Guides Test Take Two

This week I have been assisting with the second round of the British Mountain Guides Winter Test. We ice climbed on Ben Nevis and mixed climbed in the Cairngorms.

We did have some good climbing conditions. However, it is worth noting that due to the lean conditions there are many loose blocks to contend with.

More photos and a video on the facebook page.

Ice climbing on Ben Nevis.

Ice climbing on Ben Nevis.

La Cattedrale

The highlight of today was our ascent of La Cattedrale – ramo destro. This is one of the great classics of the area and provided a brilliant route to finish our trip on. It was also Ivor’s 71st birthday today making the route even more special for him.

Martin and I will both be reporting from Scotland next week.

Martin abseiling down the Cascata.

Martin abseiling down the Cascata.

Ivor below La Cattedrale.

Ivor below La Cattedrale.

Here Comes the Snow

Large volumes of snow arrived overnight in the Dolomites. This coincided today with an Italian Mountain Guides assessment in the gorge. This meant that less routes were available than normal. We did however have a great day climbing Cascata della Luna, Baby and another tricky mixed route.

Baby is currently not completely formed and requires mixed climbing (and trad kit) to get to the ice.

Ivor on one of the mixed routes in Serai di Sottoguda

Ivor on one of the mixed routes in Serai di Sottoguda

Ivor climbing Baby.

Ivor climbing Baby.

 

Cascata and a Little Bit of ‘M’

We have had another good day today in the Serai di Sottoguda. Highlights of the day were Cascata delle Attraversate and one of the new mixed routes in the gorge.

The Cascata was thinner than normal due to the lean season that the Dolomites is experiencing this year but still brilliant. It is probably harder than the suggested grade in the guidebook.

Ivor on the Cascata.

Ivor on the Cascata.

Graham on the 'M' route.

Graham on the ‘M’ route.

Time for some Cascata

Ivor, Graham, Martin and I arrived last night in the Dolomites. Today we had a warm up day climbing in the Serai di Sottoguda. We completed; Arbre Magique, Palestrina and Cascata del Gelato. Conditions on the routes were good.

Martin climbing Cascata del Gelato.

Martin climbing Cascata del Gelato.

Neilston and Snow Factor

Gayle, Paul, Wilson and I have been out today at two venues. This morning we visited Neilston Quarry near Glasgow. It is an ideal venue for those new to leading with lots of easier routes to climb.

Gayle Paul and Wilson climbing at Neilston.

Gayle, Paul and Wilson climbing at Neilston.

This afternoon we visted the Snow Factor at Braehead. We had a good time looking at skills for efficient movement over ice.

Gayle and Paul climbing ice.

Gayle and Paul climbing ice.

 

Beinn Udlaidh

Nettle and I were looking for a quick climb before the forecast wind and rain arrived today, so we headed to Beinn Udlaidh. This worked really well and despite the thawing conditions we climbed Tinkerbell and Doctor’s Dilema and descended Central Gully.

Leading the lower pillar of Tinkerbell

Leading the lower pillar of Tinkerbell. Photo Credit: J.Foden

Nettle with Central Gully and Doctor's Dilema visible behind

Nettle with Central Gully and Doctor’s Dilema visible behind

Nettle took a very steep variation up an icey groove to the right on the second pitch of Doctor’s Dilema, which bumped the route up to what felt like a good, hard, fun Tech 5. I’m not sure if I’ve used a kneebar on Scottish ice before.

Nettle heading towards the steep groove

Nettle heading towards the steep groove

The routes in the coire to the left of Central Gully generally had large impending cornices over them and there were several sloughs as the day went on.

Cornices over the routes on the East of the coire

Cornices over the routes on the East of the coire. Photo Credit: J. Foden

The freezing level was well above the summit during the day and routes were dripping heavily and softening up. The forecast is for rain and the freezing level to go above the summits for some time, so the routes on Udlaidh are likely to suffer badly.

Making new friends on the walk out

Making new friends on the walk out. Photo Credit: J.Foden

Coire an t’Sneachda and Creag Meagaidh

Jol and I have been based in Aviemore for the last two days for some winter climbing. On Wednesday we headed in to Coire an t’Sneachda. North and West facing slopes were looking pretty loaded with fresh snow, so we headed over to the Fiacaill Buttress area and climbed Fiacaill Couloir. This was approached and climbed on mostly scoured neve with the odd patch of generally avoidable fresh soft snow. We then descended the easier West side of Fiacaill Ridge to the col before climbing the more fun direct line and then redescending. This gave us a chance to look at moving together as a technique as well as the avalanche avoidance/gear placement/belay building we’d covered earlier. There was more snow than forecast in the area during the day with fairly continuous light snow above 650m on a light Easterly wind. This was forming considerable depths of fresh soft snow in sheltered locations. Ski touring looks excellent, but good route choice is required to avoid loaded slopes.

