Sunday, 10 December 2017

POWDER SNOW WEEKEND

Karen descending Fionn Bheinn 
Storm Caroline passed through quickly last week, here in The Highlands. As forecasted things went much colder from Thursday. We had non stop snow for a couple of days in Scotland.  The NW Highlands and the Cairngorms receiving most of it on the cold Northerly and NW winds. Karen and I headed away for a couple of days up north, basing ourselves at the wee village of Achnasheen. Our weekend was a mix of hillwalking and swimming!
Fuar Toll
On Saturday we headed from Achnashellach and up into Coire Lair. You could never tire of walking up into this area. With two wonderful Munros of Sgorr Ruadh and Beinn Liath Mor on either side of the beautiful glen. As well as these two big hills, there is also the majestic Corbett of Fuar Toll which only just fails to reach the 3000ft mark. Our objective today was to get to the peaceful and seldom visited Loch Coire Lair which is nestled below the impressive East face of Sgorr Ruadh.
Coire Lair and Sgorr Ruadh
The weather forecast was to be cold with frequent snow showers. We certainly got a few of these. When the showers did come through there was limited visibility, even at low levels. The snow showers were short and in between the precipitation we had stunning clear views with some sunshine. Above 300m the going was hard with the fresh, soft snow. It took us double the time to get to our destination.
Loch Coire Lair & Fuar Toll
Timed perfectly, the skies were clear and a lovely view for the swim. As some of you may know, Karen as set here self a challenge this month. She is swimming or 'dipping' every single day in December, This is day 9. It's something she enjoys immensely but she is also swimming the icy lochs for a worthy cause. Raising funds for Child Poverty Action. She has a Just Giving Page if you want to send a donation.
Sgorr Ruadh & Loch Coire Lair
Karen Psyching up for a swim
Beinn Liath Mhor's Eastern ridge
Obviously we are well prepared for the exit out of the icy waters. Several layers of warm clothing,  group shelter and hot chocolate does the trick to bring Karen back to a 'normal' temperature. The time was getting on a bit by now. This far north in mid December and the sun is wanting to be somewhere else. 3.30pm and daylight goes fast. To reach any of the big hills in these conditions requires an early start and some hard graft! Anything that isn't popular with a big trench up the hill side is going to take you double the time probably. We were the only folk on the hill and in the glen today. Even in summer I very rarely see anyone here. It's one of the gems of the northwest. You don't need to even climb the hills for some terrific views.
Sunset over Fuar Toll
Achnashellach train station
We got a few more showers on our way back to the train station at Achnashellach. Unlike in parts of England, we don't have chaos on the roads or rail when there is snow! The train was spot on time back to Achnasheen.
Temperature Inversion below Fionn Bheinn
Sunday morning dawned cold and crisp. Beautiful crystal clear skies above a temperature inversion in the glen. The winds had dropped to nothing and it was a day of wall to wall sunshine. We fancied a day on Fionn Bheinn, a solitary Munro directly above Achnasheen. It was powder snow from Glen to Ben. Once again double the time and effort compared to summer. It was just stunning to be out. We saw four other folk on the hill, they were all on skis. Perfect conditions if you're into ski touring.
Looking west to Sgorr Ruadh and Beinn Liath Mhor from Fionn Bheinn
A distant Ben Wyvis from Fionn Bheinn
I love temperature inversions!
Achnasheen & Monar hills
We headed down the hill and time for another swim to finish off our weekend. Today's loch was Loch a' Chroisg which lies beside the road to Kinlochewe, Loch Maree and onwards to Glen Torridon. Not as chilly here and some lovely Scots Pines scattered along the shoreline for some shelter and warmth (!) after a dip.

Karen in Loch 'a Chroisg
Sunset over Slioch & Beinn Eighe
Plenty of Stags around this weekend
Meanwhile back home and I have a big stint of 11 days work on the trot coming up. My Four day winter courses are proving popular this year. I have two of these in December, a weekend winter skills and a day course. Guess what, the snow looks like it's behaving itself so far this winter. At least another week of cold weather to come. All details are now on my new look website.



