Thursday, 8 February 2018


Toll an Lochan, An Teallach. January
While some folk who don't venture on the Scottish mountains may be looking ahead to Spring and warmth, for me this period in the season marks only half way through winter. Many hill goers would say the best of the winter season is still to come. Usually February and March deliver great conditions with more depth of snow than any other period in the season. We usually get longer settled conditions and sometimes, just sometimes March can throw up some glorious weather too.

First dusting of snow early November
So here's a quick recap of how the winter has shaped up so far. Early November saw a few days of cold weather and snow showers. Some year's the first snow can come in October. These are usually short lived affairs as the ground and air temperatures usually recover very quickly. It's not really 'winter' until November. We had a few days of snowfall in this month and some good cold snaps. All good for getting the ground to cool down ready for a good solid base.
Deep drifts and unconsolidated snow, late November
It wasn't long before we were getting some good snow building up by mid-late November. No real melt/freeze cycles and so hard work trail breaking. I remember the first tough outing of the season was on Braeriach with a couple of clients. Long walk-ins and deep, unconsolidated snow make for tiring days. All good fitness training for the winter ahead!

A fine day on Ben Lui
 It seems the west and northwest Highlands have had the best of both snowfall and sunshine hours so far this winter. Plenty of really cold temperatures and clear skies make for brilliant days of clarity on the hills. This day on Ben Lui was the second last day of November.

Sgurr Ruadh, Glen Carron
The very cold temperatures continued for much of December. Once again the NW Highlands receiving good dumps of snow to low levels. No melt/freeze cycles of note. My wife decided to swim every day in Highland lochs and lochan's. There was some quite nippy days with some ice forming on stretches of water!
Temperature Inversion below Fionn Beinn
Christmas heatwave, where's the snow!
There are always thaws through a typical winter season. The winter of 2016/17 was one of the warmest, least snowy winters for some years. We had major thaws that completely stripped the mountains. But even in that season we ended up with good conditions by February.
Christmas 2017 and we received the warmest temperatures thus far. The heavy snow was wiped out from the highest tops and most of the corries. It was way above freezing for 3-4 days with summit temperatures into double figures. It looked like a repeat of the previous winter. But the Scottish hills will always throw up surprises and conditions can rapidly change again. Come Boxing Day a return to cold and snow falling again. So we went into 2018 with much colder, sustained snow and things were looking terrific with a good winter coat to low levels and those very low temperatures returned in avengance.

Boxing Day snow returns

Coire an Lochain, Boxng Day
New Year and the icy streets of Aviemore was a welcome sign of great days in the hills. More snowfall and a few blizzards quickly got things looking good again. Plenty of rime ice on the crags throughout much of January. My favourite snow form.

Rime ice and great snow cover, early January
We were back to heavy drifts and unconsolidated snow for much of January. Again there was no real melt/freeze cycles to speak of. Hard work on foot. Great for skiers and snow shoes.
Sunrise, Toll an Lochan, An Teallach. Early January
Once again the NW & W Highlands seemed to be getting the lion share of clear skies and sunshine. A beautiful settled, clear and really cold spell of weather was to be had in the second week of January. Snow lying to glen levels. Great time for photography with clarity of air from the Northerly airflows. An Teallach looking stunning for days. What a place to be if you had a weeks holiday in this period.
Morning light over the Beinn Dearg hills
Back over in The Cairngorms and snow levels being topped up day by day in mid January. Of course to get good snow cover you need the odd blizzard or two. It's all part of the winter game. January is traditionally the stormiest month. Nothing too major so far. The Cairngorms being the windiest mountains in these isles and 100mph plus on the tops does happen on a regular basis. Nothing like that this year. Just a gentle 70mph now and again! Suits me!
Heading up to Ben Macdui, mid January
When the winds ease to nothing and the skies are completely blue it makes everything worthwhile. These are days to savour. We had a nice spell of this kind of stuff over in The Cairngorms by mid January. Yes please!
Temperature Inversions too!
Then it was back to something a bit more normal. More snow fall , more cloud and some testing navigational skills coupled with heavy going on foot. That's more like it!
Lunch time snow shelter, mid-late January
Good neve, at last! Late January
A few days of high winds and just a touch of M/F cycle and we found some great neve at last! Even a touch of blue skies and we were almost in Alpine kind of conditions.
A well stamped Fiacaill Ridge
CMD arete, neve

A stunning day on Ben Nevis
Sometimes you get just one day of stupendous weather and snow conditions. No wind, neve and wall to wall sun. That was just a day we had on 28th January. CMD arete is a route to savour and we snatched it. Well my client did! How lucky was he? The following day could not have been any different. 70-90mph winds on the tops, a thaw and low cloud. That's how a Scottish winter goes.
Last days of January. Ice and neve returns!
Brilliant snow and ice!
One or two days of mild weather was just perfect. Another rapid change in temperature is what we need to get good snow conditions.  A very cold day to follow and this gave us probably the best snow and ice all winter. Two days of hard snow for my clients, again they couldn't have timed it any better! End of January and all good!
More snow and blue skies for February
Windswept and frozen Fiacaill
 February comes and we get more snow fall, bit more wind and some clouds. The hills looking brilliant once the skies clear. Once again those lucky folk over in the west getting more clear skies than the Cairngorms. Don't worry, our time will come. After all we are only halfway through winter! Enjoy!

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