Storm Gertrude, An Teallach, Coire an t-Sneachda, The Fannichs and Stac Pollaidh

The last four days I’ve been based near Braemore Junction with Alex and Doug. The plan was for some classic winter ridge traverses and some ice climbing. Storm Gertrude certainly lived up to the last four letters of her name and we had to duck and dive a bit.

Doug on An Teallach

Doug on An Teallach

Originally Thursday looked like the best forecast for the area, although it wasn’t great with fairly high winds and snow/rain, so we decided to have a look at the traverse of An Teallach. Strong winds and driving spindrift on Sail Liath meant we nipped around the back and traversed before climbing a good Grade II gully to regain the ridge near the end of the pinnacles. We then carried on along the ridge over Sgurr Fiona and Bidein a Ghlas Thuill before taking the path from the col with Sron a’Coire to avoid any significant river crossings as the burns were in spate.

Alex and Doug on the An Teallach Traverse

Alex and Doug on the An Teallach Traverse

The winds were forecast very high on Friday, but with a distinct lull in the afternoon and better weather further East, so we decided on a post noon start in to Coire an t-Sneachda in the Cairngorms. The forecast lull never seemed to arrive and we ended up climbing The Slant and descending in pretty wild conditions, with gusts requiring us to get an ice axe in and lie down until they passed through.

Alex and Doug looking up a gully on Stac Pollaidh

Alex and Doug looking up a gully on Stac Pollaidh

The forecast had worsened for Saturday, with winds of 40 to 50mph predicted for sea level in Ullapool and fairly constant precipitation. We decided on a rest day and spent the morning in the gear shop and cafes in Ullapool, although I did venture out in to the Fannichs to check out a low crag in the afternoon.

Alex and Doug on the true western summit of Stac Pollaidh with The Summer Isles behind.

Alex and Doug on the true western summit of Stac Pollaidh with The Summer Isles behind.

Today the winds were finally down, precipitation was showers only and the freezing level was 300 to 400m. With one eye on Alex’s flight time from Inverness we needed a short day and opted for the East to West winter traverse of Stac Pollaidh. This gave an excellent day. Information is surprisingly sparse on this route. We followed the description from the Highland Scrambles North book, which is for summer scrambling. There was soft snow from 300m, the turf was well frozen and we took in two main cruxes. The first crux was leaving the notch just after the eastern summit and the second was the Difficult vertical tower before the true western summit, which I climbed by a rising rightwards turfy traverse and Alex and Doug climbed direct with gloves on snowy rock and a rope above them. We then returned to the col, abseiling around the vertical tower on the way, and descended to the north. For what it’s worth doing the traverse this way and in those conditions felt about Grade III. We had some snow showers and cloud, but also great views to the surrounding hills, the Summer Isles and the Western Isles.

Suilven and Loch Sionascaig from Stac Pollaidh.

Suilven, Canisp and Loch Sionascaig from Stac Pollaidh.

There was fresh snow down to road level for pretty much all the drive back as far as Perth, although tomorrow’s weather will change things considerably.

I’ll add some more photos to the Climbnow Facebook page tomorrow.

Cairngorm Mixed

I’m just back from seven days away up North. The first three of which were on a Falkirk Community Trust Cairngorm Mixed Climbing Trip with John, Gregor, Joanne, Linda and Tony. The weather didn’t really play ball and on Monday we opted to stop off at Newtyle Quarry on the way to Aviemore and go dry tooling due to high temperatures and wind in the hills. This gave a chance to look at precise crampon and axe work and was a fun day. The crag was unusually busy as a good portion of the BMC International Winter Climbing Meet turned up having been similarly washed out of the hills.

Linda starting off on Happy Hooker, Newtyle Quarry.

Linda starting off on Happy Hooker, Newtyle Quarry.

On Tuesday the weather still wasn’t helpful and we headed for the Spire Roxx climbing wall at Elgin, where we spent a pleasant day climbing routes and looking at rope skills and rescues.

Wednesday finally allowed us to get up in to the Cairngorms for some mixed climbing and Gregor, Joanne and I climbed a sporting Haston Line, whilst John, Linda and Tony climbed Hidden Chimney Direct Start before following us up the Haston Line.

Joanne above the crux on The Haston Line

Joanne well above the crux on The Haston Line

I’ll add more photos to the Climbnow Facebook page tomorrow.

Wild, Wet and Windy on Buachaille Etive Beag

The team and I climbed Buachaille Etive Beag today before spending time looking at avalanche rescue techniques near the col. The weather was not perfect with heavy rain for the first part of the ascent followed by heavy hail during the middle part of the ascent then heavy snow and 60 mph winds for the final ridge to the summit.

All the new snow was wet. With extreme winds forecast tomorrow we will be at lower elevations.

A windy summit.

A windy summit.

Searching for a transceiver.

Searching for a transceiver.

A Grand Day Out in the Gorms

I have been out today in the Cairngorms. The weather was excellent, the buttresses white, the turf frozen and new snow down to the car park level. We visited Coire an t-Sneachda and the summit of Cairngorm.

Nearing the summit of Cairngorm with Sneachda behind.

Nearing the summit of Cairngorm with Sneachda behind.

 

 

Glenfinnan and Glencoe

On Wednesday a team from Ballachulish and I walked into Corryhully Bothy before traversing Sgur an Fhuarain Duibh finishing in the dark so we could practice our night navigation skills. Of note is that the 1:50000 OS map of this hill shows no crags on the southerly aspect. This is incorrect and worth remembering when route planning.

