Scottish Winter Conditions - Full Report

by Dan Goodwin - Mountain Plan Jan/2010
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+Skyscaper Buttress with climbers on Gamma Gully in the background, 195 kb
Skyscaper Buttress with climbers on Gamma Gully in the background. ©Rocio Siemens
This is the fourth of our regular series of Scottish winter conditions updates from Dan Goodwin of MountainPlan.com. Dan gives a round up of what has been climbed, where good venues for the weekend might be and also some very important links to avalanche and weather information.


Please check the sportscotland Avalanche Information Service and the Mountain Weather Information Service while planning your trip, there are some very unique and dangerous avalanche conditions at present. Winter mountaineering often involves gathering all the information that you can to help make a decision on where is best and safest to head for. Keep in mind that all the information that you gather may not appear that way on the ground when you get there and that the decision making and info gathering is carried out throughout the day.

General Overview

Winter continues in the North with plenty of snow and ice to get on and enjoy as many have been doing. Over the last week the weather has chopped and changed resulting in some freeze thaw cycles pushing through, fresh snow, some good clear and of course some traditional wild days. Things kicked into thaw mode with many mountain areas seeing the freezing level shoot above the highest summits on Tuesday and Wednesday. This should help the ice climbing as a sharp drop in temperatures is predicted for Wednesday evening onwards with a Northerly airflow taking hold and bringing with it more snow. It does look like some wild weather over the weekend but wild and wintry at least.

Lochaber and Glen Coe

It's been busy on the Ben with plenty of teams getting things done. The general position seems to be that higher on the mountain the ice could do with some more build up. Its built up well low down with teams taking advantage of the cascade'esq CIC hut falls offering pitches from 2 to 5 on the main 'Organ Pipe.

UKC Ben Nevis correspondent Mike Pescod reported in the forums:

It was a good weekend on Ben Nevis with quite a few climbs being done. The weather was calm and cool and the sun was shining through the clouds every now and then.

Observatory Ridge, Point Five Gully, Tower Ridge, Green Gully, Darth Vader and Ledge Route are some of the climbs that were done. Generally, there was still soft snow on the higher parts of the mountain and quite a lot of it. There is plenty of ice and the gullies are quite full.

Yesterday (Tuesday 26) the summit temperature started to rise and it peaked at +9C at 9am this morning with some rain to the summits. It is now starting to cool down again and it has dried up nicely. By the weekend very cold northerly winds are forecast to come in, freezing the snowpack and consolidation the snow on the upper part of Ben Nevis.

We will get some snow showers and a good breeze from the north so expect the crags to be rimed up, snow ice to be exposed on the north face and good climbing conditions generally.

Have fun!
Mike Pescod IFMGA
UKC Ben Nevis Correspondent


Abacusmountaineering.com

+Climber on the main CIC hut icefall, Ben Nevis, 134 kb
Climber on the main CIC hut icefall, Ben Nevis
UKC News, Jan 2010
© Al Halewood
The Compression cracks look to be well built up, I saw one team on it earlier in the week. Comb, Green, Zero, Point 5, Tower Ridge, NE Buttress, Slab Climb, Tower face of the Comb and Italian climb have all been done. Ian Small and Doug Hawthorn may also have made the first winter ascent of The Clanger. Conditions looked to be good for mixed climbing but the gear is hard won with icy cracks, one noted winter climber remarked 'its in proper nick'.
Aonach Mor is still holding ice on the West Face with teams enjoying the long ribs of Golden Oldie and Western Rib. The East face has remained quiet I should say due to peoples uncertainty about the snow these recent freeze thaws should start to stabilise things and make it a good venue, plenty of ice should be there waiting.
Glen Coe has seen the good conditions continue most notably was Tim Neill, Dave Rudkin, Toby Keep and Keith Ball's ascent of Neanderthal on the Lost Valley Buttress. Plenty more ascents of number 6 and 3 gully's on Aonach Dubh. Stob Coire nan Lochain has been busy with ascents of Dorsal Aręte, Boomerang, Crest Route, Scabbard Chimney, Crest Route and Gully's NC, SC and Twisting. The Aonach Eagach has seen plenty making the traverse. Beinn an Dothaidh and Creag Coire an Dothaidh getting routes done such as Menage a Trois, Taxus, Salamander and Centigrade.
Elliot's downfall fell down earlier in the week, I didn't hear that anyone did it but perhaps someone sneaked it in!

Creag Megaidh

Along the Lagan road on Creag Megaidh things have been very good with plenty of ice. Driving past there on Saturday there must have been plenty of people there as the car park had overflowed and cars where out on the verge. Routes such as Glass Sliper, The Wand, Pumpkin, Staghorn gully, Smiths and Last Post have all been done. With the sharp rise and fall temperature wise during the middle of this week things should only get better by the weekend.

