Scottish Winter Conditions - Full Report 6by Dan Goodwin - Mountain Plan Feb/2011
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Well at the moment getting to the winter sports are tricky, there have been some ferocious winds and stormy weather cycles passing through. Good things are happening though with some rapid freeze thaw cycles taking place - this will be doing things some good in the long run but for this weekend things look to remain pretty wild.
There will also be a very high avalanche risk with the strong winds and fresh snow; this will have had some lethal results with regard to windslab on the lee slopes. Make sure you have a good look at the forecasts before heading out and stick to higher ground such as ridges where possible, and remain flexible with plans on the hill.
Over the last week things have been good with routes being done. This season must be unique in some ways as the standard of hard climbing has been immense with an unprecedented number of high end new routes and repeats.
Andy Turner made the second winter ascent of The Hurting with Phil Douthwaite. Visiting German Ines Papert along with Austrian Charly Fritzer repeated To Those Who Wait, Greg Boswell's new line on Ben Nevis and host of other lines.
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Guy Robertson and Pete Mcpherson claimed another hard line with Stone Temple Pilots linking the summer lines of 'Haystack', 'Steeple' and 'Spire'. And there are plenty more listed in the areas. Suffice to say it's an impressive season for mixed climbing.
Helen Rennard, John Lyall and Andy Nisbet headed into Creagan a'Coire Etchacan coming away with 'Gaddzooks' VI,6. The trio on a prior visit also climbed 'Kukri' V,6 on the right side of the arÍte Delicatessen. John Lyall and Andy Nesbit made the first winter ascent of 'Penguin' a summer VS,4C on Coire Sputan Dearg at V,7. Innes Papert (Germany) and Charlie Fritzer (Austrian) made the first ascent of 'Baverinthia' in Coire an Lochain IX,9 which takes the line between Fallout Corner and War and Peace. Mike Tweedly and Greg Boswell made the second ascent of 'Omerta'VIII,9 in Sneachda.
It's been a wild lead up to the weekend with storm force winds and increasingly heavy snowfall high up. The weather even at valley level has been wild so great care will need to be taken on the crags with regard to avalanche activity. The ski areas have struggled to open at all this week due to gusts reaching 100 mph.
Earlier in the week there was a generally damp theme to things with the easy gully lines holding plenty but the crags have been looking pretty wet and black. Al Halewood was out on Wednesday looking at a very damp but still in place Mirror Direct.
Walking in to Coire an t Sneachda it was raining but not as windy as we had expected- funnily enough there were few teams around today. Colin and I both took our teams for a quick look at Aladdin's Mirror Direct. It's still fat but at the very top there is a hole allowing the water streaming down the base of the gully above to pour over the route. My team found some ice to look at ice screw placement and abalakov threads. Meanwhile with Colin at his first runner and unable to look up into the downpour his 2 students decided that a quick trip up the Mirror itself was more appealing- very sensible. When I reached the same position David expressed a desire to give it a go and Tom just nodded apprehensively. I zipped up my hood (and, as a friend would say 'my man suit') and prepared for a short, steep soaking. The ice was chewy and accepted screws well and soon I was on top at the fixed anchor. First David and then Tom made short work of the falls and after lowering them I abseiled off retrieving my screws on the way.
James Thacker was also in the area earlier in the week and had a similar damp and windy walk.
"There was still plenty of snow about in the northern corries in the easier lines and plenty of people walking into the corrie. We decided to visit the newly developed crag of Creagan Coire Cha-no on the eastern side on Cairngorm. Sadly, it wasn't in superb condition and we were forced to solo an easy line before getting blown back to the car park."
With a further high winds and blizzards forecast for the weekend route choice will need to be carefully thought out avalanche concerns will also need to be. In order to avoid approach slopes and steep snow exits it is possible to head along the Fiachail ridge and abseil into routes like the Seam, Belhaven and Invernookie. I have once abseiled into the Mess of Pottage and also into the Savage Slit area in Lochain. Just make sure you can get back out.
The Rolling Stones area of Ben Nevis saw a hard new addition from Innes Papert, Charlie Fritzer and Dave Macleod 'Triple X' VIII,8. Innes and Charlie also repeated Greg Boswell's 'To Those Who Wait' IX,9. Mike Tweedly and Greg Boswell where also on the Ben making the second ascent of 'Apache' VIII,9. Simon Richardson and Iain Small made the first ascent of 'Goodfellas' VII,8 on the front face of Pinnacle Buttress.
