Scottish Winter Conditions - Full Report 9

by Dan Goodwin - Mountain Plan Feb/2011
This news story has been read 5,670 times

This is the ninth of the 2010/11 season 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.


+Heading up Orion Direct, Ben Nevis, 83 kbHeading up Orion Direct, Ben Nevis
© James Thacker

General Outline

Well there was all to sing for earlier in the week but the weather has brought a major change and not for the best. Earlier in the week conditions for ice were very good with multiple ascents of The Curtain and Vanishing Gully and even an ascent of Gemini on Ben Nevis while on the East Sticil Face various ice lines in the Loch Avon basin were done.

It was all change as of Wednesday when a sharp rise in temperatures and heavy rain in the west put many of the classics in Loch Linne. There have been avalanches and sluffs from cornices collapsing, old saturated windslab has slid off and loose blocks have tumbled down with it all.

That said, I was in the Northern Corries yesterday (Thursday) and it was pretty pleasant although it did feel like a spring day with snow only really present in the easy deep gully lines. The crags were stripped but things like Mirror Direct were visible and looked to still be of reasonable size.

My suggestion for most areas is; be prepared to go out with one axe and pick some mountaineering lines and tick some summits while it starts to stabilise and firm up again.

Having just dumped the 'not so great conditions' news on you all, I will also mention some other dumps that I have noted. I had a wander into the edge of Sneachda and found people have been 'shitting' around the boulders on the way in which have been revealed since the rapid thaw. Not nice but also around was a fair amount of rubbish. I understand in the teeth of a gale the odd wrapper blows away but it's looking pretty messy in there. They certainly don't blow into cracks and under rocks.

This is something Al Halewood has noticed on the Ben too:

"We also observed plenty of truely unpleasant human waste left by the receding snow just above the CIC hut (toilet paper and used female sanitary products) and somewhat bizarrely a deckchair in the Allt a Mhuillin - which we carried out."

Please take care when out and perhaps go to the loo before you leave or place a peg till you get back down!

+Sneachda looking a little stripped but still snowy, 162 kbSneachda looking a little stripped but still snowy
© Dan Goodwin

Cairngorms

Ali Cashman and Martin Holland made a first ascent on Stag Rocks with 'Truly Accidental' III,4.

The current state of play from my visit on Thursday was that there is still lots of snow in the easy gully lines but the buttresses where looking very black and devoid of any snow. There have, over recent weeks, been some very windy conditions that created very large cornices around the Corrie rims, these have largely all dropped off. Looking around the Corrie there was evidence of lots of slides, many of which will have occurred due to cornice collapse.

There was lots of teams around Fingers Ridge and Red Gully on Thursday. This is a particularly bad area to be in during a thaw as it's full of loose blocks and with things thawing and collapsing it is unwise to be here; you just have to look at the apron to see all the stones and bits of ice.

Worth keeping an eye when coming up or down on the Goat Track as this path is threatened by snowfall across the bottom.

The good news is that with a predicted drop in temperatures and a saturated snow pack things should firm up and give good gully climbing in the lower grades.

Bruce Poll was out climbing in the Corries on Thursday, he commented:

"The weather suggested east was better today, so another early start saw us at the head of the pack getting into Coire an t-Sneachda. Patey's Route was a little drippy in places, firm ice still well attached in others and a waterfall over the first steep pitch. The snow was soft and the temperature was +6 on leaving the car. It will be interesting to see how much stays before the next freeze, I think it will form again quickly. The upper crux is very well protected and has great hooks. Chris was keen to get to the summit of the route on his final day, rather than abseil from above the difficulties.

This was very fortunate for two young Navy lads who had got a bit bogged down in some soft snow at the top of Aladdin's Couloir. On arriving at Aladdin's Seat, it looked like they may need a hand. When asked they said, "yes, please", a wise decision. We were able to escape more easily up the Mirror side and drop a rope down to these two lads who were very thankful, and thanks for the whiskey on its way in return, very honourable!

A good lesson, snow always looks less steep from below (been surprised myself more than once), until you get onto it, and upward progress will always be slow on leeward scarp slopes when it is plus lots of degrees and the avalanche risk is moderate or higher. Lucky lads, good luck in Afghanistan.

The Corrie was fairly quiet, but a few routes were being done, not sure axes and crampons were necessary on a few. Cold next week."

Bruce Poll, West Coast Mountain Guides

Interesting Bruce also noted the use of crampons and axes where perhaps not needed, I saw several teams on Fingers which at a guess would not need them at the moment. They would certainly be needed on perhaps the approach but not the route. But I was only looking from afar!

+The Mess of Potage, Cairngorms, 87 kbThe Mess of Potage, Cairngorms
© Dan Goodwin

+Teams on Vanishing which has vanished for now, Ben Nevis, 132 kbTeams on Vanishing which has vanished for now, Ben Nevis
© Dan Goodwin

Ben Nevis

The Ben has some new additions with Simon Richardson and Iain Small visiting the North Wall of Carn Dearg to establish 'New World' IX,8. Bruce Poll, Nick Bullock and Andy Turner made the first ascent of 'The Pretender' VII,9 on the buttress to the right of the Great Chimney. On Creag Coire na Ciste Tony Stone and Iain Small made the first ascent of 'Angels with Dirty Faces' VIII,8.

