earned summit fag for Laurence
A much nicer weather day today, cold again and sub zero on the tops. Laurence and I went east to the Creag Meagaidh area where there was more chance of bright skies. We headed up Coire Ardair and up to the Munro of Carn Liath. The lower slopes where still hard going but we were lucky to have someone just in front of us who had broke trail (the only other person parked at the car park today, bar the mobile library). We were going to catch him up and offer to take over as we felt so guilty but he was away and out of sight. Above  600m the going became much easier, the wind slab compacted enough for 'normal' walking. We enjoyed some good views until the final 200m to the summit cairn when the cloud level dropped and the cold NW winds increased. Laurence warming himself up with a ciggie on the summit  in the cold, strong wind and spindrift. We were feeling smug when we got back to the car and the rain/sleet came on, makes up for yesterday's not so dry weather. Looks like a mild and wet day tomorrow, hopefully some thaw/freeze to get the snow into good condition. 

Monday, 19 December 2011


It seems I missed all the blue skies and sunshine at the weekend. Unfortunately Mike from the USA only had today free to get up Ben Nevis. So we set off in the icy streets of Fort William into rain at low levels and at 600m snowfall which continued all day. The cloud was down to 700m or lower. All this fresh snowfall on top of an already unconsolidated snow pack gave an High Category 4 avalanche risk today. I'd not been up to The Ben via the NW shoulder of Carn Dearg for many years so we had a look at getting up onto the summit  that way. It's just  steep scree and boulder terrain in summer conditions so only really pleasant in winter. Lower down there were plenty of boulders and rocks poking through the snow pack were it had been windblown but above 800m the windslab areas were becoming bigger and the rocks for 'islands of safety' were becoming rarer. So I decided to cut across to the Red Burn and we headed up on the lip of the gully. The depth of soft snow was up to knee level in places and quite tiring. We saw no one all day (surprise, surprise). We headed back don the zig zags, which are just an open snow slope, so anyone contemplating heading up the 'easy way' the next few days then be prepared for plenty of shin deep soft snow and making good use of your map and compass! Not the most memorable of winter days today and with the battery on my camera packing in from the word go it just typified the day, hence no photos, sorry.  But all good fun!

Thursday, 15 December 2011


Going up beside The Red Burn
Nice views back to Lochan Meall an t-suidhe
A deserted Ben Nevis summit
Immidiately after The Red Burn crossing-an easy angled 'path' in Summer!
Yasuko and I had a very quiet and wintry ascent of Ben Nevis via the 'Tourist Route' today. It was anything but touristy. We saw no one on the way up. Setting off at 8am to enjoy the daylight hours we had some verglas on the lower steps of the path. It had been a cold night which we hoped would have firmed up the snow pack a wee bit. At Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe we hit the snowline with wonderful views behind us, out to the west there were layers of cloud in the glens, very atmospheric. The snow is well banked out across he Pony Track after the halfway point (The Red Burn). The snow was scoured on the left hand side of the Burn and well banked up on the right hand side with the high winds we've had recently. We chose to go directly up from here and stick to the scoured areas. This was Yusoko's first taste of winter and using axe and crampons so we did some on the hoof techniques which never fazed her. Unfortunately the snow was still hard going at 900m all the way to the rim of the North face and the cloud came in spoiling the views. No one had been along the plateau to the summit so we enjoyed virgin snow to the summit. We met a couple of guys who'd just come along the CMD arete. What a contrast to summer: peaceful, no litter louts, no graffiti, no tacky memorials. On the way down we had a brief snow shower and very poor vis. Yasuko couldn't believe this was the 'easy way' up to The Ben in summer conditions. We returned via the zig zags and noted a few folk had turned back quite low down on the hill. There was a party at 800m who were still heading up at 2.45pm! The last pic gives an idea of the snow at the moment, it's taken just after the red Burn crossing. This was a training day for Yasuko's planned ascent of Kilimanjaro in January, I think there will be far less snow on Kili!

Sunday, 11 December 2011


Plenty of ice in the Ciste
Great fun on steep ground
Hasty pit below No.5 Gully
CIC Cascades
It was  different kind of weather on Ben Nevis's north face for Will and Tom's second winter skills day. We had snow showers and a strong SW wind this morning but the showers died out by afternoon. The temperature had risen last night then it cooled down again today. It was hard going in places in the Ciste Corrie with fresh snow on top of already unconsolidated snow. Today we covered avalanche awareness and movement on steep ground. There are some good iced up crags around but the turf wasn't quite frozen. There  was some avalanche debris out of No.5 Gully. The Curtain is starting to form on Carn Dearg Buttress and plenty of ice in other places too. We discovered a few cm's of soft wind slab in  the pack and a weak layer at around 40cm. There were a few teams of climbers heading down earlier this morning and it was really quiet toady, a mix of not good climbing conditions and the road closure at Corran Ferry? Plenty more snow and high winds to come in the coming week.

