Scottish Winter Conditions - Full Report 8by Dan Goodwin - Mountain Plan Feb/2011
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The last week has been a pretty turbulent one across the Highlands, a generous dose of high winds and fresh snow created some serious avalanche hazards. Several large slides in the Northern Corries where seen including one on the Goat Track which took climbers with it. This has died down a little from a category high to considerable towards the end of the week. On the whole its not been a pleasant week with only rare glimpses of blue skies Thursday was the exception with a nice cold and sunny day.
Despite this people have been out and plenty has been done.
The forecast for the weekend shows that today's (Thursday) blue skies may have just been a one off and that a return to windy and wild weather may be on the cards. There also looks like a rise in temperatures over Sunday so be wary of any cornicing starting to soften.
There has been large amounts of fresh snowfall here and 'buried' might be a good way to describe many of the climbs in the Northern Corries. The week has also produced a lot of windslab and large cornices there are some very large ones hanging over the 'forty thieves' area and Jacobs ladder. A friend who went round the Corrie today saw some teams on routes such as Invernookie, The Seam and Fingers Ridge. The easy gullies looked to have not been touched which may be a wise move give the avalanche risk and cornicing.
Ron Walker headed out and found a stunning day on Thursday:
"The snow had consolidated a lot quicker than expected and the avalanche risk had reduced too. A lot of the routes are now well banked up and the first pitch of Patey's is now on steep snow as the short chimney start is buried.
Originally I'd thought that only the NE aspects would have been climbable but condition were a lot better than expected. We ended up climbing a buttress route 'Terms of Endearment' on the other side of the corrie rather than 'Invernookie'. We realised a guided party lead by Dave heading up towards Patey's Route weren't swimming up to their armpits so the snow must be better than expected!
Our mixed route was fun but required a lot of snow clearing off the slabby rock and to find gear placements. Morris isn't a climber but an experience hillwalker and scrambler and did really well to second the mixed pitches without cheating as I found them tricky. We then continued up the Mirror and Aladdin's Couloir on really nice snow with absolutely no cornice problems!
From our vantage point we saw climbers on the Mirror Direct, Patey's Route, The Seam and Opening Break but nobody had ventured into Jacob's Ladder judging by the huge cornice!
The views from the completely plastered white plateau were stunning. Some very large cornices especially so on NW aspects."
Ron Walker, Talisman Mountaineering
As the weekend goes on it looks like there will be a rise in temperatures which could have some effect on the huge cornicing in place on many of the gullies so stay well clear. During a sharp rise in temperatures the cornicing will soften and get heavy as they get wetter and drop off often triggering the slope below.
Nick Bullock and Rich Cross made the second ascent of the 'Great Corner' VIII,8 on Raeburns Buttress. Simon Yearsley, Malcolm Bass and Jim Higgins made the first ascent of 'Free Range' VII,7/8 on Number 5 Gully buttress.
'heavy going' was one comment I heard from one team climbing Ledge Route earlier in the week. Lots of fresh snow has fallen on the Ben making for hard work on approaches and on the routes themselves. The main snow accumulations are from around 500 meters. As the week has progressed things have settled down a bit.
Rich Bently was out on Tower Ridge:
"Today it was quiet on Ben Nevis apart from the now usual continentals. Tower ridge was good but hard work with a healthy plastering of new snow. Awkward for gear placements at the moment, particularly on the eastern traverse. Descent routes by either No 3 or 4 gullies were fine. No4 being quite scoured. teams had been climbing on the Ciste crags doing the Central gullies, exits looked ok. Thompson's route had also been done. Mega route X trying to form, lets hope eh! The curtain was also slowly getting there (but not yet). Vanishing and Italian looked good as well as compression cracks and Boomers looked thin but ok.
Cycling of the freezing level is forecast 600 - 900m next few days so higher routes should stay good and build. Southerly winds mean the right side of the Ciste should stay relatively safe."
Rich Bently, Mountain Motion
Across on Aonach Mor Andy Wardle headed round to the East face in stunning conditions. He chose to abseil into the routes rather than risk the walk round after the recent very high risk of avalanche:
"I climbed Left Twin on the East Face of Aonach Mor with Simon and Martin today in stunning conditions. There has recently been a high avalanche risk in Lochaber and although things seem to be calming down we played it safe and abseiled in. Morwind was our original plan but the initial chimney proved too bold in its current state so we switched to plan B. Left Twin (III,4) was great but extremely difficult to protect."
