Thursday, 30 January 2014


First rays of sun hitting the tops of The Northern Pinnacles, Liathach
The summit of Spidean a' Choire Leith & Am Fasarinen
Left-hand Trinity Gully
The Trinity Gullies & Northern Pinnacles, Coire na Caime
Idylic camp spot at Lochan Coire na Caime
Am Fasarinen
Bell's Buttress
With one of those rare treats this winter, a clear skies, cold and windless forecast albeit for just 24 hours or so, I headed up to that most wonderful of areas - Torridon. The NW was set to be the best place in the country to enjoy these conditions yesterday and toady. I took winter camping gear and headed up into Coire na Caime on the north side of Liathach, my second favourite mountain after An Teallach. Yesterday there was still some clouds on the very tops but dry with some late afternoon sun. I set the tent up at an idyllic spot at 500m by Loch Coire na Caime. A star filled night and temperatures slowly dipping to below freezing here. Nest morning dawned beautiful so an early start and I headed up to climb Left-hand Trinity Gully which finishes up between the Munro summit of Mullach an Rathain and the final summit of the Northern Pinnacles. The whole scene is Alpine and just wonderful and remote. There was still some wind slab and cornice at the top of the gully which was a bit disconcerting so in the end it was just a wander around the corrie which was just as enjoyable. Coming back down into Glen Torridon in clear blue skies and warm sun, fantastic. More snow and wind to come, it was a fantastic respite!

Sunday, 26 January 2014


Challenging navigation conditions
Atmospheric snow and light conditions
Munro celebrating
Lovely late afternoon views
A very snowy Bynack Mor
The summit
Great views on the descent
Day two for Graham, Barry & Ken on their weekend course with me. Today wasn't looking very hopeful at all with severe gales and the snow gates closed at Glenmore. We'd already decided it was going to be a navigation day on some much lower hills. As we were heading up toward Ryvoan the tress were swaying in the winds and a group were already walking back to the car park. We persevered and were busy navigating at lower altitudes by the afternoon the winds had eased so we headed a bit higher taking bearings onto the plateau area of Bynack Mor. The snow showers had by now eased off and we even had blue skies. After a quick discussion the guys were up for bagging the summit of Bynack Mor. We had a great walk up to the summit and indeed the summit cairn had hardly any wind! What a bonus for the guys, a Munro in the bag and fabulous walking on windblown, heard icy ground. Even better, a wonderful view on the way back down as the cloud lifter out to the north. A great day out, well done guys!

Saturday, 25 January 2014


We could safely follow a crest ridge with no fear of getting blown off today
Excellent areas of ice on the tops
Away from the windslab
Goggles still compulsory bits of kit again
Fiacaill Ridge
Graham, Ken and Barry enjoying 15 minutes of blue skies!
Thankfully the winds were far more bearable today, well only 40-50mph. The freezing level also dropped slowly through the days so it was a dry-ish day, still with plenty of snowfall and windblown snow and not rain/sleet like yesterday afternoon. Graham, Barry & Ken are out with me this weekend on a two days skills course. We headed onto the western side of the Fiacaill ridge and after some basic boot and axe work we took a journey making a rising traverse up onto the Fiacaill ridge. Despite the gales over the last few days and most of the winter, the ridge has a surprisingly large amount of snow, it was poor visibility until the final section of steep climbing. To finish the day we went through some ice axe arresting scenario's. Through out we were observing and making on going assessments with regards to avalanches, avoiding lee slopes and staying on windswept areas and aspects. One of the snow pits we dug had an easy shear at about 10cm. and the west side of the Fiacaill ridge has fresh wind slab well banked up below the crest. It's looking like another stormy day tomorrow, think we'll be having a navigation day on some lower hills.

Friday, 24 January 2014


Richard enjoying the challenge of 70mph+ winds
Did the wind stop gravity?
Self belay/heading into high winds and anything in between!
Crampon technique
More sliding
Step cutting

Another testing day to be out on the hills, higher than forecasted winds made movement anywhere difficult. Lynsey, Bob, Richard & Tom where out with me today for a one day introduction to winter and what an introduction! From the carpark at Coire Cas it was already blowing a hoolie. We struggled our way up to the foot of the Fiacaill Ridge with the southerly winds right in our faces along with loads of windblown snow. Communication was agonising, shouting in the gales but we managed to pack lots of essential skills into the day including basic movement on snow (and wind), step cutting, cramponing technique, self arrests and some avalanche awareness. Probably the biggest skill today was coping with the severe conditions and having the correct kit to keep you comfortable and alive! We had a great glissade back down the slopes at the end of the day and rolled (blown) into a deserted Cairngorm Mountain car park. Well done to my guys today, a lot of folk would (and did) turned tail in these conditions. If anyone found some of my group gear today on the hill please can you drop me a line, a Mountain Technology ice axe (paint worn off, aluminium colour and a Petzel Ecrin helmet-red coloured) thanks. The guys found that things fly off in the wind and skate down icy slopes at speed in this kind of weather! We had a scout about at the end of the day so maybe the items ended up in Loch Morlich?

