The forecast was for gale force winds on the tops but crucially the freezing level was coming down from above the summits. We headed up a long line of teams making the trek up into Stob Coire nan Lochan and onwards to the classic Dorsal Arete II. The coire was full of avalanche debris from the thaw the previous night but their were still some huge cornice overhanging the right hand side of the crag. However the approach slopes had refrozen and we made good time to the base of where Dorsal arete normally starts. The depth of snow meant that I struggled to recognise many of the features on this trade route and even the final rock fin was a narrow snow arete which was climbed au cheval. The cornice needed a little bit of work before we crawled on to the ridge and were immediately pinned down by the gale force winds. A quick descent of Broad Gully was the best option in these conditions before a pleasant walk out beneath blue skies.
The SW Ridge of the Douglas Boulder gave us a great adventure today. We broke trail to the base of the ridge before enjoying alpine conditions with dry rock and deep snow. Word on the grapevine was a team had got their rope stuck abseiling into East Gully. We were able to retrieve this and return it to its grateful owner. Back down at the CIC Hut an unfortunate crevasse incident delayed us as we put Ben through a few rescue scenarios.
Castle Gully had released a huge avalanche a couple of hours before we walked in which crossed the CIC - Half Way Lochan path. In Coire na Ciste gullies no 2, 3, 4 and 5 had all released overnight and no 5 went again during the day probably due to a cornice collapse. 6 or 7 teams went for Tower Ridge with the resultant traffic jams meaning a late finish for some. Observatory Ridge also saw an ascent from a strong team as did Slingsby's Chimney / NE Buttress.
This week I'm working with professional adventurer Ben Thackawray who has some big plans for the future. Our aim was to develop his skills as an independent mountaineer. With a rather wet and warm forecast for the west coast of Scotland we opted to make the drive over to the Cairngorms. The Fiacaill Ribs in Coire an t-Sneachda gave us the perfect training ground to look at rope systems, building belays, stance management. and abseil descents. There was a reasonable amount of avalanche debris in the coire but still some huge cornices threatening many of the routes.
I've just run five days of Scottish based training for the Imperial Trans Antarctic Centenary Expedition which aims to make a complete crossing of the continent later in the year. They'll also be attempting a crossing of the Greenland icecap in May as part of their training. www.south2014.com
The week focused on the technical as well as the physical and mental skills required to operate safely in these enviroments.
We were joined by photographer John Pickles who took these stunning black and white images. More of his work can be seen on his website at www.johnpicklesphotography.com.