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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I have been out today in the Cairngorms with Wilson, Bob, Paul and John from the Falkirk High Tops Team. We walked into Coire an t-Sneachda with the aim of doing some scrambling.
We were greeted by lots of snow and rime on the rocks so opted for ‘The Slant’ on Mess of Pottage. In the conditions we found, the route was interesting and provided some fun moves on rock linked by grassy ledges.
The turf on the buttresses is not frozen. This will have to improve before winter climbing is an option.
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.
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.
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.
Many thanks to Al, Peter and Sarah for making the day as stress free as possible.