I’m just back from two days with Andy. On Saturday we chose to start late to make the best of the weather, strong westerlies with snow but both decreasing as the day went on. We chose to hide from the wind on the East Ridge of Meall Coire Choille-rais, which is a top of Creag Meagaidh. This gives a good mountaineering route, similar in several ways to the nearby East Ridge of Beinn a’Chaorainn, but much less frequently climbed. The route worked well on the day, but it was still pretty windy when we topped out. There was a breakable crust on most snow on the route, the turf was solidly frozen and there was some ice around. Cornices were building on easterly aspects and I wouldn’t have wanted to be in or under any of the nearby gullies on the day.
Today we needed a short walk in, so opted for Creag Coire an Dothaidh, where we climbed The Firebird, before heading to the top of Beinn an Dothaidh. The Firebird required a delicate approach low down, but had some good ice higher up and passed through some great icy scenery. The crag was scoured out after the strong westerlies of Saturday. Older snow had a breakable icy crust. Ice is reforming on Creag Coire an Dothaidh. The upper section of Salamander looked climbable today, however the initial gully was still a stream.
Today I was out climbing on the East Ridge of Beinn a Chaorainn. A description for this excellent grade 2 ridge route can be found in the Ben Nevis guidebook. The mountain is located near Creag Meagaidh.
Conditions on the route were good. All turf above 820 metres was frozen. There was large amounts of snow on the route including some areas of good neve.
Snow cover on the broad descent ridge was good and could have provided a good ski descent to around 600 metres.
Jol and I have been based in Aviemore for the last two days for some winter climbing. On Wednesday we headed in to Coire an t’Sneachda. North and West facing slopes were looking pretty loaded with fresh snow, so we headed over to the Fiacaill Buttress area and climbed Fiacaill Couloir. This was approached and climbed on mostly scoured neve with the odd patch of generally avoidable fresh soft snow. We then descended the easier West side of Fiacaill Ridge to the col before climbing the more fun direct line and then redescending. This gave us a chance to look at moving together as a technique as well as the avalanche avoidance/gear placement/belay building we’d covered earlier. There was more snow than forecast in the area during the day with fairly continuous light snow above 650m on a light Easterly wind. This was forming considerable depths of fresh soft snow in sheltered locations. Ski touring looks excellent, but good route choice is required to avoid loaded slopes.
On Wednesday we headed across to Creag Meagaidh looking for slightly better weather, less new snow and some ice. We had a great day climbing Diadem. The two main ice pitches were in excellent condition with Jol describing the long icey corner pitch as “hoofing”. Including the approach pitches up The Sash and the easier exit ground it gave seven pitches and a superb day out. Again more falling snow than I’d expected and we climbed mostly in the cloud. Light snow on and off on a light South-Easterly wind. Some accumulation of fresh snow on the approach and exit pitches, but generally avoidable or soft and not deep. Cornices on the South and East facing aspects were old and solid, but I’d expect considerable fresh snow depths and fresh cornices developing on North and West facing aspects. We exited via the Window, which is relatively well scoured and not currently threatened from above.
Apologies for the lack of photos. I’ve managed to misplace my camera, hopefully it’s only temporarily. A wee update: Many thanks to Carlos for sending through the photo below of The Wand and Diadem, with me just visible leading the second ice pitch of Diadem. We bumped in to him around the top of The Wand/Diadem and he’d had what sounded like a great day soloing I think Smith’s Route, Last Post and The Wand.
Sharon, Ian, Steve, Martin and I had a great day today on Creag Meagaidh. The weather was fantastic with wall to wall sunshine and only a light breeze. We climbed ‘The Wand’ which was in good condition.There were many teams on ‘The Pumpkin’ and there looked like teams heading towards ‘Smiths Gully’ and ‘Centre Post’. The walk in conditions are perfect at the moment and the descent from the Window is on good snow.
For the past two days I have been out snow holing and winter mountaineering with the Winter Mountain Leader course. We ascended on Wednesday to an area behind the window on Creag Meagaidh and following a few hours navigation we built snow holes. After a few hours sleep we ascended Creag Meagaidh and traversed Beinn a’Chaorainn before returning via a difficult micro navigation area in the dark on the south side of Creag Meagaidh. Following a one hour dinner stop we returned to the window and the valley. Large avalanches had released in the window area very close to the normal route of ascent. The snowpack in the whole massif is very wet and there are many large wet cornices still present above climbing areas.
The Winter Mountain Leader assessment is a physically and mentally challenging assessment of an individuals winter mountaineering skills. All the candidates should be congratulated for their efforts over the last week.