Sunday, 21 January 2018

WINDY AND A THAW ON THE WAY

Bynack Mor from Meall a' Bhuachaille
Two easy shears at our test pit today
No comment needed
Busy on the Bhuachaille!
Earlier in the day
A partly frozen Loch Morlich
Time to head own
Changeable weather on the way today. Weather forecasts suggesting gales in the afternoon and temperatures on the rise towards dusk in The Cairngorms. With this in mind it was a day at lower altitudes. Carol and I headed to Meall a' Bhuachaille for Day 3 of her Winter Course this week. Today's plan as for Navigation (the number 1 winter skill), avalanche awareness (again this week) and some ice axe arresting (quite a low skill on a list of winter skills). It was very pleasant on our way up to Meall a' Bhuachaille which was mobbed with lots of folk, more groups than on a nice summer's day! The summit wasn't at all windy. We walked down and around to to the NE slopes below the Creagan Gorm summit. This is a great wee spot for some sliding and avalanche awareness. The small depression just below the summit collects snow well from the SW winds through the winter months. The winds suddenly increased around this area as we dug our avalanche test pit. As fast as we were digging it out it was filling in from the heavy drifting. We found two relatively easy shears at 30cm and 55cm. Our plan for some sliding was abandoned with the high winds increasing minute y minute. Carol navigated back to the main path in deep drifts and 50-60mph winds. It wasn't actually snowing but it may as well have been. Snow racing through the air as we plunged through deep snow and back to civilisation. A very different day out from the last couple of  days. A Scottish winter always throws up brilliant conditions and never two days the same. Funny that there wasn't a single person left on the hill when we were getting wind blasted down the path!

Saturday, 20 January 2018

BUSY DAY ON THE CAIRNGORMS

Carol on the Fiacaill 
Busy along the ridge
Scary
Brilliant snow
Down
Great axe and crampon placements 
More fun
Final step
Really?
Busy today
It was a fine, cold start to the day with light winds in The Cairngorms. Carol on day 2 of her 4 Day Winter Course with me this week. Today we ramped it up a bit and some steeper terrain. What better place to do this than the Fiacaill Coire Sneachda? It was quite busy with about 10 folk but we bypassed them all. Carol moveing quickly but still enjoying the grand views and brilliant snow conditions. We were up on the plateau by lunch time but the cloud had come in by this time. Poor visibility along Cairn Lochan and here the snow is variable with a mix or rime, ice, breakable crust and some neve. Busy day at the Ski area but we had avoided the Saturday crowds for much of the time. Another brilliant winter day and great to see how novice clients progress so quickly with bags of confidence. Tad windy tomorrow and some more snow heading our way. Winter continues....

Friday, 19 January 2018

BEST NEVE SO FAR THIS SEASON

Carol enjoying the neve and sun
Fiacaill Buttress looking fine
Great snow for step cutting
Brilliant neve for crampons
Mess of Potage
Alladin's Buttress

Windy Col
Beinn Meadhoin
Cairn Gorm
It was another very cold day on the Cairngorms. Summit temperatures around minus 7 degrees with a high windchill. Carol is out with me over this weekend on a 4 day winter course. Completely new to winter hillwalking. What a day to start off your career in winter mountains! Stunning morning with lots of sunshine. Coire an t-Sneachda looking wonderful. Easy, well trampled trail into the coire. We headed to the bottom of the slopes leading up to Windy Col. Having a West facing aspect this gave some fantastic hard snow, from being wind scoured over the last few days. Some brilliant neve so a full range of step cutting and cramponing techniques could be mastered. We moved up the hill and had brilliant views all day. The wind was gusting a bit near the top, it's not called Windy Col for nothing! The plateau is wind scoured but has a breakable crust for good stretches. We had a stroll up to a rime encrusted Cairn Gorm. The late afternoon light was wonderful on the summit. Another top winter day out in The Cairngorms. Tomorrow is looking like a cracker, enjoy!

