/ Caingorm Trip 10/12/12
SO basically we decided to go ice climbing. Adam with solid British winter skills and a few hairy icy moments on Toubkal and me with...well...summer rock climbing experience and a lack of a passport. We felt this was a valid enough amount of experience to give ice climbing ago so we booked the trip and started accumulating gear. Fast forward 6 months and lose a fair amount of money and we're here. Sitting in Glenmore Lodge awaiting "tomorrow". We have no avalanche forecast until Thursday which is worrying us, but after keeping a very close eye on the weather over the last few days, the avalanche forecasts for this weekend, and my copy of "A chance in a million" we're happy to go out. Although we're going to stick to non avalanche prone slopes just to be sure. We've also decided that we won't attempt to go near the Lochain's until we have an avalanche forecast so we're hopeful we'll get one in time. We're also not doing an ice climb tomorrow because apparently I have to learn to "walk" before I can climb. We're going for a walk up Cairngorm, and a bit of a play with ice axe arrests, snow bollards and buried axe belays. While testing out a borrowed Mountain Equipment Bastion jacket too.
Adam writes about his trips: http://community.cotswoldoutdoor.com/users/adam_turner/blogs/
James writes "stories":
Enjoy yourselves, but I don't think there's much ice around, just good mixed climbing.
You can use the past avalanche forecast in conjunction with current weather conditions. The last forecast at the weekend showed the snow had consolidated with the thaw which also happened at the weekend and the weather has been stable the last few days so conditions will still be good. I am hoping to get out tomorrow. The conditions to think about avalanches are:
* Lots of fresh snow fall.
* Wind loading, including change in wind direction in the absence of fresh snow.
* Warm temperatures.
None of which there have been since the weekend so all systems go for good conditions :)
Yes, it looks like you have taken all the correct factors into consideration, well done.
Go for it fellas. IMO, (and a lot of others), many competent rock climbers fall foul of diving straight into winter climbing as they haven't honed their winter walking skills, with repsect to navigation, condition assessment and route choice. Getting to and from the crag is often the most serious part of the day.
Keep treating it with respect, and you'll have a ball, and safely too, which is best.
Finally, bear in mind that the SAIS is a forecast, and all forecasts are fallible. There was a big stooshy about the fact the forecast changed prior to the tragic avalanche a few years ago on the Buchaille. We all need to make our own judgement on the day, with what's in front of us. I have made the call both ways - backed off when there was an OK SAIS, and gone on when there wasn't, but that was based on 100's of winter days out. Build your experience, watch, read, absorb, and as Andy N said, enjoy.
So we're back in the bar in Glenmore lodge and time for instalment two. I must firstly apologise for my miss spelling of "Cairngorm". Anyway, we started the day with a late breakfast at Glenmore as they don't do early breakfasts. We both got a bi stuffed but managed to make it to the bus stop with plenty of time to spare. Then the bus turned out not to exist, so called a cab who said he'd take us to the ski centre if we paid for the journey for him from Aviemore to us at Glenmore as well?? But as that's the only taxi card we had it was all we could do. Sad times for me as I'm a penniless student. Anyway we got to the ski centre in the end and started out. I was very excited to see all the snow and ice and I think Adam was happier when the novelty had worn off for me a bit. We put our crampons on earlier than they were needed by quite a way and got our axes out so that I could get as much practise as possible. We soon found somewhere for arrest practise so I did my first walking ruchblock on the chosen slope just to be sure. The top three layers went snow-ice-snow with an easy shear of the ice-snow layer when a small enough block was isolated. With the 1mx1m block for the test however no failure at all was seen even with the hardest of jumps. Recent conditions and this test said we were ok in our heads, so we tried to do the practise but the slope wasn't quite steep enough (30 degrees) so we soon gave up. With all the running up and down we found the last bit of the slog up Cairngorm very tiring. After a quick top break we headed straight down. Another bus was helpfully missing so we waited for about 1hr 20mins while climbers and skiers all drove off in their cars, probably passing by the lodge on their way home.
[In all of the day this is what annoyed me the most: there were so many friendly looking climbers I wanted to ask for a lift, but I just felt I couldn't. So much petrol can be saved by people car sharing, but I just didn't know what to do. Would you have offered us a lift as a fellow climber (we were quite obviously not skiers)? What would you have said if we'd asked? Adam seems to think I deserved a slap for even dreaming of asking, but I was so cold I didn't care, and I have a much kinder view of humanity. We could have also saved the extortionate taxi fair this morning had we talked to a skiing couple also staying at the lodge. We'd have been more than happy to make a contribution to petrol. So just in case anyone sees us tomorrow at the ski station, or waiting for the bus, please feel free to offer us a lift! We'll be very grateful I'm sure. Lastly, if the SAIS website says the next forecast will be 13th Dec. When will it be give out?
