Paul James, MIC - - Winter and Rock Climbing Conditions

Sunday, 28 February 2010

28-02-10, Cairngorms - Winter Skills

Day 2 of Newcastle University Mountaineering Clubs weekend Winter Skills course. A brighter day, but still loads of snow and post holing when venturing off the beaten track! The ski road wasn't open this morning (cars allowed up at 10:30) so instead of getting dropped off at the Sugar Bowl car park we walked the 3 km up the road. We headed over towards Airgiod-meall, to do some navigation and digging. Walking is tough going in most places, we saw lots of wind slab and impressive Sastrugi and raised footprints, Human and Mountain Hare (picture - below). The river bank has lots of drifted snow and in places scoured neve. This allowed us to practice front pointing on steep but non intimidating terrain. I was working for Alpha Mountaineering.

Saturday, 27 February 2010

27-02-10, Cairngorms - Winter Skills

Today I was working on a weekend Winter Skills course for Alpha Mountaineering. With the current High Avalanche Hazard we stayed low and off open steep slopes and headed from Glenmore to Ryvoan Bothy. The snow is deep (50cm) but fine to walk along the track. We managed to find some small slopes which were scoured in order to practice ice axe arrests (picture - right)and crampon technique. We also talked about avalanche awareness and why the mountains are currently so serious . By digging a few pits we could easily identify the windslab which has formed on top of the depth hoar crystals that have been buried from last week. This has happened on all aspects above 500m giving very dangerous climbing/walking/off piste skiing conditions. Avalanches have occurred not just on steep (30 degree) slopes but also lower angle (20 degree) and probably will continue until there is a prolonged thaw and refreeze to stabilise this.
The team finding the weak layer in the snow pack.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

23-02-10, Beinn Bhan - Winter Climbing

The left hand side of Coire na Poite with the clear line of March Hare's Gully seen on the right.

Tuesday, was another beautiful day in paradise - sunny, but cold! We headed into Coire na Poite again, this time to climb the classic March Hare's Gully IV,4. We met some folks yesterday who climbed it and said it was the best route they have ever done! So with that inspiration we had to climb it. It is indeed an ace route, 6 pitches of interest at grade 4 plenty of ice, although we thought maybe 8 teams have already climbed it so getting a little chopped. But it is Cold Climbs route and didn't disappoint. Picture below - Right, first ice pitch and left, second ice pitch. Another couple of teams went to climb Silver Tear which looked climbable, maybe a little steep and thin on the upper icicles. We didn't have chance to find out what it was like as they were still up there somewhere by the time we got down.

22-02-10, Beinn Bhan - Winter Climbing

The first major corrie of Beinn Bhan (Coire na Feola) with a Chioch Traverse on the right.

Another amazing weather day on Monday. Conditions on Applecross are mint! We headed to Beinn Bhan to check out the back of the Coire na Poite for ice. As we were walking in decided to go straight up North Gully of a Chioch (II) to do the Traverse of a Chioch (II) as it was such a nice day. North Gully (picture - right, looking down) was a little lean, but was OK for grade II, several small ice pitches and a mixed section near the top. Once we topped out of the Gully from the dark and into the sunshine, we were greeted with the view of picture - below. The whole day had a very alpine feel about it, sunshine, hard snow, dry rock, superb views with a panorama of the whole of the highlands looking white. The Traverse of a Chioch is an amazing route especially if combined with the North Gully start. There are two descents down to cols before a big push for the summit. We chose to solo it but you could easily lead it and place plenty of runner, especially where it steepens up at the end.

Descending down to the first col, some loose rock, but good hard snow.

Final summit push with the two cols and pinnacles in the back ground.

Checking out the best route ahead, looking slightly steeper than first/second impressions!

Descent off Beinn Bhan down the long broad southern ridge line, with beautiful white mountain tops of the highlands in the background.

