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With Kev flying in to Birmingham from Chamonix and Rich driving up from Otley after work on Friday it was a late rendezvous in the Claichaig and a 6am alarm for Saturday. This may go some way to explain how we arrived at the foot of Gargoyle Wall Saturday morning doubled up with hexes and guidebooks!
Saturday 9/12/17 Ben Nevis.
Good weather but atrocious conditions underfoot with fresh powder over the partially frozen rubble that makes up the basin of Coire na Ciste made for an arduous and slow approach, crampons were redundant until you reached the start of the route. Gargoyle Wall Direct was chosen as the best of the options and it had a good hoar frost coating but also a lot of powder covering the ledges which required a fair amount of sweeping. We’ve both done it before so with failing daylight opted to abb off after 3 pitches.
The cracks were mostly clear of ice and you could place the odd cam and it all felt secure apart from a loose block at the end of pitch one which I don’t recall from a previous ascent. Looking around the coire all the higher routes looked in good nick and ice was beginning to form on the Cascade. We had the mountain pretty much to ourselves and there was no one on any of the other routes high in the coire. We did spot to headlamps high on the Douglass Boulder as we descended back down to the path – they were clearly intent on getting their money’s worth!
Sunday 10/12/17 Church Door Buttress.
After settling on a late 6am alarm followed by a fairly swift 1hr 50min approach we found both our plan ‘A’ Un Poco Loco and plan ‘B’ Crypt route taken so Plan ‘C’ became Flake Route Right Hand. What a great route! Kev found technical hooks and torques on pitch one (bring a rock 1 as a thread for the initial moves out of the ‘gully’ at the chockstones) whilst the rest of the route was in a more traditional vein including a cave/chimney pitch necessitating sac removal and hauling! Conditions were pretty much perfect with hoar frost on the rock and well frozen turf.
No powder on ledges and dry cracks meant you could happily place cams, ideal conditions for ticking that tricky mixed route. Unfortunately a traffic jam where Crypt Route, Un Poco Loco and Flake Route Right Hand coalesce meant we climbed the final pitch in the dark so it was another long day. But well worth 2 stars if not more.
11/12/17 Ledge Route Ben Nevis.
With Kev having started the long drive back to what turned out to be a snow bound Birmingham Rich opted for an easy mountain day on the Ben. Conditions were pretty similar to Saturday with the snow pack being a bit wetter low down but still little or no consolidation. Ledge route had a few icy steps and the loose material under the powder made for wobbly walking at times in crampons.
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