The Cairngorms

Matt and I had an excellent day in The Cairngorms today. We made for the east facing Creagan Cha-no as the cold winds had been blowing on to the crag for the last few days. Exposed turf was frozen, but snow covered turf was still soft and route and placement choice required some care.

Matt nearing the top of the Right-Hand Finish of Anvil Gully.

After abseiling to check the turf we climbed Anvil Gully with Matt lowering down and climbing the Right Hand Finish as well. We then descended Recovery Gully before climbing Kerplunk with a couple of variations on to rock including the gully slot and steep leftwards pull on Fast and Furry-ous. To finish we nipped back down and climbed a quick Grade II line just left of Quiet Corner.

Matt on the walk in at about 850m. Snow continued to build all day on this NW aspect.

East faces were generally scoured and rimed with developing accumulations of snow on west and north-west aspects particularly above about 800m.

Binnein Shuas and The Cairngorms

Over the last two days Chris and I have climbed a couple of Scottish Classic Rock routes. On Saturday we walked in to Binnein Shuas and climbed Ardverikie Wall. The route was in perfect condition with all pitches being dry and was a popular choice with five teams climbing the route during the day. Sun cream and hats were essential in the glorious weather.

Chris and me above the corner of Savage Slit.

Today with a forecast for rain showers west of the A9 we headed to Coire an Lochain and climbed Savage Slit. The route was sheltered from the wind and we had a few spots of rain, but nothing which impacted on the climbing. Two great routes in good company.

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.

Cairngorm Mixed

The last three days John and I have been based in Aviemore with a Falkirk Community Trust Outdoors Cairngorm Mixed Climbing Trip team of Gregor, Linda, Joanne and Tzvetie. The thaws and refreezes over the weekend meant that although a lot of buttress routes were looking black, where old snow remained the climbing was excellent with generally first time placements in snow ice. There were pretty strong mostly south-westerly or westerly winds throughout and there’s been some fresh snow with areas of wind slab developing.

Gregor and Tzvetie on Invernookie in excellent condition on Monday.

On Monday we all climbed Invernookie on the Fiacaill Buttress in Coire an t-Sneachda. On Tuesday John, Linda and Joanne climbed Fingers Ridge, whilst Gregor, Tzvetie and I climbed Spiral Gully with the very good direct finish before battling out in strong winds. Today we headed to Lurcher’s Crag and after descending South Gully Gregor and I climbed the direct version of Drystane Ridge, which gave some interesting climbing for the II in our guide book (further research revealed that it’s only that grade if you avoid the bottom section). John, Linda and Joanne climbed Collie’s Ridge. It’s worth mentioning that none of the ice lines that we could see on Lurcher’s Crag were formed.

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.

Glen Clova

I was back in Coire Fee winter climbing again today with Gregor, John and Craig. I’d climbed The Comb with Euan and Ivor in late November via the line described in Scottish Winter Climbs and was intrigued by the winter version in The Cairngorms guidebook. John and Craig climbed the route by the line I’d climbed before and Gregor and I climbed the supposedly easier version. I’m not sure I found the correct line, but much of the description fitted; the line we climbed was considerably harder than the guidebook grade and had a serious traversing section, which required a lot of care to protect the second. However, a good day was had by all with some great climbing, stunning views and very pleasant weather.

Gregor approaching the end of our traversing section on The Comb.

There was no consolidated snow although we descended via the Kilbo Path and crampons were useful on the compacted snow and ice. The turf on our route was frozen, but it’s worth noting it’s high in the coire. Ice is forming, but the classic ice lines didn’t look climbable yet. Below freezing all day from valley to summit.

The Cairngorms

At some point during most winter seasons I get the urge to go off for a biggish day taking in some easy routes and having a bit of a wander. There’d been low temperatures overnight and so today was the the day and probably a good choice, as there isn’t a lot of winter left unless things change drastically.

Looking down Castlegates Gully to Loch Avon.

Looking down Castlegates Gully to Loch Avon.

