Cairngorm Mixed

The last three days John and I have been based in Aviemore with a Falkirk Community Trust Outdoors Cairngorm Mixed Climbing Trip team of Gregor, Linda, Joanne and Tzvetie. The thaws and refreezes over the weekend meant that although a lot of buttress routes were looking black, where old snow remained the climbing was excellent with generally first time placements in snow ice. There were pretty strong mostly south-westerly or westerly winds throughout and there’s been some fresh snow with areas of wind slab developing.

Gregor and Tzvetie on Invernookie in excellent condition on Monday.

On Monday we all climbed Invernookie on the Fiacaill Buttress in Coire an t-Sneachda. On Tuesday John, Linda and Joanne climbed Fingers Ridge, whilst Gregor, Tzvetie and I climbed Spiral Gully with the very good direct finish before battling out in strong winds. Today we headed to Lurcher’s Crag and after descending South Gully Gregor and I climbed the direct version of Drystane Ridge, which gave some interesting climbing for the II in our guide book (further research revealed that it’s only that grade if you avoid the bottom section). John, Linda and Joanne climbed Collie’s Ridge. It’s worth mentioning that none of the ice lines that we could see on Lurcher’s Crag were formed.

Wednesday to Friday

Following on from our days in Glencoe and on Beinn an Dothaidh, the team and I visited Coire an Dothaidh and Col 744m. Here we had a productive day developing winter skills and ice axe arrest drills. The turf was not frozen at this altitude and the crags were black.

During the fine weather of Thursday and Friday we visited the Kinbreak bothy and made an ascent of Sgurr Mhurlogain. Visitng this beautiful, quiet part of the Highlands gave us great opportunities to practice winter navigation and  revisit all the skills we had been practising during the week.

More photos can be seen on the facebook page.

The Cairngorms

It was a pretty wild day in Coire an t-Sneachda with rain from the carpark, 50mph+ gusts on the walk in, the freezing level blipping above the summits before wet snow arriving down to 800m and increasing gusts.

Laura and Euan on a stance on Twin Ribs.

Euan and Laura wanted a teaching day, so we headed for the relative shelter of The Twin Ribs given the increasing westerly component in the wind as the day progressed. This worked pretty well and we were able to look at some winter only protection, axe techniques for technical mixed climbing, leading for Laura and retreating from routes. Euan and Laura kept focused and organised given the conditions. This in itself is a key skill for Scottish Winter climbing when the weather turns a bit less than ideal.

Cairngorms

Mac, Sharon and I were out climbing in the Cairngorms yesterday. We had a great day climbing Grandee Grooves and Wile-E-Coyote on Creagan Coire a’Cha-no.

Sharon and Mac above the crux section of Grandee Grooves.

This crag faces east and was sheltered from the wind, but this also meant that care was required in route approach and selection given the current conditions. Cornices are present over quite a lot of routes and wind slab was building during the day with wind movement of snow; we chose to abseil in to the climbs. It’s also worth noting that some of the buttress routes were looking fairly bare of snow and would have been hard to justify as in condition e.g. Jenga Buttress. The recent thaw had stabilised older snow, generally making it a pleasure to climb with just the odd bit of breakable crust although ice in cracks had built up, which meant a good bit of clearing was required to find gear placements.

Glencoe and Bridge of Orchy

Practising crampon skills.

For the past two days I have been out with a team from Ballachulish. Yesterday we were out in Glencoe and today we were on the flank of Beinn an Dothaidh. The focus of the two days has been on avalanche avoidance, avalanche rescue techniques and winter skills.

Large amounts of snow remain. The gully lines are still full on Beinn an Dothaidh with snow on the ledges. However the turf at 650 metres was not frozen and therefore may not be frozen on the routes.

West and East

The last three days Doug and I have been based in Fort William. On Saturday Doug had a somewhat arduous journey up, but we decided to make the most of the good weather forecast and climbed The Dragon’s Tooth (the traverse of Sgorr a’Chaolais on Sgorr Dhonuill, Beinn a’Bheithir). We chose this as there was a lot of fresh snow, which had fallen mostly on south-westerly or westerly winds and we felt a ridge with a potentially scoured side would be a good option. This proved to be the case, although quite a lot of trail breaking was required to get to the ridge and careful route selection was required along the ridge and in descent.

