A final few days at the end of my Scottish winter season gave a mixed bag of conditions, weather and routes. After a year off the Irish crew arrived for a quick hit coming away with ascents of the Douglas Boulder SW Ridge (IV 5) and a very snowy swim up Western Rib (III) on the west face of Aonach Mor. With the turbo thaw back in action my final day on Curved Ridge was almost alpine with a leisurely picnic on Crowberry Tower and a cloud inversion on top.
The last few days in the mountains have proved pretty eventful with the ongoing earthquake disaster in Nepal and the avalanches on Everest. We'rejust picking up the pieces after our own avalanche experience in Greenland exactly one year to the day after 16 Sherpas were killed on Everest.
I was guiding for Tangent Expeditions and our plan was to explore, climb and ski in the rarely visited southern Stauning Alps on the east coast of Greenland. Good weather enabled our skidoo transport to make quick progress across Jamieson Land with the mountains of Milneland, Renland and the Staunings dominating the horizon. There were tens of musk ox moving singuly and in herds chewing on the few sprigs of vegetation that were starting to show through the snowpack.
We spent the night in the derelict Gurreholm Research station after digging down to it's back door. The following morning we picked our way across the sea ice and up the main drainage line until we were blocked by sheet ice. From here we were on ski dragging everything we needed for the following two weeks in our pulks. A long hot day ensued until we found a good location for our base camp still a few kilometers from the mountains
Next day saw us enjoying a stunning ski tour up one of many glacier that drop from the small icecap atop the Stauning Alps. There was very little crevasse risk, the sun was out and we were sheltered from the wind blowing across the plateau. However on a slope we had identified as stable we presume a deep seated weak layer meant that we triggered a large slab avalanche as we approached the rim. We regrouped having dug ourselves out after a bruising ride and with no serious injuries but our skis were gone. Our 'postholing' descent to base camp took rather a long time!
Back at camp we realised our expedition was over with no efficient way of moving around the mountains and a few limiting injuries. A poor weather forecast meant that the Dragon Skidoo Team couldn't reach us immediatly but we were safe and secure in camp with enough food and fuel for 2 weeks. In the event it wasn't needed as a weather window opened and the Dragons grabbed the oppurtunity to get in and pick us up. Poor visibilty and flat light meant that the return journey took three days but within hours of getting back to Constable Point we were in the air and on our way back to Iceland.
Good report here from Dr Rob Conway on the Dragons Skidoo Team
This weekend I've been working with Ryoko and Anthony, the former who has big plans involving skis on Mt Vinson and Denali. Not sure I can help her much with the skiing! so it was all about giving her the mountaineering and expedition skills to enable her to get up and down the mountains safely and look after herself in an extreme enviroment. Saturday was spent in a wet Stob Coire Nan Lochan focusing on crevasse rescue, ascending and descending fixed lines and avalanche avoidance. A better forecast for sunday tempted us up on to Ben Nevis which has had a surprising amount of new snow. Arguably the best grade II on the mountain is Ledge Route which is similar in technical difficulty to Mt Vinson although it is currently in very easy condition with all the rock steps banked out. Some good navigation practice got us off the back and down into Red Burn for a quick look at cold weather survival skills and emergency snow shelters.
A harrowing film from Discovery Channel on the tragic events on Everest this spring. My Everest Sirdar and a good friend Dorje Khatri was one of those killed. This year he was the Sirdar for Joby Ogwen who was attempting to base jump from the summit for a live Discovery broadcast. Huge thanks to everyone who went and got him and returned him to his family. Honored to have provided some of the images of Dorje for this feature.
Plan A for today was the Aonach Eagach Ridge but the forecast 70mph winds put paid to that. Looking for another classic in Glencoe we headed to Curved Ridge on the Buachaille which usually provides a sheltered option in strong westerlies. The thaw has taken its toll and the route is now almost in summer condition with patches on soft snow which didn't require crampons today. We were able to look at a variety of alpine techniques of moving together on different terrain and even had a sit down lunch with a view in the sunshine!
We topped out into gale force winds which at times almost had us resorting to crawling to make progress. The head of Coire na Tulaich is still threatened by some significant sagging cornices behind which some obvious cracks are opening up. Below these is a large crown wall curving around the coire, the result of a significant avalanche but actually not the earlier huge slide which exited the coire base almost a kilometer away!
Today I was out with Mick and Paul who wanted to experience the classic Tower Ridge (IV 3). After the glorious weather earlier in the week the weather forecast was looking decidedly un-promising with the freezing level well above the summits and gusts of 80mph. We persevered telling ourselves we'd just have a look and it all came good for us with a very quick ascent in relatively benign conditions.
The walk in was enlivened by trying to persuade a group that No 4 Gully wasn't a good option for the day. They'd failed to look at a mountain weather and or avalanche forecast and were completely oblivious to the danger of the huge cornices / seracs that have been causing some huge avalanches in the recent warm conditions.
Tower Ridge is still well plastered in soft wet snow with helpful chewy ice on the various tricky steps. Against a constant barrage of noise from falling ice in Observatory Gully we soon arrived at Great Tower and the infamous Eastern Traverse. This is still pretty much banked out but today gave us the added bonus of a good shower of icy water from above. I opted for the extension to the traverse which proved easier than the steep moves staright up. The narrow snow arete to Tower Gap was climbed a cheval and cruddy ice on the exit meant that today this was the crux. We topped out in 4 hours to be met by a constant stream of walkers, many in jeans and trainers, making their way to the summit seemingly oblivious to the cornices!