Saturday, 10 December 2011


Having a rest and taking in the views aross to The Ben
Cutting steps up to Carn Beag Dearg, Ardgour in the distance
Beautiful snow sculptures in the burn running down to the Allt a' Mhuillin
Will & Tom enjoying great snow above 800m
Will & Tom were out with me today on their first day of  a two day winter skills course. We were treated to a beautiful winters day and excellent snow conditions. There was a good  overnight freeze on the snowpack and above 800m the snow was superb where we went. We headed onto the western slopes of Carn Beag Dearg and covered movement on snow using first just boots, then ice axe  including cutting steps and finally cramponing techniques.  The ground above 900m was really icy and hard on the knees for some axe arresting. The burn that runs down to the Allt a' Mhuillin from CBD always fills well with snow and is a great place to practice cramponing technique. We had beautiful views of the Ben and over to the west there was some lovely atmospheric cloud. 

Friday, 9 December 2011


The north face of Ben Nevis
NE Buttress and Tower Ridge looking good
CMD arete and Ben Nevis
Ice rimed arete
What a contrast from yesterday's very wild weather. Today I headed out into a very calm morning, onto Carn Mor Dearg. There was hardly a breath of wind all the way up onto the ridge. The weather looked like it wasn't going to play the game, a few snow showers and cloud to lower levels this morning. Hard going in the unconsolidated snow but a lot easier than the last few days. At around 850m there was a breakable crust and the going just got better and better with superb crampon terrain at 1000m. I just got to the summit of Carn Mor Dearg when suddenly the skies cleared from the SW and the Ben revealed itself. The CMD arete was superb, no one had been on it and some excellent windblown sections and other bits corniced. The wind was bitterly cold but this blew the clouds away so absolutely wonderful. It must have been cold as my battery in the camera suddenly died, just as the views came! So I resorted to the good old warming the battery in my hands and managed to get some shots in the sun. Views so good I came back along the arete to get the cracking views of the North Face. As you'll see from the photos it's all looking absolutely wonderful on The Ben.  The only living things I saw all day was a solitary hungry snow bunting on the arete and low down the usual herd of young deer, quite used to me wandering close to them now! A hard frost and more snow showers tomorrow. I have my first winter skills course running  tomorrow, the snow turning up bang on time!

Wednesday, 7 December 2011



I took my usual afternoon wander up The Allt a' Mhuillin to the CIC Hut today. What a contrast from a week ago with snow down to low levels, there is 30cm of snow in places but there is a good  trench most of the way up to the hut. I passed a couple who had headed back down from The Ben, they said it took them nearly four hours to get up to the hut this morning. The CIC Hut Cascades were forming well and there seemed to be quite a bit of ice on Carn Dearg and Castle Ridge. Going by tomorrow's weather forecast this will have disappeared I guess as the temperatures are rising and it looks to be a wild and wet day. This is only going to be a brief thaw though as later on on Thursday the cold temperatures will be back, great for the snow pack and should be easier going by the weekend. It all looks great for early part of winter.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011


A lot of snow been dumped the last few days, especially in the West Highlands. Travelling back up to Fort William by train from Glasgow today, with stunning views all the way. Blue skies and very little wind this morning so I hopped off at Bridge of Orchy station and nipped up Beinn Dorain between the morning and afternoon trains. Only 4 hours so not quite enough time to get to the top and back, hard going in the powder snow, up to shin level. Great day for photos. I was breaking trail but there were a couple of climbers on the west crag of Beinn Dorain, something looking steep. the crags well iced and rimed up. There was high level cloud floating in from the west and the snow arrived again late afternoon. A lot of snow on the hills then, fantastic.

Monday, 5 December 2011


Just back from deepest Englandshire and The Lake District for the annual gathering of the BAIML AGM and CPD workshops. Saturday I joined the Glacial Landscapes and Geology workshop as part of my CPD for my IML Award. We went into the Coppermines valley and around The Old Man of Coniston, exploring the many copper mining caves, focusing on the geology of the area. The weather was hail showers and strong winds on the tops. Sunday my CPD day was indoors and we were discussing being a provider of expeditions overseas. Back home in Scotland and it's snow down to sea level this morning. Forecast for below freezing tonight so should be a nice clear day for tomorrow.

Thursday, 1 December 2011


The last couple of days it's been raining and strong winds but on the mountains snow has been getting deposited and today the clouds lifted to reveal the white stuff. I took a wander up into the Ciste Corrie on The Ben , snow at 500m and even ice on the Allt a' Mhuillin path with ice starting to form even on the CIC Cascades. The crags are pretty white and high up in the corrie there are deposits of snow to a depth of 30cm in places. There were constant snow showers today and the tops only cleared occasionally. Saw not a soul all day, no footprints up to the CIC Hut so I presume there was no one on the North Face. Peace shattered on the way down, two choppers buzzing about, Royal Navy and unusual to see what I thought was an Royal Army chopper? Olive green coloured. Maybe the army were checking out the snow conditions? down at 400m on the path out I nearly tripped over some young red deer, grazing and wandering across the path, great. Forecast sub freezing temps at sea level tonight and more snow to come over the weekend. I think winter as definitely come and coincided with the official start of Winter-1st December.