On Wednesday we headed across to Creag Meagaidh looking for slightly better weather, less new snow and some ice. We had a great day climbing Diadem. The two main ice pitches were in excellent condition with Jol describing the long icey corner pitch as “hoofing”. Including the approach pitches up The Sash and the easier exit ground it gave seven pitches and a superb day out. Again more falling snow than I’d expected and we climbed mostly in the cloud. Light snow on and off on a light South-Easterly wind. Some accumulation of fresh snow on the approach and exit pitches, but generally avoidable or soft and not deep. Cornices on the South and East facing aspects were old and solid, but I’d expect considerable fresh snow depths and fresh cornices developing on North and West facing aspects. We exited via the Window, which is relatively well scoured and not currently threatened from above.

Apologies for the lack of photos. I’ve managed to misplace my camera, hopefully it’s only temporarily. A wee update: Many thanks to Carlos for sending through the photo below of The Wand and Diadem, with me just visible leading the second ice pitch of Diadem. We bumped in to him around the top of The Wand/Diadem and he’d had what sounded like a great day soloing I think Smith’s Route, Last Post and The Wand.

The Wand & Diadem

The Wand & Diadem. Photo Credit: Carlos

Cama’ Choire A’Bhuidheanach Bheag

What do you do on a bank holiday Sunday with good weather and conditions? Nettle and I chose to go for an adventure away from the crowds. From the A9 we carried our skis a short distance before skinning up the track to pt. 902m between A’Bhuidheanach and Carn na Caim. We then skied down towards Meall Odhar Mor and dropped in to the delightful Cama’ Choire. This feature is more of a steep sided stream line than a normal coire.

Nettle about to descend from pt.902m

Nettle about to descend from pt.902m

Based on some vague memories from a trip in 2006 and some waterfalls shown on the map we were hoping to find some ice to climb. After descending the coire for a while and having to bypass a couple of steep steps we poked our noses in to one of the side streams and found what we were looking for. 

Below the first icey step

Below the first icey step

The stream gave three good icey pitches (the longest steep section being about 25m) with some easy ground in between and then a solo out of the top. The ice was good, but quite hollow sounding in places and care was required around plunge pools. I’d guess it’s a new line at around Grade III. The climbing was generally escapable on to the sides of the stream, but is in a pretty remote location.

Nettle on the third icey pitch

Nettle on the third icey pitch

The second pitch Photo credit: J.Foden

The second pitch Photo credit: J.Foden

Once the angle in the gully eased back we put on skis and skinned up the gully and then around to A’Bhuidheanach Bheag before heading back to pt. 902m. The day finished with a glorious ski down excellent snow on the South side of Coire nan Cisteachan.

The final descent of the day

The final descent of the day

Snow conditions are currently excellent for ski touring in the area. There are some areas of windslab in sheltered locations and some icey scoured areas. Turf in the area was frozen from road level and there’s a fair bit of ice around. There’s also a lot of surface hoar, which will form a weak layer if more snow falls or is blown on top of it. Below freezing all day. Light South-East wind, sunshine and cloud, but no precipitation during the day.

Ben Nevis

Based in the CIC hut for the last three days with Euan and the Falkirk High Tops Team (see Euan’s report below). There’s been considerable fresh snow and a lot of wind movement of snow since the last thaw freeze cycle; this has resulted in large build ups of wind slab. The wind slab is sitting on top of a hard old snow in a lot of areas on Ben Nevis. Additionally, there are weak layers of softer slab, which were deposited during periods of lighter winds, within the wind slab.

Euan, Gayle, Roger and David on the East Ridge of Carn Dearg Meadhonach

Euan, Gayle, Roger and David on the East Ridge of Carn Dearg Meadhonach

Careful route choice is currently required with crag aprons in sheltered locations a particular concern, as well as fresh building cornices and loading of slopes above routes and on exit slopes.

Gary on the East Ridge of Carn Dearg Meadhonach

Gary on the East Ridge of Carn Dearg Meadhonach

The winds over the last three days have mostly been from the East and South-East, but there is cross-loading on a lot of aspects. If you are on Ben Nevis over the next few days go carefully, particularly in poor visibility, as you may find unstable wind slab on slopes you don’t expect or potentially building above you.

Gary above the steep section of Waterfall Gully

Gary above the steep section of Waterfall Gully

It’s worth noting that on Gutlass and Waterfall Gully we chose to only climb the lower pitches and then abseil the route to avoid potential avalanche risk higher up or in descent and after finishing Curtain Rail the teams chose to abseil rather than come down the bottom of Number Five Gully.