Andy Wardle - Focus Mountaineering
Aonach Mor is well known as a venue for large cornicing and many of the routes can produce an impassable cornice at times.
Plenty of snow here too and many have been out making use of it.
With some stormy weather on the cards Adam Hughes and friend John got stuck in making an ascent of 'Agags' Groove on the Buchaille:
"With the stormy weather it was perfect conditions to go and have a look at Agag's Groove on Rannoch Wall. With the grade of VII,6 it is billed as a serious outing. I think the general consensus from the 4 ascents this year is a pleasant VI,7.
This is a hard route to get in condition as it needs this type of weather. John and I had a leisurely start, only leaving the car after 9am, but it was snowing heavily. The walk in was ok until we hit the start of Curved Ridge which was buried. This slowed us a little and so did the amount of snow in easy gully gave us something to think about. The route had a lot of snow on it and the cracks were very icy and verglassed today, a very different story to how Matt and Dave had it yesterday. This made some of the climbing pretty bold in places, but not really at the hard point.
I led the first pitch which offers some excellent steepish climbing that has a great thin section for your feet at half height. John dispatched the second easy pitch swiftly. This meant I was ready to take on the third pitch which is probably the crux, although all but the second pitch has some tech 7 climbing. John the did a sterling job leading us to the top, where we had to dig for a bit to find the ab tat.
Getting down and out was the hardest, and most thought provoking part of the day. As it had snowed all day, the gully needed a lot of care to get out safely. Even Curved Ridge was buried and had snow sliding off at times. We were pretty happy when we got to the path and could relax. An awesome day."
Adam Hughes, Hughes Mountaineering
In Stob Coire Nan Lochain Mike Pescod has been out looking for routes that might not be too buried....
"Alastair and I went up to Stob Coire nan Lochan today to find something to climb that is not buried with fresh snow! We had a big fall of snow down to 500m on Saturday night and more last night. There were a few teams in the coire and we joined Matt and Ben on North Buttress where they climbed Crest Route. We climbed the first two pitches of Financial Times before joining Crest Route. It was a nice day with occasional light snow showers."
Mike Pescod, Abacus Mountaineering
Things have stayed wintery on the Isle and as ever Mike Lates has been out in the thick of it:
"For starters we covered crampon and axe work on simple slopes as pristine snow led us easily to An Doras. Only one small step was needed to gain the slopes of Sgurr a' Ghreadaidh above. We found wind-blasted hard snow on the Coruisk side with a complete contrast of softer powder on the lee slope above Glen Brittle. We moved together throughout the next 1.5km as far as Sgurr na Banachdich. Generally conditions were excellent but the knife-blade crest of Ghreadaidh was very taxing and required extreme concentration."
Mike was also out on 'South Buttress Gully' a fine grade III on Blaven:
"Hard to say why today's route felt so good; it was probably the overnight transformation to superb snow and ice from low levels that caught me so much by surprise. The hidden gully has amazing rock architecture throughout the entire 250m length. The climbing pitches are thought provoking but well protected. III/5- always escapable but not a push-over by any means."
Mike Lates Skye Guides
Mike wasn't to sure about the conditions of a full traverse but was heading out soon to have a look at am sure will post his findings on the blog so keep an eye on that for further beta.
On the Far East wall of Beinn Eighe Andy Nisbet and Johnothan Preston made the first ascent of 'Flake City' V,7. On Slioch's main buttress Roger Webb and Simon Richardson made the first ascent of 'Katabasis' VI,6.
Nick Carter was out on Liathach enjoying blue skies and great cover making his way across the Pinnacles:
"We had a great day on the Northern Pinnacles of Liathach. The day started with zero wind and blue skys but the front moving in from the south brought a cold easterly wind.
There was very little snow below 600m but above this there was a lot of powder and a lot of avalanche debris on the northern slopes. It was minus 3 on the summit."
Nick Carter, Alpha Mountaineering
Hopefully these will be of some use in the weekend's plans, have a great season.
Dan Goodwin, Mountain Plan
Thanks go to:
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