Paul James, MIC - - Winter and Rock Climbing Conditions

Sunday, 30 January 2011

30-01-11, Coire an t-Sneachda, Cairngorms - Winter Climbing

Today I took Neil out for his first winter climb. We battled through strong Southerly head on winds into Coire an t-Sneachda. Some folk of less moral fibre decided to return to the car park, however there were still lots of teams gearing up by the mountain rescue box. We headed up to Fluted Buttress and climbed Spiral Gully, II. There was a fair amount of new snow (probably from yesterday) getting blown about and some spin drift that made it a very Scottish experience. Lots of fresh snow covering the rocks and there will be some patches of wind slab forming on Northerly aspect slopes. The forecast is for some mini thaw - freeze processes around the summits over the next few days so that should help clear up the buttresses and the avalanche hazard.

Friday, 28 January 2011

28-01-11, Hell's Lum, Cairngorms - Winter Climbing

Walking down into Coire Domhain, with a mega view of Carn Etchachan and Shelter Stone.

Another beautifully, stunning day in the Cairngorms. Kath, Matt and I headed back over the back to Hell's Lum today. Busy Coire an t-Sneachda and well trodden stepped path up the goat track. On the other side the sun was shinning bright and warm! Quite busy today, at least 2 teams in Deep-Cut Chimney and a team in Hell's Lum, numerous other teams also headed in as we started to climb. We climbed a combination route of starting on the ice of Brimstone Groove then the mixed finish to Towering Inferno. The ice was thick enough to climb, however the heat of the sun was melting the ice above! Lots of stuff falling off and ice screws were nearly melting out by the time we got to the belays! Very enjoyable day, maybe even got a little sun burn! Cairngorm summit, pt. 1141 and top of Fluted Buttress.
Start of Brimstone Groove IV,4.

Matt enjoying the ice!

Thursday, 27 January 2011

27-01-11, Lochnagar, Cairngorms - Winter Climbing

Today Matt, Kath and I had a great time at Lochnagar. Blue bird sky, no wind, hard rime ice and snow. We climbed the classic Eagle Ridge VI,6 (photo - right and below on the Tower). The route is great, five ling pitches, good helpful snow and ice where you want it, and good gear where it is needed. Other teams were out in Raeburn's Gully, Parallel Gully A. Conditions at Lochangar are great, hard snow pack, rime ice on buttresses, OK cornices. Some more good weather days forecast, so lets make the most of it!

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

26-01-11, Coire an t-Sneachda, Cairngorms - Winter Climbing

A good day in Coire an t-Sneachda today, with Kath and Matt. Very Scottish winter weather; blustery, cold, poor visibility. The crag is in good condition and was busy today. Lots of ice in gullies, rime on rocks, some cleaning required but the cracks aren't completely plastered in thick rime ice. We climbed Wavelength III, 4 (photo - above) and Red Gully III (photo - right). Wavelength is a devious venture up the Fluted Buttress which climbs close to the direct route. Red Gully is in great condition, with plenty of ice to climb with good rock runners. Freezing level was at about 600m.

Monday, 24 January 2011

24-01-11, Coire an Lochain, Cairngorms - Winter Climbing

Drizzle and rising freezing temperature today. Today Matt and I headed to Coire an Lohcain and climbed the classic Savage Slit V,6 and Western Route IV,6. We weren't sure how low the freezing level was but were very pleased it was about at the lochan, the buttress was well rimed and the existing snow was very hard and icy. A few other teams out, climbing Procrastination and Oesophagus. The weather did deteriorate and warm up, it felt like we were chasing the freezing level up on Western Route. At each belay, good rime and ice were found but by the time we left it was dripping and falling off around us. Looks like a similar day tomorrow, but Wednesday onwards looks to be ace, freezing level down to 600m. This will firm up the already hard snow/ice, should be worth a look over the back again soon. Photos - Above, Me on Savage Slit Pitch 1, Right - Matt on Pitch 2.