Doug topping out on Hidden Chimney today.

Overnight and in to Sunday there was an easterly component in the wind and there was redistribution of old snow and fresh snow before the wind swung around towards the west again accompanied by more snow fall. This made for some very tricky snow conditions with very easy shears of wind slab on lots of aspects and in pockets due to cross loading on almost every aspect. Doug and I had two attempts to get in to climbing lines on very different aspects in Glen Nevis, but turned around both times at around 300m as we were not happy with the snow stability on our approaches to the climbs. However, we made the most of the day by going to The Ice Factor to look at steep ice climbing technique, talking a lot about avalanche awareness and avoidance (thanks to Rich for letting us sit in on his avalanche lecture), oh and visiting a couple of cafes.

Today we headed east to the Cairngorms to avoid the worst of the weather and found some good climbing conditions on Haston Line and Hidden Chimney on The Mess of Pottage in Coire an t-Sneachda. The crag was very busy today, but teams were working well together and there was some good climbing to be had. Conditions are changing again tomorrow and over the next few days, so take care with route choice if you’re out and about.

 

Ski Touring in the Pentland Hills

Ski Touring in the Pentland Hills today above Flotterstone. Variable conditions but great to be out on such a beautiful day.

Skinning up Turnhouse Hill.

Newtyle

Driving conditions to suitable winter climbing venues meant a change of plan for the Falkirk Community Trust Outdoors Introduction to Winter Climbing Course today. Catrin, Liam, Paul and I headed to Newtyle Quarry near Dunkeld. Once there we climbed a number of dry tooling routes including Groovilicious and Bonzai. These gave a chance to look at footwork, tool placements and movement, which will all help when Scottish mixed climbing.

Paul belaying, Catrin on Groovilicious and Liam on Bonzai.

We also covered abseiling including stacked abs, gear placement and removal and some general mountaineering skills. Not a usual winter intro day, but actually covering lots of the skills required. It snowed on and off at Newtyle during the day on a westerly and there was more snow with temperatures falling as we drove back.

Ben Nevis

I’m just back from a two day Ben Nevis Mountaineering Trip with John and a Falkirk Community Trust Outdoors team of Billy, Brian, Devon, Jack, Kathryn and Linda. High winds meant the Nevis Range Gondola wasn’t running on Saturday, which changed our plans. After walking in to the CIC Hut we did a traverse of the Douglas Gap up the West Gully of the Douglas Gap and down the East with Devon and Kathryn leading pitches of the West Gully.

The team approaching Garadh Gully this morning with the lower section of Tower Ridge beyond.

The southerly winds were forecast higher again for Sunday, so we opted for sheltered routes with an ascent of Garadh Gully, which currently has a short section of Grade III ice. We then descended in to Coire na Ciste and climbed Moonlight Gully before descending it by abseil to level with the top of Moonlight Gully Buttress and then traversing back in to Coire na Ciste. As we walked down from the CIC Hut it was raining heavily below 600m on a wind gusting circa 50mph.

Two excellent days despite the less than ideal wind levels.

The Cobbler

David and I enjoyed a glorious day winter climbing on The Cobbler today. We climbed Chockstone Gully followed by Maclay’s Crack. This gave a great combination taking us to the top of the North Peak.

David and me enjoying sunshine, cloud inversions and low winds on The Cobbler.

The weather was better than expected. The forecast had been for cloud all day, generally a good thing when climbing on The Cobbler. However, we were above a cloud inversion for most of the day. This gave us superb views, but meant any rock directly facing the sun was being stripped of rime before our eyes. Fortunately the recessed nature of Maclay’s Crack meant it held good snow and the turf was very well frozen throughout. A beautiful day to be out in the Scottish hills and easy to see why the area earned the name “The Arrochar Alps” on a day like today.