Sunday, 5 April 2020


An Teallach, 4th March
My winter season normally comes to a close around the end of April. This year it was cut short by the obvious pandemic crises. I've put together some highlights and images of the entire winter season in the Scottish hills. As usual it's been a mixed bag and erratic but we've had some brilliant days out. If anyone thinks it was a 'poor' season then hopefully the diary below will make folk realise it wasn't that bad. For those with poor memories it may well be an eye opener!

Cairn Gorm, 20th October
The 'Winter' season according to the Astronomical calendar begins on the 21st December, ending on the 22nd March. In the mountains it is quite different. It's quite normal to get our first snows of the season as early as October. Snow lying on the ground and ice conditions are often short lived, lasting just a day or two as the temperature fluctuates from Autumn one day to Winter the next. Sunday 20th October was probably the 'start' of the season. Although there had been a couple of light snow dustings before this date, on this particular day it was 'real' winter conditions. Well below freezing, reasonable snow above 800m and blizzard like conditions on the summit of Cairn Gorm. My blog post for that day received nearly 7,000 views!
Cairn Lochan, Monday 21st October
The Northwest Highlands also received some of the best of the snow this season, better later on. It began towards the end of October. A good dumping of snow up high on the hills of Torridon then a couple of beautiful clear, calm days was enough for me to get up and enjoy my first visit winter visist of the season in this amazing place. I even got a wild winter camp up high on Beinn Dearg.
Sunrise above Liathach from Beinn Dearg, 29th October

Beinn Eighe

Coire an Laoigh, Beinn Eighe
The following day was even better. We had a fine traverse of the two Munros on Beinn Eighe. The snow was firm in places and zero wind with wall to wall blue skies in the finest mountain region on this planet. Was this the start of an excellent winter? No long term forecasts can ever predict that. But of course all winter mountain enthusiasts are positive and live in hope!

Cairn Lochan, 6th November

First snows in Stratspey, 8th November
November for me is really the 'proper' start of winter and this is the month when it is truly colder with more in the way of sustained cold periods up on the mountains. The days get shorter and it really does feel like winter has arrived. We had a few good snow falls to lower levels too, which always gets folk excited and gearing up for the season.

Fiacaill Coire Sneachda, 9th November

Fingers Ridge, 9th November
By mid November I start my guiding and taking out winter skills groups. The conditions can be hit or miss for my clients if they have booked well in advance. This November I had a mix of advanced bookings and some last minute takers. For those who are eagle eyed and are looking at the weather conditions on the run up to the day can get a fab early winter day out. This November was no exception. All my early groups had brilliant winter conditions.
Stob Coire Sgriodain, 10h November
Cairn Lochan, 13th November
Fiacaill Coire Sneachda in full winter conditions, 15th November
Mountain Hare in full winter coat, 15th November
The mid November period the Eastern Highlands received the most snow whilst over in the west it was just a light covering above 700-800m. The Cairngorms was the place to be though. We had deep snow cover across the entire plateau and down to low levels. Winter was here for sure. Ski tourers were enjoying some of the finest skiing. If you were walking then a pair of snow shoes made the going much easier. It was hard work trail breaking from the carpark at  Coire Cas. On the tops the temperatures were very low, down to around minus 8 C for a fair period of time. Light winds and wall to wall sunshine. Brilliant. Would it last?
Loch A'an basin, 18th November

Snowshoes the way to go, Ben Macdui, 18th November
Cairn Toul - Braeriach plateau, 18th November

Fiacaill Coire Sneachda, 19th November

First clients this season, 23rd November

A few days of bright sun, no wind, very cold temperatures and deep snow cover is pretty good for end of  November. Memories of the 2010 winter start coming back. Of course we have had other brilliant starts to winter over the last 10 years. There was a wee blip in temperatures just before the end of the month. Warm, wet, claggy. Then winter returned just before the month was out.

