30th December Lurcher’s Crag, Cairngorms

Out on Lurcher’s Crag today with Nettle and Pamela. We were using the topo/descriptions from SMC 2008 Journal, which is probably the best readily available topo for the crag. We started up a route called Punchdrunk III*, which Andy Nisbet had soloed back in 2008. He’d avoided the big right facing corner, so we chose to climb this, which gave circa 50m of very good, independent, but escapable, climbing with lots of hooks and torques. We bumped in to Andy back at the car park and following a chat with him thought we’d done the first ascent of the corner. However, on checking up later the corner had been climbed as Punchdrunk Direct III,4 in 2009 by Sean Peatfield and Iain Munro. The grade may vary quite a lot with the amount of good snow on the ledges and we’d debated about it being anything from IV,4, III,5 to IV,5 on the day. Anyway the overall route was worthy of a star and all the more fun for thinking we were on some new terrain. Some care is required with loose blocks on the ridge above the corner. Niall shared a lift with us and soloed Fiacaill Ridge before heading up Ben Macdui. He reported fairly poor visibility for a lot of the day and fresh snow building during the day on lee slopes.

Coire an Lochain as we walked in

The gully lines aren’t holding snow on Lurcher’s following the thaw and the westerlies. The ridge lines were looking pretty wintery with snow on ledges and riming. The turf was frozen where exposed, but soft on big ledges and under snow cover. Some ice has formed (giving a tricky step in the otherwise bare South Gully).

Nettle in the Corner

Below freezing at crag height during the day. Snowing from about noon on a westerly/southwesterly. Warming up during the day with snow turning to rain by the time we reached the car park. There seemed to be more new snow further west e.g. 4″ of fresh snow at Drummochter as we drove through.

Pamela styling the corner

23rd December, Creagan Coire Cha-no Cairngorms

From the drive up to the ski area today it looked like the recent thaw had left buttresses looking very black in the Northern Coires and only snow in major gully lines and where there’d been deep accumulations on east facing slopes. Therefore, Pamela, B and I decided to try our luck at Creagan Coire Cha-no.

Pamela Abseiling in

We were rewarded with an unusual, but good day. After abseiling in and traversing around we removed crampons, stowed axes and climbed Duke’s Rib as a rock route with gloves and big boots. This gave a fun Moderate with a “window” to pass through and a good steep corner.

B & Pamela in the "window"

We then abseiled in again and Pamela belayed as B lead Recovery Gully with myself soloing alongside to give the odd tip and place the occasional extra runner. The left hand side of the gully gave two pitches on good, firm, well frozen snow with rock runners and belays and no cornice difficulties on the day.

Pamela on Duke's Rib

The plateau area we crossed was bare of snow with only limited patches of snow cover on east facing slopes, coire rims and major gully lines. The remaining snow was well frozen and consolidated. Turf was well frozen on the plateau and at the crag height (above 950m).

Final section of Recovery Gully showing lack of cover on plateau and condition of cornice

One light snow shower at crag height during the day on a fresh westerly/north-westerly wind. Below freezing all day at crag height. Broken sunshine and only ourselves ptarmigan and passing golden eagles at the crag made for a delightful day.

21st December, Coire Fee

Out with B today in Coire Fee. We managed to sneak in a climb of The Pyramid. Despite it’s diminutive length in the guidebook, this gave 5 short pitches of IV,5 with the crux being quite spicey. I think we climbed a short pitch stepping off a boulder and up a crack below the awkward overhang mentioned as the start in the guide. The awkward overhang proved to be the technical crux on the day. We bypassed the pitch above the chimney by going further left to avoid thinly iced slabs with water running underneath them and climbed steep turfy steps with very welcome tree runners instead. The climbing involved rock, some suprisingly well frozen turf, good icey smears and some very soggy saturated snow.

B Looking a little damp at the base of the route

Light rain up until mid-morning and above freezing all day at crag height. The route was well sheltered from the westerly winds, which strengthed during the day.

The Pyramid takes the skyline arete in the centre of the picture

Thawing all day. Snowpack saturated. Turf well frozen where exposed and where not being subjected to running water. Ice in water courses thawing fast, but other ice hanging on well.

B Gully and Look C Gully Area

17th and 18th December, North Wales

Based in North Wales for the last two days running a scrambling course for Matthew and Andrew. Apart from the odd heavy sleet/snow/hail shower on Saturday we chose to operate below the snow line at venues on/around Tryfan Bach and The Pinnacle Face of Pen yr Ole Wen. The guys coped admirably with the weather, which allowed us to cover lots of ropework in a scrambling/easy climbing context including traverses and descending/escaping from scrambles.
Snow line at circa 400m when we left, with a lot of fresh snow having fallen on Saturday and overnight in to Sunday on a North-west/North wind. Freezing level seemed higher than forecast and reports of turf not being frozen higher up. I’ll try and post some photos on my return to Scotland.

