The Cairngorms

At some point during most winter seasons I get the urge to go off for a biggish day taking in some easy routes and having a bit of a wander. There’d been low temperatures overnight and so today was the the day and probably a good choice, as there isn’t a lot of winter left unless things change drastically.

Looking down Castlegates Gully to Loch Avon.

Looking down Castlegates Gully to Loch Avon.

Starting from the Cairngorm ski area I went in to Coire an Lochain and climbed The Couloir, which oddly I’d never climbed. I was on hard neve from below The Great Slab and there was some excellent optional ice near the start of the gully proper. However, it did look like the only complete route in the coire. I then dropped down Coire Domhain, had a quick snack in The Shelter Stone, before climbing Castlegates Gully, between Carn Etchachan and The Shelter Stone Crag. Again a route, which I hadn’t done before. From a distance I’d been doubtful as to whether there was snow in the gully, but it was complete from the starting narrows except for a 20m section just below the top, which was low angled scree.

I then followed the Garbh Uisge Mor out towards Coire Sputan Dearg, but none of the main gullies there looked complete, so I headed out to Sron Riach, as I’d never been to this top, before heading back over the summit of Ben Macdui. A good day and it blew the cobwebs away.

Westerly winds on the plateau were about 40mph most of the day and there were showers on and off that were falling as snow above about 800m, but only leaving a fresh dusting in sheltered locations. Winter boots, axe and crampons still useful even for some of the walking routes as although generally avoidable there are patches of hard snow and ice higher up that could be problematic. I’ll put some more photos showing conditions on the ClimbNow Facebook page.

Cairngorms and Glencoe

Yesterday the team and I travelled from Ballachulish to the Cairngorms in search of dry weather. We were rewarded with a beautiful day and evening. Throughout the day we visited; Coire an-t Sneachda, the Goat Track, Coire Domhain, Feith Buidhe and Cairn Lochan.

Wherever we encountered snow it was firm and crampons were required on all steeper sections.

Today the rain was torrential on the west coast. We visited Glencoe ski centre and spent the day doing avalanche rescue techniques. The snow was disappearing fast.

The team in Coire Domhain.

The team in Coire Domhain.

Buachaille Etive Mor

Today we visited Buachaille Etive Mor. It was another stunning day in Glencoe.

The snow was mostly soft at all altitudes with the odd patch of firmer neve.

Descending from the col at the top of Coire na Tulaich

Descending from the col at the top of Coire na Tulaich

Winter Skills

It was a glorious day again today in Glencoe. I was out with a new team from Ballachulish looking at winter skills such as ice axe arrest.

The highest altitude we reached was 750 metres. The snow was soft at this elevation.

A beautiful day to be out in the snow.

A beautiful day to be out in the snow.

Glencoe Ski Centre

Today we visited Glencoe Ski centre. We spent the day looking at avalanche rescue techniques and snow anchors.

A number of pistes were open today and from a distance the skiing looked good.

Buachaille Etive Mor.

Buachaille Etive Mor this morning.

Pinnacle Buttress Groove

Today the team and I returned to Stob Coire nan Lochan. Here we climbed Pinnacle Buttress Groove in good conditions with nicely frozen turf. Teams on Summit Buttress also reported the turf to be useable.

Lots of evidence of wind transportation of the recent snowfall. There was some minor releases in the corrie as the temperature rose during the day.

Nearing the top of Pinnacle Buttress Groove.

Nearing the top of Pinnacle Buttress Groove.

Buachaille Etive Mor

Yesterday John and I climbed on Buachaille Etive Mor in Glen Coe with a Falkirk Community Trust Outdoors winter climbing team of Doug, Gregor, Lewis and Steve. We had a great day climbing North Buttress with excellent views and relatively low winds. After taking in the summit of Stob Dearg we were able to descend via Coire na Tulaich, but care and good route choice is required here with current snow conditions.

Gregor and Lewis near the bottom of the chimneys.

Gregor and Lewis near the bottom of the chimneys.

The recent snow isn’t consolidated, is deep in sheltered locations and contains a fair amount of graupel. There is very little old snow on The Buachaille, but where new snow overlies old snow there are very easy shears. A North-East wind was redistributing snow throughout the day meaning there will be potential for avalanches on lots of aspects today and until the snow consolidates. Higher up on the route, above the chimneys, there is a thin layer of generally crusty snow ice, which isn’t very helpful for climbing and it’s worth allowing extra time in your planning for this. I’ll put some more photos on The ClimbNow Facebook page.

Gregor high on North Buttress with the expanse of Rannoch Moor behind.

Gregor high on North Buttress with The Kingshouse and the expanse of Rannoch Moor behind.

Aonach Eagach

Today the team and I visited Glencoe and traversed the Aonach Eagach in good conditions. There is a video on the facebook page which shows the conditions on the pinnacles.

There was significant redistribution of snow and graupel today in strong winds. This will have created significant avalanche hazard in many locations and it is worth visiting the SAIS website before heading out.

At the start of the ridge.

At the start of the ridge.

Cairngorms and Glen Coe

On Saturday and Sunday I was out with Andy and Rob and the weekend proved to be a microcosm of this winter season in that we had cold snowy conditions with quick changes to rain and freezing levels above the summits and back again.

Rob exiting Anvil Gully on Saturday morning.

Rob exiting Anvil Gully on Saturday morning with the Anvil block behind.

We met at Aviemore on Saturday to make the most of the later arrival of the warmer temperatures in the East and headed to Creagan Coire a’Cha-no in cold sunny conditions. After abseiling in we climbed Anvil Gully and as the snow was now starting to get soggy we then climbed the rocky Duke’s Rib before heading down and across to Fort William.

A damp scramble up The Zig Zags late Sunday morning.

A damp scramble up The Zig Zags late Sunday morning.

The weather was then rain above the summits through the night and in to Sunday morning with the freezing level forecast to drop to 800m on Sunday afternoon. Given this we opted for a late start on Sunday and climbed up on to Gearr Aonach via the scramble of The Zig Zags. After this we walked along to Stob Coire nan Lochan and climbed part way up Broad Gully on soft snow. By this time the temperature had dropped and things were starting to firm up and occasional snow showers were falling. We climbed out of Broad Gully on snow to gain Dorsal Arete before it’s crux rocky fin and climbed up this to the top before descending Broad Gully. This worked well as a good mountaineering day and had the added benefit of taking in the fin, which Andy and I had bypassed on a previous occasion due to high winds.

Rob and Andy on the crux fin of Dorsal Arete.

Rob and Andy on the crux fin of Dorsal Arete.

There was a dusting of fresh snow above about 800m as I drove through Glen Coe this morning, but this is likely to change through the day with freezing levels falling and snow forecast to lower levels.

 

Guides Test Take Two

This week I have been assisting with the second round of the British Mountain Guides Winter Test. We ice climbed on Ben Nevis and mixed climbed in the Cairngorms.

We did have some good climbing conditions. However, it is worth noting that due to the lean conditions there are many loose blocks to contend with.

More photos and a video on the facebook page.

Ice climbing on Ben Nevis.

Ice climbing on Ben Nevis.