This is the third 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.
Towards the end of last week the icy temperatures rose bringing a thaw that set in across the Highlands over a large part of the weekend. Temperatures dropped again at the start of this week, and they look set to drop further bringing more snow.
The earlier thaw will have greatly affected the low level ice and all but stripped most away. In the mountains though this was a much needed freeze thaw cycle helping to bond the deep unconsolidated snow. A good thaw and refreeze is an essential process in building a stronger snow pack which gives it more resilience during further thaws and helps create good mountain ice on the higher mountain routes. The higher ice climbs on Ben Nevis very much rely on a storm cycle to bring in the thin classics on Indicator Wall, last year that cycle never really happened that much and those higher climbs didn't come in too well.
Looking into the weekend it seems like the temperatures will be dropping with a change back to very cold weather and some very heavy snowfall predicted. This fresh snow will largely be falling on a now hard base and coupled with high winds could create some serious avalanche concerns. As of Thursday the 16th the Scottish Avalanche Service will resume with all five areas being reported from giving a daily forecast. They also offer a blog for each area that is always worth a look with regularly updated images and comments.
The Cairngorms was where the largest accumulations of snow had fallen covering the crags in deep unconsolidated powder for much of the last couple of weeks. The freeze thaw cycle that moved through over the last few days has had a very positive effect on consolidating the pack. Ian Stewart had a look round on Tuesday finding good hard neve from car to plateux making travel very pleasant. There also seems to be a good deal of ice developing, one team have climbed Mirror Direct claiming great ice and a good length. If you fancy getting it done this season it might be worth doing it now if last winter is anything to go by it will only be about 3ft long by February. The crags will be suffering from very heavy verglassing though, the ski area have been unable to chip the ice off the M1 poma lift quick enough to keep it running. There has been a fair amount of 'freezing drizzle'. I have experienced this problem on the crags it tends to keep you warm creating a stiff frozen outerlayer trapping the heat in but also makes you slightly less agile. With good ice developing it could be worth looking at the icy lines over on Hells Lum, there are shorter days at the moment but with good neve across the tops its an easy walk over. The icy lines on Stag Rocks look to be forming although not ready to climb yet. But things may well change singnificantly with more snow arriving and on a strong wind so keep your eyes open for windslab.
Routes that have been climbed over the last few days are Pateys, The Message, Fingers Ridge, Fiachaill Colouir, Big Daddy and the Couloir.
"A very nice day with the temperature around zero all day and dry. We walked up Ben Nevis with the intention of climbing Observatory Ridge. However, there was lots of frost and rime building on the rocks so we changed plan to something more icy. We went for Green Gully which was very nice. It's thin and a little harder than usual but still good fun. Compression Cracks and Waterfall Gully are both complete and there is ice on the Carn Dearg Cascades under Carn Dearg Buttress. There are plenty of grade III options but few grade V ice routes - Point Five Gully is complete but I think the ice will be too snowy for fun climbing. Hadrian's Wall Direct is very thin but complete and the ice routes on Orion Face have made a good start to being formed. One team enjoyed Tower Ridge which had nice snow from the Little Tower upwards."
Mike Pescod IFMGA, Abacus Mountaineering
The lower level ice that people have been enjoying on Sgurr Finnig-aig will have suffered greatly in these warmer temperatures. Steal will also now have returned to a waterfall.
Routes that have been climbed in the area are. Number 3 Gully Buttress, Tower Ridge, Glovers Chimney, Raeburns, Green Gully, Comb Gully, Ledge Route and Castle Ridge.
On Aonach Mor Alan Kimber climbed Left Twin (see photo at the start of the report) on the 12th he commented :
"On Left Twin today and found mixed ice and plenty of unconsolidated snow on the East Face. One team was thankful for a top rope on Forgotten Twin to overcome the cruddy cornice. Teams coming off of Golden Oldy on the West Face reported a good day out on the ridges. What is required is a good thaw on top of a load more snow. The conditions are generally good for the time of year and let's face it 12th December is early for so much snow. With short daylight hours and taxing snow conditions, it will be wise to start early and don't take on anything too long."
Alan Kimber IFMGA, West Coast Mountain Guides
On the west face of Aonach Dubh Andy Nisbet, Sandy Allen and John Lyall climbed approximating the summer line'Rose Late' IV,6. The three where back in the following day to make the first winter ascent of 'Oz'VII,7. The 'Wonderful Wizard' V,6 was the third line to go in the area with Andy Nisbet, John Lyall and Jonathan Preston completing this line. On Ben Udlaidh Greg Boswell and Neil Carnegie put up 'The Crooked Smile' VII,7 the steep line to the left of The Smirk.
There has been a good deal of thaw here stripping much of the lower level snow away and damaging the ice. There have been teams on good chewy ice on the The Screen and number 6 gully on Aonach Dubh. With the forecast as it stands it should drop in tempartures bringing with it more snow and should start to build the ice further.
On Ben Udlaidh Mike Pescod has been out in the ice and commented :
"It was certainly far colder than yesterday and this made the ice quite brittle. We climbed Peter Pan Direct, about the only complete line in the coire. It is nice and steep at the bottom and a sustained pitch, great fun. There was another team looking at Quartzvein Scoop but the top is not fully formed. Green Eyes could be worth a look but not much else is fully formed. There is lots of water dripping down the routes and as it is very cold, ice will be forming very quickly. The drips were freezing as soon as they hit my jacket and the ropes today! It was dry all day but there are heavier snow showers going over now and 5cm has fallen in Fort William with more forecast."
Mike Pescod IFMGA, Abacus Mountaineering
The thaw seemed to take quite a lot of the snow away. Jim had a stamp around and made these comments:
"This morning I nipped up the north end of Beinn Damh to Sgurr na Bana Mhoraire.The final buttress up to the summit can be made as easy or as sporting as you choose. One particular corner with nice dry sandstone on the right and a mixture of verglas with semi-frozen moss was particularly memorable. I have always thought that with a decent covering of snow this would make a great introductory winter mountaineering adventure. The views from the trig point on Sgurr na Bana Mhoraire are spectacular with the 'south' Torridon Mountains looking particularly impressive today.As I expected the first inch of so of the old snow had re-frozen quite nicely, but underneath it was still a bit soft. Turf varied from frozen/dry and wet/mushy. Still a great way to spend a couple of hours and the descent down the western side of the buttress in sun was lovely."
Jim Sutherland, Nine One Six Guiding
With the forecast snow though things could change rapidly here. It's worth bearing in mind that this area is not covered by any SAIS reports.
Greg Boswell and Guy Robertson made the first winter ascent of the 'Black Cleft' VI,7 on Sgurr Mhic Choinnich. Mike Lates headed to Sgurr an Fheadain (Waterpipe Gully peak) naming it Hosepipe Ban (III,4). Mike Lates has had is eye on the ridge and comments :
"The neve is very solid from bottom to top but the crest of the Ridge is only about 50% snow/50% rock so not ideal for long outings. Like many places a warning to be aware of unconsolidated powder hazard may be in order over the next week depending just how much snow falls."
Mike Lates, Skye Guides
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 weekends plans, have a great season.
Dan Goodwin, Mountain Plan
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