Coire an t-Sneachda

On Monday and Tuesday this week I had a great couple of days with David in Coire an t-Sneachda in the Cairngorms. On Monday we climbed Red Gully and Goat Track Gully in sunny and calm conditions with great views.

David and me at the stance below Red Gully on Monday.

On Tuesday we climbed Invernookie and descended Fiacaill Ridge before dropping back in to the coire from the col. There’d been some snow overnight, which continued on and off through the day and careful route choice to and from the route was required. All these routes are getting somewhat chopped out/thin in places, but gave good climbing all be it possibly harder than guidebook grade at times. There was a fair amount of new snow overnight Monday and through Tuesday on south-easterly through south to south-westerly winds. This was forming damp slab lower down, but was dry higher up and was building cornices. There was some avalanche activity in the coire on Tuesday. Despite the new snow steeper buttress routes in the coire were generally fairly black.

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.

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.


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.


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.

Coire an t-Sneachda

Yesterday John and I were out with a Falkirk Community Trust Outdoors team of Andrew, Chris, Emily and Martin. It was an Introduction to Winter Climbing day. It’s been thawing for the last few days, so our options were a little limited. We headed to Coire an t-Sneachda in the Cairngorms. There were still some large and droopy cornices over the area from Jacob’s Ladder to Aladdin’s Mirror, so we opted for Central Left Hand as it wasn’t threatened by cornices. This proved a good choice as a sizable collapse did happen further left during the day.

Emily, Chris and Martin (in the distance) in the upper section of Central Left Hand.

Emily, Chris and Martin (in the distance) in the upper section of Central Left Hand.

The route was climbed on soft snow, rock, well frozen turf and even some good ice near the top. However, it was thawing fast during the day.

Coire an t-Sneachda

John and I were out in the Cairngorms today with a Falkirk Community Trust climbing team of Iona, Laura, Paul and Wilson. We headed to The Mess of Pottage in Coire an t-Sneachda to avoid the forecast rain at venues farther West and South and this worked well with only the odd drop of light rain during the day, which didn’t impact on our climbing.

Paul and Laura nearing the easier ground at the top of Crack Pot.

Paul and Laura nearing the easier ground at the top of Crack Pot.

Laura and Paul were on an Introduction to Climbing in the Scottish Mountains day and they climbed Crack Pot with me, which was their first multi-pitch rock climb. The route has some excellent climbing although care is required on easier loose sections at the top of the second pitch and the top of the final pitch. We climbed the route in four pitches with plenty of teaching along the way.

Iona and Wilson were on a Classic Climbs day and they climbed Pot of Gold with John and then John and Iona nipped up Crack Pot in two long pitches as a quick second route.

Climbing in the Gorms

Grant and I have just had two excellent days climbing in the Cairngorms. Yesterday we climbed Alladin’s Mirror Direct  and Jacobs Edge in Coire an t-Sneachda. Both routes were in good condition and many others were white. There are large cornices though to be aware of in a number of locations.

Today we visited Coire an Lochain and climbed Iron Butterfly. The route is easier with neve. Today there was just enough good snow to make it fun. Cornices collapsing and avalanches were witnessed in the Number 2 and Number 3 Buttress areas.

Alladin's Mirror Direct.

Alladin’s Mirror Direct.

Coire an t-Sneachda

I was in Coire an t-Sneachda today with a Falkirk Community Trust winter climbing team of Gregor and Neil. We climbed a fairly steep Aladdin’s Mirror Direct on thick, if slightly soggy, ice and then continued up Aladdin’s Mirror to the top.

Gregor and Neil just above the steep ice pitch of Aladdin's Mirror Direct.

Gregor and Neil just above the steep ice pitch of Aladdin’s Mirror Direct.

There’d been a few centimetres off fresh snow accumulation overnight in sheltered locations above about 850m. This fresh snow was moist at all elevations. Despite the fresh snow, buttresses were still largely bare and bigger gully features were the only real winter climbing options. Some light rain/sleet on a fresh south-westerly/westerly during the day. The older snow is well consolidated, some care required with the fresh snow. The thawing conditions have revealed plenty of loose rock away from the bigger snow accumulations, which is worth thinking about when selecting routes. I’ll add a few more photos to the ClimbNow Facebook page.

Stob Mhic Mhartuin, Mess of Pottage and SCNL

On Friday the lads from Ballachulish and I finished our winter mountaineering course by ascending Stob Mhic Mhartuin in Glencoe and then on the steep northerly aspect completed some training on abseiling in winter using bollards.

Tina, Scott, Steve, Martin and I met in the Cairngorm car park on Saturday morning with the hope of doing some winter climbing. We chose to go east rather than west to avoid the rain. We were rewarded with a dry day and two routes; Haston Line and Hidden Chimney (both are on the Mess of Pottage in Coire an t-Sneachda). Both routes were still holding good snow ice although this may be gone now.

We returned west on Saturday evening and on Sunday climbed Dorsal Arete in Stob Coire nan Lochan. The route still has lots of useable snow on it although the fin is now mostly dry.

There are lots more photos from the last week on the climbnow facebook page.

The team on SCNL.

The team on SCNL.