At the end of last week things where looking good on Ben Nevis. I saw teams enjoying classic ice on Point 5, Zero Hadrians, Sickle and all the major ridges had good solid neve across them. Over the last week there has been some rapid freeze thaw cycles passing through which will have a great effect on the ice build up. The problem at the moment would be in standing up and not getting avalanched.
Mike Pescod was out earlier in the week and climbed Number 3 Gully Buttress:
"Rain last night turned to snow this morning and a rapid refreeze. The snow had frozen quite well by the time Bryn and I got to it this morning. The wind on Castle Ridge looked quite dramatic so we carried on in to Coire na Ciste and we ended up climbing Number Three Gully Buttress. Plenty of ice has been formed by the thaw and refreeze. With another day of thaw and rain tomorrow followed by a hard freeze at the end of the week there will be some very good ice climbing to enjoy. Vanishing Gully is still complete along with Italian Right Hand. But it is the higher buttresses that now have plenty of snow ice including Quickstep, Two Step Corner and the other ice lines nearby. Indicator Wall and Psychadelic Wall are likely to be the same."
Aonach Mor I should think will be off this weekend due to high winds which will prevent the Gondola from running. The West Face of Aonach Mor maybe somewhere to consider with the current avalanche conditions the area offers a selection of long spurs and being westerly maybe best suited to avoid the loaded slopes.
In Glen Coe at the end of last week I headed to the Buchaille where we where pretty much summer scrambling, there seemed to have been a major loss of snow. Lochain looked to still be holding snow in the Corrie but elsewhere was pretty dry.
Mike Pescod went to Sron na Larig where things were a little wet:
"Windy and very wet today with rain to the summits. It's been fifteen years since I climbed Sron na Lairig in Glen Coe so it was about time to go back. Bryn and I enjoyed the easy walk in on the well made path before the rain started. Sron na Lairig is a very nice ridge in its top section, much like the Aonach Eagach. Below it is open to much variation and is a good test of route finding in the mist. The ground is very well frozen and we had to put on the crampons to cope with the frozen turf and bits of ice hiding in the grass even though there was no snow lower down. We made it up Stob Coire Sgreabhach and descended NE to the col and into Coire Eilde. The canyon in this coire that has recently been discovered as an ice climbing venue is very dramatic. Walking over the top of it was very impressive and I'll certainly have a look when it freezes up next."
This will be improving though with fresh snowfall down to 400mts in the Glen. There will be a high avalanche risk though so great care needs to be taken.
Bruce Poll was out in SC Gully earlier in the week:
"Patrick and Dan alternate led up SC Gully III in Glen Coe today, their first proper full winter lead, whilst still under supervision on the intermediate winter climbing course. Conditions improved with the day and the neve was first time placements all the way. Gear and in-situ gear was readily to hand, and the cornice was avoidable on the left (windward side). The forecast had us guessing what would be safe and climbable until we got to the foot of the route, keeping an open mind is a valuable winter skill."
Its has been pretty quiet on the Isle of late in terms of winter climbing. Mike Lates even managed some pleasant rock climbing while he waits for conditions to improve.
This current stormy weather has brought snow though and things look to be getting better which is right on cue for Mike's Skye winter climbing meet :
"Turning from Spring to Winter overnight for the arrival day of the Skye Winter Meet is, of course, just what we ordered 3 months ago at the start of the planning. With the popularity of mixed climbing the argument goes that Cuillin winter climbing is possible far more often than commonly perceived. Also overlooked is the Cuillin ridges and the incredible challenges they throw up. In combination with the alpine scenery there's all the ingredients for a heady week of exploration & adventure Skye style ahead."
Keep your eye on the Skye Guides blog to see what they get up to this weekend.
Having not been up to the area I am not to sure what has been doing there. I should imagine they will have also been getting this very stormy weather. If anyone has been out and about in the North West then feel free to stick a comment in the forumn below.
Worth bearing in mind that this area is not one covered by the SAIS. Which is nice in some ways as it relies solely on your own judgment and skills. James Edwards is in the area and sometimes posts his observations and so its worth keeping an eye on his blog.
Thanks go to:
If you have been out and about and feel you have some useful info then feel free to message me through my profile on UKC.
Hopefully these will be of some use in the weekend's plans, have a great season.
Dan Goodwin, Mountain Plan