Cairngorms and Duntelchaig

I’m just back from four days based in Aviemore with Alex and Doug. The weather wasn’t particularly helpful, but we got something good done on each day.

On Sunday we headed to Lurcher’s Crag to avoid the crowds and descended South Gully before climbing a thin, but good, ice in Eskimo Gully on Lurcher’s Crag.

Doug and Alex approaching a belay on Eskimo Gully.

On Monday we climbed Captain Fairweather and Flood Warning on Creagan Cha-no to avoid the forecast high winds. Most of the rockier routes were black, but these lines had plenty of soft snow and very hard turf. On Tuesday with the freezing level above the summits and quite a bit of moisture in the air we climbed a somewhat soggy Central Gully and the bottom two pitches of Goat Track Gully in Coire an t-Sneachda.

Alex and Doug in Central Gully.

Today with freezing levels above the summits again we opted for some dry cragging at Pinnacle Crag, Duntelchaig. The guys climbed nine routes up to Severe 4b in big boots and in Doug’s case without removing his gloves!

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.

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.




Cairngorms in Winter Condition

The Falkirk High Tops Team and I were out in the Cairngorms today. We ascended Twin Ribs before continuing along the ridge and dropping back into Coire an t-Sneachda.

The conditions were wintry requiring crampons and ice axe. I don’t know however how well the turf is frozen.

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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.