Paul James, MIC - - Winter and Rock Climbing Conditions

Sunday, 31 January 2010

31-01-10, Cairngorms - Winter Skills

Another cold dry day in the Cairngorms. I was working for Walkabout Scotland again with Sarah and Scott on the second day of a winter skills course. We headed to Glen Feshie and ascended Carn Ban Mor. It was windy at times but didn't really snow despite dark grey skies. The cloud base was at about 850m so meant we had to use various navigational techniques to find the summit and the snow hole site. We looked at pacing, timings and walking on bearings. We managed to find some steep sections of neve which had formed from snow being blown in over the last couple of weeks, allowing us to practice front pointing and daggering with the axe (right Scott). We also dug out some emergency shelters in the snow drifts, both Sarah and Scott immediately appreciated it is a lot easier with a snow shovel than just your axe!

If you would like to gain some winter skills to stay safe in the mountains in winter this year visit

Saturday, 30 January 2010

30-01-10, Cairngorms - Winter Skills

Today I was working for Walkabout Scotland, with Sarah and Scott. They wanted to gain some winter skills and avoid the crowds both skiing and climbing in the Cairngorms. We headed over to Ryvoan Bothy from Glenmore and around the base of Bynack Mor. The weather was great, much better than forecast. Excellent visibility and slight breeze.

There was about 2 inches of snowfall last night, this has been blown about a bit, allowing us to find both powder snow and hard neve. This was good as it gave us a chance to practice step cutting, cramponing and ice axe arrest.

We didn't see many people all day but reports from the top of the hill say the skiing was excellent but the queues were not! I imagine the ski touring will be fantastic at the moment.

Friday, 29 January 2010

29-01-10, Cromdale Hills - Ski Touring

After a mild and wild last couple of days, the temperature has shot down, -1 degrees outside in Grantown this morning. It has snowed a little over night as well. There will be some windslab forming on South facing slopes because of the Northerly winds, however routes on North Faces like Ben Nevis, Creag Meagaidh will be in awesome condition.
The skiing isn't too bad either! We went on a tour of the Cromdale hills today, sunny spells and occasional blizzards! Fairly hard snow but was very enjoyable away from the hustle and bustle of Cairngorm Mountain.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

27-01-10, North-West Highlands - Rock Climbing

With an initial plan to go and climb some of the winter gully
lines on Beinn Dearg. However when we arrived at the car park it was raining and the temperature was plus 10 degrees. Knowing that the rain would still be rain on the summit of the mountain we decided that ice climbing wasn't order of the day! While we were up in the North West with such tropical temperatures, armoured with big boots, quick draws, 10 nuts, 3 hexs and 10 ice screws we went rock climbing.

The Reiff Peninsula has some great rock climbing on awesome sandstone in a beautiful setting. Mainly single pitch between 8m and 25m, some tidal geos (zawns) and others non-tidal with massive platforms. It is a good location as you can still grab a quick route between the rain showers and find somewhere if the tide is high even with rough seas.
We managed to climb several routes between VDiff and Hard Severe, between the rain showers and high tide with big swell!

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

25-01-10, Glen Coe - Winter Climbing

Monday has been a great day with the weather and the climbing. With there being so much snow in the Cairngorms, Kathryn and Myself headed over to the west, Glen Coe. Both of us have always wanted to climb the ultra classic Number 6 Gully (IV,4) on the west face of Aonach Dubh. With its relatively low altitude (by modern times) it hasn't formed readily the last 10 years or so. People have been climbing this route for the last couple of weeks so we hoped there would be some ice left. It was a good route but definitely showing signs of being hacked up and the very bottom may fall off if the next thaw lasts (Elliot's Downfall VI,6 fell down on Saturday). It gave us two nice ice pitches and a bit of snow plodding! Having finished the route at midday we walked over to the base of Stob Coire nam Beith (picture - right) to have a look at Deep-Cut Chimney (IV,4). This route gave us 4 good pitches of ice and mixed climbing. Pitch 1 had a overhanging block crux,with good hooks and good gear. Pitch 2 was ice (below).

