Scottish Winter News and Conditions - Full Report 10

This is the tenth of the 2010/11 season 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.

Don't forget to check the UKC Winter Conditions Page for up to date logbook ticks.

Good ice to climb on the Pumpkin, Creag Megaidh, 182 kb
Good ice to climb on the Pumpkin, Creag Megaidh
© Mike Pescod

General Outline

Well after last week's monsoon the winter soon clicked back into gear with some cold nights freezing things back up and the week got off to a great start. I couldn't help but notice in the forums that there was a thread entitled 'the worst winter ever' although they where perhaps only referring to a couple of months of it I think this has been a superb winter. The ski mountaineering has not been as good as last winter but I think I have been here just long enough to recognise that was a gift and not something to expect of a winter. But in climbing terms its been superb and continues to be so both in the rising standards of climbs and continued good conditions.

Last weeks deluge is something that Scottish winters rely on in many ways. The problem during many recent winters has been the deluge going on for just a bit to long and taking it all away, but thankfully the recent thaw stopped just in time. This winter has brought ice falls at valley level such as Steal waterfall in Glen Nevis which prior to last winter had not been seen for quite a few years through to Orion Direct. So its not a bad one!

The week has brought with it some stunning blue sky days and crisp snow and ice to travel on. Many of the low to mid level routes on the Ben such as Vanishing, The Curtain have gone and will need some work to bring back. As its got towards the weekend things have felt increasingly more like spring with the snow softening and a generally warm feel when out. In some areas the snow has become soft and any cornicing has been falling off. The weekend looks like it will be dry and bright in places but it does look as though the freezing level will remain above the tops so a slow thaw will continue. There does look like some fresh snow and lower temperatures towards the middle of next week.

There are a worrying number of snowdrops in the garden though!

Sneachda under blue skies and crisp condtions, 197 kb
Sneachda under blue skies and crisp condtions
© Dan Goodwin

Kenny on good ice on the Fiachail Buttress, 141 kb
Kenny on good ice on the Fiachail Buttress
© Dan Goodwin


The right hand side of Loch Etchacan crag saw several first ascents in one day from Micheal Barnard who added The Choker III,5, Get the Flock Outta Here IV,4, Winter Wonderland II,3, Etched in Blue III, Central Couloir I, and Four Seasons in a Day III.

Creag Megaidh saw a rare repeat from Guy Robertson and Pete Benson on Extasy VIII,8. Guy was also out with Pete Mcpherson and made the first ascent of 'The Gathering' VIII,9 in coire an Lochain.

A fine week in the Cairngorms with some cracking blue sky days with neve throughout making travel very pleasant indeed. At the start of the week some good low temperatures brought the saturated pack back to a firm neve. The thaw had also uncovered plenty of ice which was draped about on many climbs. In the Northern Corries the easy gully's, Pateys Route and Mirror Direct where in great condition and seeing multiple ascents. There where plenty of teams on what looked to be a very dry looking fingers Ridge which under these conditions barely warrant crampons once on the route, far better to aim for the shady well frozen gully's and icier lines. Worth noting the Northern Corries are by nature very loose in places and where exposed to the sun blocks will loosen and become unstable. As the week came to a close things where feeling quite a bit warmer with the freezing level above or around the summits which looks set to be the case for the weekend.

Going into the weekend I would suggest that the gullies and icy lines would be the bets things to look for as the buttresses are looking pretty black. Its also worth thinking about any cornices as things are not freezing and will start to fall. Al Halewood noticed debris under Aladdin's which was not there earlier in the week. Red Gully which I have mentioned before has had some new blocks appear under it this week although I am sure it wont stop at least 30 people doing it at the weekend!

Ron Walker was out earlier in the week making a nice way through Sneachda to the plateaux:

"Despite the slightly warmer temperatures the thick bue ice was in excellent condition and still very dry. We continued up the Mirror's perfect neve slopes for a bit. Then followed a super direct narrow icy chimney I'd previously spotted.

This ran up to the top of the RH knife edged Aladdin's Arete and the plateau!

Really nice climbing in the icy chimney to the notch on the arete overlooking Aladdin's Couloir. The last 15 metres on the exposed alpine-like rock arete was bare but good fun and very photogenic!"

Ron Walker, Talisman Mountaineering

View across fingers, 87 kb
View across fingers
© Dan Goodwin

Also in the Corrie was Al Halewood who noticed things where warmer and bits where falling down:

"Dropping down into Sneachda from the col on the Fiacaill ridge it was feeling much warmer and there is debris at the base of Alladin's Couloir that wasn't there on Monday so watch out for the large cornices still in evidence."

Al Halewood, Climb When Your Ready

James Thacker was out on Tuesday which was a great day, he climbed Red Gully:

"It was overcast and drizzling this morning so Duncan and I decided to head east in search of the drier and brighter weather.

Following the thaw the major gully lines have been stripped back to hard neve making for excellent climbing in the grade I-III range. We decided to climb Red Gully III, due to the attractive ice spilling out of the bottom groove."

James Thacker, James Thacker Mountaineering

Over the back people have been climbing nice sounding ice on Hells Lum.

Sliding west a little Mike Pescod was on Creag Megaidh:

"With warm sunshine on the Post Face of Creag Meagaidh this morning we had an excellent view but it was clear that the ice there would not be nice to climb. The Inner Corrie however faces away from the sun and the ice here was very good. Elved, Tony and I climbed The Pumpkin which is very friendly. The ice is fat in the first two pitches and we made a belay on ice screws at 50m from the foot of the ice. The second wee groove is a little thin and turfy but it's easy climbing and still fun. Donald, Aidan and Alastair climbed Glass Slipper which was free of other climbers and good fun too (although 65m ropes would be useful!). The Wand is huge, Diadem just about as big and all the routes were being climbed."

