Bridge of Orchy and the Cairngorms

The last three days I’ve been climbing with Gregor as part of a Falkirk Outdoors trip for climbers, skiers and walkers based in Newtonmore. On the way up we climbed the classic Salamander Gully in Creag Coire an Dothaidh before taking in the summit of Beinn an Dothaidh. Although the crag is west facing it still had a fair depth of soft snow on easier angled ground.

Gregor high on Whaleback Ridge.

Yesterday we chose a low venue to avoid the winds and headed for Creag na h-Iolaire. The main crag was bare of snow and we climbed a short, but good, winter line on the north facing side of he coire before climbing a summer version of the winter line Left Flank, Right Ridge. This gave some very good climbing, but unfortunately with a lot of loose rock. Today we headed for Creagan Cha-no. The thaw and rain overnight had stripped most of the buttresses, but there was plenty of snow on easier angled routes and on northern aspects and the turf was frozen solid. We climbed Whaleback Ridge and Plasma Gully with a left hand finish. The snow was firming up whilst we were there and we had a number of snow showers during the day on a strong south-westerly wind.

Creag Coire an Dothaidh

John and I headed to Creag Coire an Dothaidh today with a Falkirk Outdoors climbing team of Doug, Kim, Merelle and Steven. Even this relatively low west facing coire had a fair amount of soft snow and approaches required a degree of wading.

Steven on an optional icy step near the top.

The coire was busy, with Salamander Gully being the popular choice. We climbed Centigrade with a little optional step of Grade IV ice near the top. There was soft semi consolidated snow on easier angles, some good icy sections, turf was well frozen and there was rime on the rocks although this was stripping when in direct sunlight. East and North facing slopes were holding large amounts of snow.

Creag Meagaidh and Beinn and Dothaidh

I’m just back from two days with Andy. On Saturday we chose to start late to make the best of the weather, strong westerlies with snow but both decreasing as the day went on. We chose to hide from the wind on the East Ridge of Meall Coire Choille-rais, which is a top of Creag Meagaidh. This gives a good mountaineering route, similar in several ways to the nearby East Ridge of Beinn a’Chaorainn, but much less frequently climbed. The route worked well on the day, but it was still pretty windy when we topped out. There was a breakable crust on most snow on the route, the turf was solidly frozen and there was some ice around. Cornices were building on easterly aspects and I wouldn’t have wanted to be in or under any of the nearby gullies on the day.

Andy on the East Ridge of Meall Coire Choille-rais.

Today we needed a short walk in, so opted for Creag Coire an Dothaidh, where we climbed The Firebird, before heading to the top of Beinn an Dothaidh. The Firebird required a delicate approach low down, but had some good ice higher up and passed through some great icy scenery. The crag was scoured out after the strong westerlies of Saturday. Older snow had a breakable icy crust. Ice is reforming on Creag Coire an Dothaidh. The upper section of Salamander looked climbable today, however the initial gully was still a stream.

Beinn Dorain

Today I have been out on the flank of Beinn Dorain. Here we climbed some mountaineering terrain at around grade I/II focusing on skills such as short roping, snow anchors and transitions between techniques.

The surface of the snow was firm. This is however a surface layer with soft snow present 6 inches down. Therefore, the correct snow anchor has to be chosen. The turf was frozen and there was some ice surviving. The crags of Coire an Dothaidh are not in condition.

On the flank of Beinn Dorain.

Creag Coire an Dothaidh

Today we visited Creag Coire an Dothaidh and climbed Martins route ‘Quick fire’ along with another ice route further right. Ice is building well in this coire and a good number of the mixed routes are in excellent condition.

There are lots more photos on the facebook page.

An icy bulge on Quick fire.

Quickfire marked in red.

Bridge of Orchy

John and I were out today with Brian, Christoph, Dave and Douglas on Creag Coire an Dothaidh on a Falkirk Community Trust Outdoors Introduction to Winter Climbing day. We climbed Centigrade, this gave a good mix of turf, ice and rock which allowed lots of different gear to be looked at whilst climbing the route.

Looking down the easy upper gully of Centigrade to Dave and Brian.

