Cairngorms and Duntelchaig

I’m just back from four days based in Aviemore with Alex and Doug. The weather wasn’t particularly helpful, but we got something good done on each day.

On Sunday we headed to Lurcher’s Crag to avoid the crowds and descended South Gully before climbing a thin, but good, ice in Eskimo Gully on Lurcher’s Crag.

Doug and Alex approaching a belay on Eskimo Gully.

On Monday we climbed Captain Fairweather and Flood Warning on Creagan Cha-no to avoid the forecast high winds. Most of the rockier routes were black, but these lines had plenty of soft snow and very hard turf. On Tuesday with the freezing level above the summits and quite a bit of moisture in the air we climbed a somewhat soggy Central Gully and the bottom two pitches of Goat Track Gully in Coire an t-Sneachda.

Alex and Doug in Central Gully.

Today with freezing levels above the summits again we opted for some dry cragging at Pinnacle Crag, Duntelchaig. The guys climbed nine routes up to Severe 4b in big boots and in Doug’s case without removing his gloves!

Beinn Udlaidh

John and I went to Beinn Udlaidh today with a Falkirk Community Trust Outdoors climbing team of Patricia, Doug and Gregor. The east side of the coire was looking quite banked out and had sizable cornices, so we stayed on the west side. John and Patricia climbed Doctor’s Dilemma, which had some soft snow but also lots of climbing on good ice. Doug, Gregor and I climbed Tinkerbell on good ice; a short line over two ice steps at about Tech 4 circa 100m right of Tinkerbell and a two pitch Grade II snow/ice gully line immediately left of Tinkerbell.

Gregor and Doug above Tinkerbell with the banked out/corniced eastern sector visible behind.

Sunny in the coire all day and this lead to a number of cornices on the sunnier east side of the coire dropping sizable sections in the afternoon. No significant wind in the coire during the day. Northerly and westerly aspects had soft snow and wind slab from the weekend overlying harder old snow. Central Gully, Organ Pipe Wall and Quintet also saw ascents today with the later two both being described as “steep”.

Crypt Route

Euan and I headed up to Church Door Buttress in Glen Coe today to climb Crypt Route. This was in good condition with rime and powder, but with some verglas in the cracks. The route went very well for two and three quarter pitches until I encountered the “small hole” described in the Scottish Winter Climbs route description. After a considerable number of attempts in different orientations and with all gear removed and eventually stripped down to a thermal and thin fleece it became apparent I wasn’t getting through the hole. Thankfully, I’d led this pitch, so I retreated back to Euan using a number of small abseils to reduce the chances of the rope getting stuck in the through routes and chockstones. From the belay at the end of the second pitch we were able to abseil back to Central Gully in a single abseil.

Diamond and Church Door Buttresses as we descended.

For what it’s worth, it seemed to be a combination of shoulder width and chest depth that caused the problem in fitting through. It will obviously depend on how compressible your chest is and to some degree how long you are from shoulder to hip; but if you’re thinking of doing it and want a comparison I have a 40″ (102cm) chest and am 45″ (115cm) around the shoulders.

Euan about to start the steep section on pitch 2.

The climbing to this point was very good particularly the second pitch, so a bit disappointing to be defeated by my dimensions.

Emel Ridge

It has been a very wet and wild day today in the Scottish Highlands. We did however manage to climb Emel Ridge on Beinn an Dothaidh. At the top of the route the winds were very severe. Therefore we descended the ground to the east of the ridge via careful frontpointing at Scottish grade one.

The turf on Beinn an Dothaidh was very well frozen today and there is still plenty of ice around on the buttresses. Large amounts of old avalanche debris are present at the bottom of Central Gully and there has been fresh cornice collapse in the area around East Gully.

In amongst the debris at the bottom of Central Gully.

In amongst the debris at the bottom of Central Gully.

Central Gully of Ben Lui

The Falkrik Hig Tops Team and I have just had an excellent day out on the Central Gully of Ben Lui.

