Scottish Winter News and Conditions - Full Report 12

This is the twelfth 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.

General Outline

It's been a bit of a 'turbo thaw' across the Highlands over the last week with a receding snow line and things falling off. There have been some very warm temperatures recorded through the week and a warm wind has been almost eating the snow as it blows.

There have been many people out climbing in the last week. People have been opting for lines that are not threatened by cornice collapse as there have been many sightings of cornices falling along with ice and rocks.

Lochain in the Cairngorms Northern Corries, 244 kb
Lochain in the Cairngorms Northern Corries
© Ron Walker

There is still significant snow across the tops and within many of the major gully lines. With a predicted drop in temperatures over the weekend this could create some great neve and firm up the ice that exists.

Be very wary of route choice over the coming days as there will be significant ice fall and cornice collapse which would trigger any existing instabilities in the snow slopes below.

It's worth noting that heavy thaw conditions such as these is when full depth avalanches can occur.

It's been noted that there are large cracks opening on the great slab in Coire Lochain in the Northern Corries. Also worth checking you haven't any major streams to cross as the rivers look very full at the moment.

It's been said on a few blogs that minds are turning to spring rock as the Glens are midge free and nice and warm, but there is time and snow to keep the winter hanging on to the tops.

Sneachda, Cairngorms Northern Corries, 101 kb
Sneachda, Cairngorms Northern Corries
© Ron Walker

23 March 2011 Final Pitch, The Runnel, Coire an t'Sneachda, Cairngorms, 86 kb
23 March 2011 Final Pitch, The Runnel, Coire an t'Sneachda, Cairngorms
© Ken Applegate


There is still significant snow cover in the range and all the main gully's are still intact throughout the Northern Corries. The buttress climbs though are black and are not in condition for mixed climbing at the moment. With a good freeze there should be some great mountaineering to be done in the gully's and alpine-esq ridges to climb without crampons. It will be worth keeping an eye out for loose rock left over from the freeze thaws of the winter, fingers ridge and pygmy ridge may sport some new loose ones. The ice is reported to be hanging in on Mirror Direct but other icy lines will be all but stripped for the time being. General travel is also quite hard going at the moment with a very heavy wet surface.

For ski mountaineers there is great cover but at the moment it is very heavy and wet so some firming up is needed for the long run.

Ron Walker has been out running a mountaineering course this week and comments:

"Fi and Carron headed up towards Hidden Chimney but decided to continue up Jacob's Ladder after a quick look at the thin looking traverse onto the Slant. The pair continued on to descend Aladdin's Couloir after the skier and then climbed back up via an icy Runnel.

See Fi's blog for more details.

Meanwhile Kris, Erica and I headed up the gully on a mix of soft wet and firm granular snow...."

Ron Walker, Talisman Mountaineering


A similar situation here although at the moment high on the Ben will be the best place for those looking for ice. Its been noted that holes have been appearing in the classics such as Orion Direct and Zero Gully. Many teams have also been looking for the safer climbs avoiding areas that might have unstable cornicing which as been seen falling in various places and large blocks have also been seen in the Corrie floor. There has also been ice falling and bringing rock with it. Great care needs to be taken.

Things will be starting to firm as the temperatures fall which is a process Mike Pescod 'tweeted' Comb gully sounded to be good and Green also looking good. The snow has been saturated so it should not take to many frosts firm it up again.

Al Halewood was out on rather gloomy mid week day and climbed Green Gully his comments where:

"I was interested to go into Coire na Ciste to take a look at Green Gully as it didn't seem to be threatened by cornicing unlike many of the routes in the coire. Walking up past the Lochain we followed old footprints but these didn't stop my foot punching through knee to thigh deep in the uniform layer of soggy snow. By the time we had reached the base of Green Gully we had passed several large pieces of cornice and some evidence of wet snow slides but heard no evidence of things on the move (unlike yesterday) except a few small pieces of ice- so we decided to go for it.

Moving up Jacobs Ladder, Mess Of Potage, Northern Cairngorms, 200 kb
Moving up Jacobs Ladder, Mess Of Potage, Northern Cairngorms
© Ron Walker

The route is fairly broad but there is water running out of it and spouting out of it in places- plenty of ice left but it's pretty wet. Also, and more worryingly, there is a huge amount of loose rock around. One of the belays (base of the 4th pitch) has finally lost a loose block that has often been used as it formed one side of a crack worn by repeated nut placements when frozen. There were plenty of loose blocks perched on rock ledges, evidence of fresh frost shattering with rocks teetering or sometimes held in place by thin slivers of ice. I found 3 head sized blocks sitting above the 3rd ice pitch on the lip of the steepening and moved them one at a time to a rock ledge higher up.

We heard little falling in the coire today other than water but it would take more than a freeze to make things much safer (snowfall and a freeze thaw might do it) on many routes. Even with cold weather at the weekend I'd think hard about following someone up one of the few routes left in condition lest I get showered in loose rock. Take care.

I did see that North, Central RH, Glovers and No. 3 Gully Buttress all looked to be holding ice."

Al Halewood, Climb When You're Ready

Also Bruce Poll was out today and climbed the first pitch of Point 5 on Thursday:

"The good news, freezing level dropped down to about 950m last night and has stayed below the summit of The Ben all day. However there is still water running down or behind most ice lines. We started up Point Five and abseiled off from the first belay, first pitch is only climbable direct, but great ice. It is still very wet in the chimney and very steep, verglas adorned the sidewalls. Nothing was coming down which was great. Hadrians lost a big lump, but was climbed later today. We went higher and climbed Indicator Wall first pitch and traversed onto the right hand to the finish. Tower ridge was busy, Green, Comb and Good Friday climb were also climbed, along with Tower Scoop. Early starts recommended!"

Bruce Poll, Westcoast Mountain Guides

Ben Nevis and the Orion Face
© Westcoast Mountain Guides

Glen Coe

The snow level remains high here at the moment but is starting to firm with the colder temperatures creeping in. There will be little icing as the thaw will have striped things well back over the recent days. Care should be taken on the popular climbs like Dorsal Arete as it looses its cover there will be many loose blocks on it, the route is really only a winter route for this reason.

I have not heard of anyone doing a great deal in the Glen which is perhaps a sign of the conditions, the buttress route will be black and the turf I would think wont be frozen. There should be snow in the higher gully's such as Broad and perhaps NC which should firm up with the coming dip in temperatures.

Isle of Skye

At the moment the main protagonist Mike Lates is currently at the CIC hut so not much information on the Isle. I suspect that things will be looking very spring like along the ridge, there could be plenty of patches along it and in the Corries.

North West

Please feel free to post if you have been out and about in the area.

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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