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.

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.

 

West and East

Martin and I have been out the last couple of days. On the 2nd January we climbed on the Cobbler completing Right Angled Gully and Right Angled Chimney. The routes were both heavily rimed and it snowed throughout the day. The turf was variable.

Martin coming under the roof on Right Angled Chimney.

Yesterday we went to Craig Raibert in the Cairngorms. This crag is featured in the guidebook, ‘Chasing the Ephemeral’. The turf was well frozen, the climbing excellent but it should be noted that some of the routes are stiff for the grade.

There are more photos on the facebook page.

Cairngorms

Today Ivor and I managed our first day of winter climbing this season with a trip to Creagan Coire a’Cha-no in the Cairngorms. We climbed “The Blood is Strong” on the Blood Buttress. This was good value for the grade on the day with lot’s of interest in the many short corners. After this the spindrift got the better of us and we headed for home.

Ivor abseiling in to the crag. The notch to his right is the top of Anvil Gully.

The wind was transporting lots of snow around and there were a couple of hours of snow showers during the day. It was relatively sheltered down on the crag, but this shelter meant lots of soft snow building on the ledges, which had to be cleared and some sizable cornices developing, particularly above Wide Gully. The turf was frozen on the route. Slopes at height that were being scoured by the wind had very little snow on them.

Ivor belaying on “The Blood is Strong”.

 

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.

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.

British Mountain Guides Winter Assessment

Over the past few days Paul and I have been assisting on the Guides winter test.

On Thursday and Friday we were in the Northern Corries of the Cairngorms. The conditions were pretty good until late afternoon yesterday when the thaw hit hard. Looking up into the mountains this morning there has been noticeable snow loss. Fingers crossed for a refreeze and some cold winds soon.

Max leading Original Route Summer.

Max leading Original Route Summer.

Winter Mountain Leader Assessment

This week I have been helping to deliver a Winter Mountain Leader Assessment. Following a day in Glencoe and a day in Lochaber earlier in the week, the last three days have been in the Cairngorms.

Large volumes of snow have accumulated in the Cairngorms over the last couple of days. Given the weather on Saturday I would expect significant avalanche activity and careful attention should be paid to the SAIS forecasts.

Testing navigational conditions in the Cairngorms.

Testing navigational conditions in the Cairngorms.

 

Cairngorms

Today Craig and I have been out in the Cairngorms working for Falkirk Community Trust Outdoors. Craig was out with a team of four delivering a winter skills day and I was out with Doug and Gregor winter climbing. Given the recent thaw and then the fresh snow over the last 24 hours the climbers were going to be looking for snowed up rock and the winter skills team was going to need to head high to find some older snow for kicking and cutting steps, hence our choice of the Cairngorms.

Gregor just above the slabby crux.

Gregor just above the slabby crux.

Driving conditions meant we arrived relatively late, which worked out well for the climbers; as we walked in we met lots of teams who’d been in to climb on Mess of Pottage, Aladdin’s and Fluted Buttress areas and were walking out reporting spontaneous avalanches occurring. This meant we could change plans early and head to the Fiacaill Ridge area. The wind has been pretty much around the clock face in the last 24 hours and it had been snowing fairly continuously for long periods. As the wind had come through the North this morning it hadn’t moved as much snow off the North facing aspects as expected and these slopes were still being loaded with fresh snow.

Gregor and Doug taking a break on the way down Fiacaill Ridge.

Gregor and Doug taking a break on the way down Fiacaill Ridge.

As we could see the East facing aspect of Fiacaill Ridge was bouldery and relatively clear of snow we headed for the area below the small buttress just North of the col on Fiacaill Ridge and climbed here. There are lots of options (pretty much all of which will have been climbed before) on short ribs and grooves in this area. We climbed 4 pitches on snowed up rock and frozen turf. Three of the pitches were circa II/III and one was a short slabby pitch of tech 5 or 6. We descended Fiacaill Ridge. Not a guidebooked route, but a good safe day in the conditions. It was still snowing as we left, good route choice will be required over the next few days for safe travel.