Thursday, 18 January 2018

CALM, COLD & SUN TODAY IN THE CAIRNGORMS

Steve on the steep ground again
Lovely morning in Sneachda
Climbers in Jacob's Ladder, not me!
Pic nic with no wind and views today
Ice on the west aspect of Pt.1141m
Nice views
Snow banks building up at the Moraines
Good fun
Nice ice
Fiacaill Buttress 
At last we got a day of calm winds, clear skies and even some sunshine! Day 4 of Steve's winter course with me. For his final day he was keen to get some more experience on steep ground. Tackling route finding, safe approaches and plenty of rope work. We went back to the west side of the Fiacaill Coire Chais, below pt.1141m. Steve enjoyed this area yesterday so he was keen to get back and experience it again. The hills were looking brilliant under a thick white coat and blue skies. Plenty of folk out walking, climbing, skiing. Quite a large group of people at the bottom section of Jacob's Ladder. Not a choice for me today in the current avalanche conditions . Good route choice a very wise idea at the moment with the cold conditions continuing into the weekend and beyond. Be avalanche aware folks!  Thanks to Steve this week. A great 4 days. Brilliant banter and I've never had a client who has been continuously cheery and great fun even in the toughest, windiest conditions. Cheers Steve.

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

STEEP GROUND, SNOW SHELTERS & WINDSLAB

Steve on the ice
Lunch time shelter
Good snow and ice on Westerly aspect


Very weak layer!
Not much effort to release this one
Plenty of ptarmigan today
The odd deep drift
Blue skies, briefly
It was a very wintery scene in the streets of Aviemore this morning. More overnight snow and heavy snow showers passing through. The ski road up to Cairn Gorm was open and clear. Winds were manageable today with only 40mph+. Steve on Day 3 of his course with me this week. We did my old trick of setting off a tad earlier this morning to let other folk bat a nice trail up into the coire. Another vital winter skill. We headed to the moraines to did a nice snow shelter for lunch. Big drifts here. We dug a few test pits. Not surprisingly the wind slab is fragile and it didn't take much of an effort to release a 30cm slab on the easterly aspect. After lunch we headed onto the western slopes of Pt.1411m (Fiacaill Coire Chais). Here the winds have well scoured the slopes. I very rarely use this hillside for skills as it is quite a bouldery place but today it was brilliant. There as some old snow, neve and water ice on the bigger boulders. Great place to practice some steep ground for Steve. Up on the top it was a chilly wind. The snow and cloud came in again in the afternoon. Fab winters day again and Steve enjoying the fun. That's what it's all about!

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

HEAVY SNOW, NAVIGATION, ICE

Ice and windslab
Navigation
Coire an Lochain
Steep ground
Ice (photo Steve Owens)
Knots in winter
Hasty Pit
Tower of Rime, Coire an Lochain
Drifts again
No bother for these guys
Temperatures down another notch today and snowing to Aviemore level this morning. It snowed for much of the day and a blustery wind. Day 2 of Steve's course with me this week. Today's 'skills' were navigation (The Primary winter skill), avalanche awareness and movement on steep ground. We walked into a lonely, white and windy Coire an Lochain. Steve did all the navigation. Of course map and compass are the essential winter skill and top of the pile, it's NOT axe arresting. Unfortunately Steve dropped his compass and although we retraced our footprints to retrieve the compass, our prints had quickly filled in with the blowing snow. A fruitless search, I'll find it in May. Like every good mountaineer though, Steve produced his back up, second compass. We got under the lower crags in the coire where we had excellent shelter from the winds. We discussed avalanche awareness all the way into the coire and our final assessment was a hasty pit. Interesting layers found. There is a softer, weaker layer in the snow pack which corresponded with the last 3 days of the SAIS Avalanche Reports. The area we where in was well scoured, icy with plenty of exposed, frozen turf and rock. This was ideal for some steep ground work as well has being a safe location. The showers eased off by late afternoon and we got a good view of the cliffs in the coire which are looking splendid under a thick rime coating. The walk back to the car park at Coire Cas was even more arduous with big drifts which had developed quickly since the morning. Another top day and some new skills for Steve.