Scottish Winter Conditions - Full Report

This is the second of our regular series of Scottish winter conditions updates from Dan Goodwin of 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.

Scottish "Euro" ice, 104 kb
Scottish "Euro" ice
© graeme gatherer, Jan 2010

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.

Tremendous conditions on FA The Bow Direct, 115 kb
Tremendous conditions on FA The Bow Direct
© petemacpherson, Jan 2010
General overview

The grip of the big freeze has been nationwide providing winter enthusiasts some of the finest conditions for ice climbing, winter mountaineering and skiing for a good few years providing great and often rare ice like Steall Waterfall, Eas Annie, The Dreepie with its free standing upside down pillars, and even powder runs through the trees at Cairngorm.

The Highlands have been no exception over the weekend fine cold and sunny weather prevailed with some great routes done, things stayed with the theory climb west and ski east the Cairngorms still being very much swamped with snow. Over the beginning of the week we have experienced some very strong SE winds accompanied with fresh showers which have created lots of drifting and further avalanche issues.

In the West things have been a bit more settled with less snow to blow around, the Ben remains largely scoured but pockets of slab will still be lurking but with the current weather predictions this may change significantly. Looking towards the up and coming weekend indications are it looks to be a pretty wild one with high winds with gusts up to 90 and showers spreading in. Goggles to hand perhaps. The temperatures are also rising on Saturday this will be right up to the tops so the lower icefalls will be weakening be wary of icefall conditions and how stable it is.

Check for water running behind or over the ice or if its hollow sounding where its become detached from the rock etc. Indications show a return to colder air perhaps early next week which could work out very well soaking the pack and giving it refreeze making the climbing up top considerably better as next week goes on.


Things remain very snowy in the Cairngorms, snow showers have come and gone since the weekend accompanied with some very strong winds from the south east which has caused lots of drifting creating more unstable wind slab and often closing the ski area. Make sure you check the SAIS site for further details as we get closer to the weekend. There has been lots of low level ice action with many parties enjoying the fat ice on Oui Oui at Creag Dubh and also on some other lines just along from the main Oui Oui pitch. Scott Muir made the long awaited first ascent of the hanging icicle above it 'Golden Shower' VI a bold and serious lead a great effort by Scott this line has been attempted in the past but never finished and is also very rare to form.

Roadside icefalls have been climbed up and down the A9 but the mountains have been empty with the crags still very much buried. One skier did Jacobs Ladder on Sunday there has been some skiing in Aladdin's as well, you would need to be very calculated about skiing the gully's now below Jacobs that day there was evidence of avalanches although not triggered by the skier. If in doubt it's a good idea to abseil in digging a pit and having a look before committing with the skis. Things have been thawing at low levels this week so watch out for low level ice starting to crumble and weaken.

Dave MacLeod on his new route Liquidation VI,6, 84 kb
Dave MacLeod on his new route Liquidation VI,6

FA of The Big Mamma, 124 kb
FA of The Big Mamma
© Ben Wear, Jan 2010
Lochaber and Glen Coe

A very busy area over the last week with many classics being done, lower level ice has been the main prey. A few teams out on the Ben over the last few days on Ledge Route, Gardh Gully and Tower Ridge reporting good scoured neve. That could change considerably towards the weekend, with further snow showers and a strong SE wind so be wary of what's happening on approaches and descents, there was a big avalanche on Aonach Mor if you look at the SAIS blog you can see some good images of it.

Steall Falls must have seen hundreds of ascents over the last week. In Glen Coe people have been busy with Leanne Callaghan making the first female ascent of Neanderthal VII, 7 on the Lost Valley buttress (See UKC News).

Dave McLeod has made two new continental style ice climbs on the flanks of the Aonach Eagach, Frozen Assets VII,7 and Liquidation VI,6 (UKC News). He has also just completed two more very testing ice pitches - see the UKC News page later today for more info and photos.

Many other ice climbs have been done throughout the glen, The Screen, No 6 Gully, Squaddies Climb and Blue Ribband. The Aonach Eagach was done in what sounded like Alpine conditions snow and dry rock where you wanted it. Curved ridge and many other lines have seen ascents.

Al Halewood and Gill Culshaw enjoyed a first ascent on some 'Seaside ice' on Eas an Forsay on the Glenuig road ( See Al's Blog) . Some wild weather over the coming weekend and a general thaw at lower levels and on Saturday above many tops which will have a negative effect on the ice so watch for it weakening and collapsing although so far it seems to be holding together well with more ascents of Steall today (Thursday) - some even televised! 

North West

Interesting conditions in the North West with regard to Avalanche activity last week a very large slide was seen on the southern slopes of Ben Wyvis. Over the last few days the thaw has set in effecting the snow and ice at low levels, this will be starting to consolidate the pack higher up expect to see some avalanche activity here. Keep an eye on James Edwards' Blog for some useful snow conditions.

Plenty of ski touring being done on Little and Ben Wyvis and also in Strathconnan. Climbing wise plenty of ice being climbed on the Inverness to Ullapool road. Corrieshalloch gorge has seen some action on great ice the main Falls of Messach where looking broken but getting there. In the mountains Malcolm Bass and Simon Yearsley made the long journey by van then ski to Foinaven and came away with an impressive new climb The Long March VIII, 8 on Lord Reays seat. Martin Moran, Guy Robertson and Pete Macpherson made an impressive FWA of The Bow Direct VII,8 on Sgurr an Fhidhleir.


A pretty wild weekend is predicted with gusts reaching 90 and a freezing level at 900 could make for a rather unpleasant experience. Keep your eyes peeled in the forums for further details from the area correspondent in the future.

Mike Lates, UKC Skye correspondent recently posted in the UKC forums:

"A big dump on Tuesday afternoon/eve has made approaches considerably more time-consuming; both the journey and the walk-ins. Much swimming in the Cuillin to be had which just emphasises the need to climb close to the road. Many of the formed lines have never been done and I'm afraid I'm certainly not going to tell you where they are. Those who make the effort will not struggle to spot possibilities."

New lines have been done which look absolutely superb - see the above photo of Big Mamma and the photo below - spot the climbers!

Best Ice-Fall Climb in UK, 177 kb
Best Ice-Fall Climb in UK
© Ben Wear, Jan 2010

Weekend Weather Outlook

Avalanche Outlook

UKC Area Reporters Web Pages:

Further links:

Dan Goodwin on the Skye Ridge
© 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.

  • You can read more about Dan and about Mountain Plan on his website:

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