23-01-11, Aonach Mor, Glen Coe - Winter Skills

Black buttresses in Stob Coire Nan Lochan.

This weekend I have been working on a 2 day winter skills course in the West Highlands for Adventure Peaks. The snow line is slightly higher on the West than in the Cairngorms. On Saturday we made use of the gondola on Aonach Mor, which got us high quickly. Plenty of snow, a lot was soft, but some ice also, practice walking up and down slopes, with and without crampons, chopping steps and ice axe arresting. Sunday we headed to Glen Coe and traversed Stob Coire Nan Lochan. The freezing level has risen to the summit - 1100m, all the buttresses were black and most snow quite soggy, some rime on the boulders at the top. Photo - right, looking down the east ridge towards Gear Aonach.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

20-01-11, Lochnagar, Cairngorms - Winter Climbing

Northern Cairngorms, all snow pack frozen rock solid.

Another beautiful day in The Cairngorms. Blue skies and -7 degrees. Kathryn and myself headed over to Lochnagar. Never been to The Stuic, Coire Loch Nan Eun before so we walked the steady 9km to the base of the crag. When the mountains look so great and the weather being so pleasant, the walk didn't seem too bad, however by the time we got back my feet were aching! The cliff isn't very big, about 100m at its highest. We climbed Twilight Groove, III,4 (photo - right). I thought the grade was slightly harsh, easily grade IV maybe harder?! All snow well solid and frozen, need crampons on as soon as your on a slope. With the very low temperatures at night and during the day hoar crystals are starting to grow. They look pretty and twinkle in the sunlight, but maybe a worry if they get buried by a new layer of snow. Until then however its all go. A cheeky little bit of Munro bagging was had also, this is what we found on Carn an t-Sagairt Mor. It is the wing of a Canberra Jet which crashed in 1956.

Walking to the summit of Carn a'Choire Bhoidheach, Hoar crystals growing.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

18-01-11, Carn Etchachan, Cairngorms - Winter Climbing

Last belay ledge of The Guillotine with a fine view!

Today Gary, Kath and myself headed back over the top to Loch Avon Basin again. Conditions in Cairngorms are ace at present, the snow is firm and icy, minimal if any avalanche risk, easy walking and great climbing. We walked over to Carn Etchachan and climbed The Guillotine, V,6. A great route quite sustained with 4 good pitches, a mega chimney pitch in the middle, and a cheeky overhanging crux on the last move! There is plenty of hard neve covering the ledges, even if from below it looks all rock. Shelter Stone, was quite dry and bare, Sticil Face not in. Stag rocks also looking bare. Rocio and Owen we out on Carn Etchachan also, they climbed Scorpion and reported it was good. Gary looking up at the impressive Shelter Stone with Hell's Lum in the background.

Monday, 17 January 2011

17-01-11, Hell's Lum, Cairngorms - Winter Climbing

Carn Etchachan and Shelter Stone from Coire Domhain.

Today is the first day since Wednesday (5 days ago) that the freezing level has been below the summits. Lots of snow has disappeared but there is still plenty in the Cairngorms. Today I was climbing with Gary and Kath, it was a beautiful, sunny day. We headed over the back to see what the climbs were like in the Loch Avon Basin. There is still ice about on Hell's Lum crag, however it is very slushy and dripping, it will need a few more days of freezing weather to make it ace. We climbed Hell's Lum, III (photo - right). Slushy snow covered ice pitch to start, but all climbable. Lots of teams climbing in Corrie an t-Snechada, the buttresses aren't completely black, Aladdin's Mirror direct is still there. All snow that is around is very hard and icy, Goat Track and summits very hard. Weather forecast is for freezing level to stay at 600m and for nice clear days so its time to have it!