We used mountain bikes for the approach today. This worked well despite the icy tracks and the bikes were very nice to return to on the descent! The route was in good condition with the snow improving with height where it has been well scoured by the wind.

Cornices exist above some parts of the bowl but these are easily bypassed at the moment.

Currently, we are having problems uploading photos to the blog. This will be resolved in the next couple of days. In the meantime, there are a number of photos and a video on the climbnow facebook page.

Cairngorm Ski Mountaineering

John and I were out today with a Falkirk Community Trust ski mountaineering team of Ivor, Nigel, Pete and Tony.

We skinned from the Cairngorm Mountain base station up in to Coire an t-Sneachda. We then put skis on our packs and climbed Central Gully. The approach was on soft snow, but once in the gully the snow was excellent throughout and there was no cornice.

Tony and Nigel in Central Gully

Tony and Nigel in Central Gully

After the climb we skied around to 1141m, at the top of the Fiacaill Coire Chais, with a few carries to avoid scoured rocks. A short carry then allowed us to ski down the ridge and in to the ski area to finish with a run on piste back to the car park. Thanks to the folk who helped dig out the minibus that had been left there over the weekend.

Pete and Ivor in Central Gully

Pete and Ivor in Central Gully

No fresh snow during the day; fairly light North/North-West winds; below freezing all day to well below the ski area and we were in cloud most of the day. There’s still plenty of snow right down to the Aviemore level. Ridges and windward slopes are scoured and there will be lots of unconsolidated snow and wind slab on lee slopes.

Nigel and Ivor in the ski area

Nigel and Ivor in the ski area

Beinn Udlaidh

Nettle and I were looking for a quick climb before the forecast wind and rain arrived today, so we headed to Beinn Udlaidh. This worked really well and despite the thawing conditions we climbed Tinkerbell and Doctor’s Dilema and descended Central Gully.

Leading the lower pillar of Tinkerbell

Leading the lower pillar of Tinkerbell. Photo Credit: J.Foden

Nettle with Central Gully and Doctor's Dilema visible behind

Nettle with Central Gully and Doctor’s Dilema visible behind

Nettle took a very steep variation up an icey groove to the right on the second pitch of Doctor’s Dilema, which bumped the route up to what felt like a good, hard, fun Tech 5. I’m not sure if I’ve used a kneebar on Scottish ice before.

Nettle heading towards the steep groove

Nettle heading towards the steep groove

The routes in the coire to the left of Central Gully generally had large impending cornices over them and there were several sloughs as the day went on.

Cornices over the routes on the East of the coire

Cornices over the routes on the East of the coire. Photo Credit: J. Foden

The freezing level was well above the summit during the day and routes were dripping heavily and softening up. The forecast is for rain and the freezing level to go above the summits for some time, so the routes on Udlaidh are likely to suffer badly.

Making new friends on the walk out

Making new friends on the walk out. Photo Credit: J.Foden

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

Ben Nevis

Just back from a great three day trip to Ben Nevis with a Falkirk Community Trust team of John, Eliot, Gayle, James, Jim, Nigel and Tam.

Elliot & Jim in Green Gully 22/02/13

Eliot & Jim in Green Gully 22/02/13

There are lots of routes in excellent condition with very well consolidated snow and generally good ice. Care is required on the hard snow particularly on crag approaches and descents as a slip would have potentially serious consequences.

Elliot & Jim on Tower Ridge 23/02/13

Eliot & Jim on Tower Ridge 23/02/13

Over the three days members of the team climbed Green Gully, Number Four Gully (in descent), Central Gully/Central Gully Right-Hand (Creag Coire na Ciste), Italian Climb, Tower Ridge, Glover’s Chimney, Douglas Gap West Gully and Traverse, North Gully, Vanishing Gully, Garadh Gully. All of these routes were in very good condition.

Elliot approaching the 1st belay on Vanishing Gully 24/02/13

Eliot approaching the 1st belay on Vanishing Gully 24/02/13

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.