Scottish Winter News and Conditions - Full Report 11

This is the eleventh 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.

Ben Nevis on Thursday, 207 kb
Ben Nevis on Thursday
© Ken Applegate

General Outline

The seasons have been passing through over the last fortnight giving everything from warm spring to all out winter. During last week and last weekend a huge amount of snow fell across the Highlands which closed roads and created very deep drifts but rejuvenated the winter conditions for the better. This snow also came with very strong winds which created large areas of unstable snow on many aspects, this has settled but still remains a threat in many areas. A large avalanche occurred earlier this week on Ben Nevis which injured two climbers so be careful when picking venues.

There is still large amounts of snow making travel difficult in many areas. This is perfect though for the long run and should see the season on into next month. It should if combined with a high pressure create some great ice on the Ben.

What ski mountaineering is all about, Cairngorm, 192 kb
What ski mountaineering is all about, Cairngorm
© Ron Walker

Climbing in Lochan, 67 kb
Climbing in Lochan
© Al Halewood


Very snowy at the moment, I saw two winter skills teams coming out the Corries on Thursday and all where wearing snow shoes. Ski and snow shoe are the easiest ways to travel at the moment although there have been plenty of people heading into the Corries and so there should be a track by now.

I did get some views into the Corrie on Thursday and the crags where looking surprisingly black given the amount of snow. I also didn't see much evidence of icing and have not heard from anyone who has been climbing. The snow is knee deep above 600 metres and would make for very difficult travel. Cornicing has also been softening and skiing off Cairngorm on Thursday where slopes where in the sun it was evident that sun wheels had been falling and sections of cornice. The easier gully lines, aprons and scarp slopes would require great care. Ron Walker was out doing the best choice of activity with the given conditions, a ski tour he commented 'Sun, Snow, Shades A perfect weather and skiing day on Cairngorm Mountain', just another day on Cairngorm really!

Lochain in the Northern Cairngorms, 208 kb
Lochain in the Northern Cairngorms
© Ron Walker

Pitch one on Orion Direct, 79 kb
Pitch one on Orion Direct
© Ken Applegate


The Ben is plastered with snow although teams have been up and about and there is now a trench up to the CIC hut. Its been reported that a team climbed a very thin looking Curtain and others have been on various ice lines.

James Thacker was out on Wednesday and noted quite a few teams out:

"Conditions on the mountain are good, the difficulty is getting to the bottom of routes safely and with some energy left over. Today there were teams on Orion Direct, Astral Highway, Hadrians Wall, Waterfall Gully, Ledge Route and North West Face Route on the Douglas Boulder."

James Thacker Mountaineering

Many have been making for the safer options on the Douglas boulder at the foot of Tower Ridge, Ken Applegate was out on Gutless:

" Fortunately, there is a trench all the way up to the CIC Hut, so progress, whilst slower than usual was reasonable. On arriving at the CIC Hut, we could see numerous teams heading up for 'Vanishing Gully V,5', probably spurred by Richard Bentley's ascent of it yesterday, and one team retreating from Observatory Gully. They went on to climb a barely in condition 'Curtain IV,4'. As we started on the route, snow was still falling, but the higher we climbed, the better the weather became. The crux pitch of Gutless is a wide chimney, requiring a whole host of climbing techniques, from backing and footing to body camming, and is quite sustained. It felt harder than the given grade, and Dominic did well to thrutch his way up it! The route also deserves at least one star, if not two as the climbing on it is of good quality."

Ken Applegate, Apple Mountaineering

Busy with teams in Vanishing Gully, 88 kb
Busy with teams in Vanishing Gully
© Ken Applegate
Mike Pescod was on Orion Direct and had a great day:

" The trail in to the Douglas Boulder was very welcome today as it went through some thigh deep drifts. It was a popular place to be - Philip and I climbed Jacknife, Ken and Dominic climbed Gutless and there was another team climbing the SW Ridge. Fawlty Towers and Vanishing Gully had a couple of ascents, the latter under massive spindrift avalanches. The Curtain was also climbed by a keen French team and there was a team high on Observatory Buttress as we left the corrie. One pair also made it in towards Green Gully. Travel is difficult in the deep soft snow but it is starting to settle and warmer days and overnight frosts will help."

Mike Pescod, Abacus Mountaineering

Creag Meagaidh has seen a couple of people heading in but they to have said the snow made travel very difficult and as not many folk had been in the path was hard going.