Monday, 4 December 2017

SUPER MOON & SUNSETS BEFORE THE ARCTIC BLAST

Cairn Gorm & Northern Corries
Sunset, Strathspey
Last nights 'Super Moon'
Cloudscapes over the Cairngorms
Sunset clouds
A mild day again in Strathspey. Up on the mountains the snow is there, just a slow thaw so I would imagine not much in the way of ice at the moment. We're due a very warm day on Wednesday and then in sharp contrast the Arctic blast on Thursday which will bring very cold conditions and fresh snow fall. It was a nice afternoon in Aviemore. A quick blast up Craigellachie to catch some lovely cloud and late afternoon light over the Northern Cairngorms. Craigellachie really is a fine viewpoint of the entire Northern Cairngorms. From Meall a' Bhuachaille all the way across to the Feshie Hills.

Sunday, 3 December 2017

IMPROVING CONDITIONS ABOVE 900M

Fiacaill Buttress
Fiacaill Coire Sneacda
Alladin's Buttress
Good snow cover, Coire Sneachda
Good snow cover on the Fiacaill
Rimed ice on the Fiacaill Buttress
Top of the Fiacaill Sneachda
Surprisingly good cover of snow above 800m
The last couple of days the temperatures have gone up, but not too much. Hovering below +10 degrees at sea level  doesn't damage the snow pack too much, as long as it's not for a long period of time! Today in the Northern Corries there was still plenty of snow above 800m The summit temperatures were well below freezing so we've had some consolidation in the snow pack. It was a good day to be out. Light winds, cloud above the tops most of the time and some great snow conditions up high. There was a great mix of firm snow, water ice, rime ice and compacted  snow on the Fiacaill Coire Sneachda. Good snowy ledges and good ice axe placements in some of the icy sections.
Even with some thaw the Cairngorms comes up trumps. Full winter conditions still, unlike most places in  Snowdonia and The Lakes where most snow as been wiped out
If you're thinking of a winter skills course then The Highlands should be your first choice for reliable 'proper winter'. Good to hire a local company too, they know the hills so well! I still have some limited weekend availability this winter. Check out my newly updated website for course content.
Some more mild weather over the next couple of days before we get another Arctic blast on Thirsday. Winter continues.....

Saturday, 2 December 2017

LOCH ERICHT SWIMMING

Drumochter Munros & Loch Ericht
Karen in for a dip
Ben Alder in the distance
The only sun today on Loch Ericht
The temperatures rose today and some snow loss, especially lower down the hills. Karen and I had a wander down the Ben Alder track beside Loch Ericht and had an afternoon swim in the loch. This was Karen's second swim this month. She's going to be swimming (dipping) every day in December (including Christmas Day!)for a good cause, Child Poverty Action Group. If you'd like to donate she has set up a Just Giving page. Please just give a maximum of £5.  Thank you!
This wee short spell of mild weather is set to continue until Wednesday. After that we are back to an Arctic blast again with very cold conditions and more snowfall.

Friday, 1 December 2017

WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHY COURSE, CAIRNGORMS

Deep snow ptarmigan photography
Coire an Lochain at first light
Ptarmigan preening
Deep snow, hard work. A team heading up the hill
Christian making his own chair
It's getting busy

Red Grouse, no camouflage!
The Happy Team
Plenty of ptarmigan
Manfred, Christian & Otto from Switzerland were out with me today on one of my Wildlife Photography Workshops in The Cairngorms. They specifically wanted to capture the ptarmigan in their winter plumage. Originally they contacted me for some info on best places to see these wonderful birds. After several email exchanges they thought it may be a good idea to hire a guide to find the best locations to photograph them. We set off at first light this morning. From the Coire Cas carpark at it was hard work trail breaking in the deep, unconsolidated snow. Over the last couple of days there has been plenty of snowfall and strong winds. It usually takes around one hour to my favourite spot and most reliable place for the ptarmigan. Not today. It took at least double that time to wade up  toward the Northern Corries. We had some good sightings of 3 or 4 birds and the guys were happy to turn around and head back down the hill. But I persuaded them to persevere and sure enough, 20 minutes later we saw a whole gang of ptarmigan. Many in  pure white plumage, which was what Manfred especially wanted to capture! The guys we're chuffed and happy chappies. To top the day off we had a gang of Snow Bunting down at the carpark.
The skiing started up on Cairn Gorm  a couple days ago and the car park was almost full with skiers when we got back.
The temperature rose  through the day. Slightly milder tomorrow too so that will do the consolidation process a world of good. Winter continues.....