We chose the crag as it was on the scoured side of the hill and had less snow than on other aspects. There’d been rain in the morning almost to the top of the crag and the crag was above freezing most of the day. However, there was quite a lot of ice around and this was generally holding on well. Snow in the coire was saturated.

Wednesday to Friday

Following on from our days in Glencoe and on Beinn an Dothaidh, the team and I visited Coire an Dothaidh and Col 744m. Here we had a productive day developing winter skills and ice axe arrest drills. The turf was not frozen at this altitude and the crags were black.

During the fine weather of Thursday and Friday we visited the Kinbreak bothy and made an ascent of Sgurr Mhurlogain. Visitng this beautiful, quiet part of the Highlands gave us great opportunities to practice winter navigation and  revisit all the skills we had been practising during the week.

More photos can be seen on the facebook page.

Bridge of Orchy

John and I were in the Bridge of Orchy area today with a Falkirk Community Trust Outdoors Winter Climbing team of Devon, Jacob, Jim and Ross.

Jim, Ross and I climbed Kick Start on Creag an Socach on Beinn Dorain. This had a couple of distinct cruxes and requires care to protect the seconds on the traverse left after the junction with The Glass Bead Game (small to medium cams useful for this). The turf was well frozen, but buried under crusty soft snow. There’s isn’t a lot of ice around on the crag, so lines which require ice are probably best avoided at the moment. The crag was busy with teams on The Glass Bead Game, Second Coming and I think The Sting.

Jim and Ross looking relaxed at the belay before the traverse pitch.

John, Devon and Jacob headed over to Creag Coire an Dothaidh and climbed Salamander Gully as a snow route, the ice hasn’t formed or was buried except near the top. There was a lot more snow on this crag and their route choice was in part due to a convenient set of steps up the line. There is wind slab around on top of the crusty layer and this should be borne in mind for route choice.

Creag Coire an Dothaidh

David and I climbed on Creag Coire an Dothaidh today near Bridge of Orchy. It’s low altitude and aspect meant that it wasn’t too buried after the recent snow falls, although there is plenty of snow on the crag. The turf was very well frozen, even where buried. Ice is building, but currently isn’t great for climbing.

David getting ready to belay at the bottom of Centigrade.

We climbed Centigrade and Quick Fire. Both required a careful approach in their current conditions. The later isn’t in the guidebook, but was a new route from 2015. There was very little new snow during the day and winds were generally light. It’s worth noting that Creag an Socach on the other side of the coire was much blacker.

Creag Coire an Dothaidh

With the Avalanche forecast for Glencoe (the nearest forecast location) for today indicating low risk below 850m and moderate above 850m on South-West through West to North-West facing aspects and weather forecasts for the area suggesting only light new snow fall during the daylight hours John, me and a Falkirk Community Trust Introduction to Winter Climbing course of Finlay, Gillian and Kate headed for Creag Coire an Dothaidh above Bridge of Orchy. It’s a west facing crag with it’s base at 750m and top at 850m.

Kate and me approaching the crag. Photo Credit: Gillian Millar.

Kate and me approaching the crag. Photo Credit: Gillian Millar.

However, throughout the walk in the snow fell continuously and on the approach to the crag there was thigh deep unconsolidated snow. We had a quick look at the first pitch of Centigrade, which had been the original plan and decided we’d be much better off on steeper ground, where accumulations of the fresh snow would be less.

We climbed two pitches on independent lines up the buttress between the routes of Fahrenheit 451 and Centigrade. This still required a lot of cleaning of fresh unconsolidated snow, but was a safe option. We then abseiled back down to the base of the crag. This gave lots of opportunity for the team to learn new skills including an abseil retreat and see how decision making has to take account of conditions in winter.

Kate belaying on pitch 2. Photo credit: Gillian Millar.

Kate belaying on pitch 2. Photo credit: Gillian Millar.

There’s ice forming on the crag, but none of the classic lines are formed well enough for climbing yet. Turf was well frozen, where exposed on steeper ground, but soft where insulated by snow on shallower angles. It snowed continuously throughout the day and there’s lots of unconsolidated snow in sheltered locations from 600m. There was fresh snow on the road all the way back to Falkirk. A good day despite the conditions not being quite as expected. I’ll add some more photos to the Climbnow Facebook page.

John and Gillian descending from the crag.

John and Gillian descending from the crag.