Practicing abseil retreats on Tryfan Bach


Pinnacle Face Pen yr Ole Wen


Looking across to Cwm Idwal

10th December North East Corrie Beinn an Dothaidh

Up in the North East Corrie of Beinn an Dothaidh with a Falkirk team of John, Gayle, Brian, Jason and Paul. I climbed Stairway to Heaven via the direct start with Jason and Paul. John climbed Taxus with Gayle and Brian. Both routes, with the exception of the direct start (IV,5 in the 2008 SMCJ), felt a grade harder than the guidebook grades due to conditions. Two other parties in the corrie one climbing West Gully and another on Stairway to Heaven.

Beinn an Dothaidh - Central Gully centre left

The snow had only partially consolidated and had a snow ice layer with a light dusting over the top, breaking through the snow ice layer resulted in a fair bit of wading and the odd surf board size slab wanting to relocate itself. Turf was well frozen where exposed, but soft where insulated. Some ice has formed, enough to just about allow Taxus to be climbed, but things like Femme Fatale didn’t look in yet.

Start of Taxus

Beautiful morning with winds lighter than forecast. Wind remained light, but changed to a southerly during the day with light snow showers later in the afternoon these turning to rain below 600m on the walk out. Below freezing at crag height all day.

7th December Coire Fee

Trying to decide where to go this morning included the “Will we be able to drive there?” question. In the end I decided on a gamble and we headed for Coire Fee. This choice resulted in Pete climbing his first winter buttress route; A-B Direct. This gave a scrappy 250m Grade II with a bottom section containing rather too much heather. However, it did improve with height, the groove and arete provided interest and we found a nice little exit above the col.

Pete having a break where the route overlooks B Gully Chimney

This area has received less snow than those further west and north and the buttress was being scoured. The turf was frozen where required, although care was needed with insulated areas. There was a surprising amount of ice, with Look C holding more ice than I’d expected, good looking ice on A-B Intermediate, but B Gully Chimney no where near fully formed. This will all change tomorrow judging by the forecast. The gully lines were largely scoured and we descended A Gully on turf, with no difficulties from the pockets of soft new snow/slab.

Pete looking casual on the arete

Below freezing at crag height all day. Fresh snow showers until mid-morning. Strong west/north-west winds (with east/south slopes loading quickly). Winds dropping during the day.

3rd December 2011 Quieter Times

I have added a new short article to the Trip Reports page of the website entitled ‘Quieter Times’.

I am not out on the hill this weekend but will be reporting again at the start of next week.

Friday 2nd December Creagan Coire Cha-no, Cairngorms

Pamela Millar and myself were looking for a short day on a deteriorating forecast, so headed for Creagan Coire Cha-no today for our first winter climbing day of the season.

Chimney Rib climbs the obvious chimney feature with chockstones in the centre of the picture

The thinking was that despite the westerly winds the drifting/cornices on this east facing crag wouldn’t yet be big enough to hamper access. Neither of us had climbed at this venue before and we chose to abseil in down a short gully, which turned out to be about 150m left of the normal descent gully (Recovery Gully). The abseil allowed us to get through the soft snow at the coire rim and check the gully as we descended.

Pamela happy to be past the crux pull out past the big obvious chockstone

Once we’d located Recovery Gully we chose to climb Chimney Rib (IV,4), a Simon Richardson/Roger Webb new route from last season. This gave a short, but fun, two pitch route with a surprising down climb off the final pinnacle, which was ideal for the day. Slightly out of character we then decided on the sensible option, of heading down before the increasing wind and snow/rain arrived.

Getting reacquainted with the joys of Scottish Winter Climbing

Westerly winds circa 30mph+ at crag height and increasing and backing more southerly during the day. Freezing level was well below the crag during the day. No real precipitation at crag height during the day, but lots of wind movement of snow and some minor spindrift avalanches in the gully lines. On the drive back over Drummochter the rain had arrived in force and the freezing level seemed to be rising quickly. Turf was variable with some being well frozen and some soft (Chimney Rib was chosen as it’s effectively all on snowed up rock). Steeper routes on this crag requiring turf to be frozen probably need a couple more days of cold weather to be in good condition.

30/11/11 and 01/12/11 Birnam and a drive through Glencoe

Climbing The Happy Hooker in the fading light (Craig Mclaren collection).


Craig Mclaren climbing Grooviliscious.


Yesterday I was up at Birnam (Newtyle) Quarry with the Falkirk staff team doing some training. We played on a number of the dry tooling routes which are perfect training for the upcoming winter season.

Today, I was in Glencoe. The peaks have a light dusting of snow. Some of the buttresses of Stob Coire Nan appear to be white but are probably not frozen at the moment.

26th November Catstye Cam (890m)

Martin, Dougie and I were out in the Lakes yesterday with Adventure Edinburgh. It was a wild day which gave the group an opportunity to look at looking after themselves in difficult conditions. We ascended Catstye Cam from Glenridding.