Scottish Winter Conditions: Full Report 9

by Dan Goodwin Mar/2010
This news story has been read 5,089 times

This is the ninth 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.

Check the UKC Winter Conditions Page for up to date info on which routes have been climbed.

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+Looking across to Cairngorm - perfect snow., 199 kb
Looking across to Cairngorm - perfect snow.
UKC News, Mar 2010
© Dan Goodwin

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 Outlook

Choose your routes carefully. The skies have cleared since last week's heavy snows and there has been plenty of evidence of avalanche activity right across the different mountain areas. Things are settling down though with the snow pack consolidating.

This week has seen a nice return to the blue skies little wind and lots of sunshine. Out in the North West earlier in the week it was stunning with views right across the Highlands - many other teams in different area's have experienced the same thing.

Plenty of activity in the mountains though and a very impressive ascent at the Dubh Loch with Guy Robertson and Pete Macpherson climbing 'Super Rat IX,9' on the big central wall on Creag an Dubh Loch - See UKC Article.

The classics are in great shape on Ben Nevis, experienced climber and mountain guide Mike Pescod found Orion Direct in the best condition he has experienced.

Ski mountaineering remains in superb condition certainly the most consistent run of snow I have experienced, no taking the ski's for a long walk this winter. The Cairngorm ski area has been using explosives this week to try and release the unstable slopes threatening the pistes.

“Very important to still keep and eye on avalanche hazards”

Also Steall waterfall in Glen Nevis has made a return to form again, its pretty rare these days that it comes into condition at all in a season let alone twice in one season. Looking at what I have seen and heard climbing wise the best bet at the moment looks to be in the North West with less snow to get through on approaches but the crags are well plastered with hard neve and ice, but the buttresses where exposed to the sun, are stripping off a little though.

Going into the weekend the weather looks a bit scrappy with some winds and occasional showers, some wintry but with a rising temperature. Beyond that generally stable. Very important to still keep and eye on avalanche hazards as although it is settling, wind slab will still remain in many places so check the forecasts and what's happening under foot.

photo
Climbers back on Steall Falls
UKC News, Mar 2010
© Al Halewood

Lochaber and Glen Coe

Ben Nevis has begun to calm down with regards to avalanche conditions however a very careful route choice strategy will be required as there will be plenty lurking on the mountain.

Orion Direct and Point 5 have been done with folks enthusing about the conditions. Scoured approaches to Orion's make it a safer option, but areas of slab exist under Hadrian's Wall which highlights a need for caution.

The CIC cascades remain in place with many taking advantage. Quite a few teams sticking to the higher ground with ascents of Tower Ridge. As with all the higher ridges it may take you up away from the larger slopes but care needs to be taken on the approaches. For example Ledge route requires a brief bit of exposure to Number 5 Gully. In the past the Castle Gullies to the left of Castle Ridge have released so much it's washed across the Allt a Mhulin. Tower ridge can also require care with an approach through the mouth of Observatory gully. I've also come across slab lying below the East Gully just below the move up to the notch behind the Douglas boulder.

But not wanting to sound like the profit of doom things are building and settling into a superb condition. The great benefit of a wild and snowy storm on the Ben although inconvenient at the time is that it will push the climbing season on much longer perhaps even into May this season.

Routes that have been climbed on the Ben this week are; Galactic Hitchhiker, Orion Face, Point 5, Vanishing Gully, Fawlty Towers, Tower Ridge and the South West Ridge on the Douglas Boulder.

Down in Glen Nevis Steall Waterfall has come back in seeing plenty of ascents a good option when things higher on the Ben are not so safe. Another good option in such conditions in Smoking the White Owl which lies on the side of Sgurr Finnisgaig on Aonach Mor this has been reported as in good condition and plenty of teams have been on it enjoying good ice.

Down in Glen Coe things have been pretty snowed under with teams finding it very hard going if not impossible in places. One guide trying to gain Curved Ridge earlier in the week had to abort on the approach due to far too much snow even to walk through.

+West Face Aonach Dubh showing the width of the avalanche, 123 kb
West Face Aonach Dubh showing the width of the avalanche
UKC News, Mar 2010
© Alan Kimber

+Taxus Icefall Finish, 65 kb
Taxus Icefall Finish
UKC News, Mar 2010
© Rob Jarvis
The West Face of Aonach Dubh which has seen plenty of teams on it this season has seen a large avalanche.

Alan Kimber IFMGA commented:

"A significant avalanche has swept the West Face of Aonach Dubh in Glen Coe. It stretched at least as far as the green line marked on the photo below and is clearly visible from the Clachaig Hotel just below that skyline. Clearly any climbers who were on these routes at the time may have perished. I'm not sure when it released but it could have been overnight, thankfully. 

The lesson here is to avoid any west facing gullies or open slopes on that aspect for the time being. Even if approaching a buttress or ridge on that aspect climbers might be exposed to large avalanches before and after climbing the ridge. 

What is required now is a period of wet weather to consolidate the snow pack and then a refreeze. The current conditions were formed on top of considerable surface hoar, by the 48 hours of blizzard conditions which fell last week. Any melt which takes place needs to be deep, as much of the remaining hazards are set at over a metre down."