21-02-10, Meall Gorm - Winter Climbing

A brief rest yesterday after 7 days of work, allowing us to pack the van for a few days climbing in Applecross. Sunday was an amazing blue sky sunny day. The relatively low level mountains of Applecross, Meall Gorm and Beinn Bhan are covered in snow and ice. It is very cold at night and in the shade, so the hoar crystals are large and everywhere on top of the snow pack. We headed to Meall Gorm, after an initial attempt of Lobster Gully IV,5 we found the 'well protected chimneys' at the top were far from well protected or grade 5 for that matter. We traversed onto the crux pitches of Blue Pillar V,6 instead, a harder climb but far more climbable! Some dry rock with snow ledges to negotiate - slight alpine feel to it. The sandstone lends itself very well to cam placements, so it is well worth packing a few extra to normal. Picture - right, shows the last chimney pitch of Blue Pillar. Meall Gorm at sunset. The Applecross single lane road (Britain's second highest road) with hairpins bends must be one of the most impressive roads in the UK?

Friday, 19 February 2010

19-02-10, Cairngorms - Winter Skills

Today we headed to Glen Feshie. Final day of a week long winter skills course working for Snowdonia Adventures. Consolidating experiences of the week, we ascended Carn Ban Mor and walked across the plateau. This morning the sun was out and it felt very hot, down to thermal layers while walking in. As we approached the summit plateau the clag came in and gave the team a chance to sample navigating in a white-out once more this week (see guys the Scottish winter isn't just blue skies and sun cream!). Lots of surface hoar still present and no wind.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

18-02-10, Cairngorms - Winter Skills

Northern Corries looking west.

Day 4 of winter skills week. Beautiful day again, sunny, no wind, a bit of trudging in the snow, but you can't really complain! We headed up Fiaciall Choire Cas and then onto Cairngorm (a first Munro for half of the team), over to Ciste Mhearad, then back to the car park. The snow is deep in places, with very large hoar crystals glistening in the sunlight. It was very cold last night between -15 and -20 degrees. Climbers were out in t-Sneachda again and a fair few ski tourers taking advantage of the brilliant powder and visibility. Today I was working for Snowdonia Adventures.

Large Surface Hoar crystals have grown overnight because of the -20 temps last night.

Carn Etchachan

Snow Buntings on the summit of Cairngorm 1245m

Front Pointing practice.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

17-02-10, Cairngorms - Winter Skills

Today was a glorious blue sky powder
day. Amazing! Day 3 of a winter skills course working for Snowdonia Adventures. We headed into Coire an t-Sneachda. Top ski car park was full by 8:30 so we walked up from the Ciste car park. We looked at Navigation, Avalanche awareness, Snow Pack Analysis and how to make Emergency Shelters. There is a weak poorly bonded powdery layer present in the mountains from yesterday morning. The powder is deep in places making walking arduous, although the path into t-Sneachda is firm.

Digging Emergency Shelters. Kev showing us why not to dig too high up!

The buttress are completely buried. Teams were out climbing, Hidden Chimney, Fluted Buttress Direct, Fingers Ridge, Fiaciall Colouir but generally staying away from the easy gullies, which is probably a wise idea.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

16-02-10, Cairngorms - Winter Skills

Today was working for Snowdonia Adventures on day 2 of a Winter Skills course. The picture below doesn't really resemble the day we had, but it was a nice 30mins that we got! We met early in an attempt to go up to the highest ski car park, however heavy snow fell at about 6:30am today and meant the road was closed until 11 (so we heard) while in the queue at 8:45 we decided to change initial plans and head up to Creagan Gorm and Craiggowrie above Glenmore to do some navigation. A considerable avalanche hazard meant we were going to stay off steep slopes. We looked at a variety of navigation techniques including walking on bearings with pacings. We had a whiteout for most of the day while walking along to tops which kept it real.

Monday, 15 February 2010

15-02-10, Cairngorms - Winter Skills

Today I was working on a Day 1 of a week long winter skills course with Mark Handford for Snowdonia Adventures. It started off very grim, with thick wet snow falling but by about 10:30 the skies cleared and we were given great views and sunshine. A cold front has moved in after a warm front and has dropped the freezing level, which will help firm up the wet heavy snow that is around. We headed to Coire Laogh Mor and went through walking on snow, ice axe arrest, and crampon technique. Picture: above - Ice axe arrest coaching with Meall a Buchaille, below - a busy skiing on Cairngorm mountain and very white Northern Corries, Savage Slit V,6 and Fallout Corner VI, 7 in Coire an Lochan must be very cleared as they show up really well from 5km away!

