A’Bhuidheanach Bheag on skis and Taxus

Yesterday, the Falkirk High Tops Team and I visited the Drummochter Pass where we ski toured on A’Bhuidheanach Bheag. We skied three different descents on the mountain. All of these were on south to south easterly aspects and all gave excellent skiing on spring snow.

There was still enough snow on the mountain to wear skis for the whole day.

Today, I visited Beinn an Dothaidh with Andy. We traversed the mountain climbing Taxus on the way. The route remains complete but could now do with a refreeze to bring it back into good condition. The ice that remains was still good enough for screws.

Photos on the facebook page.

Binnein Shuas and Drumochter

Yesterday, Saturday, Jim and I were looking for a climb to suit the forecast of strong Northerly winds and fairly continuous snow for the Aviemore area. We chose to head along to Lagganside and the North-West ridge of Binnein Shuas where I’d remembered a report on Scottishwinter.com from last year of some new routes by Masa and Yuki Sakano. The climbing starts at 560m, finishes below 750m and facing North-West we hoped it would be scoured on the routes.

Jim on the delicate upper section of Location, Location, Location

Jim on the delicate upper section of Location, Location, Location

It’s not a long walk in, but breaking trail, even on the estate tracks, and sometimes thigh deep snow off the tracks meant it took a while. We climbed “Location, Location, Location”, which I’m guessing will be the second ascent. We split the route in to two pitches, which seemed the obvious thing to do as there’s an initial steeper section with a good block belay above, followed by a short walk to a more slabby delicate section.

Me beneath the perfectly formed ice line. Photo Credit: Jim Bayliss.

Me beneath the perfectly formed ice line. Photo Credit: Jim Bayliss.

We then walked up the ill defined ridge aiming for “Laggan Fantasy”. However, on crossing the easy angled gully forming the obvious step in the ridge we spotted a short, but perfectly formed, ice line down and right of “Laggan Fantasy”. This started steeply in a short left facing corner just right of a severely undercut wall and was climbed on perfect ice easing in angle with height. It gave 20m of excellent water ice climbing followed by 10m of easy ground to a great belay in blocks. A short route, but in keeping with the others on the ridge and great for the day. If it’s new I think the name will be “Bogle Eyed”, III,3. A definite reward for the effort of getting there on the day.

Stepping back onto the ice from the top of the corner. Photo Credit: Jim Bayliss

Stepping back onto the ice from the top of the corner. Photo Credit: Jim Bayliss

With one eye on the weather we then abseiled back down to our sacks and headed back to the car. A good decision as the drive back to Aviemore was interesting; it’s never encouraging when you pass a snow plough in the ditch.

On the same day Derek, Murray, Nettle and Nick headed back to Drumochter for a second ski tour and having left a car at Dalnaspidal skinned up the track to the old quartz quarry before traversing A’Bhuidheanach and A’Bhuidheanach Bheag and descending Fuar Mhonadh. The route worked well giving them the wind at their backs for most of the day.

Lots of fresh snow during the day and into the night on Saturday on strong Northerlies with lots of drifting. This closed many roads in the area including the A9 overnight. Sunnier today with slightly lower winds and below freezing down to Aviemore. The winds means ridges are still scoured, but there’s a lot of wind blown snow on lee slopes and plenty of wind slab around and cross-loading in gullies and other features. Careful route choice is required.

A’Bhuidheanach Bheag, Drumochter

Susan and I were out today with a Falkirk High Tops Team of Alasdair, Bob, Lucy, Neil, Patricia, Rebecca and Rich. We were looking at Avalanche Awareness and Safe Route Choice; which felt very relevant given the current conditions on the Scottish hills.

A'Bhuidheanaich Bheag from the Allt a'Chaaorainn

A’Bhuidheanaich Bheag from the Allt a’Chaorainn

After discussing weather and avalanche forecasts over a coffee we headed up to Drumochter and used the slopes north of Allt a’Chaorainn on A’Bhuidheanach Bheag to look at how the forecasts related to what we encountered on the ground and how that might affect our thinking on picking a safe route on the hill.

There are some great features around the streams in this area, which give a range of aspects and hence a good variety of snowpacks.

Patricia taking the opportunity to look at a stable cornice feature

Patricia taking the opportunity to look at a stable cornice feature

Sunny pretty much all day with just the odd light snow shower on a North-Westerly wind. Plenty of wind movement of snow observed at higher elevations, although the winds felt lighter than forecast. Northerly winds overnight had created some unexpected pockets of fresh soft slab on Southerly aspects at relatively low altitudes. Skis or snow shoes would be very helpful for travel above 500m in the current deep and soft snow conditions.

Cama’ Choire A’Bhuidheanach Bheag

What do you do on a bank holiday Sunday with good weather and conditions? Nettle and I chose to go for an adventure away from the crowds. From the A9 we carried our skis a short distance before skinning up the track to pt. 902m between A’Bhuidheanach and Carn na Caim. We then skied down towards Meall Odhar Mor and dropped in to the delightful Cama’ Choire. This feature is more of a steep sided stream line than a normal coire.

Nettle about to descend from pt.902m

Nettle about to descend from pt.902m

Based on some vague memories from a trip in 2006 and some waterfalls shown on the map we were hoping to find some ice to climb. After descending the coire for a while and having to bypass a couple of steep steps we poked our noses in to one of the side streams and found what we were looking for. 

Below the first icey step

Below the first icey step

The stream gave three good icey pitches (the longest steep section being about 25m) with some easy ground in between and then a solo out of the top. The ice was good, but quite hollow sounding in places and care was required around plunge pools. I’d guess it’s a new line at around Grade III. The climbing was generally escapable on to the sides of the stream, but is in a pretty remote location.

Nettle on the third icey pitch

Nettle on the third icey pitch

The second pitch Photo credit: J.Foden

The second pitch Photo credit: J.Foden

Once the angle in the gully eased back we put on skis and skinned up the gully and then around to A’Bhuidheanach Bheag before heading back to pt. 902m. The day finished with a glorious ski down excellent snow on the South side of Coire nan Cisteachan.

The final descent of the day

The final descent of the day

Snow conditions are currently excellent for ski touring in the area. There are some areas of windslab in sheltered locations and some icey scoured areas. Turf in the area was frozen from road level and there’s a fair bit of ice around. There’s also a lot of surface hoar, which will form a weak layer if more snow falls or is blown on top of it. Below freezing all day. Light South-East wind, sunshine and cloud, but no precipitation during the day.