Mike Pescod, Abacus Mountaineering

Creag Megaidh, 199 kb
Creag Megaidh
© Mike Pescod

Good ice on Hadrians Direct, Ben Nevis, 81 kb
Good ice on Hadrians Direct, Ben Nevis
© Mike Pescod


The Ben certainly took a hit last week with the wet thaw but it still left plenty to go at. Some of the lower level routes on the mountain where stripped things like the Curtain and Vanishing but plenty was left. The best places seem to be higher up at the moment with people enjoying good ice on Indicator Wall and also on Tower Scoop. The Ridges earlier in the week where seeing plenty of ascents with some good neve reported making for good travel. As the week has gone on though things have got warmer and as a result the snow has become soft and there has been evidence of cornice collapse so be wary about route choice as the Ben does brew champion cornices.

Alan Kimber was out earlier in the week and noted:

"Today on Ben Nevis the conditions were good. Point Five Gully, Orion Direct, Hadrian's Direct, Indicator Wall and many others had teams moving fairly quickly, even Psychedelic Wall looked possible! Smith's Route on Gardyloo Buttress looked possible, although the icicle variant might be tricky. Green Gully, North Gully, Thompson's Route, Three Gully Buttress were also visited. The ridges looked very well also and snow level was at around 700metres. The week ahead looks dry and cold so head north and west."

But then added later in the week:

"Various reports today (Thursday) gave a mixed picture of conditions. Generally the snow pack has softened up and in places cornices are tumbling down. There is still plenty of ice high on Ben Nevis and with the weather turning colder over the following week and snow forecast, the hills will get a good top-up hopefully. Other routes climbed were Green Gully and Tower Scoop."

Alan Kimber, West Coast Mountain Guides

Mike Pescod found a much better day than expected on Tuesday:

"Today was unexpectedly good. The sun was peaking through the clouds as we walked up the Allt a'Mhuilinn so we changed plans to try and make the most of it. We went for Tower Scoop (excellent ice and steep for a grade III) before climbing Smith's Route by the original line. As we got to the top of the main pitch of Smith's Route the cloud sunk below us into the valleys and we emerged into the sunshine on the plateau with only Ben Nevis standing proud of the cloud. Good ice on Smith's Route, a little variable but basically all good and fat. The icicle variation isn't well formed and the belay at the top of the first pitch is quite airy! It all adds to the grand exposure of the route though!"

Mike Pescod, Abacus Mountaineering

Thursdays View Across the northern Cairngorms, 83 kb
Thursdays View Across the northern Cairngorms
© Dan Goodwin

Pateys and the Mirror looking good, 89 kb
Pateys and the Mirror looking good
© Dan Goodwin

Knights Peak on Pinnacle Buttress, Skye, 95 kb
Knights Peak on Pinnacle Buttress, Skye
© Mike Lates

Glen Coe

Things seem to have hung on in the higher gullys in the range which will have given for a nice week in the Coe. But on the whole things are looking a little bare.

Local MIC Andy Spink has been out during the week and sent in some comments:

"Glencoe continues to thaw. The snow line remains high at approximate 800m and is receding by the day. On Tuesday We did Dinner-Time Buttress, no snow remains of note on the West Face of Aonach Dubh. On Wednesday I was out guiding again in Stob Coire nan Lochan [after ascending the Zig Zags] where I saw a few folk ascending NC Gully, Broad Gully and reading the SMC Huts routes listings, Raeburn's had an ascent, if a little damp. I met a climber who had soloed Dorsal Arete, he described it as 'very loose'. No surprises there then. We continued to Bidean where the easier grade 1 gullies remained. Lost Valley still has allot of snow and the cornices worryingly drape. Allot of rock fall and avalanche debris can be seen on North through East facing slopes. I guided Curved Ridge today, a few patches of old snow ice are left in grooves and deeper gully areas to the left of the ridge. The exit slopes were complete with soggy snow all the way to the summit.

We need a good dump and refreeze."

Andy Spink, Hebridean Pursuits

Chris enjoying good neve on Invernookie, 128 kb
Chris enjoying good neve on Invernookie
© Ron Walker

Orion Direct, Ben Nevis, 117 kb
Orion Direct, Ben Nevis
© Tom Parkin

Isle Of Skye

As ever Mike Lates has been on the case and sent in some notes on the current state of play on the Isle:

"Although the crest of the Main Ridge has been stripped of its fine cover the sharp frost and clear skies have made all the old snow very hard. Days out have felt really alpine with gaping bergshrunds, burning calves and a real warmth in the sun on Monday.

Pinnacle Ridge on Gillean was in good condition but still pretty testing and took exactly twice as long as it would have done in summer conditions (7hrs to the summit). We opted for long gully routes on north faces for the next 2 days climbing the obvious right-hand gully on Sgurr Thuilm, 200m (II) and then the far bigger Diagonal Gully on Sgurr a Ghreadaidh, 400m (II).

It was good to see a number of other parties out enjoying stuff including Alasdair, Bruach na Frithe & Gillean. It may not have been a week for hard winter routes but there were plenty of happy climbers on Skye.

The very cold snap forecast for next week is great news but I'm hoping for some heavy precipitation first so that we have more rime and iced cracks to play on again."

Mike Lates, Skye Guides

North West

Duncan Tunstall and Andy Nisbet made the first ascent of 'Pearl buttress' IV,5 and also 'Peace Process' IV,3 on Bheinn Dearg.

Am afraid I have no info here so if you have any then feel free to pop a post on in the forum below.

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

Thanks go to:

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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