Eastern Cairngorms, 30th November

Good winter climbing conditions, Coire an Lochain, mid December

Days of icy conditions

Thin but good snow cover to lower levels, Early December

Quiet in Coire an t-Sneachda,  Early December
A good sustained cold spell for the first half of December. A few nice top ups of snow. The usual mixed conditions of poor visibility and wind but nothing out of the normal. Snow cover reasonable in The Cairngorms, all the way down to Coire Cas carpark and lower. Some Melt/Freeze so conditions for climbing improving. This period in winter is superb to get out. The hills are relatively quiet in The Cairngorms and accommodation plentiful before the Christmas and New Year invasion.  Getting out early season will set you up for the rest of the winter. Great time to get those rusty winter skills back into action.

Essential skills in poor conditions, Cairngorm plateau, Mid December

High winds, difficult walking even at lower altitudes.

High up on Ben Macdui plateau, crampons all day. 23rd December

Great weather and snow, 24th December

Christams Day, Sgurr Gaoithe, getting milder.

Massive temperature rise and gale force winds towards the end of December

Cairngorm plateau, after the heatwave, 31st December
The days running up to Christmas were the last time we saw excellent snow cover and cold temperatures for a bit. Some great conditions to be had around 20-24 December. A guided day over to Ben Macdui on the 23rd saw us wearing crampons for most of the day. Excellent snow cover high on the plateau. Christmas Day itself saw the last of any proper winter conditions for some time. Most winters the period from Christmas to just after New Year we often have a mild spell. Not may folk were expecting this period of lean conditions to go on for longer though!


A lean looking Cairn Gorm and Coire an t-Sneachda, early January

Some fresh snow returns! 

Not a happy Bunny

High winds, but sheltered snow up high, mid January

Following day, Colder, less windy. 
Ice forming by mid January
The first of many 'Named' storms then hit our shores, or rather our mountains. Difficult conditions on some days. A mix of warm, windy then a temperature drop and thankful for fresh snow. Some days out working with groups we had to battle into the coire where we found shelter and enough snow to run through essential skills. Coping with these weather conditions and in lean spells are always part and parcel of a typical winter.
Happy group out of the wind

Fresh snow at 800m and only a breezy day, late January

A group heading up Point Five Gully, Sneachda, 20th January
I only had to cancel just one day of work this winter, because of high winds and only snow was high up. We did have respites between storms and these were great days. Even some brightness. There was also just a few small top ups of snow. It could be worse!
Ptarmigan numbers low this year

Fresh snow falling in Aviemore, 27th January
A day of snow, a day of warmth, a day of storms. That seemed to be the trend in this period from late January. When will the settled winter conditions return? Another period of warmth to see out January. We did get some snowfall and it was definitely winter like on the hills, most days. I ended up in the far North of Scotland at the end of January. The snow on top of Ben Hope melted away within a day.

Cold, icy conditions. Sneachda 2nd February

Good snow cover and usual visibility, Cairngorm plateau, 2nd February

Cairngorm plateau, earlyFebruary
February and mid winter. My busiest period and everyone expects there to be snow. Despite all the storms and all the mild spells we did get the good conditions slowly coming back. Of course we had several named storms coming through  but no massive warm spells. When you live and work in The Cairngorm mountains then heading out in stormy conditions is the norm. For some folk it can be a shock to the system.

More low level snow, Craigellechie NR, early February

One of those rare days recently. Calm, clear and great cramponing snow, Early February

Looking good again, Fiacaill Ridge. Early February

One nice day, one stormy or several stormy days at the moment. A lot of the 'named' storms tend usually to last just 24 hours. Not this year. Now we have snow to lower levels we can still get plenty done. Digging a quick snow shelter for lunchtime is really useful in these conditions.
Snow shelter, Meall a'Bhuachaille, early February

It's been windy!

