Archive for September, 2011

Abseil Signs and Posts on Ben Nevis

Sunday, September 25th, 2011
"number four gully"

Number 4 Gully Marker

This has been received from the John Muir Trust. My own views are shown after this. If you wish to comment please contact John Muir Trust

Proposed Work

John Muir Trust advocates a presumption against way-markers or poles and the removal of any remnant or new ones in consultation with MCofS and any other relevant bodies or individuals.

Abseil Sign and Posts

After discussion with the Mountaineering Council of Scotland Mountain Safety Advisor John Muir Trust has concluded that the Abseil posts on Ben Nevis are redundant and we cannot identify anyone that actually uses them as an anchor. The majority are in Coire Leis (not Trust ground) and are not upstanding. The top marker sign and post (on Trust land) are not in the most appropriate place for starting a descent BUT are used as a useful and much appreciated navigation marker by even experienced climbers.

John Muir Trust proposes to remove the top marker sign and post on the Trust land situated at the lip of Coire Leis. After initial discussion with MCofS Mountain Safety Advisor the Trust propose to replace this with a cairn similar to the navigation cairns on the summit of the mountain will a short distance away at the most appropriate location for descent so retaining a navigational aid. This location will be identified by an on site visit with John Muir Trust and the MCofS Mountain Safety Advisor.

In the May 2007 edition of MCofS magazine an article noted that the abseil posts would be removed and that MCofS supported this. We are proposing that further articles / publicity are generated to notify climbers of this work if it is agreed. If agreed, the work would be carried out during summer 2012 with volunteers on JMT work parties.

No 4 Gully Marker

No 4 Gully Flag is used both as a very important navigation aid and as an anchor from which a rope can be retrieved (i.e. pulled through from below without snagging on a rock to lower/abseil into the first steep part of No 4 Gully). As a navigation aid the Trust could replace this metal pole with a built cairn in keeping with the others on the mountain, however this would not be as useful as an anchor from which a rope could be retrieved.

It appears there is no obvious alternative. The John Muir Trust seeks the advice and comments of the MCofS and Lochaber Mountain Rescue to see if any alternatives emerge.

My view

I spent a lot of time lobbying successfully for way markers (of any sort) on the plateau of Nevis and I feel that we now have useful cairns on both the summer and winter trails above 1100m. I would be happy for the metal sign at the top of the abseil posts to be replaced by a substantial cairn and all of the downhill metal posts below it to be taken away. The rotting alloy posts which are so useful in guiding folk down towards CMD Arete from the summit should not be moved, unless replaced by something more substantial in the way of large cairns. Personally I’d replace the posts with like for like. The reason the posts were put in place remains as relevant today as it was back in late 60’s. I find them very comforting and useful for navigating towards the CMD Arete when descending towards Coire Leis. The No4 Gully post is useful for abseiling in to the gully and should not be removed in my opinion. It also provides a traditional navigation point, which is enshrined in many guidebooks. Any alternative should consider the navigation issue before the abseil issue, as many mountaineers can now easily rig a secure roped back-up quickly in descent.

"number four gully"

Number 4 Gully Marker


Cosmiques and Mont Blanc du Tacul

Saturday, September 24th, 2011

Finally catching up with a host of photos from 9th and 10th September. After being reduced by poor weather on Monte Rosa, we moved over to Chamonix at the start of a good spell of weather. The previous week had given us good acclimatisation, which is always a bonus when catching a cable car straight to 3,800m and spending a night in the Cosmiques Hut. A leisurely afternoon start on the Cosmiques Arete after dropping our kit at the hut was supposed to avoid any crowds! Unfortunately we were in a bit of a ‘confusion’ of ropes, especially at the wall pitch close to the finish.

Various techniques were on display from prussiking up a fixed rope to cleanly by-passing the whole ‘guddle’ on the left or right. Interestingly the teams who showed a clean pair of heels were all British and fast. Leaving crampons on for this section (see photos), can provide added purchase on the smooth granite, as a number of conveniently slotted drill holes are placed just perfect for front points. Strange that! A night back at the hut plus an 0500 start placed us on the summit of Mt Blanc du Tacul all by ourselves on a very fine morning, with views all around. At the time of our ascent the approach face and seracs were all silent and well frozen. This area is notorious for serac fall and avalanche, so be warned in poor weather. Seracs are a law unto themselves and it’s wise to be swift when climbing below them in case gravity takes over!