Alan Kimber is a very experienced climber and IFMGA guide and runs a guiding business with accommodation based in Fort William and has a very useful conditions blog: Westcoast-mountainguides.co.uk

People have been out playing a careful card with regards avalanche awareness. Mike Pescod avoiding dangerous snow conditions was out on the East Face of Sgurr Dearg above Ballachulish, Donald King made some first ascents such as Hide and Seek here a couple of seasons ago.

Perhaps a good indication of the danger is that no routes have been logged and I have not heard of routes getting ticked perhaps you have if so feel free to post a few words in the thread below the article?

A little further south on Beinn an Dotheidh Taxus has been climbed and on Beinn Udlaidh Organ Pipe wall.

Rob Jarvis fills us in:

"Sam, Stu and I went to Beinn an Dothaidh and had a great day climbing the icefall finish to 'Taxus' (IV,4). Five good pitches of ice climbing with a fine mountain feel as Taxus takes the obvious big line through the face. The last pitch of climbing was a little thinner than the others and, unusually, has an in-situ trekking pole stuck in the ice!"

Rob Jarvis, IFMGA. More info on:  highmountainguides.com

photo
Avalanche pit in the Cairngorms, note how much winslab is sat on a layer of hoar frost where the data card is
UKC News, Mar 2010
© Dan Goodwin

Cairngorms

The snow pack keeps building and things remain very snowy indeed in the Cairngorms.

The Northern Corries have been largely left alone over the last week due to the high avalanche threat. Some big slides have been seen such as to the left of the Mess of Potage the Windy Col area went bringing lots of debris right down into the Corrie floor. The ski areas have also been busy with the explosives trying to release threatening slopes and spending lots of time digging out the railway and ca rparks.

Worth noting that at the time of writing they are only using the down road from the Cas car park as the link road is blocked and the car parking is limited to the top two car parks, their website will have updates on this. Andy Nisbit was in the Sneatcda earlier in the week climbing Invernookie Wall followed by Rampant on the Fiachaill Buttress; the snow seeming to be a bit more settled on that side. The Seam has also been climbed but on the whole things are quiet in the Corries. It sounds like a good track is being stamped out though back into the Corrie.

The ski mountaineering is in excellent condition at the moment and perhaps the best option just now the plateux has superb cover. Even lower options are superb running up Meall a Buchaille offers a nice tour with an excellent run through the trees to Loch Uaine and back to Glenmore.

As previously mentioned Guy Robertson and Pete Macpherson have made a superb ascent of Super Rat IX, 9 on the Creag an Dubh Loch. For further details on this read Guys report: See UKC Article.

+Looking across the North West Highlands, 164 kb
Looking across the North West Highlands
UKC News, Mar 2010
© Dan Goodwin

+Sgurr Ruadh crags NW Highlands, 115 kb
Sgurr Ruadh crags NW Highlands
UKC News, Mar 2010
© Dan Goodwin

“North West is Best”

North West

North West is Best I read on one blog and having been up there this week am inclined to agree. Not as much snow has fallen in the area which has meant that with the cold clear nights over the last few days the snow pack has frozen solid in many places. The ice has also had a chance to build with the weather pattern as well.

There has been plenty of action going on in the area; The Direct Nose route VII,7 of Sgurr An Fhidhler has been done. On Beinn Bahn, Silver Tear and The Cooler have been done. Access Gully on Fuar Tholl has been done. the crags of Fuar Tholl and Sgurr Ruadh looked to be in great shape earlier this week. On Beinn Eighe Central Buttress VI,7  has seen  two ascents. Also lower down on Stac Pollaidh December Grooves has been done.

I did note a few small pockets of slab in gully tops and on some steeper slopes but all were avoidable, the turf where not covered or covered was bombproof. It's a stunning area with some of the best views in the Highlands and well worth putting in the extra driving to get there.   

+Sunrise from Sgurr Sgumain, 7-15am 2 March 2010, 117 kb
Sunrise from Sgurr Sgumain, 7-15am 2 March 2010
Karl Davies, Mar 2010
© Mike Lates

Skye

UKC Correspondant Mike Lates fills us in:

The Cuillin are at their alpine best and we took advantage of the continued perfect winter to combine an introduction to winter walking with a photographic mission, camping overnight on top of Sron na Ciche and ascending Sgumain and Sgurr nan Eag next day.

Mission accomplished - Loch Coir' a' Ghrunnda was alive with haunting whale-like noises as the sun hit the ice and deterred ideas of crossing it directly.

The strong winds in the storms last week shifted all of the loose snow around leaving a mixture of bare rock, thin neve, thick hoar (top 150m) and amazing snow formations. See UKC Photo

Many of these are scoured and well consolidated and make for good fast progress but there are deep drifts sitting in many hollows on western aspects in particular. Very much more stable than in recent weeks. A Traverse will be a mixed bag but possible for a strong team. Martin Moran did Pinnacle Ridge in perfect snow conditions on Tuesday, ascending by the gully between the 1st and 2nd pinnacles on hard snow.

All of the mid-level ice mentioned over the previous few weeks is still in excellent condition but anything catching sun has sadly rotted a bit too much. Scamtastic and Scamadaladingdong should be in very good nick up in Coire Scamadal.

More folk up and around in the last few days and the Sligachan Hotel has finally re-opened for the season providing much inspiration on the descents.


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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