Starting from the Cairngorm ski area I went in to Coire an Lochain and climbed The Couloir, which oddly I’d never climbed. I was on hard neve from below The Great Slab and there was some excellent optional ice near the start of the gully proper. However, it did look like the only complete route in the coire. I then dropped down Coire Domhain, had a quick snack in The Shelter Stone, before climbing Castlegates Gully, between Carn Etchachan and The Shelter Stone Crag. Again a route, which I hadn’t done before. From a distance I’d been doubtful as to whether there was snow in the gully, but it was complete from the starting narrows except for a 20m section just below the top, which was low angled scree.

I then followed the Garbh Uisge Mor out towards Coire Sputan Dearg, but none of the main gullies there looked complete, so I headed out to Sron Riach, as I’d never been to this top, before heading back over the summit of Ben Macdui. A good day and it blew the cobwebs away.

Westerly winds on the plateau were about 40mph most of the day and there were showers on and off that were falling as snow above about 800m, but only leaving a fresh dusting in sheltered locations. Winter boots, axe and crampons still useful even for some of the walking routes as although generally avoidable there are patches of hard snow and ice higher up that could be problematic. I’ll put some more photos showing conditions on the ClimbNow Facebook page.

Storm Gertrude, An Teallach, Coire an t-Sneachda, The Fannichs and Stac Pollaidh

The last four days I’ve been based near Braemore Junction with Alex and Doug. The plan was for some classic winter ridge traverses and some ice climbing. Storm Gertrude certainly lived up to the last four letters of her name and we had to duck and dive a bit.

Doug on An Teallach

Doug on An Teallach

Originally Thursday looked like the best forecast for the area, although it wasn’t great with fairly high winds and snow/rain, so we decided to have a look at the traverse of An Teallach. Strong winds and driving spindrift on Sail Liath meant we nipped around the back and traversed before climbing a good Grade II gully to regain the ridge near the end of the pinnacles. We then carried on along the ridge over Sgurr Fiona and Bidein a Ghlas Thuill before taking the path from the col with Sron a’Coire to avoid any significant river crossings as the burns were in spate.

Alex and Doug on the An Teallach Traverse

Alex and Doug on the An Teallach Traverse

The winds were forecast very high on Friday, but with a distinct lull in the afternoon and better weather further East, so we decided on a post noon start in to Coire an t-Sneachda in the Cairngorms. The forecast lull never seemed to arrive and we ended up climbing The Slant and descending in pretty wild conditions, with gusts requiring us to get an ice axe in and lie down until they passed through.

Alex and Doug looking up a gully on Stac Pollaidh

Alex and Doug looking up a gully on Stac Pollaidh

The forecast had worsened for Saturday, with winds of 40 to 50mph predicted for sea level in Ullapool and fairly constant precipitation. We decided on a rest day and spent the morning in the gear shop and cafes in Ullapool, although I did venture out in to the Fannichs to check out a low crag in the afternoon.

Alex and Doug on the true western summit of Stac Pollaidh with The Summer Isles behind.

Alex and Doug on the true western summit of Stac Pollaidh with The Summer Isles behind.

Today the winds were finally down, precipitation was showers only and the freezing level was 300 to 400m. With one eye on Alex’s flight time from Inverness we needed a short day and opted for the East to West winter traverse of Stac Pollaidh. This gave an excellent day. Information is surprisingly sparse on this route. We followed the description from the Highland Scrambles North book, which is for summer scrambling. There was soft snow from 300m, the turf was well frozen and we took in two main cruxes. The first crux was leaving the notch just after the eastern summit and the second was the Difficult vertical tower before the true western summit, which I climbed by a rising rightwards turfy traverse and Alex and Doug climbed direct with gloves on snowy rock and a rope above them. We then returned to the col, abseiling around the vertical tower on the way, and descended to the north. For what it’s worth doing the traverse this way and in those conditions felt about Grade III. We had some snow showers and cloud, but also great views to the surrounding hills, the Summer Isles and the Western Isles.

Suilven and Loch Sionascaig from Stac Pollaidh.

Suilven, Canisp and Loch Sionascaig from Stac Pollaidh.

There was fresh snow down to road level for pretty much all the drive back as far as Perth, although tomorrow’s weather will change things considerably.

I’ll add some more photos to the Climbnow Facebook page tomorrow.