The crux of the route for us was the third pitch with a left variation. Ice was thin and precarious, gear wasn't very satisfying (below)! After about 200m of climbing you can traverse off left across the mountain at mid-height following your nose between the gully lines and ledges.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

24-01-10, Cairngorms - Winter Skills

This weekend I have been out with a group on a Winter Skills course from Glenmore Lodge. We covered all the basic, essential skills and tactics that you need to be a safe and competent hill walker, in winter conditions. We looked at walking in snow with boots, crampons, use of ice axe, ice axe arrest, navigation, emergency shelters, route choices and avalanche awareness. If your a novice winter hill walker and are looking to be more confident and develop these skills you can visit to find out more.

The weather was mixed, Saturday was snowing, down to 400m with a slight easterly wind and today was much windier (easterly) but with better visibility.

Coire an t-Sneachda was busy with climbers today. All the easy gullies were full of teams, Haston Line on Mess of Pottage, Doctors Choice, Alladdins Direct, Fluted Buttress, Fingers Ridge on the main buttress, Bellhaven and Invernookie on Fiaciall were all being climbed. There is a powdery layer on top of the firm ice/neve from last week, which will be moving to form wind slab on West-South facing slopes.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

21-01-10, Creag Meagaidh - Winter Climbing

Went to Creag Meagaidh with Kathryn today. The long walk in was well worth it. As we turned the corner and viewed the corrie, we could see the Post Face covered in snow and more importantly ice at the bottom of the routes. We climbed Staghorn Gully III, which was very good. Quite a lot of snow with a couple of ice pitches. Another team climbed The Pumpkin V,4 which looked in good condition as we descended the Window (picture below). There is a lot of ice at bottom of Last Post, South Post Direct looks climbable, if a little banked out.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

20-01-10, Sgorr Ruadh, Torridon

With the freezing level forecast to be considerably lower today we had a punt and tried to go climbing on Sgorr Ruadh, which relies on cold weather for the mixed turfy lines. The walk was long but fairly mellow, and the buttress, with even less snow than Beinn Eighe yesterday. Freezing level was at about 600m, well below the crag. However we couldn't justify doing any winter climbing on the crag as the rock wasn't white or verglassed, more like v.v.cold summer rock climbing.

19-01-10, Beinn Eighe, Torridon - Winter Walking

Kath, Gaz, Matt and myself made the long walk into Beinn Eighe in Torridon. With no climbing reports for the area we were still hopeful to climb one of the classic buttresses of the Triple Buttress (right). However the thaw has unfortunately badly affected the North-west of Scotland. The freezing level was at about 1000m today and as the buttress came into view our fears were quickly realised. So in order to salvage the day we went up Fuselage Gully I. This turned out to be a great gully climb, made particularly memorable because of the Lancaster Bomber remains from 1952 which provides the crux of the route.

Liathach back corries have very thin ice smears and again little snow. So the classic ice climbs like Poachers are out.

18-01-10, Coire An t-Sneachda - Winter Climbing

Today I was out with Kath, Gaz and Matt. We ventured into Coire An t-Sneachda, to see just how buried the buttresses were. Turns out they were very! The recent thaw hasn't stripped any of the snow on the rock. The snow on the walk in was very firm, making progress easy going. The goat track and slopes above Alladdin's Buttress were bulging and Mess of Pottage had completely disappeared! Some wind slab is present. We saw teams on Fingers Ridge area and lots trying to decide what to do. We headed over to Fiacaill Buttress as rock features could be identified and looked more like there was a thick hoar. We couldn't climb any of the harder routes as they were covered in ice and neve, so the climbing would have been easy but impossible to get runners in on the lead. We went up Fiacaill Couloir II, which is very banked out and in nice condition. Above right - Matt seconding Gaz up to the col. We then top roped most of the routes that top out on the ridge. There were excellent and easy to climb but would be harrowing to lead! Below is the rest of the corrie, buried and bulging with snow.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

16-01-10, Highlands Thaw plus PJ Mountains Online

The last few days has seen the whole of the UK having a thaw. All of North Wales has melted away in the space of a few hours. Gone has the winter wonderland that we haven't seen since 14 years ago. I have now driven North to be based in the Eastern Highlands for the winter. I arrived on Wednesday to be confronted with metres of snow. I went out on Thursday onto Meall a Bhuachaille (north of Glenmore Lodge). We had to use snow shoes to make progress once off the Ryvoan bothy track. The thaw from the last few days has reduced snow cover and ice falls at low levels and will probably strip the back of the northern coires and expose some rock! Lets hope for freezing level will drop back below 900m, which will firm up the snow pack, reduce the avalanche risk and make for some awesome climbing conditions. is now online. Climbing and Mountaineering courses to suit your needs. There is plenty of availability for Winter Skills courses in Scotland, but also Rock Climbing courses in Snowdonia or Peak District during the summer.