We overnighted at the bothy before climbing Stob Coire nan Cearc the next day. There was fresh avalanche debris on this hill at 720 metres on a North Easterly aspect.

The weather warmed considerably on Thursday with rain at all levels. We did however manage to find enough snow on Stob Mhic Mhartuin in Glencoe on Friday to build emergency snow shelters and complete some ice axe arrest practice. The crags of Stob Coire nan Lochan are now black.

More photos on the facebook page.

The summit of Sgurr an Fhuarain Duibh.

The summit of Sgurr an Fhuarain Duibh.

Geal-charn, Drummochter

John and I were out today with a Falkirk Community Trust Winter Climbing Team of Gregor, Linda, Patricia and Tony. We were heading for Creag Dhubh on the North-West side of Drummochter. However, approaching from the col between Geal-charn and Creagan Mor, we weren’t happy with snow conditions above the crag particularly as we’d set off a couple of very easily triggered slabs in innocuous looking locations below 700m. We, therefore, headed for the two crags that lie North-East of the main crag.

John on the ice pillar of Flight of the Navigator.

John on the ice pillar of Flight of the Navigator with Tony belaying. Photo credit, Patricia Enot.

After some scanning of SMC Journals I think John, Patricia and Tony climbed Flight of The Navigator IV,5, which involves a short, steep ice pillar and Map and Compass III,4.

Me looking at the straight up start on our line. I decided the ice wasn't quite good enough and came in on the ramp just above this in the end.

Me looking at the straight up start on our line. I decided the ice wasn’t quite good enough and came in on the ramp just above this in the end. Photo credit: Gregor Ewing.

Linda, Gregor and I climbed a line on the crag 500m further North-East, which I can’t find in the Journals. It involved an initial steep ice and turf pitch, which required a delicate approach and then an easier angled pitch on much thicker ice.

Looking up the second pitch on the abseil.

Looking up the second pitch on the abseil.

We abbed back down to our bags in one long abseil. On the day it went at V,5, but would probably be IV,5 or even IV,4 in thicker conditions.

Linda and Gregor happy after the second pitch.

Linda and Gregor happy after the second pitch.

The snow conditions changed dramatically through the day. It rained briefly and this transformed the snow at heights of at least up to about 750m, with the snowpack becoming more uniform with a crust. There was then some fresh snow. It had been thawing at crag height, circa 500m, but was cooling down as we left. I’ll add some more photos to the Climbnow Facebook page.

Winter Skills and Avalanche Awareness

Over the past couple of days I have been out with a team looking at essential winter skills, micro navigation, avalanche awareness and avalanche rescue techniques.

Yesterday we visited Glencoe ski area and today we ascended Aonach Mor. There is good cover for skiing at both areas.

Of note is that there was significant spontaneous avalanches in Glencoe today.

Bill navigating in the white room.

Bill navigating in the white room.

Creag Coire an Dothaidh

With the Avalanche forecast for Glencoe (the nearest forecast location) for today indicating low risk below 850m and moderate above 850m on South-West through West to North-West facing aspects and weather forecasts for the area suggesting only light new snow fall during the daylight hours John, me and a Falkirk Community Trust Introduction to Winter Climbing course of Finlay, Gillian and Kate headed for Creag Coire an Dothaidh above Bridge of Orchy. It’s a west facing crag with it’s base at 750m and top at 850m.

Kate and me approaching the crag. Photo Credit: Gillian Millar.

Kate and me approaching the crag. Photo Credit: Gillian Millar.

However, throughout the walk in the snow fell continuously and on the approach to the crag there was thigh deep unconsolidated snow. We had a quick look at the first pitch of Centigrade, which had been the original plan and decided we’d be much better off on steeper ground, where accumulations of the fresh snow would be less.

We climbed two pitches on independent lines up the buttress between the routes of Fahrenheit 451 and Centigrade. This still required a lot of cleaning of fresh unconsolidated snow, but was a safe option. We then abseiled back down to the base of the crag. This gave lots of opportunity for the team to learn new skills including an abseil retreat and see how decision making has to take account of conditions in winter.

Kate belaying on pitch 2. Photo credit: Gillian Millar.

Kate belaying on pitch 2. Photo credit: Gillian Millar.

There’s ice forming on the crag, but none of the classic lines are formed well enough for climbing yet. Turf was well frozen, where exposed on steeper ground, but soft where insulated by snow on shallower angles. It snowed continuously throughout the day and there’s lots of unconsolidated snow in sheltered locations from 600m. There was fresh snow on the road all the way back to Falkirk. A good day despite the conditions not being quite as expected. I’ll add some more photos to the Climbnow Facebook page.

John and Gillian descending from the crag.

John and Gillian descending from the crag.

Dinnertime Buttress

Low on Dinnertime Buttress.

Low on Dinnertime Buttress.

Yesterday with the lads from Ballachulish I climbed Dinnertime Buttress in Glencoe. The route was in in good winter condition and provided a nice finish to the week. A number of photos from our week can be seen on the climbnow facebook page.

Chockstone Gully and Great Gully

We had good conditions on The Cobbler today where we climbed Chockstone Gully and Great Gully. There was lots of useful snow and some ice around. The turf was mostly usable.

The buttresses were all very white. Areas of poorly bonded windslab existed in some locations.

Glenn on the crux section of Great Gully.

Glenn on the crux section of Great Gully.