Wednesday, 22 January 2014


The most sheltered part of the day, Michelle & Mark coping with the winds
Plenty of good, hard, frozen snow for step cutting
Well done Michelle & Mark for persevering against the winds to get in a summit-Lurchers Crag
Excellent wind scoured slopes heading north off the summit, more snowfall
Afternoon view!
MR training?

Michelle & Mark were treated to a very wild and white day out for their very first venture into the winter mountains today. Yesterday's planned day out was re scheduled to today because of the gales, it was still a very windy day out today though. We were breaking trail into Coire an Lochain first thing this morning, a lot of fresh snow down to lower levels. We found a slightly less windy place to go through the basics of axe and crampons and found some hard, wind scoured slopes in the coire  to practice step cutting and cramponing. The planned route over the northern corries was abandoned as we'd had enough of facial exfoliation and changed our walk to head over to Lurchers Crag, having the southerly winds on our back made life a lot nicer. It was near white out at the top of the burn but from the summit back down to the Chalamain Gap area we enjoyed some great icy and scoured areas. We were even treated to some blue sky at one point. Just before heading back after afternoon tea we saw the heli out with the mountain rescue near the Chalamain Gap, not sure if this was a practice session? Looking like another big dump of snow tonight and through tomorrow with more strong winds, no let up!

Monday, 20 January 2014


Sgor Gaoithe from the northern slopes of Braeriach
Lurchers Crag to the east
The final ridge to the summit plataeu
Loch Choire an Lochain
A well rimed summit area
Beautiful winter light this morning

The temperatures dropped overnight and the winds too. I had a great day up on Braeriach, cycling up Glen Einich with some lovely atmospheric clouds. There are a few burns running down from the northern corries of Braeriach and they are all well filled in with snow down to 500m. Most of the way up it was hard frozen snow, wonderful. The moderate winds were blowing some snow down the slopes and new windslab was building up but these slopes have many boulders poking through and good 'islands of safety'. I made my way onto the lovely wee ridge that bounds the eastern side of Loch Coire an Lochain which is one of the highest named stretches of water in Britain. It is well frozen. The plateau as an excellent deep covering of fresh snow, perfect for ski touring. Just as I reached the summit there was a wee weather window and some blue skies. I saw no one all day  and never do on this route, one of my favourite ways up Braeriach in winter. A great Birthday pressie (to myself)!

Sunday, 19 January 2014


Malc heading up Easy Gully
Nice seats in the gully
Hasty pit, well bonded
Post Face well plastered with snow
Avalanche debris from last week
Post Face and Inner Coire
Soft snow
The weather wasn't looking too bright for today in The Cairngorms so we headed a bit further west in the hope of something drier. Today Russ & Malc were looking for some avalanche training and we went up to Coire Ardair on Creag Meagaidh. The rain lower down died off by late morning and we we're well sheltered from the SW winds. We went  into Easy Gully and talked about various kinds of avalanche, taking note of the forecast that day and interpreting it to the area of mountain we were on. There was a lot of avalanche debris around, probably from last Wednesday and also evidence from over a week ago. We dug various snow pits and found the soft layers fairly well bonded. The temperatures have been above freezing the last couple of days and the snow pack is very moist and soft. It turned out a very pleasant afternoon. We only saw two folk this morning walking out and a couple more late in the day heading up the coire. Back home in Aviemore and it seems like it's been pretty wet much of the day. Colder and drier tomorrow.

Saturday, 18 January 2014


Russ was back out with me again this year for another snow hole weekend, I took him and Neil out last February for the same experience. This weekend he 'persuaded' another friend of his (Malc) the delights of living in the white room. The initial intentions were to head up to Ciste Mheared, near Cairn Gorm for our snow shelter but it was clear right from leaving the carpark that the strong winds would make this an unpleasant place to be. So I took the guys to the dizzy heights of 800m in Coire an t-sneachda and decided on an igloo style home for the night. The snow showers and 40mph+ winds were pretty much constant all day. The temperature was rising and the snow wasn't perfect for our igloos. With time running out and soaked through we decided that a normal bed for the night was a better option! The guys learnt the skills of the inuit and found it wasn't as easy as it looked. They enjoyed the experience though.