Daggering and Front pointing in descent down to Coire na Ciste

Sunday, 14 February 2010

14-02-10, Cairngorms - Winter Skills

Day 2 Winter Skills course at Glenmore Lodge.

Low level cloud, warm, drizzle and light snow made for a considerable avalanche hazard on all steep slope aspects above 900m today. With this in mind we avoided going high and onto exposed slopes. The team desperately wanted to try and make some snow holes of their own today, so we headed into Coire an t-Sneachda. We got to practice lots of navigation, walking on bearings and pacings as visibility was very poor! It must have been busy but we didn't manage to see many folk about. I did get a short glimpse of Alladin's buttress and it was covered in wet snow.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

13-02-10, Cairngorms - Winter Skills

Today I was working on a weekend winter skills course for Glenmore Lodge - national outdoor training centre. Harry, Jamie, Gaz and Sam are all students at a Manchester sixth form, they are having a school trip up to Scotland with 8 other classmates to gain some winter skills. We headed to Coire na Ciste and practiced, footwork, axe use, cutting steps, ice axe arrest and using crampons. There is a couple of inches of fresh snow on a hard base, but it is quite heavy at lower altitudes. Cloudy for most of the day and freezing level was at about 600m. We found some awesome snow holes both shovel ups and dig ins along the ridge as we descended to get back to the car park. The ski area was very busy but the skiing looked like it was great.

Friday, 12 February 2010

12-02-10, Creag Meagaidh - Winter Climbing

This winter just keeps getting better and better.
Back to Meagaigh again (3 times this week - I thought my legs were starting to get tired!), this time with Garry and Kath. We headed straight up Raeburns Gully and to the base of the ultra classic - Smiths Gully V,5. This four star route does not disappoint, very steep but at the moments is an easy grade V with loads of good ice which is quite hooked from previous ascents this year. Garry climbing the third pitch of the ice chocked gully - right. We descended Easy Gully, and there were ski tracks down it also! There was a slight dusting of snow in morning but clouds lifted and by early afternoon another blue sky day. This Scottish season has been amazing so far, no where near the usual ming and suffering with only a couple of beautiful good weather days during the month! The car park wasn't that busy when we arrived however it was when we got back. A few 'old boys' climbed Eastern Corner, there were 4 teams climbing Last Post, 1 pair climbed The Wand and lots of teams on The Pumpkin. I dare say this weekend, it will be very busy.
The top of the Post Face

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

10-02-10, Beinn Dearg - Winter Climbing

Today was the day I got to climb on Bein Dearg in the northern highlands, only took four visits! Another beautiful day dry, cold and not windy! A long but gentle walk in led us up to base of Emerald Gully IV,4. Dave leading the first ice pitch (right). The top ice fall wasn't formed but we managed to climb some mixed ground to get to the summit. Another team joined us after climbing Fenian Gully IV,4 which was 'full of ice'. Kath and Garry climbed Penguin Gully III,4 on west buttress and said it was very banked out and there were little belays. The snow at the base of the routes is hard neve but higher up it is sugary.
View of the west buttress with loads of snow.

View of An Teallach, looking wintry, ridge would be good but the mixed routes will be buried.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

09-02-10, Creag Meagaidh - Winter Climbing

Back to Creag Meagaidh again today, this time with Kathryn and Dave. Another beautiful day in the highlands, dry and cold, with a glorious sunrise and blue skies all day long. We headed up Raeburn's Gully to have a look at Smiths Gully VI,5 (Cold Climbs classic), however there was already a team in it. So we headed a little higher and climbed Richie's Gully IV,4. Not to be disappointed, this was a great climb, stiff ice pitch (right) at the start followed by a couple more easier pitches in a defined gully, before being able to top out and avoid the humongous cornice looming at the top! We descended Raeburn's Gully which has got to be contended for the steepest grade I gully in Scotland! Picture below shows Dave pointing the way through the cave like blue icicle structure which is a steep grade V,5 climb at the top of the gully.
Picture above shows the corrie in its full glory, loads of snow, ice and cornices. The snow is hard neve all the way up. High pressure set to stay in the highlands for the next few days so bring it on!!

