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.

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.

Cairngorms

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

On Sunday 9th Euan, Tina, Scott, Duncan, Steve and I headed in to Coire an t-Sneachda and climbed Invernookie on Fiacaill Buttress. Euan, Duncan and Steve were first up and managed to nip around and climb the difficult section of Fiacaill Ridge whilst we topped out.

Euan, Steve and Duncan enjoying the top pitch of Invernookie

Euan, Steve and Duncan enjoying the top pitch of Invernookie

We then walked back around the coire rim and down Fiacaill Coire Cas. This gave us great views of the big cornices that are still around; there are some particularly scary examples with huge detached blocks in the Jacob’s Ladder/Forty Thieves area.

Scott and Tina at the belay below the top corner of Invernookie

Scott and Tina at the belay below the top corner of Invernookie

The snow had refrozen after the thaw of the previous day and there was good ice in the lower corner of Invernookie. Some snow showers, but some clear spells with good views, which made a pleasant change from Saturday. Euan will put more photos of the day on the Facebook page.

Scott topping out

Scott topping out on to Fiacaill Ridge

Five Days Climbing in the Cairngorms

For the past five days I have been at Glenmore Lodge climbing with Paul and Spencer. We had a great week finding some brilliant climbing conditions. These are detailed below. In addition to this report, there are many photos on the ClimbNow facebook page showing the conditions.

Spencer exiting Anvil Gully.

Spencer exiting Anvil Gully.

On Monday, the lads and I climbed a steep rib to the right of Fiacaill Buttress before gaining and climbing Fiacaill Ridge. The ridge was in excellent condition and reports from today suggest it has improved.

The weather on Tuesday was fairly wild. We visited Creagan Cha-no and climbed Anvil Gully in brilliant conditions. Lots of useful ice could be found on the route.

With some sunshine forecast on Wednesday, we decided to visit the west facing Lurcher’s Crag to top up the tans. We descended South Gully before climbing back out of Quinn which was in great condition. A report from today suggests that Central Gully is also still in good shape.

On the way out we could see Coire an Lochain. The cornices still appear to be massive.

Strong winds during the week had moved a lot of snow around to produce unstable windslab in sheltered spots. Therefore, on Thursday, we abseiled down Jenga Buttress on Creagan Cha-no before climbing back out. Dangerous cornices and windslab were present above routes such as Dukes Rib, Recovery Gully and Chimney Rib. Many of the buttresses are now black.

Today, we returned to Coire an t-Sneachda which was very busy. We did however have a great time climbing Terms of Endearment and the upper section of Aladdin’s Mirror on brilliant neve. Many routes on Aladdin’s buttress are in great shape as are a number on Fiacaill Buttress. The cornices on Mess of Pottage, the Trident Gullies and Fluted Buttress are still huge and no teams were on these areas.

Paul abseiling down South Gully on Lurcher's Crag.

Paul abseiling down South Gully on Lurcher’s Crag.

 

 

Coire an t’Sneachda and Creag Meagaidh

Jol and I have been based in Aviemore for the last two days for some winter climbing. On Wednesday we headed in to Coire an t’Sneachda. North and West facing slopes were looking pretty loaded with fresh snow, so we headed over to the Fiacaill Buttress area and climbed Fiacaill Couloir. This was approached and climbed on mostly scoured neve with the odd patch of generally avoidable fresh soft snow. We then descended the easier West side of Fiacaill Ridge to the col before climbing the more fun direct line and then redescending. This gave us a chance to look at moving together as a technique as well as the avalanche avoidance/gear placement/belay building we’d covered earlier. There was more snow than forecast in the area during the day with fairly continuous light snow above 650m on a light Easterly wind. This was forming considerable depths of fresh soft snow in sheltered locations. Ski touring looks excellent, but good route choice is required to avoid loaded slopes.

On Wednesday we headed across to Creag Meagaidh looking for slightly better weather, less new snow and some ice. We had a great day climbing Diadem. The two main ice pitches were in excellent condition with Jol describing the long icey corner pitch as “hoofing”. Including the approach pitches up The Sash and the easier exit ground it gave seven pitches and a superb day out. Again more falling snow than I’d expected and we climbed mostly in the cloud. Light snow on and off on a light South-Easterly wind. Some accumulation of fresh snow on the approach and exit pitches, but generally avoidable or soft and not deep. Cornices on the South and East facing aspects were old and solid, but I’d expect considerable fresh snow depths and fresh cornices developing on North and West facing aspects. We exited via the Window, which is relatively well scoured and not currently threatened from above.

Apologies for the lack of photos. I’ve managed to misplace my camera, hopefully it’s only temporarily. A wee update: Many thanks to Carlos for sending through the photo below of The Wand and Diadem, with me just visible leading the second ice pitch of Diadem. We bumped in to him around the top of The Wand/Diadem and he’d had what sounded like a great day soloing I think Smith’s Route, Last Post and The Wand.

The Wand & Diadem

The Wand & Diadem. Photo Credit: Carlos

Coire an t-Sneachda

Out in Coire an t-Sneachda both yesterday and today. On Monday afternoon I went for a journey around the coire going up to the col on the Fiacaill Ridge, up the ridge, down The Goat Track, up Central Left-Hand, down Jacob’s Ladder and up the Slant. Snow conditions were generally very good with firm/well consolidated snow. There is the odd crusty area and a few small patches where a weaker unconsolidated layer still exists within the snow pack. Fiacaill Ridge had lost a lot of snow low down, but there’s hard ice/snow on the upper section. Very light winds, some sunshine and temperature below freezing out of the sun on Monday.

Sarah and Peter at the belay below the ice pitch

Sarah and Peter at the belay below the ice pitch

Today I was out with Al, Peter and Sarah. We climbed the bottom section of Central Gully, before breaking out left on to the rib for a pitch or so and then finishing up the nice water ice near the top of Central Left-Hand and a steep snow exit on the right. The ice seemed to be the highlight of the day with a line of about III being taken. We then descended Fiacaill Ridge keeping to it’s easier West side near the top.

Peter exiting the steeper ice

Peter exiting the steeper ice

Snow conditions again were generally very good, with just the odd patch of crust and a notable hollow/weak area around the rib between Central and Central-Left Hand (probably a hangover from the facetted layer talked about in earlier avalanche forecasts). Overcast today, with very light winds and temperatures below freezing at crag height all day.

Sarah focusing on the impact spot

Sarah focusing on the impact spot

Many thanks to Al, Peter and Sarah for making the day as stress free as possible.

Peter topping out

Peter topping out

Cairngorms

Out with John, Archie, Linda, Lindsay, Paul and Tam from Falkirk Community Trust today. Based on the forecast we changed the plan from Glen Coe and headed to The Cairngorms and climbed the classic Fiacaill Ridge. This was made even more classic by the fact the ski road was closed in the morning and we walked up from the bottom. We descended The Goat Track after checking out the snow pack.

Tam with the lower section of the ridge behind

Snowing on the A9 as we drove up, but the weather cleared to give an excellent day on the ridge with great views northwards and the wind dropped throughout the day. A fair bit of wind movement of snow during the day and plenty of wind slab around. The winds were mostly South-Westerly/Westerly. The crags are plastered with largely as yet unconsolidated snow. A fair bit of trail breaking required today, there’s currently excellent cover for ski touring.

Paul with the upper section of the ridge behind

Snowing lightly down to Loch Morlich level as we left and snow was settling down to road level along the A9 with the Dalwhinnie to Dunkeld area having significant snowfall at road level.