Early on Ben Nevis

Another stunning day in the sun on Ben Nevis.  I will let the photos speak for themselves about the views.  I was up early today for Dave A and his group from TK Max in Watford undertaking the 3 peaks challenge for Comic Relief.  We started with 10 and 8 made it to the summit by 11am and they were on the road by 2pm.

The snow at about 2/3 of the way up was rock solid today and winter kit was definitely needed, but there were many people looking very unsure on their feet going up without, I wondered how they would do getting down.

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Ben Nevis summit

Ben Nevis summit

Sun on Ben Nevis!

So for the second time in a week I got a view from the top of Ben Nevis, there must be something up!

Although it’s not all rosy on Ben Nevis.  I started with 6 people today and very quickly 2 had to pull out due to colds.  Then just after a quarter of the way up another decided to turn around.  It is the way it goes sometimes.  So myself, Ros, Holly and Dan made our way up past the very icy and slippery snow on the Red Burn and then up the zig zags into the snow.  We put crampons on at about zig zag 4, where many people were turning around who were prepared for summer and didn’t have any winter kit, some, decided to continue.

On the firm ice we made steady progress in the still very warm sunshine to the plateaux where the view of the summit drove them on for the last section.  With good views at the top and lots of people, walkers and climbers, there was a buzz about the place.

With a chilly breeze we quickly started our descent down the Red Burn steering clear of the many people sliding around us who hadn’t expected the snow.  The guys did really well for their first winter day out and we got back to the Red Burn in good time.  With tired legs we made the descent of the last half of the mountain in a total of about 8 hours.  A great day all round.

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Enjoying the sunshine on Ben Nevis

Enjoying the sunshine on Ben Nevis

CMD arête in the sun!

So it must be a good 6 months since I have had a view going round the CMD arête and today was worth the wait.

Myself and Richard made good progress up the broad slope of Carn Mor Dearg in the usual spindrift, low cloud and very strong wind.  It was tricky conditions walking up to the summit with a lot of frozen ground and water but also a lot of rocks, crampons or not?  I moved for crampons as the wind was more likely to push us off our feet and slip on the ice than tripping on the rocks with crampons.

Once we descended off the summit which we reached in about 3 hours, the cloud cleared and the sun came out to great views of the Mamores range and the amazing (and busy) north face of Ben Nevis.

The ridge had 2 characters today: the first half was very rocky covered with a verglas of ice and very strong wind, a ‘dynamic’ position was needed to make our way along.  Then the second half was covered in powder snow and the wind had dropped completely to make for a very warm ascent up the final slope of Ben Nevis.

Where we got a view! Photos for all the people who I have taken up where we have been covered in ice and cloud, this is what the view looks like.

Just for the descent back to the car, which we made in a total of 8 hours, a great day to be on the hills.

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Richard on the CMD arête

Richard on the CMD arête

Stob Corie nan Lochan

Today was the 1st of 3 days with Richard in the winter hills.  The original plan was to summit Bidean nam Bian but with 100mph winds forecast all day that was out the window.  So we still decided to start the walk up to Stob corie nan Lochan so see how far we would get (sometimes the forecast can be wrong) and to spend a bit of time recapping the winter skills for Richard along the way.

It seemed like a lot of other instructors had the same idea, so there was a small convoy of guided parties making their way up against the gale force winds.  Against the winds we managed to get to 850m on the ridge of Aonach Dubh where we poked our heads over the top, only to be literally pushed back.  So that was our high point and the forecast was correct.

In the corrie we went through good route choice to decrease the risk of entering avalanche terrain and did a few ice axe arrests in extremely testing conditions.  Where we then called it a day and started the walk back down through the now slushy snow and rain that had started at about 700m.

A good reminder for Richard about what Scottish winter is all about.

Richard on Stob corie nan Lochan

Richard on Stob corie nan Lochan


Windy Ben Nevis

With a poor forecast I set off with Grant from Tasmania who is on his Scotland tour including going up Ben Nevis.  With an early start we made good progress in strong wind and showers to half way lochan where we entered the snow line.  With a few droopy cornices around the Red Burn and lots of fresh snow around the crossing wasn’t as easy as previous ascents.  Grant is a keen mountain walker in the southern hemisphere and it showed as we reached the edge of the plateaux without too much effort.

The wind was still strong but we were luckily in a lull, so with visibility at zero we made our way to the summit with only a few of the marker cairns just visible.  After a bite to eat we were on our descent within 3.5 hours, in even worse visibility and with the wind picking up lots of hail stones and blowing them into our faces, very painful.

There were very few people on the mountain today, some look well equipped, some didn’t.  Not a day to be on the hill if you are not sure if you have the knowledge.

Ben Nevis Summit

Ben Nevis Summit


Avalanche Awareness day for Mountain festival

Today I was working with Max to deliver an avalanche awareness day on Aonach Mor for the Fort William Mountain Festival.

The day started inside going through the strategies of planning a day in the hills in winter by looking at information that is available on the weather, snow conditions and proposed terrain.

The day was based around the ‘Be Avalanche Aware’ information available on the Scottish Avalanche Information service website which is the most up to date way of thinking about avalanche safety:  think of your group, the terrain and weather/snow conditions in the planning stage, whilst on the hill and at key points in your journey.

There is a strong emphasis that 75% of decision-making for avalanche avoidance should happen when planning your day before you even step foot on the hill, including what hill is appropriate to go up with the current conditions.

With this we planned a route up the Nid ridge on Aonach Mor and around the top of the ski area looking at ways to identify potential danger areas of snow that backed up our thinking in the planning stage.  We then looked at quick ways whist walking to start to identify potential weak sliding layers by using the boot and ice axe whilst on the move.  Where we then moved on to looking at the firmness of the snow by digging a small pit to identify layers.

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Be Avalanche Aware

Be Avalanche Aware

Ben Nevis with the Norwegians

After wading out the door today through the piles of cards I started up the Ben track with Nicolai, Andrea, Lauritz and Jennifer from Glasgow uni.  With the temperature rising as we emerged out of the cloud inversion we made steady progress to the zig zags, where I was still in just a base layer and a gilet!  With the sun starting to come round the corner we put crampons on to make our way further up the mountain where the wind increased and the temperature plummeted to its usual chill factor.

Legs were starting to hurt by the plateaux where we lost all visibility in the cloud but spirits were high whilst making our way over the last stretch to the summit in a good 4 hours.

Then started the strangest lunch I think I have seen on the summit: a tub of pre-pealed oranges (good forward thinking there), cheese sandwiches, sausage, chocolate and Turkeys’ finest ‘Hot and Spicy’ liquorice spirit, all mixed together I’m not sure what the dominant flavour would be.  You can take the student out of Glasgow…….

With a quick turn around we then descended, back into the good views out west and south down Loch Linnhe.  A great day to be on the hills.

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Nicolai, Andrea, Lauritz, Jennifer on the summit

Nicolai, Andrea, Lauritz, Jennifer on the summit