Afterthought Arete and Curved Ridge

Two great routes over the last few days that I would highly recommend. One in the Cairngorms and one in Glencoe.

Torridon and The Cairngorms

Craig and I have been based in Torridon for the last few days with the Falkirk Outdoors High Tops and Mountaineering teams. On Wednesday the walkers tackled Sgorr Ruadh and Beinn Liath Mor, whilst Kim, Linda and I climbed the north-east ridge of Beinn Damh (Stuc Toll nam Biast). This proved to be a great climbing way up this hill. There were frequent graupel showers during the day on strong westerly winds adding to a snowpack in sheltered areas that already contained large amounts of graupel.

A happy mountaineering team on Mullach an Rathian with the Liathach ridge behind. Photo credit: K. Hamilton.

On Thursday the mountaineers completed the classic Liathach main ridge traverse in superb conditions with low winds and sunshine. Gaining the ridge was hard going with careful route choice and a fair bit of graupel wading being required, but once on the ridge the snow conditions were excellent. Meanwhile the walkers took in Beinn Alligin getting amazing views to Skye and Harris. Today the forecast was for strong winds and rain above the summits and suggested the best chance of staying vaguely dry was in the rain shadow of the Cairngorms; so the walkers visited Meall a’Bhuacaille and with the ski road being closed the mountaineers practiced some rescue skills in the forest beyond Glenmore. The plan worked and we stayed dry if relatively wind swept.

The Cairngorms

The last three days John and I have been climbing in the Cairngorms with a Falkirk Outdoors Mixed Climbing Team of Alan, B and Devon with Robin making a guest appearance today. We hit a pretty good weather window and climbed in Coire an t-Sneachda, on Stag Rocks and on Creagan Cha-no. Various teams climbed The Seam; Goat Track Gully and it’s right hand start (on thin but climbable ice); Albino; Purge; Chimney Rib with the alternative start; Anvil Gully; The Blood is Strong and Cutty Sark.

Me, B and Devon on Cutty Sark today.

The turf was well frozen throughout the three days on the routes we climbed. There wasn’t a lot of old snow around, but what was there was good neve. Fresh snow was being moved by strong winds in to sheltered locations, generally north and east facing. The fresh snow was unconsolidated and wind slab was forming in sheltered areas. The lack of much consolidated snow means there are some loose blocks around and care is required. Having said all that the temperatures are warming up, so things will be changing rapidly. There are lots of photos on The ClimbNow Facebook page.

The Cairngorms

Chris and I had planned a couple of days climbing classic rock climbs in the Cairngorms. However, the weather forecast precipitated a change in our plans. On Monday we climbed the good mountaineering line of The Stuic with snow underfoot and well frozen turf before taking in Carn a’Choire Bhoidheach and Carn an t-Sagairt Mor.

The Stuic

There were a few snow and graupel showers during the day. It was quite sunny later on and the snow line rose to the base of The Stuic.

Chris topping out on Anvil Gully.

With more snow in the northern Cairngorms, today we visited Creagan Cha-no and climbed Anvil Gully via it’s left hand start to avoid softer insulated turf in the bottom section and then the lower corners of Frozen Planet before traversing in to Recovery Gully as the upper rocky section was looking pretty black. There was snow down to the Ciste carpark this morning with the snow line rising to about 850m during the day. There were deep accumulations of fresh unconsolidated snow in sheltered locations. Snow and graupel showers fell throughout the day. The turf was frozen where exposed, but variable where insulated. Not what I was expecting to be doing in early May, but good fun.

West and East

I’ve spent the last four days with Alex and Doug trying to work with the weather rather than against it. We met at the Corran Ferry on Thursday and headed out to Ardnamurchan hoping this would stay under the forecast weather. We climbed the West Flanks of Creag an Airgid and Meall Sanna, both giving good scrambling/easy climbing on rough gabbro buttresses and slabs. We avoided the rain, there was some wet rock but plenty of friction even when wet.

The summit of Creag an Airgid.

The forecast for Friday morning was very wet and windy, so we had a deliberate late start and walked in to the CIC Hut in the afternoon before climbing and descending a soggy East Gully of the Douglas Gap as things started to cool down late afternoon. Friday night saw temperatures drop and some fresh snow. We had a great day on Saturday climbing North Gully, Creag Coire na Ciste, heading over the summit of Ben Nevis and down and along the Carn Mor Dearg Arete.  Bigger gully features that had held snow had firmed up well. Ice was starting to reform above 700m, fresh wind slab was forming on westerly winds.