Thursday, 13 January 2011

13-01-11, Lurcher's Crag, Cairngorms - Winter Climbing

Scotland is currently going through a thaw. The last couple of days have been warm, wet and windy. I headed over to Lurcher's again today with Matt. A lot of snow has disappeared lower down, now patchy on Meall a Bhuachaille and everywhere below 800m. The northern corries are black again, however there is still plenty of snow in the gullies. Freezing temperature has been above the summits making most of the snow soft and slushy. There is still ice left on Lurcher's, just! K9 and its pillar aren't climbable, and I didn't see into Central Gully (but there must still be some climbable ice there!). We climbed a wet North Gully, III. Some parts of the route didn't have a stream running over the top! It gave us 4 good pitches of grade 3 ice.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

11-01-11, Coire an t-Sneachda, Cairngorms - Winter Climbing

The highlands has had some more snow fall over the last few days. It has remained cold. On Sunday, I went up to Ben Nevis with Tom and climbed Castle Ridge, III. There was a lot of fresh powdery snow which made walking and the climbing a little tricky and time consuming. Today, I went into Coire an t-Sneachda with Matt and Kath, we headed to the Mess of Pottage. Luckily there was a team ahead of us that broke trail all the way to crag! We climbed Pot of Gold, V,6 finishing up Droidless V,6 (photo right). The weather forecast is for more snow tonight and temperatures to rise above the summits, this will have knock on affect to the avalanche category, with all slopes becoming heavy.

Saturday, 8 January 2011

07-01-11, Lurcher's Crag, Cairngorms - Winter Climbing

Approaching Lurchers from the North.

Back to Lurcher's Crag again. This time we left from the Sugar Bowl car park, and after approaching from both ends, I don't think there is much difference. It is a more enjoyable walk back to Ski Car Park, but if the snow was deeper that may be an issue. Today the weather and scenery was awesome. Blue skies and white mountains, the southerley breeze was whipping up a fair bit of snow but that doesn't count as suffering! All of the ice routes are in good climable condition, North, Gully and K9 both had teams on them. We climbed Central gully whihc gave 3 good grade IV,4 pitches and some snow ploding in between. Quality! More snow is forecast over the weekend, which will mean the avalanche hazard will be greater; wind slab will be an issue on all aspects as the wind direction is changing day to day.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

05-01-11, Lurcher's Crag, Cairngorms - Winter Climbing

Today we headed over to the west facing cliff of Lurcher's Crag in the Lairig ghru. From the Ski car park, the snow hard with occasional windslab powder over a very hard icy neve base. Strong SW wind has been blowing last nights snow onto SE through to N facing slopes. We descended South Gully, which looked very loaded at the top of the fan, but it was all hard neve. The first ice we arrived a was in Window Gully IV,4 . So we climbed this in 3 enjoyable pitches. More snow forecast tonight with a SW - NW wind so slab will definitely be building up on E thru SE slopes, as well as some cross loading on other slopes.

04-01-11, Coire an Lochain, Cairngorms - Winter Climbing

Plenty of snow in the Eastern Highlands, I went to visit the the northern corries with Kath and found (as suspected) thick rime ice choked buttress and cracks. There was a thaw over new year, which stripped the rocks but it the re froze and snow as wel, making climbing the mixed routes, slightly easier but very bold or laborious tying to find and dig out gear and belay placements. We walked into Coire an Lochan and climbed The Milky Way, III. Over the 100m distance e placed about 6 bit of gear, including belays!
Number 1 buttress with Meall a Bhuachaille in the background.

Winter Skills Courses - Scottish Highlands, Cairngorms

PJ Mountains is currently running Winter Skills courses in the Scottish Highlands. Courses can be designed to suit your requirements. Are you a keen summer walker or climber wanting to learn how to stay safe in the winter environment?

Depending on length or course, essential skills that will be taught would be, use of crampons and axe to walk, self arrest (ice axe arrest), avalanche awareness and of course winter navigation.

The Cairngorms are currently in great condition, with lots of snow down to 400m, some of it soft and suspect but most of it very icy neve.

Private courses can run as 1, 2 or 5 day courses for up to 6 people per instructor. Prices can be found at

Contact Paul at or call 0773813927 to discuss possible courses.