Drumochter

Pamela hasn’t been out winter climbing for over 3 years, so the aim of today was a nice, fun and relaxed reintroduction. We decided on Coire Creagach, a minor crag near Drumochter developed by Davy Virdee and pals. Additionally, we didn’t top out in order to stay in the shelter of the coire and below the very cold south-east wind.

Pamela approaching a belay.

A pleasant day was had climbing Easy Gully and a steep icy step on it’s side wall; Gully II and Lost Chock Groove descending each time via Easy Gully. The ground was frozen from the road with ice in any boggy sections. Some good ice was developing on the crag. The snow level in the coire started on the slope below the crag, circa 850m. The snow was all very solid refrozen old snow. The snow forecast tomorrow will load in to the coire on top of this layer and is likely to represent an avalanche risk. There are already big cornices above north and east facing slopes, this is worth bearing in mind if there’s a thaw or additional loading. There was existing avalanche debris in the coire from cornice collapse earlier in the week.

Geal-charn, Drummochter

John and I were out today with a Falkirk Community Trust Winter Climbing Team of Gregor, Linda, Patricia and Tony. We were heading for Creag Dhubh on the North-West side of Drummochter. However, approaching from the col between Geal-charn and Creagan Mor, we weren’t happy with snow conditions above the crag particularly as we’d set off a couple of very easily triggered slabs in innocuous looking locations below 700m. We, therefore, headed for the two crags that lie North-East of the main crag.

John on the ice pillar of Flight of the Navigator.

John on the ice pillar of Flight of the Navigator with Tony belaying. Photo credit, Patricia Enot.

After some scanning of SMC Journals I think John, Patricia and Tony climbed Flight of The Navigator IV,5, which involves a short, steep ice pillar and Map and Compass III,4.

Me looking at the straight up start on our line. I decided the ice wasn't quite good enough and came in on the ramp just above this in the end.

Me looking at the straight up start on our line. I decided the ice wasn’t quite good enough and came in on the ramp just above this in the end. Photo credit: Gregor Ewing.

Linda, Gregor and I climbed a line on the crag 500m further North-East, which I can’t find in the Journals. It involved an initial steep ice and turf pitch, which required a delicate approach and then an easier angled pitch on much thicker ice.

Looking up the second pitch on the abseil.

Looking up the second pitch on the abseil.

We abbed back down to our bags in one long abseil. On the day it went at V,5, but would probably be IV,5 or even IV,4 in thicker conditions.

Linda and Gregor happy after the second pitch.

Linda and Gregor happy after the second pitch.

The snow conditions changed dramatically through the day. It rained briefly and this transformed the snow at heights of at least up to about 750m, with the snowpack becoming more uniform with a crust. There was then some fresh snow. It had been thawing at crag height, circa 500m, but was cooling down as we left. I’ll add some more photos to the Climbnow Facebook page.

Geal-charn

With the weather forecast to be very wet and windy on the west today the team and I opted to drive east to the Drummochter Pass. We were rewarded with a dry day and good periods of brightness.

During the day we covered skills such as the construction of snowholes and slope stability tests.

There is still excellent snow cover in the Drummochter Pass for ski touring.

Moving towards the summit of Geal-charn.

Moving towards the summit of Geal-charn.

Binnein Shuas and Drumochter

Yesterday, Saturday, Jim and I were looking for a climb to suit the forecast of strong Northerly winds and fairly continuous snow for the Aviemore area. We chose to head along to Lagganside and the North-West ridge of Binnein Shuas where I’d remembered a report on Scottishwinter.com from last year of some new routes by Masa and Yuki Sakano. The climbing starts at 560m, finishes below 750m and facing North-West we hoped it would be scoured on the routes.