During this stormy period I have found some great locations that have enough snow and at a relatively low altitude, less than 1 hours walk from the road. Plenty of time in the morning and afternoon for some indoor planning at the café too!
Sheltered and fun snow, early to mid February

Back in the thick of the winds next day, colder.
Ric was out with me on a 4 day course come mid February. Thankfully for him he chose his dates well. Yes we had wind but we got to the tops every day and had a great range of snow conditions throughout this period. A settled spell of snow and low temperatures.

Coire an t-Sneachda back in winter conditions. Mid February.

Low snow on Sgor Gaoithe, Mid February

This is more like it.

A nice day on hard snow

Cairn Gorm. Mid February
By mid February the norm is to get a big High pressure system off the continent. These normally last for a good period of time and if we are lucky we may get a week to 10 days of settled conditions, no wind and blue skies. Well, erm not this year. Not yet. But be thankful for small mercies. The odd nice day occasionly is fine with me. For return clients they are even happier.

Deep snow means snowshoeing. 25th February

Fab snow shoe conditions and sun!

Full, deep snow cover. Macdui plateau. 25th February

Coire an Lochain, 25th February
Come the end of February another deep low off the Atlantic and more storms but more snow! Over on the NW coast we got a dump of snow down to sea level. Hard work heading up to An Teallach the following day.
Dundonnell Road and The Fannaichs, 28th February

West Drumochter Munros, 29th February

For those who follow me regularly on here and on Facebook you will know I always bang on about March is THE best winter month. This year was no exception. The beginning 1st of the month I had return clients back for more, just 1 week after their first time out. We got full on winter conditions. Ice, wind, well below freezing.
Cairngorm plateau 1st March
The Northwest received some full on winter snowfalls during the last week or so. Then a small weather window of light winds and clear skies forecast. I have been waiting for a nice day to photograph the finest mountain on Earth, An Teallach. I wanted the classic view looking across to the main Corrag Buidhe face, at dawn. The snow was mostly unconsolidated so hard going up to the shin and knees in place. Above 700m it was brilliant.
Sunrise on An Teallach, 4th March
An Teallach, 4th March

Back in the Cairngorms and working on a 4 day course. Some great conditions, changing almost daily. Deep snow, unconsolidated, neve, lots of water ice. Deep snow and of course winds. Mixed in we even got a good view now and again.
Icy Cairngorm plateau, 9th March

Great snow cover, 11th March
During this period at the start of March to mid March the Northwest Highlands were getting a fair amount of snow again. A weather window loomed. Just the usual 24 hour one which was an ongoing theme this year. Friday 13th March was forecasted to be wall to wall blue skies, light breeze and well below freezing on the tops. Torridon it was! Scott and I had a fabulous day on Beinn Alligin. Hard going lower down the hill with deep unconsolidated snow. But worth every gallon of sweat for the views we earned that day. Stunning.
Beinn Alligin, 13th March

Horns of Alligin and Liathach, 13th March

Beinn Alligin, 13th March
Liathach, 13th March
My final guiding day this winter was with return couple Jillian and Graeme. We had wonderful neve conditions on Sgor Gaoithe mid March.
Excellent neve, Sgor Gaoithe. 16th March
One of the Joy's in winter is walking on hard snow in bright sunshine and no wind. Add to this our wonderful wildlife and in a solitude setting then what more can you ask for. A great day in the Monadhliath.

Mountain Hare enjoying the sun, 19th March

Braeriach in sun, 19th March
Another superb day back in the Northern Corries. Blue skies and light winds again. Neve and deep cover of snow in the Northern Corries.
Fiacaill Buttress, 20th March

Coire an t-Sneachda, 20th March
My final hill day this winter. What better way to end it than a wild and remote route up onto Braeriach. Saw no one all day on the bike ride up Glen Einich and on the Northern corries of the 3rd highest mountain in the UK. When will the next time I step foot on the summit of a winter mountain?
Sgor Gaoithe from Breariach, 23rd March

A frozen Loch Coire an Lochain, 23rd March

Braeriach plateau, 23rd March
So that was my winter. Don't let anyone say it was a poor winter. IT WASN'T!

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