Doug and Alex on North Gully.

Today we needed a short day and headed east to the Cairngorms to get away from the worst of the weather. We scrambled a couple of the winter lines in Creag na h-Iolaire in summer conditions; I would not recommend this as there is a lot of very loose rock. There were snow/hail showers down to around 600m on a strong westerly, but these were only settling above about 850m.

Cairngorms Ski Mountaineering

It was glorious weather in the Cairngorms today for a Falkirk Outdoors Ski Mountaineering day with John, Holly, Lucy and John. We were able to skin from the car park and up on to Fiacaill Ridge before putting skis on our packs and climbing the ridge. The ridge itself was generally well scoured, but you wouldn’t have had to drop off too far on either side to find areas of unstable snow.

Lucy and Holly near the top of Fiacaill Ridge.

We then skied around over Stob Coire an t-Sneachda and pt. 1141m. The skiing on the plateau was either on scoured icy snow or pleasant hard packed slab. We were able to carefully ski from 1141 around the rim of Coire Cas before dropping down in to the coire from Fiacaill a’Choire Cas before descending through the ski area. The snow was consolidating in the sunny weather, but there are likely to be instabilities in some locations for a while. Climbing teams were reporting having to clear a lot of snow from the buttress routes.

Winter Climbing Leader

This week I have been delivering a Winter Climbing Leader course for the Joint Services.

After visiting the Ice Factor on Monday we traversed the Douglas Boulder Gap on Tuesday. We then spent Wednesday climbing The Slant in Coire an t-Sneachda and on Thursday we went ice climbing very near to the Twin Burns in Coire an Lochain.

The conditions on the Douglas Boulder Traverse were fine. It should be noted that in other areas of Coire an Lochain from where we were that large amounts of ice were falling down.

Winter Skills and Avalanche Awareness

Winter skills, avalanche awareness and avalanche rescue techniques this week with the Joint Services. We visited Glencoe Ski Centre, Aonach Dubh, A’Bhuidheanach Bheag and Cairn Gorm.

There is still a lot of wet snow around in a number of locations but a freeze is very much needed.

Coire an t-Sneachda

A Falkirk Community Trust Outdoors Winter Climbing team of John, Robin, Tam and I had a very good day climbing in Coire an t-Sneachda in the Cairngorms today. The coire was busy by the time we arrived, so to avoid being under other parties we decided on Central Left-Hand & then jumped in to the gully on the left to climb a nice short ice section before finishing up the top pitch or so of Pygmy Ridge. This allowed some nice varied climbing with progressing difficulty and teaching opportunities.

Robin and Tam near the top of Pygmy Ridge.

Older snow from before Tuesday’s thaw had remained in larger collection features and refrozen well. There was a dusting of fresh snow down to the coire entrance and this had built up some significant accumulations on some approach slopes, in gullies and at the coire rim. There was good ice build up in places and we placed full depth screws in the icy section. Any turf we encountered was very well frozen. Rocks were well rimed, but cracks were generally fairly dry. There are some loose blocks near the top of Pygmy Ridge, which aren’t yet fully frozen in place and care was required with these.

 

 

 

Cairngorm Winter Skills

Robin and I were out in the Cairngorms today delivering a Falkirk Community Trust Outdoors Winter Skills Course for Donald, Emma, Maria and Sheena. We had an excellent day despite slightly thawing conditions with lots of skills being learnt or refreshed. There weren’t any ice patches at the elevations we reached, but we did find firm old snow  for crampon work.

Sheena finishing and ice axe arrest with skiers below in the Ciste Gully.

Starting from the Ciste car park we used snow in and around the Ciste Gully from an altitude of about 700m to 950m. There were firm old snow patches in collection features, with some areas of newer wind blown snow on top. All the snow we were on had moisture in it and will consolidate well with a freeze. The snow started to firm up considerably above 900m. Turf was not frozen at the heights we reached and streams were running under the snow. Good awareness and route choice is required if you’re heading across stream lines. There was no significant precipitation whilst we were out and the strong west to north-westerly winds eased during the day.