Scottish Winter Conditions - Full Reportby Dan Goodwin - Mountain Plan Feb/2010
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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.
The winter carries on in the Highlands in what must be one of the better years of late with the climbing and skiing seeing great conditions and plenty of people up enjoying it. So often the weekends have been spent taking the ski's and axes for a long walk trying to find some ice or snow to play on but at the moment the choices are plenty great ice on Meggy, Glen Coe mixed, Ben Nevis ice, ski touring in the Cairngorms, take your pick. The weather has been good on the whole over the last week with a couple of stunning days earlier this week. There is still far more snow in the Cairngorms than in the west, but the climbing in both areas is excellent. It looks like this weekend will give some warmer temperatures but some nice weather and as we head into next week a colder airflow from Scandinavia bringing low temperatures moves in, it's the perfect pattern for a long season although as a well known guide once commented 'never try to second guess a Scottish winter'!
Things still remain very snowy in the Cairngorms. This snow has seen some cycles now and although deep it is firm making movement in and out of the Corries not to bad. There has been fresh snowfall coupled with some wind so this will make for wind slab in some areas so make sure you check the SAIS site for where that may be lurking. The climbing conditions are excellent; I met one guide at the top of the Mess Of Pottage who thought the conditions excellent his smile said it all. Although gear and belays will still require some digging to find. The ice over the back also seems to be in good shape with a team reporting excellent conditions on the Chancer over at Hells Lum, they also reported that the snow on the slopes below the route and on the approach was something to be wary of. In the Northern Corries plenty of teams have been at work on Hidden Chimney, The Message, Pateys Route, Genie, Pygmy Ridge, Fingers Ridge, Faichaill Couloir and Ridge. Looking into Lochain yesterday it looked as though Savage slit and Gaffers groove must have been done recently with a evidence of much clearing and digging on them. With the great cover on the plateaux the ski touring is in fine shape its possible to travel from the car pretty much anywhere in the Cairngorms. The ski road is cleared at the moment but the link road has been shut again so it's a two-way system on the normally down road rather than the one-way system. The ski area is also in fine shape offering the best skiing that I have known in the Highlands.
Moving along the Laggan road to Creag Megaidh things have been in excellent shape with some fantastic ice formed on the classic line's The Wand, Pumpkin, Last Post, Staghorn gully and Smiths all being done and of those who I spoke to who had been climbing had nothing but good words to say about it!
The best snow and ice buildup for well over a decade continues to provide superb climbing conditions throughout the Cairngorms. Several light freeze thaw cycles over the past few weeks have now transformed the bottomless powder into superb snow ice. The approaches into the main climbing areas are now well trodden with a good solid base of old neve.
For of-piste skiers the snow cover on the plateau and down to the carpark or even Glenmore forest is still pretty well complete if you follow the right lines.
All the winter climbing routes are well built up with a good snow banking on the ledges and at the foot of the buttresses. On many routes the starts and the pitches are a lot shorter or several grades easier than normal.
The popular ice routes are short and fat and easier than normal too!
Most of the easy to mid grade routes are getting a lot of traffic so gear placements and belays should now be easy to spot. Many of the rock spikes and belays stances used in the recent past by local guides and instructors are well buried but new ones have been found!. Climbing conditions are such that you can climb almost anywhere on some of the less steep buttress and gully lines making for fun exploration on the superb neve and ice.
While most lines are easier than normal there can be a steep sting in the tail on some of the easily avoidable corniced exits!
The next few days are to be quite stormy with fresh snow on the tops and gradually rising freezing levels in the valleys before the return of much colder weather.
A few photos and a video from the last few days can be found on the Talisman blog.
UKC Cairngorm Correspondent
Lots of snow in the North West causing some interesting snow conditions with some unstable cornices and wind slab. James Edwards reported seeing a point release slide earlier in the week, worth noting that there is no avalanche forecast for this area but James updates his blog with good useful information on the snow cover in the area coupled with weather forecasts and info from other sources help to build a good picture of what's going on in the area. Some good ice to be found in the North West I know Penguin and Emerald Gully's have been climbed on Beinn Dearg. Over on Beinn Eigh Mistral VII, 7 saw an ascent.
UKC Ben Nevis correspondent Mike Pescod reported in the forums:
It was a good weekend to be out climbing on Ben Nevis. The wind was not as strong as forecast, temperatures were low and a little fresh snow made everything look pretty! The sun even came out for a few moments which is always a bonus in January.
Generally speaking the snow and ice is not so good high up. Getting in to The Basin on Orion Direct looks great but above there it is looking quite thin and patchy. Point Five Gully and Hadrian's Wall were climbed yesterday morning and reported to be really quite nice. However it sounds like there is very little ice on Psychadelic Wall and even Smith's Route on Gardyloo Buttress.
Lower down there is ice around - Vanishing Gully, Italian Climb, Raeburns Buttress Intermediary Gully, the Carn Dearg Cascades etc. were all climbed. Mixed routes were looking good as well. Route I on Carn Dearg Buttress was climbed and there was new route activity higher up and the great ridges were as popular as ever.
It has all changed though. Last night we had a very good fall of fresh snow off a westerly wind. This has been deposited on all aspects but mostly east facing slopes above 900m. Clearly, it will be worth avoiding gullies for a few
days or until a thaw freeze cycle has settled this fresh snow.
Today was a fantastic blue sky day and Ben Nevis looked beautiful but more snow is forecast tomorrow night.
Mike Pescod IFMGA
UKC Ben Nevis Correspondent
Lochaber and Glen Coe
It's been busy in the area with some good new route action on the Ben. Ian Parnell and Iain Small made the first ascent of Faith Healer a VIII,7 on the upper eastern flanks of Tower Ridge for more details have a look at Ian's blog. Owen Samuals and Iain Small made the repeat of Mal Duff and Rick Nowacks steep line on the rib next to Point 5,Point Blank VII,6 first done in 1988. Lots of other routes getting done, Tim Neill and Keith Ball climbed the excellent Stringfellow VI,6 Tim commented it was a good icy nick. Comments where also made that looking towards Psychedelic wall things where not looking so good, some more build up required for these yet. Comb Gully, Green Gully, Number 3 Gully buttress, Ledge Route, Vanishing gully, The White Line, Fawlty Towers and Point 5 have all been climbed in the last few days.
Aonach Mor has been in excellent condition, although large cornices have dictated careful route choice. Morwind, Left and Right Twin, Hurricane Arete, and Siamese Twin have all seen ascents in the last few days.
In Glen Coe conditions have been good with Stob Coire Nam Beiths Central Gully seeing plenty of ascents in the last few days along with Summit Gully a fine grade II and my first winter climb, a route that will always stick in my mind as it seemed to involve every component of an epic intensified by wild weather, I don't think we fully knew where we were on the hill from leaving the tent and getting back to it in the middle of the night. Stob Core Nan Lochain has been busy the usual lines of Boomerang Gully, Twisting Gully, Dorsal Arete being popular as ever. Andy Turner and Donald King climbed Spectre. The Buchaille has seen Curved Ridge, North Buttress done over the last few days. Across on the other side the classic Aonach Eagach has seen plenty of crampons across it. Further south Beinn Udlaidh has been busy with Quartzvein Scoop Central, South and West Gully all being done in the last few days speaking to one party the ice was in good shape (Monday 1 February).