Jim on the delicate upper section of Location, Location, Location

Jim on the delicate upper section of Location, Location, Location

It’s not a long walk in, but breaking trail, even on the estate tracks, and sometimes thigh deep snow off the tracks meant it took a while. We climbed “Location, Location, Location”, which I’m guessing will be the second ascent. We split the route in to two pitches, which seemed the obvious thing to do as there’s an initial steeper section with a good block belay above, followed by a short walk to a more slabby delicate section.

Me beneath the perfectly formed ice line. Photo Credit: Jim Bayliss.

Me beneath the perfectly formed ice line. Photo Credit: Jim Bayliss.

We then walked up the ill defined ridge aiming for “Laggan Fantasy”. However, on crossing the easy angled gully forming the obvious step in the ridge we spotted a short, but perfectly formed, ice line down and right of “Laggan Fantasy”. This started steeply in a short left facing corner just right of a severely undercut wall and was climbed on perfect ice easing in angle with height. It gave 20m of excellent water ice climbing followed by 10m of easy ground to a great belay in blocks. A short route, but in keeping with the others on the ridge and great for the day. If it’s new I think the name will be “Bogle Eyed”, III,3. A definite reward for the effort of getting there on the day.

Stepping back onto the ice from the top of the corner. Photo Credit: Jim Bayliss

Stepping back onto the ice from the top of the corner. Photo Credit: Jim Bayliss

With one eye on the weather we then abseiled back down to our sacks and headed back to the car. A good decision as the drive back to Aviemore was interesting; it’s never encouraging when you pass a snow plough in the ditch.

On the same day Derek, Murray, Nettle and Nick headed back to Drumochter for a second ski tour and having left a car at Dalnaspidal skinned up the track to the old quartz quarry before traversing A’Bhuidheanach and A’Bhuidheanach Bheag and descending Fuar Mhonadh. The route worked well giving them the wind at their backs for most of the day.

Lots of fresh snow during the day and into the night on Saturday on strong Northerlies with lots of drifting. This closed many roads in the area including the A9 overnight. Sunnier today with slightly lower winds and below freezing down to Aviemore. The winds means ridges are still scoured, but there’s a lot of wind blown snow on lee slopes and plenty of wind slab around and cross-loading in gullies and other features. Careful route choice is required.

Creagan Mor & Geal-charn Photos

A couple of photos from Friday’s ski tour from Drumochter as promised.

Andy, Murray, Jim, Derek and an airborne Nettle on the summit of Geal-charn

Andy, Murray, Jim, Derek and an airborne Nettle on the summit of Geal-charn

 

Andy and Jim descending the North side of the North-East ridge of Geal-charn

Andy and Jim descending the North side of the North-East ridge of Geal-charn

The Drummochter Pass

I have been out ski touring today with the Falkirk High Tops Team. We visited the Drummochter Pass and began our tour at the Balsporran Cottages. From here we toured with skis on from the start into Coire Fhar via the land rover track before continuing to the summit of Geal-charn.

Our descent was made via the north east ridge of the mountain. We managed to ski within 20 minutes walk of the minibus.

A short video showing the current conditions will shortly be posted on the climbnow facebook page.

Gayle, Wilson and Tam ski touring on Geal-charn.

Gayle, Wilson and Tam ski touring on Geal-charn.

 

Winter Skills, Drumochter

Greg, Jilly, Katherine, Mirsie and Sally-Anne from the Glasgow Hill Walking and Mountaineering Club and I were out on Geal-charn, Drumochter, today. We were looking at Winter Skills including a bit of avalanche awareness and safe route selection, movement skills, ice axe arrest and a brief look at emergency shelters. The snow was soft pretty much everywhere, which wasn’t ideal for crampon practice, but we did get them on discuss their use and try them on a few small rock steps.

Sally trying out daggering

Sally trying out daggering

Plenty of snow above 750m; a feature I’ve used before has been completely filled in, which means there’s a depth in that sheltered location of 10m or more. South and south-west slopes are relatively scoured although any gullies on those aspects are subject to cross-loading. Lot’s of avalanche debris around, but there are still some sizable cornices and it will be interesting to see if they survive tomorrow’s thaw.

