This is the fourth 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.
The Highlands are in great shape at the moment with plenty of people out enjoying good climbing over the festive break. When I left to head south for Christmas the Highlands were experiencing a big freeze. December was reported to have been the coldest in 120 years. Lets hope the trend continues.
Since then there have been some substantial freeze thaw cycles. Much of the low lying snow and ice has receded back up from ground level although as I type some heavy snow showers are passing through the Aviemore area. Good ice conditions have been developing across the Highlands and in general there is a good firm base which in places is iron hard. Time to watch out for windslab building as we have frequent and often heavy snow showers starting to push through which are being brought in on a strengthening wind.
The conditions will have gone from pretty benign to considerable with windslab being blown onto a very hard layer so keep your eyes on the forecasts, weather and what's going on under foot.
Andy Nisbet and Sandy Allen have added a new line in Coire an t- Sneachda, 'Face Hunter' IV,6, this takes the rib to the right of Spiral Gully.
Great cover in the Cairngorms with good snow levels that have undergone a major freeze thaw cycle giving a solid base making for easy travel. Considerable icing on the crags with teams climbing Mirror Direct and some of the easier lines on Hells Lum. One team I spoke to said the Chancer was forming but not quite there yet. I haven't heard of anyone going to Lurchers yet but this is also a good venue for ice under these conditions. The mixed climbing has been good although many party's have said the cracks are chocked with verglass making protection hard to find and place.
Its been extremely busy in the area over the holidays in order to ensure a place in the top car park you need to be there early otherwise you will need to park in the lower car park and use the shuttle bus to do the final bit.
It's worth considering whether the Northern Corries are the best option during very busy periods. Over crowding on routes can be a real and potentially dangerous problem. The relative ease of access and quality of the climbs means during weekends and holidays it will become very busy.
In Coire an t- Sneachda last week during a thaw I counted 10 people in Red Gully. Being under other people can be very dangerous, particularly on ice climbs as falling blocks of ice, rock, gear and people are common. It might also be worth noting that Red Gully is a very unstable gully and should be avoided in a thaw, you only need to look at the amount of debris at the bottom.
At the moment there is a significant amount of fresh snow falling accompanied by a wind which could lead to some instabilities on some aspects, refer to SAIS reports to see where they may be.
Low level ice is no longer for the time being, driving past Creag Dubh, Newtonmore I could see Oui Oui and there was some ice on it but it will be very unstable and also has large chunks missing. With a rise in temperatures Oui Oui can briefly stay in condition in the lower half but the upper icicles can be very unstable and very large.
Creeping further west along the Laggan road Creag Meagaidh is looking good with some great ice on Last Post and other areas across the mountain.
Mike Pescod ventured out to have a look just prior to the recent drop in temps and had a great if a little soggy day by the look of it:
"Vic and I took a gamble on Creag Meagaidh today. The water ice has been surviving the thaw quite well and the ice on Creag Meagaidh is very watery, unlike the snow ice that is more common on Ben Nevis. It was also forcast drier a bit further east. As it turned out, it was a more soggy day than yesterday and we didn't get the view over the clouds but we did have a good adventure making our way up Staghorn Gully and South Pipe. This gave us three very nice pitches of ice climbing and lots of walking up wet snow in between! There was no cornice but lots of ice on the other routes. Last Post is huge at the bottom, South Post Direct looks great, Centre Post Direct is huge as well . North Post is a bit thin and Staghorn Gully is too although we managed to climb it today."
Mike Pescod IFMGA, Abacus Mountaineering
Greg Boswell and Will Sim climbed one of the last hard problems on the upper right wall of number 3 gully already home to some very hard climbs, they added 'To those who wait' IX,9.
On the West Face of Aonach Beag Sandy Allen and Andy Nisbet made the first ascent of 'Cryogenic Corner' IV,4.
Plenty has been getting done on Ben Nevis with teams climbing the classics and several ascents of Point 5 have been done. There is at the moment though heavy stormy weather blowing through which will leave large amounts of fresh snow. This will be appreciated though filling in the gullies and bringing more snow to help build the ice climbs. For the time being it would be wise to stick to the safer options with regard to avalanches, buttresses with safe approaches would be the best tack. There has also been plenty of lower ice. Rob Jarvis was out guiding on the hut cascades which gave good plastic ice climbing. Others have been using the ice around the Compression Cracks area finding the same friendly ice.
Mike Pescod was out before the stormy weather and reported:
"It's nice to be back on the Ben Nevis clasics. It was a bit more busy today and there were two teams in Point Five Gully by the time Doug and I got there. Zero Gully was empty though so we went for that along with Mike and Ricardo from Spain. Zero Gully is great fun and has more ice sections than when I've climbed it in the past. The second and main pitch is a bit lean but there is plenty of ice there and very good neve. There were many teams in Green Gully and Comb Gully, Tower Ridge and Ledge Route were popular, Glovers Chimney and many others."