Well after a great start to the week with teams all over the classics. I was there at the weekend when things looked very good although there were avalanche concerns.

James Thacker was out on Orion Direct which, although not perfect conditions, was 'in':

"Tommy and I decided to head up to Ben Nevis today with an open mind, given the weather and avalanche conditions. With a fairly leisurely start at 8am we found parties already established on The Curtain, Vanishing Gully, and routes on the Douglas Boulder.

We carried on up the hill to the base of the Orion Face to have a look at the well known classic 'Orion Direct' V,5. Having pitched over some interesting snow at the base of Zero Gully, it was a relief to find some good ice on the initial sections into the basin.

Although conditions were generally satisfactory it wasn't "neve romping" today and we had to work a bit to find good ice, protection and belays."

James Thacker, James Thacker Mountaineering

+The West Coast Classics heading for the West Coast, Alt A Mhulin Ben Nevis, 103 kbThe West Coast Classics heading for the West Coast, Alt A Mhulin Ben Nevis
© Al Halewood

Alan Kimber was also out and climbed a steep Boomers Requim:

"Evil winds today [Thrsday] on Ben Nevis with no idea which direction they wanted to blow! Boomer's Requiem seemed like a good option as it was in the lee of the wind. However as the blow rotored around Nevis the spindrift came from all directions, especially below. Fortunately the climb was set up for abseil from above the difficult sections and with two 60 metre ropes the relative calm on the glen was gained without a battle over the tops."

Alan Kimber, West Coast Mountain Guides

But since then Al Halewood went up to look at some winter skills with a group from the local college and things were not looking so great...

"The Curtain is gone, most of the snow below the level of the Ciste Lochan/base of No.5 has gone (looks to be plenty above that though). Vanishing Gully was only a waterfall, Tower Ridge was black as far as we could see and there is a large amount of avalanche debris visible below Observatory Gully.

What does remain higher up (and there is plenty in the major gully lines) should be very nice when it freezes again."

Al Halewood, Climb When You Ready

+James Thacker and Dave Evens on Cutlass the Douglas Boulder, Ben Nevis, 143 kbJames Thacker and Dave Evens on Cutlass the Douglas Boulder, Ben Nevis
© Dan Goodwin
+Climbers prospecting on Sassanach, Ben Nevis, 93 kbClimbers prospecting on Sassanach, Ben Nevis
© Alan Kimber
+Alan Kimber getting stuck into steep ice on Boomers, Ben Nevis, 55 kbAlan Kimber getting stuck into steep ice on Boomers, Ben Nevis
© Alan Kimber
+The Curtains are drawn, Ben Nevis, 77 kbThe Curtains are drawn, Ben Nevis
© Al Halewood

+Stunning conditons on the Skye Ridge, 106 kbStunning conditons on the Skye Ridge
© Mike Lates

Glen Coe

I have not been into the Coe since the recent rise and rains so not to sure what the conditions are here. They are unlikely to be very favourable but if anyone has any useful info then please jot something in the forums below!

Isle Of Skye

Mike Lates has been busy as ever in what sound to have been some great conditions. Sadly that may have changed given the recent deluge.

"The Ridge did come into excellent condition through Wednesday- Friday last week but the weather deteriorated over the weekend with heaps of fresh snow then strong winds and finally the warm blast started on Wednesday. We'll just have to see what remains when things cool down at the weekend.

I've long advocated just doing sections of the Ridge rather than aiming for the full monty and this past week confirmed quite how challenging, serious but satisfying it can be. Traversing Ghreadaidh when the side slopes are unstable and the "White Tight-rope" is the safest route has to rate alongside many of the classic Alpine aretes. It requires full concentration for almost the entire kilometre and a half and took us 2 hours with very little break. Grading this is hard/misleading but it is certainly on a par with Tower Ridge technically, just as committing but somewhat shorter."

Mike Lates, Skye Guides

Keep an eye in the forums for Mike's updates.

North West

Andy Nisbet and David Bell went to make the first ascent of 'Crimson Buttress' VI,7 on Sgorr Ruadh.

I think things are not looking so great here either - to quote 'CarolynR' in the forums:

"Not at all good I'm afraid. Tops of Liathach and Ben Alligin without so much as a dusting. Some remnants of old snow patches but nothing to warrant a winter ascent of anything."

Should anyone know of a spot to head for there feel free to mention it in the forums.

Hopefully these will be of some use in the weekend's plans, have a great season.

Dan Goodwin, Mountain Plan

Thanks go to:

  • Bruce Poll - West Coast Mountain Guides
  • Alan Kimber - West Coast Mountain Guides
  • Al Halewood - Climb When You're Ready
  • Mike Lates - Skye Guides

  • 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.


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