Thursday 13 January 2011

Ben Nevis climbing conditions report. January 13th 2011

Well, as I set off from my digs in Fort William this morning, I was aware that it really wasn't going to be a good day. The car's thermometer was registering 5 degrees C and it was raining heavily, the MWIS west highlands forecast had indicated that the freezing level would be above the summits and the wind would be South Westerlies- so that meant warm air and it was already evident that a rapid thaw was in progress.

Anyway, having moved up to Scotland up until Mid March at least, I thought today would be a chance to get some exercise and start to get hill fit again if nothing else!

Having to walk up from the North Face car park certainly gives one the chance to contemplate what being hill fit for a Scottish Winter Season really means and by the time I reached the Allt A Mhuillin top car park, I was already warm - being clad in Goretex to stay dry in the rain showers.

The walk in was difficult due to the amount of ice on the Allt A Mhuillin path (essentially as a result of previously compacted snow) and as the first shot shows that there was a considerable thaw taking place with large streams of meltwater issuing from Castle Corrie and from below The Shroud. The icefalls on the lower tier below Carn Dearg Buttress were still there but looking thin; although I did observe a pair move in to set up for climbing the icy groove (second from the left in the first photo) as I was passing and it did look reasonably safe still.

The second photo shows how much snow had already been stripped from the banks in the vicinity of the CIC Hut.

Waterfall Gully (IV'4) on the right hand of Carn Dearg Buttress looked disappointingly thin from the Allt A Mhuillin so I thought I would go up and take a closer look. This route was streaming a lot of water and not in condition at all today - but given the forecast, this was not really surprising.

Skirting under Carn Dearg Buttress to get to The Curtain (IV'5) was not easy due to the (at times) thigh deep soft snow accumulations around the base.
Moving up to The Curtain showed it to be incomplete and if the water running over the ice in the foreground was anything to go by - melting rapidly. A local climber has since told me that despite the very cold November/December, ice on The Curtain had not formed on the lower slabs to any great thickness. There is nothing there now.

I continued, wading through at times, deep soft snow under Moonlight Gully Buttress and across below North Trident up to Coire Na Ciste where I stopped for a bite to eat. I had seen a group practising cramponing skills on ice on the coire stream above the CIC hut and observed them through the mist being guided on the steeper icefall section just above that. Judging by the voices I could hear, they weren't now far below me.
My possible plan had been to head up to the southern end of the corrie and maybe head up Raeburns Easy Route (II) on to the summit. However, I was aware that the SAIS forecast for the day was category three between 800M and the summit for slopes from NW through slopes to E and that the likely danger would be cornice collapse around the corrie rim. So - maybe not such a bright idea!
Anyway, this final shot shows the recent avalanche debris which had come down from the back of Coire Na Ciste which may have been up to 15 feet deep - presumably the result of cornice collapse in the area between Green Gully & No3 Gully Buttress. On seeing this I made the decision to call it a day and descended back to the CIC Hut and back to the NF car park.
The forecast tonight indicates it will snow above 1000M before the rain returns tomorrow. As you can see here, climbing conditions on The Ben ain't that great at the moment.