At the time of our visit the conditions were very good and quite a number of teams were out on the Chere Couloir and adjacent routes. Since arriving home in Scotland another dump of snow has arrived in Chamonix, so my alpine blog is now out of date and climbers are asked to find more recent reports. One noticeable concern that will remain, was the amount of loose rock and glacial melt-back on the lower rock apron of the Aiguille du Midi, south face. So much so, that a fence has been erected below obvious loose ares to encourage climbers to stay clear!

Monte Rosa

Saturday, September 17th, 2011

Now the weather has improved (6th September) we left for Zermatt. I normally use a taxi into the village. The advantage being slightly cheaper and a place to leave your vehicle. Plenty of options on the left as Tasch is entered. Our plan was to try and climb Monte Rosa from the new Monte Rosa Hut which has recently been rebuilt uphill of the old hut. Just a shame it could not have been built a little higher, as the height gain on summit day is around 1800m! The new hut is however a wonder of modern design and boasts a 90% self-sufficient energy design, using solar power to good effect. The Swiss Alpine Club have removed the old hut with explosives I believe!!

Approaching the hut from Rotenboden on the Gornagrat railway has become increasing difficult since I first stayed on the site in 1975. Even in the last year, retreating glaciers have forced the authorities to place metal ladders in various places to help alpinistes and ‘hut trippers’ reach the hut with some degree of safety. Crampons will often be essential once the ladders have been negotiated to gain the Grenz glacier. The exit from the glacier on to the rocks below the hut is guarded by a very big and fearsome glacial tunnel that carries a huge amount of melt water.

Unfortunately our attempt on Monte Rosa was thwarted by bad weather and white-out only 150m below the summit. The normal route on the west ridge was cloaked in too much fresh snow and a large group in front had blazed a good trail to the col between Dofourspitze and Nordend. We followed this trail but it was filling in quite quickly and not easy going. The glacier below the col is not straight forward, especially in descent and in a white out. It’s certainly a good place to carry a GPS and plug in various waymarks in ascent, which can be followed in retreat if the trail becomes unclear.

The route from the col follows easy but steep fixed ropes at around Scottish grade II and is also used in descent. Thanks to the Verbier Guides for blazing a trail, both up and down the mountain. They deserved their success. Of interest here is the reason for the Verbier Guides being on the mountain. They were leading a group of young men on a drug rehabilitation programme over two weeks from the lowest point to the highest point in Switzerland and were …”as fit as butchers  dogs”…well done.


Saas Grund Allalinhorn

Friday, September 16th, 2011

This set of photos were taken between 4/5th September. We descended in the rain from the Almageller Hut and used the Felskinn uplift from Saas Fee towards the Britannia Hut. One of the great and convenient facilities in this valley for approaching easy 4000m peaks. Bit like using bolts and just enjoying the climbing! The weather was still not great and the approach to the Britannia Hut is currently very serious if you try and follow the horizontal piste. Much better to walk along for ten minutes from the cable car before descending at the Egginerjoch and moving below and away from all rockfall dangers.

The hut was very quiet with only seven of us staying. We moved back along to the Metro Alpin in the morning to catch the train up to 3600m. The kind gentleman in the ticket office gave us 10% discount as we had stayed in the hut the night previous. All that we had to do was produce the hut receipt. The weather on the summit was not very kind to us but a good trail on this popular peak led easily to the top and back in around three hours. Then the sun came out:) To be continued.

Back from the Hut-Fest

Thursday, September 8th, 2011

A feast of plans and adventures over the last week since 31st August. The gallery below shows just a few images up until 5th September. In between these dates a mixture of weather forced some changes to the agenda. Basically the Weissmies and Dri Hornli were climbed from either the very functional, clean and tidy Hohsaas Hut or the more traditional (my favourite) Almageller Swiss Alpine Club hut. Both huts are situated above the Saastal, an area which offers a wide range of activities and is a popular venue for intro alpine courses by West Coast Mountain Guides.

The walk up to the Almageller Hut is conveniently split into two sections and after no more than ninety minutes arrives at the Almageller Alp Inn, which was once the start point for ascents of the Weissmies from this side. Early in the season (June/July) the slopes are a colourful profusion of alpine flora. Previous blogs give a fuller picture of the possibilities

The second half of the approach, zig-zags above Almageller Alp, before arriving at the Almageller Hut, which is owned by the Swiss Alpine Club and run by Hugo Anthamatten and his family. I have yet to find a hut which is happier and this in large part is due to Hugo and his family.