Things we've learnt today:
Adam's discovered specially manufactured energy bars freeze very easily so James' Tesco Value cereal bars and stupid quantity of dried fruits worked much better.
James needs to learn to do more with his gloves on.
James needs to relax about avalanches in all situations (but especially on <20 degree slopes!!!)
Why on earth were you ashamed to hitch? Don't be. No one else is. Hitching is common sense. It's green, and it's quick, and it's no problem to pick people up for the driver--and drivers who know they'll need to ask for lifts themselves one of these days, will almost always give you a lift.
Me, for example. If I'm in a car, I will nearly always pick up other climbers. (Exceptions only if they're hitching in a place where I can't stop, or if my car's already full, or if I'm in a tearing hurry, or if they look like serial killers.)
> Why on earth were you ashamed to hitch?
Tell that to the 4*4 drivers who give me the evil eye when I'm doing it.
Serves you right for looking like a serial killer :-)
Yes, hitch. I would has asked too.
I always give other climbers a lift, with the same caveats as Tim C, although I'm not as worried about serial killers, as without a shave, I look pretty scary too ;o)
Use your own eyes and your own judgement--but I was on the north side of the Gorms today and I didn't see a lot that worried me, avalanche-wise.
I did see a lot that worried me, stone-wise and stiff-heather-stems-that-the-skis-catch-in-leading-to-free-comedy-for-any-bystanders-wise. But that was low down. The skiing was great high up. (I never went on a piste all day--I was skiing the Sron a Cha-Chno ridge from Cairn Gorm towards Ryvoan. It was rough skiing, with loads of ice and sastrugi and crust and boulders, but it was brilliant.)
There are things I'd be loath to do at any time at all in the Norries when there's snow cover, e.g. knowingly cross the Great Slab in Coire an Lochan either on foot or on skis. But the approaches to the Sneachda climbing are less dodgy as a rule. And from a distance (= the summit of Cairn Gorm) they looked fine today.
Go for a look and see. And have fun!
- Adam's not confident in my winter gear placement.
- I'm not 100% confident in Adam's belaying with double ropes. I kept quiet about it last night and we were going to try and practise again tonight at the wall then I was going to decide whether to say anything (in all fairness to Adam I think it was a bit much to expect the first belaying he's ever done to be belaying a lead climber with double ropes only two days after being taught at a climbing wall in 45mins, and I don't really think I explained brilliently either). Not only that, but the leader (me) is doing winter climbing for the first time. More forward planning is definately needed there!
- Adam's feet are in shreads. I have seen my fair share of blisters in my time backpacking and I can promise you he got an absolute wopper on the back of his heal that's popped by rubbing and is now raw. Then also a massive ball on the side of his foot next to his expedition frost bite that will be burtst shortly.
I know it's excuses excuses but I hope you'll all back us up that it's better not to do it this time and be safe, than just throw ourselves into it. We're both bitterly disappointed (as you do, you tell everyone you're going "ice climbing" don't you -.-) and really annoyed we didn't reach our objectives. Ah well, at least we can come back to try another day! :) All the shiney gear needs to get used after all. :p I hope you'll all post your comments and please ask any questions about our trip, glenmore lodge, busses and all the gear we've tested!!! (mostly Mountain Equipment) Oh and finally, you can rip a jacket trying to show James how to ice axe arrest from headfirst on your back on sharp ice. -.-
Sorry, got the name wrong. It's Sron a Cha-no. (In my defence, "Sron a Cha(dha)-Chno(c)" does mean something in Gaelic. If "Cha-no" means anything, I don't know what.)
Another point in this route's favour: I had it to myself.
Unlike the A9 on the way back, which I had to share with six thousand geologically slow lorries. Per mile. Thank God for Bryan Burnett.
Bad luck. Blisters are a bane.
My advice is: hire some mountain bikes, and do it early doors the morra, because in the arvo there's a big black cloud coming down.
PS Don't worry about making excuses-- the things you list are excellent reasons for not trying anything too pushy just yet. Quite apart from the blisters.
My suggestion: get the both of yourselves together with someone who really knows what s/he's doing in winter climbing, and learn from him/ her.
It is also worth noting that if the snow is pretty consolidated (after a thaw and freeze) the winds usually dont make too much difference as the snow is pretty glued together :)
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