Competitive prices and assurance you will be instructed/guided/coached by a fully qualified, very experienced Mountaineering Instructor and AMI member.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

12-01-10, Cwm Silyn, Snowdonia

We went back to Cwm Silyn today, and wanted to try the route next to Mask of Death (yesterday) which was a nice looking ice route called Bedrock Gully IV,4. However after walking to view the base of the crag, in the 70mph gusts we decided against it. A lot of snow has been blown about all night and probably much of today. Picture of banked up snow behind the wall. There is definitely layers in the snow and most probably some wind slab being formed on North Westerly aspects. So be cautious tomorrow.

Monday, 11 January 2010

11-01-10, Cwm Silyn, Snowdonia - Winter Climbing

After working at the weekend in Southern Snowdonia, I can report that Maesglase Falls IV,4, near Dollgellau is in great condition, 200m of fat ice.

Very cold, a fair amount of the Mawdach Estuary is frozen. Penmeanpool, looked like Antarctica, with massive blocks of ice floating. Snow down to sea level but was definitely thawing out by Sunday.

Today I was out climbing with Kathryn and Dave, we sort out this classic climb - Mask of Death V,5 (5,4,2). The ice accepted screws and axes very well, the first pitch was steep grade V,5 and the second shorter and stepped IV,4. Overall excellent *** route.

Friday, 8 January 2010

07-01-10, Cwm Idwal, Snowdonia - Winter Climbing

Another beautiful day today. Another early return to the Idwal before the masses arrived. Myself and Kathryn left the Car park in the dark and there were still 12+ people in front! We climbed Chicane Gully III,3 (3,3). A nice ice pitch to start then some mixed turf on the second. Most routes are being climbed every minute there is daylight. Below is a list of routes that people have been climbing: Idwal Stream, South Gully, Central Gully, Chicane Gully, Devil's Pipes, The Ramp, The Screen, The Curtain (Photo), Devil's Pasture, Devil's Appendage (new VII route but bottom left icicle has disappeared!), Devil's Kitchen, Devil's Appendix, The Sting and The Devil's Cellar... phew.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

06-01-10, Cwm Idwal, Snowdonia - Winter Climbing

Conditions in Cwm Idwal are 'primo' at the moment. Pretty much everything is being climbed and it is very busy. A glorious day sunny and crisp.

Today I was climbing with Kathryn and Luke. We got up early and managed to be the 4th team in the Cwm and the first on Central Route III,3 (3,2) which is an ace two pitch route. After, we quickly descended the kitchen it was to the back of the queue for The Devils Cellar IV,4 (4,4). The wait was worth it as yet another excellent ice route.

The ice seems to be getting fatter, low temperatures but still dripping in the day then refreezing at night. -2 degrees in Ogwen car park this evening so set to continue...

Picture featured right is the Luke leading the first pitch of The Devils Cellar, below is the glorious cwm.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

04-01-10, Cwm Idwal, Snowdonia - Winter Climbing

It is all kicking off in North Wales. First day out for me this year, having just arrived back from Chamonix, to find an awesome winter wonderland. Right - the queue for The Ramp III,3 and The Screen IV,4. I was climbing in Cwm Idwal today with Kathryn, along with 20 or so other teams! We climbed South Gully IV,4. Very good condition, 3 pitches 3/4/2 excellent thick ice taking long screws. 6 teams climbed this route but teams were also seen on Chicane, The Ramp, The Screen, Devils Pasture, Devils Appendix (top pitch). Basically its awesome at the moment, plenty to do, lots of ice and lots of snow. New and rare routes being climbed all over.

It was sub-zero and also snowed all day, probably 6 inches fell. It was fairly windy as well so I dare say there will be windslab around. More snow forecast overnight, with high winds tomorrow.

Postcard view down the Nant Francon Valley.