Climbers in Stob Coire Nan Locahn, 108 kb
Climbers in Stob Coire Nan Locahn
© Al Halewood
Stunning and snowy in Stob Coire Nan Lochan, 86 kb
Stunning and snowy in Stob Coire Nan Lochan
© Al Halewood

Glen Coe

Again a snowy picture here too. Many people have been trying for the safer and more accessible climbs to avoid the wading and unstable aprons. The North Buttress on the Buchaille is one such route which will generally have a safe approach and its also possible to abseil the line thus avoiding going over the top at down. Adam Hughes was there last week.

With the wild weather forecast again we headed to North Buttress on the Buachallie. It was a busy day with loads of teams with the same idea, but we managed to work around each other. The route was in excellent condition, but the weather was as wild as predicted with even more snow. Dave and Colm led the first 2 pitches between them as I worked above to help clean gear placements etc. I then took over to lead the the crux pitch before we abseiled off.

Andy Spink has been out over the last few days and on Monday dug his way up Curved Ridge:

"Today Adrian and I spent two and a half hours ploughing a 3 foot trench to the bottom of Curved Ridge and then having an excellent day climbing it. Adrian was really keen to do this classic route in winter and He was also wanting to lead the harder top pitches, which e did with style and skill. Conditions out there are 'deep'."

Andy Spink, Hebridean Pursuits

Al Halewood was also out and he had a look in Stob Coire Nan Lochan where he found plenty of snow.

The approach in there is said to be a trench and travel out of it will result in knee deep snow:

"What a cracking day! Adam and Alexis were hoping to push their grade a little (one lead of a Grade IV ice route previously) today. We'd hoped to go to Ben Nevis but having seen the amount of snow yesterday and knowing that trails were pushed up into the Coire yesterday I suggested a trip to Glencoe. Their mixed experience not matching their ice I reckoned conditions were ripe for a good buttress route and after a sweaty sunny push up the trench (thanks to all those who have broken trail this week) we hit the floor of Stob Coire nan Lochan ahead of the crowds. There was a team near the foot of Scabbard Chimney/Ordinary Route (Summit Buttress) and we followed their trail until below Twisting Gully where we branched off hard right on a drifted in track. This we cleared and postholed our way along to the base of Pinnacle Buttress Grooves. A short traverse took us into the base of NC Gully which we used to get onto Raeburn's Ordinary below the chimney behind the tower. This misses out the crux pitch of the normal grade IV route but we'd done enough trailbreaking and had our eyes on the Pedestal variation higher up to give a route of IV,5. There was a good deal of loose unconsolidated snow but someone has been up the normal route recently making it slightly easier for us to follow the chimney and groove above. From here I was clearing a foot or so of fresh snow from ledges to attain a standing position on the pedestal. A short heart pounding swing left across a bottom less corner and its all over and some more digging and clearing put us back on a belay on the main route 1 pitch from the top. Alexis and Adam both enjoyed all 3 main pitches on the route- relishing the interest afforded by mixed climbing as opposed to the ice they have been more used to. We topped out into a moderate wind which was depositing snow over the lip of the crags."

Al Halewood, Climb When You're Ready

It has also been noted that in many areas the turf is not frozen, certainly prior to the new snow arriving there was a heavy thaw which turned much of the turf to mush and a fresh coat will have just insulated it and kept it that way. Where exposed to any wind it should help.

Isle of Skye

Keep an eye in the forums for Mike Lates report, but he has been out and it's been wintry:

"After a week of heavy snowfall and strong winds it was time for Matt and me to find out what had been given to us by the gods of winter climbing. Deep drifts were a feature but we stuck to our guns and aimed for the first winter ascent of Gully E on Sgurr Thearlaich near the top of the Great Stone Shoot. This is thought to be the line taken by Charles Pilkington's party on the first ascent in 1887. On finally reaching the climb the weather gods decided that another hour or so of blizzarding would give us more of a challenge. While I froze slowly Matt excavated good protection and dived out of the spindift avalanches to belay on the left edge. I continued by the buttress and avoided returning to the gully for as long as possible but was finally forced back in. Swimming up steep powder snow for the next 20m was more like climbing on Ben Nevis than the usual Cuillin experience but I finally reached the crest of the Ridge as the sun came out once more. Overall the route we followed was probably grade III,4."

Mike Lates Skye Guides

North West

Any comments welcome... plenty of snow?

Thanks this week 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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