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.

Winter Mountaineering in the Cairngorms

For the past week I have been winter mountaineering in the Cairngorms. The climbnow facebook page has a large number of images from the last five days which show clearly the conditions at the moment.

During the last five days the team and I visited; Coire Laogh Mor, Coire na Ciste, Coire an t-Sneachda, the plateau area and Stag Rocks.

The buttresses of the Northern Corries remain very white. A large number of cornices persist over the butrresses. However, by Friday the quality of the snow in the corries has improved a lot due to the mid week thaw and refreeze. There is a very large thaw coming tomorrow. Hopefully, this will encourage the cornices to fall down and if we then have a refreeze conditions may be very good.

Approaching Point 1141 with a very snowy Fiacall Buttress in the background.

Approaching Point 1141 with a very snowy Fiacaill Buttress in the background.

Stag Rocks has been busy this week with teams enjoying routes such as Apex Gully and Albino.

Hells Lum is completely buried with a huge cornice covering three quarters of the face. Carn Etchachan and Shelter Stone are very white and need a thaw and refreeze.

Cairngorm Dander

Having had a couple of plans to get out this weekend with people not come to fruition and with a requirement for an early finish I decided to head out for a bit of a solo dander in the Cairngorms today. A pre-dawn start saw me soloing Central Gully in Coire an t-Sneachda by headtorch. The down side of the early start was that I couldn’t see whether the gully was complete and there’s currently a tricky step to get past a chockstone in the narrow section of the gully. It’s worth noting that this step will probably be being hidden by new fresh soft snow as will the mini-bergschrund I crossed to get in to the gully. It had started snowing earlier than predicted on the southerly wind so I hopped out of the gully to the right near the top to avoid deep soft new snow in the top bowl. It continued to snow lightly, but steadily for circa 6 hours whilst I was out.

I then dropped down Coire Domhain and climbed Pinnacle Gully on the right hand side of Shelterstone Crag. Again new snow was building in the gully, but hugging the left hand wall meant the route could be climbed on very firm old snow and the odd mixed step.

A partial bergschrund in the scoured Narrow Gully

Coire Sputan Dearg was the next objective, so I headed over Carn Etchachan and on to the wee lochan located near the top of Glissade Gully. The scoured gully gave an excellent descent in to the coire on hard old snow and I reascended via Narrow Gully. Coire Sputan Dearg was in excellent condition with a fair amount of old snow having survived the thaw, the gullies being pretty well scoured following the southerly wind and the crags being well rimed for the same reason.

I returned via the lochan at the head of the Feith Bhuide , over the top of Coire an t-Sneachda and down over pt.1141m.

Fiacaill Ridge/Buttress and climbers emerging from routes in Coire an t-Sneachda

All old snow encountered was very firm and giving first time placements. All turf at crag height was very well frozen, which bodes well with fresh snow falling on the frozen ground. There’s some ice forming, but a fair few burns are still running and require care crossing where fresh new snow is hiding them. The winds have been relatively light so the fresh snow that’s accumulating is generally soft, but there are significant new accumulations forming on north and east facing aspects.