Monday, 8 February 2010

08-02-10, Creag Meagaidh - Winter Climbing

With cold temperatures and dry weather forecast. We headed to Creag Meagaidh. A fairly late start - walking in while it was already daylight, we headed towards South Pipe Direct IV,4. 250m with four good ice pitches (picture - Kath leading the fourth). The ice was thick and took screws fairly well.

Other teams were out on Smiths Gully, Last Post, South Post Direct, Centre Post, Staghorn Gully and Pumpkin.

The ice at the bottom of Missed The Post and Last Post is very thick and blue. The upper and middle parts of the Post face looks quite buried in snow. There are some sizable cornices above the Cinderella area. The Wand and Diadem are looking fairly covered in snow at the moment, maybe needs a quick thaw and refreeze to make it better?

Sunday, 7 February 2010

07-02-10, Cairngorms - Winter Skills

Day 2 of a PJ Mountains Winter Skills course. Today Jon, Tim and myself walked into Coire an t-Sneachda. It was a lot colder today freezing level down to 500m. We found hard neve to perfect crampon technique and plenty of snow to dig emergency shelters. There were a few periods of whiteout visibility, which gave us good practice in walking on bearings and pacing distances. We ascended windy gap to point 1141 and returned down Fiacaill Choire Chais. Many climbers out in the coire today mainly gully lines. The dropping freezing level has firmed up the snow pack and will make climbing conditions ace.

The Ptarmigan we saw whilst walking in were very tame, there were 9 altogether hanging out and not too bothered to have groups of climbers and walkers going past within 5m.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

06-02-10, Cairngorms - Winter Skills

Today I have been working on a PJ Mountains Winter Skills course. I was out with Jon and Tim, they are competent summer hill walkers and have done some climbing before but never ventured out in the snow in winter. We ascended Meall a Buachaille via Glenmore and Ryvoan bothy. The thaw is taking its toll on slopes lower than 500m. The path to Ryvoan is very clear and the track up to Buachaille is exposed some of the way up. The snow we found was very saturated and heavy. The snow that had arrived by Thursday is getting melted and bonding itself to the lower snow pack lowering the avalanche hazard. Freezing temperature was just above the summit (850m+) today but with a forecast of lower temps and clear skies this coming week should make the climbing conditions excellent.

We looked at navigation, walking on snow with the axe, crampons and did some ice axe arrest practice. There is more availability on Winter Skills courses this year...

Thursday, 4 February 2010

04-02-10, Beinn an Dothaidh - Winter Climbing

A lot of fresh snow fell over night all over the highlands with a strong southerly wind. We stayed in the Southern Highlands and walked into Beinn an Dothaidh east corrie. We had a few hours of clear sky in the middle of the day (below - mountains south of Glen Etive, plastered in snow) however most of it was claggy. Lots of snow has accumulated on North and West facing slopes. There was about 1 foot of fresh snow on a hard base, making it very easy to slide. We avoided big areas of deep snow and found the crag and tried to climb Menage a Trois V,6. After battling up the first pitch (right), trying to find frozen turf which was buried under powder, came the second steep wall to enter a groove. I dabbled with the second pitch, getting about 5 metres off the ledge when my axe came out unexpectedly. A slow motion fall, but good landing and a second attempt but thwarted by too much soft snow hiding the rock hooks and turf. We abseiled off and retired graciously!

03-02-10, The Cobbler - Winter Walking

Today I was working in the Southern Highlands for Walkabout Scotland. I was taking various Blacks and Millets store Managers from around the UK for a walk. We ascended the Bealach of the Cobbler. It wasn't an arduous walk, but aimed for them to mingle and talk to The North Face and Garmin Reps, and get a feel for the GPS they will be selling.

The freezing level was down to the sea, and we had clear skies up until about 3:30 when it started to snow quite heavily. The snow and neve that was around was very hard and I imagine the climbing routes on the Cobbler would be in very good condition, however with the new snow that will probably change.