Scottish Winter Conditions: Full Report 11by Dan Goodwin - Mountain Plan Mar/2010
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This is the eleventh 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.
It seemed over the last week to take a turn to more traditional conditions in the Highlands with some heavy gusts and spindrift in the Northern Corries on Saturday and a walk in to the Ben on Sunday with hoods up in the pouring rain, I think I may have been spoiled of late. There has been a considerable thaw over the last week the West and North West have born the brunt having less snow depth than the Cairngorms.
Travel has been difficult with heavy wet snow on many approaches; the approach to the CIC hut would be best done in wellies as there are some pretty expansive bogs and slush pools to cross. The thaw could turn out to be more than needed particularly on the West where the ice is now starting to get pretty mushy in places. But the thaw is hitting a very snowy Highlands so things should hang on for a while yet. The forecasters are giving a possible return to more wintry temperatures next week with the possibility of more snow. We are only part way through March as well so there is still some winter to go, it would be easy to loose heart where as in fact we may have just made a return to normal conditions.
Ben Nevis has seen plenty of ascents over the last weekend but things are very much on the thaw with many ice routes starting to feel the effect. We climbed on one of the hut cascades on Sunday which gave great toffee ice but was in places becoming mushy and might not hang on much longer through this thaw. The main cascade was certainly something to steer clear of as it had a large crack across it and will collapse if the thaw continues and you wouldn't want to be on it or near it when it does.
Mike Pescod commented on his blog:
"It looks like Thursday and Friday will be exceptionally warm and wet. We'll have to wait and see what's left for the weekend when it cools down again. I think there will be plenty left to do although it does look like more of a thaw than we needed really." Mike Pescod IFMGA Abacus Mountaineering
People were out over last weekend enjoying plenty of ice climbs. Rob Jarvis was out with a two day run on the Minus face bagging Minus 2 and Minus 3 he commented on Minus 2:
"The inclement forecast made for a quiet day on the Ben. There was a shallow layer of fresh snow at the base of the Minus and Orion Faces and a lot of thumping wet rime falling off the crags. One brave team were setting off in to the Maelstrom high on the Orion Face. Rosy cheeks guaranteed!
Neil and I had a good adventure and tough days mountaineering on the Nevis classic, Minus Two Gully. The route had a fresh feel about it again after the snow had covered all the footsteps and gear placements. But the ice was good and the climbing sustained with a particularly l-o-n-g 2nd pitch!
It was a day to turn left on the North East Buttress and 4 long, almost enjoyable, abseils and a short easy traverse moving together gave a swift descent into Coire Leis." Rob Jarvis IFMGA High Mountain Guides
Under such thaw conditions it's worth taking care with falling blocks of ice and also rock when things start to collapse. Hopefully the thaw wont destroy it too badly, we shall see.
Routes that have been climbed over the last week are; Minus 2/3 Gullies, Spacewalk, Orion Direct, Zero, NE Buttress, Slingsby's Chimney, Tower Ridge, Vanishing Gully and the CIC Cascades.
Pretty quiet on Aonach Mor; Gendarme Ridge has been climbed on the West face but the East face has been quiet possibly due to large cornices starting to sag over the climbs.
“Dorsal Arete is a route to be wary of during a thaw as it has lots of very big blocks on it which the snow and ice stabilise.”
Heading into Glen Coe Deep Cut Chimney was climbed on Stob Coire nam Beith. On Aonach Dubh a teams climbed number 6 gully but the thaw will be greatly effecting these slightly lower icier climbs now. The classic Aonach Eagach traverse has seen plenty of crossings over the last weekend. On Stob Coire nan Lochain things have been busy with Boomerang, Twisting gully, Evening Citizen, NC, Chimney Route and also Dorsal Arete, which is another route to be wary of during a thaw as it has lots of very big blocks on it which the snow and ice stabilise. Sron na larig has also seen some crossings - a lovely grade 2 spur. Sliding south to Beinn an Dothiedh and Taxus has been climbed.
The snow cover remains very good in the Cairngorms with the snow line just starting to pull up from the tree line in Glenmore. The snow low down is a bit hard going being very soft, heavy and wet but the higher you go the firmer it gets. Walking across the summit of Cairngorm on Tuesday it was rock solid neve. People have been out in the Corries getting routes done and reporting on the whole good conditions once on the route.
Adam Hughes was out this week escaping the wet west and passed his comments on:
"After checking the weather, the gorms had a better underpant rating than west so we headed over. This was a great option as the weather was fantastic and it was a welcome rest. Dave, John and I climbed a quite tricky Patey's route. The ice was great, but had gone from the places that would be very helpful around the hard sections. This was perfect as it gave the most technical climbing of the week. Rather than take on all the easy snow to the top, we opted to look at retreating from a route and abseiled back to the bottom to bask in the sunshine." Adam Hughes MIC Hughes Mountaineering
The icefall in the Larig Grhu sound to be looking less stable than of late, Ron Walker passed through on an expedition and he commented:
"Yesterday Despite the thaw the ski and ice climbing conditions looked OK from mid mountain upwards though some of the large icefalls in the Larig Ghru were showing evidence of ice and rock collapse and the crags were looking blacker this morning.", Ron Walker MIC Talisman Mountaineering
The spring corn style ski mountaineering at the moment is in excellent shape with some really pleasurable runs into the Corries, some refer to it as 'hero snow' it seems to give the impression you can really go for it where as in actual fact your not going that quick at all and its very forgiving!
Routes that have been climbed in the last week are Hidden Chimney, Pygmy Ridge, Fluted Buttress, Fingers Ridge, Stirling Bomber, Fiachaill Couloir, Savage Slit and the Vent.
The thaw continues in the North West with the ice feeling the heat. Routes such as Poachers are looking much thinner. There was much less build up in the NW, which may take a serious, hit over the coming days. Keep an eye on James Edward's blog as he documents conditions well and also has an image of some much thinner ice in the area. Also Martin Moran is out and about in the area and documents things on his blog which can be viewed here: Martin's Blog.
Things will have been taking a soaking on the ridge, having not been to the island it would be great if anyone has been if they could pop some comments in the forum. Also keep an eye out for the regular reports from Skye aficionado Mike Lates in the forums.