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

BEN LUI ( BEINN LAOIGH)

Beinn Lui summit
Ben Lui ranks as the finest mountain in the Southern Highlands. A magnificent, isolated Munro near the village of Tyndrum.  This graceful, symmetrical and magnificent hill screams out to be walked or climbed. Under winter conditions it is truly Alpine in character. On Wednesday the best of the sunshine was to be in the deep South West corner of the Highlands. So I took the long journey to Tyndrum from Aviemore in search of sunshine, blue skies and a stunning mountain to climb. I wasn't disappointed.
The classic view of Ben Lui from Cononish
The walk in from Tyndrum village is moderately long but an excellent four wheel drive track up Glen Cononish is quite quick and even faster with a bike. Who could not get excited at the wonderful view of the mountain all the way up through the glen? The view of Ben Lui's main feature, Coire Gaothach, and its two main bounding ridges are outstanding. As the sun rose the pink Alpen Glow on the ridges brought the mountain to life. Enroute you pass an equally spectacular hill, Beinn Chuirn which rises above the farm of Cononish.
Sunrise on Beinn Chuirn
Alpine Ben Lui
The snowline was down to around 450m and unconsolidated. Once into the Coire it was hard going. I couldn't believe that there was no sign of any passage up the hill, on a day like today! In the centre of the coire lies the start of the classic grade I winter climb, Central Gully. I've climbed this many times and a brilliant way to the top. I did contemplate taking this route today but the snow conditions dictated otherwise. It would have a been a hard slog in the current snow. More crucial was my avalanche awareness decision making kicking in. So I opted to walk up on the Northeast bounding ridge and headed to the outlying wee summit of  Stob Garbh. It was wonderful feeling the sunshine on my face as I broke trail up shin deep snow.
The Stob Garbh ridge
Eventually I toiled up onto the ridge line. The view of course was spectacular. To the North and East lies the entire Glencoe range and Ben Nevis. The ridge was still hard going in the soft snow. A full cover of snow all the way along the ridge. There hadn't been much in the way of winds here over the last few days. The views into the coire are, of course, spectacular.
A distant Ben Nevis from the ridge
Looking East to Ben Lawers
Ben More and Stob Binnein and the buttress of  Ben Lui
The final section of ridge steepens up toward the summit for the last 100m or so. Absolutely stunning scenery. The rocks were completely rimed  up and banked with snow. The summit of Ben Lui has two tops with hardly any drop between them. The highest point is the southern top at just 3 metres higher than it's northern summit. It was here that I spotted two guys just in front of me who had come up from the Glen Lochy side of the hill. Most guide books and internet sites give this way to the Munro as ' the route up'. Amazing really, look what they miss! The views from the highest point are just stunning. There are an amazing number of Munros seen in a stupendous panorama. The air clarity today was superb. The cold NW airflow bringing very clear visibility. The winds were cold but it was a day to sit on the summit for lunch and take in the view.
Ben Cruachan (left) from the summit
Ben More and Stob Binnein from the summit
I eventually tore myself away and headed down and back to Tyndrum. Many folk would be keen to bag the other three Munros in the vicinity: Beinn a' Chleibh, Ben Oss and Beinn Dubhcraig. Not me, not today. It was a day to savour Ben Lui. The finest mountain in The Southern Highlands.
Ben Lui summit and Ben Lomond
Late afternoon sun on Ben Chalum