Mike Pescod IFMGA, Abacus Mountaineering
Al Halewood has also been out on Ben Nevis enjoying some pretty stormy conditions on Green Gully:
"Looking up the pitch large waves of spindrift were cascading down it at regular intervals but we decided that if we went fast enough we would be up it before the worst of the weather hit and things got really unpleasant. It was only half way up the first steepening when someone turned the lights out and it felt like being under a waterfall canyoning that I realised just how much spindrift was coming down! A few deep breaths and blind swings and my head was above the flow of snow and we were off .
The first 3 pitches weren't fat but there was plenty of really excellent snow ice. Any time you were hit by a wave of spindrift on steeper ground it was just time to take a breath and wait for it to pass. Pitch 4 was a bit different- very brittle water ice, a little thin but good fun and out of the main flow of the spindrift. On the final pitch the snow was now beginning to fall hard and soft slab was just starting to form a thin layer in the gully... time for us to be off."
Al Halewood MIC, Climb When Your Ready
Many of the low lying ice options will not be in condition now as they are often the first to go in a thaw. Steall will almost certainly be a waterfall and the icefalls low on Aonach Mor will be heading that way if not completely now. That's estimation though so if anyone knows different then feel free to post below.
Aonach Mor has seen plenty of ascents with people reporting good ice. Under these heavy snow conditions though great care should be taken in accessing the crag. There are some options here to make abseil descents into the crag. But you should be absolutely sure you're going down the right line, no one is below you and that the scarp slope is safe to do so.
Things sound to be currently extremely buried. People have been out looking but from the sounds of things it's too buried in snow. Some care should be taken in the area with regard to avalanche activity.
Some teams have been on the ice at Bein Udlaidh where some routes are in condition but perhaps not as good as recent weeks.
Andy Spink was out prior to the large dump so things could have changed significantly since then:
"Today I went up into Corie Nan Lochan with Mark. The snow has firmed up nicely but only the big wide easy gullies remain after after the thaw. A couple of parties were on Dorsal Arete and one on a rather broken Twisting Gully. We opted for the long [and often more interesting than Broad Gully], Boomerang Gully, we were lucky as the middle pitch held 20m of grade 3 ice. After this it was a really nice romp up grade 2 ground right to the summit of Stob Corie Nan Lochan 1115m."
Andy Spink MIC, Hebradien Pursuits
More recently though Guy Steven had a trip into Lochan:
"We headed up into Stob Coire nan Lochain in Glencoe and arrived up there at 11.40. We saw several teams out, counted about 6 parties. All on Dorsal Arete! I think all the gear placements and belays will be nice and clear. As we only had a short amount of daylight left. We went up Scabbard Chimney (V,6), and then once we got onto easier ground we abseiled back down. It was pretty hard going clearing off all the snow but is a great route which I have wanted to do for a while. The winds were pretty low today and plenty of blue sky around."
Guy Steven - Mountain Instructor
Isle of Skye
Andy Nisbet and Johnothan Preston where out on the West Face of Quinag adding 'Rickets' V,6.
Mike Lates reported in the forums the latest conditions on the Isle:
"The long slow thaw has finally stopped with fresh snow thinly down to 600m today. There is plenty of snow still around but full Ridge traverses are out for a while to come. I'm not sure if any of the fat mid-level ice will have survived- it was certainly hanging in there- see Matt's report on Coir'a' Bhasteir below.
Best winter options over the next few days will probably be some of the easy long snow lines left that stretch from low-down to the crest. Left & Right Gullies direct to the summit of Thuilm, Diagonal Gully on Ghreadaidh and many more. 1/2, 2/3, 4/5 gullies between the pinnacles of Pinnacle Ridge all looked complete today as did Just a Boys Game (III) and NW Face Route (II/III) on Gillean. Remember that the Ridge crest is likely to be at least as challenging in most places that these fine approaches lead to and Pinnacle Ridge is likely to be full value IV
Last year I posted some other suggestions and descriptions that may be useful:
I wasn't out- Tom & Rachel had hired winter tools from me and showed me their pics this evening as they raved about their round of Fionn Choire. They started by the NE ridge of Sgurr a Bhasteir (I) putting on crampons from about half-height. The wind died as they topped out and they indulged in the horizontal section leading to Bealach na Lice below the Tooth before heading out to Bruach na Frithe and practising ice-axe breaking down Fionn Choire. It is easy to forget how stunning both the scenery and mountaineering is on the Cuillin in its proper Alpine garb. Here's to a continuation of this fine winter long into 2011. Slainte."
A new hard line has been added to An Tealach with the addition of 'The Wailing Wall' IX,9 put up by Martin Moran and Murdo Jamieson.
As far as conditions go I am afraid I have no beta but if anyone knows and would be happy to pop a post in the thread below then that would be great!
Thanks go to:
- Al Halewood, climb when you're ready
- Mike Pescod, Abacus mountaineering
- Rob Jarvis, High Mountain Guides
- Ron Walker, Talisman Activities
- Guy Steven Blog - guysteven.blogspot.com
- Andy Spink - Hebradien Pursuits
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
Weekend Weather Outlook
UKC Area Reporters Web Pages:
- Ben Nevis - abacusmountaineering
- Aonach Mor - sandypaterson
- Skye - skyeguides
- Northern Cairngorms - talisman-activities
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: MountainPlan.com