North West

Plenty of climbing has been getting done in the North West, although the thaw has stripped many of the classic areas such as Beinn Bhan and Antealch and also The Fannichs sound to be sparse. People have been climbing on Beinn Dearg reporting good conditions on Penguin Gully and Emerald Gully. On Beinn Eighe Fusalage Gully's and East and West walls have been done. Thanks To Rocio Simens and Owen Samuals Of Ibex Guides for these comments 'the northwest is in very good condition, though we have found some exceptions. Fuar Tholl and Sgorr Ruadh area are in lean in conditions, things like Gopher Gully were pretty much black, though with frozen turf.  The Key grade II near it was in nick, as was North gully (I).  We climbed Tango in the night in lean conditions, good frozen turf but you could see the blocks stacked up, so it proved delicate climbing.
"On Sunday Sam Chinnery was on Beinn Dearg climbing Emerald gully mixed at the top, harder than a grade 4."
"On Monday we walked easily into Sgurr nan Clach Geala, snowy only at the col, but no cornice and easy slopes to the foot of the climbs.  Sam and Clare did Gamma gully, which looked in great nick. We did Skyscraper Buttress Direct with the Empire State finish, in awesome nick."
Comments www.ibexguides.com

Cairngorms

The Cairngorms has remained snowy but an increasingly consolidating pack with the freeze thaw cycles taking effect. Towards the end of this week it should improve further making the walking and climbing conditions considerably better. Many teams have been out and about routes such as Pygmy Ridge, Genie, The Runnel, Fiachaill Ridge, Fluted Buttress and the Prodical Principal have all been done. A lot of digging is required to find belays and runners making things a bit bold at times although with such a build up of snow and the rapid mid week freeze thaw the climbing itself could quite a bit easier with firm neve in place, perhaps now is the time to climb No Blue Skies with one axe followed by an Extreme ski descent of the Opening Break! Mark Council climbed Mirror Direct on Wednesday claiming great ice conditions but the thawing snow above and below made things hard work. Over the back the ice should be forming well and perhaps Hells Lum and Stag Rocks will be worth heading for towards the weekend. Approach by ski would make for a fun day but with the temps dropping the walking conditions should be very good. Ski mountaineering conditions remain excellent in the Cairngorms with skins on and the final turn at the car, the ski area is also in great shape so watch out for the crowds at the weekend. They will fill up fast in the top car park once this is done then the Ciste car park is used and a shuttle bus to the Cas is put in place. This service is primarily there for the paying skiers but it seems to be fine for climbers and walkers to use, consider having a coffee in the Cas bar to make a contribution.

+Ben Nevis and the Orion Face, 137 kb
Ben Nevis and the Orion Face
UKC News, Jan 2010
© Dan Goodwin
+Steve enjoying good mixed mountaineering in the Cairngorms, 143 kb
Steve enjoying good mixed mountaineering in the Cairngorms
UKC News, Jan 2010
© Dan Goodwin

Skye

Sadly it seems that the Ice has been vaporised on Skye over the recent thaws, Skye can be fickle with conditions partly due to its proximity to the sea. Mike Lates has posted some comments on recent conditions. Sounds like its still holding some snow and looks to be some fine Alpine style climbing to be had with snowy gully's and the rock clear.

UKC Skye correspondent Mike Lates reported in the forums:

I've rightly been asked to bring the report forward a bit to allow the extra time to plan a Skye trip. Very alpine conditions over last weekend with all the old snow well consolidated. Classic misty isle clag the last few days is now clearing as the temperature starts to drop. Arctic air is forecast for upward of a week. There could be a lot of snow for the first few days too.

Climbing implications aren't clear and will depend both on quantities of snow and whether it sticks or just blows around. My guess is that long snow gullies on Bruach na Frithe, Thuilm, Mhadaidh, Ghreadaidh, Banachdich, Sgumain and probably others will be good options with the powder blowing off the neve. For harder climbing it is possibly too cold for good instant mixed conditions of useable rime ice but the freeze should certainly verglass any loose stuff into place. There's a fierce north-westerly blowing clag and heavy showers in just now so they'll be faces most worth thinking about.

The ridges may well be the best options for approaches and longer outings if there really is a big dump of snow. Too much rock showing for a Traverse attempt and any accumulations of powder will make very slow going. Finally a necessary warning about unconsolidated accumulations of powder on the old snow that could be unstable. In 17 years here I've rarely considered the Cuillin as having much avalanche danger but this winter is proving the exception.

Mike Lates
UKC Skye Correspondent


www.skyeguides.co.uk

Weekend Weather Outlook

Avalanche Outlook

UKC Area Reporters Web Pages:

Further links:



photo
Dan Goodwin on the Skye Ridge
UKC Articles, Nov 2009
© Dan Goodwin
Dan Goodwin runs Mountain Plan; a company that specialises in mountaineering courses throughout the Highlands of Scotland in both summer and winter. Dan has been climbing and mountaineering since a young age and has spent a lot of time in the Alps climbing in the Chamonix area, the Ecrins, the Italian Dolomites, Swiss Urner and Oberland Alps and also the Austrian Venedigar, Otztal, and Stubai Alps as well as throughout the UK and further afield.

  • You can read more about Dan and about Mountain Plan on his website: MountainPlan.com

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