The group on an East facing slope at 750m with a scoured South facing slope behind

The group on an East facing slope at 750m with a scoured South facing slope behind

The snow pack was moist at all levels today, rain showers on lower slopes falling as damp snow above 700m on a South-Westerly wind.

Mirsie trying ice axe arrest

Mirsie practicing ice axe arrest

 

A’Bhuidheanach Bheag, Drumochter

Susan and I were out today with a Falkirk High Tops Team of Alasdair, Bob, Lucy, Neil, Patricia, Rebecca and Rich. We were looking at Avalanche Awareness and Safe Route Choice; which felt very relevant given the current conditions on the Scottish hills.

A'Bhuidheanaich Bheag from the Allt a'Chaaorainn

A’Bhuidheanaich Bheag from the Allt a’Chaorainn

After discussing weather and avalanche forecasts over a coffee we headed up to Drumochter and used the slopes north of Allt a’Chaorainn on A’Bhuidheanach Bheag to look at how the forecasts related to what we encountered on the ground and how that might affect our thinking on picking a safe route on the hill.

There are some great features around the streams in this area, which give a range of aspects and hence a good variety of snowpacks.

Patricia taking the opportunity to look at a stable cornice feature

Patricia taking the opportunity to look at a stable cornice feature

Sunny pretty much all day with just the odd light snow shower on a North-Westerly wind. Plenty of wind movement of snow observed at higher elevations, although the winds felt lighter than forecast. Northerly winds overnight had created some unexpected pockets of fresh soft slab on Southerly aspects at relatively low altitudes. Skis or snow shoes would be very helpful for travel above 500m in the current deep and soft snow conditions.

Creag Dhubh and Geal-charn

The last two days I’ve been based in the Aviemore area working for EICA Ratho. Pamela and Claire, Jacqueline and Paul and I have been looking at some winter mountaineering skills.

The weather has been pretty wild with high winds and a plenty of new snow above about 600m, with rain below that today. The Cairngorm ski road was closed today and yesterday. Claire, Jacqueline and Paul did a great job of coping with the conditions and managed to keep smiling throughout.

The team on the summit of Creag Dhubh

The team on the summit of Creag Dhubh

On Saturday we chose to stay beneath the worst of the weather and climbed Creag Dhubh (756m) near Newtonmore. This worked well and we were able to use a sheltered crag to look at using crampons on rock and frozen turf; use of an ice axe and also take in the summit. The snow at this level on the hill was all soft, with no real old snow around and only limited accumulations of fresh snow even on the North side of the hill.

Jacqueline abseiling from a snow bollard

Jacqueline abseiling from a snow bollard

Today we headed up to the area between Geal-charn and A’Mharconaich off Drumochter. Here we found some snow to look at boot work, ice axe arrest and some snow anchors, including abseiling off a snow bollard. Even the scoured snow we came across today was relatively soft. There was snow fall on and off all day on strong Southerly/South-Westerly winds and just the odd break in the clouds. Sheltered areas were building large accumulations of fresh and wind blown snow.

A rare break in the cloud today giving stunning views

A rare break in the cloud today giving stunning views

Drumochter Winter Navigation

Bob, Gregor and Ross from Falkirk Community Trust and I were out today in the Drumochter area looking at navigation in winter conditions and safe route choice. We started from Dalnaspidal Lodge and took in Meallan Buidhe as part of the day.

Bob and Ross on a scoured slope above Loch Garry

Bob and Ross on a scoured slope above Loch Garry

East and South facing slopes were well scoured with the odd small pocket of fresh snow. Pretty good snow cover from about 600m. A base of old firm snow and less new snow than I was expecting in this area. What new snow there is has accumulated on North-East through West to South-West facing slopes. Very little precipitation through the day. Below freezing all day and moderate East winds.