Winter Skills and Avalanche Awareness

Winter skills, avalanche awareness and avalanche rescue techniques this week with the Joint Services. We visited Glencoe Ski Centre, Aonach Dubh, A’Bhuidheanach Bheag and Cairn Gorm.

There is still a lot of wet snow around in a number of locations but a freeze is very much needed.

Cairngorm Winter Skills

Robin and I were out in the Cairngorms today delivering a Falkirk Community Trust Outdoors Winter Skills Course for Donald, Emma, Maria and Sheena. We had an excellent day despite slightly thawing conditions with lots of skills being learnt or refreshed. There weren’t any ice patches at the elevations we reached, but we did find firm old snow  for crampon work.

Sheena finishing and ice axe arrest with skiers below in the Ciste Gully.

Starting from the Ciste car park we used snow in and around the Ciste Gully from an altitude of about 700m to 950m. There were firm old snow patches in collection features, with some areas of newer wind blown snow on top. All the snow we were on had moisture in it and will consolidate well with a freeze. The snow started to firm up considerably above 900m. Turf was not frozen at the heights we reached and streams were running under the snow. Good awareness and route choice is required if you’re heading across stream lines. There was no significant precipitation whilst we were out and the strong west to north-westerly winds eased during the day.


Wednesday to Friday

Following on from our days in Glencoe and on Beinn an Dothaidh, the team and I visited Coire an Dothaidh and Col 744m. Here we had a productive day developing winter skills and ice axe arrest drills. The turf was not frozen at this altitude and the crags were black.

During the fine weather of Thursday and Friday we visited the Kinbreak bothy and made an ascent of Sgurr Mhurlogain. Visitng this beautiful, quiet part of the Highlands gave us great opportunities to practice winter navigation and  revisit all the skills we had been practising during the week.

More photos can be seen on the facebook page.

Glencoe and Bridge of Orchy

Practising crampon skills.

For the past two days I have been out with a team from Ballachulish. Yesterday we were out in Glencoe and today we were on the flank of Beinn an Dothaidh. The focus of the two days has been on avalanche avoidance, avalanche rescue techniques and winter skills.

Large amounts of snow remain. The gully lines are still full on Beinn an Dothaidh with snow on the ledges. However the turf at 650 metres was not frozen and therefore may not be frozen on the routes.

Cairngorms and Glencoe

Yesterday the team and I travelled from Ballachulish to the Cairngorms in search of dry weather. We were rewarded with a beautiful day and evening. Throughout the day we visited; Coire an-t Sneachda, the Goat Track, Coire Domhain, Feith Buidhe and Cairn Lochan.

Wherever we encountered snow it was firm and crampons were required on all steeper sections.

Today the rain was torrential on the west coast. We visited Glencoe ski centre and spent the day doing avalanche rescue techniques. The snow was disappearing fast.

The team in Coire Domhain.

The team in Coire Domhain.

Aonach Mor

The team and I were out today on Aonach Mor. After completing a micro navigation session on the plateau we descended the Nid Ridge. At a safe point we built snow bollards and practised abseiling.

The snow on the surface was soft and heavy. However, there is an icy layer underneath and crampons were essential. Cornices were visible at points on the ridge.

Abseiling on a snow bollard reinforced with shovels.

Abseiling off a snow bollard reinforced with shovels.

Buachaille Etive Mor

Today we visited Buachaille Etive Mor. It was another stunning day in Glencoe.

The snow was mostly soft at all altitudes with the odd patch of firmer neve.

Descending from the col at the top of Coire na Tulaich

Descending from the col at the top of Coire na Tulaich

Winter Skills

It was a glorious day again today in Glencoe. I was out with a new team from Ballachulish looking at winter skills such as ice axe arrest.

The highest altitude we reached was 750 metres. The snow was soft at this elevation.

A beautiful day to be out in the snow.

A beautiful day to be out in the snow.


Today Craig and I have been out in the Cairngorms working for Falkirk Community Trust Outdoors. Craig was out with a team of four delivering a winter skills day and I was out with Doug and Gregor winter climbing. Given the recent thaw and then the fresh snow over the last 24 hours the climbers were going to be looking for snowed up rock and the winter skills team was going to need to head high to find some older snow for kicking and cutting steps, hence our choice of the Cairngorms.

Gregor just above the slabby crux.

Gregor just above the slabby crux.

Driving conditions meant we arrived relatively late, which worked out well for the climbers; as we walked in we met lots of teams who’d been in to climb on Mess of Pottage, Aladdin’s and Fluted Buttress areas and were walking out reporting spontaneous avalanches occurring. This meant we could change plans early and head to the Fiacaill Ridge area. The wind has been pretty much around the clock face in the last 24 hours and it had been snowing fairly continuously for long periods. As the wind had come through the North this morning it hadn’t moved as much snow off the North facing aspects as expected and these slopes were still being loaded with fresh snow.

Gregor and Doug taking a break on the way down Fiacaill Ridge.

Gregor and Doug taking a break on the way down Fiacaill Ridge.

As we could see the East facing aspect of Fiacaill Ridge was bouldery and relatively clear of snow we headed for the area below the small buttress just North of the col on Fiacaill Ridge and climbed here. There are lots of options (pretty much all of which will have been climbed before) on short ribs and grooves in this area. We climbed 4 pitches on snowed up rock and frozen turf. Three of the pitches were circa II/III and one was a short slabby pitch of tech 5 or 6. We descended Fiacaill Ridge. Not a guidebooked route, but a good safe day in the conditions. It was still snowing as we left, good route choice will be required over the next few days for safe travel.

Winter Mountain Leader Training

As I reported on the 17th January, this week I have been involved in delivering a Winter Mountain Leader training course.

On Wednesday we had another day out in Glencoe before spending Thursday and Friday in the Cairngorms. In both areas the snow that remains is very firm and crampons are essential.

More photos can be seen on the facebook page.

A beautiful evening in the Cairngorms.

A beautiful evening in the Cairngorms.