Friday, January 29, 2010

New snow

Lots of new snow has fallen in the NW which is great as the coastal hills such as Torridon were getting quite bare. Central Buttress was climbed yesterday with good mixed conditions but the sandstone teir was avoided as the turf wasn't frozen at this low level. The team (who have been staying in my guest apparment) reported that the quartzite teir was however great; snow stuck to the rock and the day sounded quite wild with heavy sleet and snow on and off as each new front smashed into the cliff.
I'm not out tomorrow but am from Sunday onwards so will report back when time allows. I think that the new snow will have fallen on already frozen ground up high so the mixed should be good but the easy gullies had a smooth hard surface so look and see how well it has bonded (the front arrived in Conon as very cold one and when this happens new snow doesn't bond as well as the more usual warm then cold). More is due tonight again and the temp is plummeting again.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

NW conditions update

Last night snow fell on the tops, but as the day warmed up the precipitation turned to rain all the way up the mountain. It is about to get colder and more snow is due. This is good news for the mixed climbing as the coastal hills are pretty bare and there is very little ice on Liatach due to a lack of snow above the cliffs to melt and turn to ice.
Cover is reported as good on Beinn Dearg (on the Ullapool road) and Penguin Gully an the Cold Climbs Classic Emerald Gully recieved an aascent this week but Emerald Gully is not super fat and thus may be tricky for the grade.
Skyscrapper Buttress in the Fannachs got an ascent on Monday by the direct start and the empire state finish and was in excellent condition and probably received another ascent on Tues or Weds o my tip off. Gamma gully also had an ascent on Monday and was in good condition.
There continues to be good snow cover further inland away from the coast and travel by walking on top of the snow is fine.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Northern Corries open and NW conditions

The Ski road finally opened all the way to the top at the w/e and on Sunday and the crags and the ski pistes were very busy. Obviously there is loads of snow but the walking was not to bad at all.
The mess 0 pottage is very buried and if there is more snow some climbing routes could well turn into (very) extreme ski descents.
We started on the Seam, abbed on the insitu gear, did Seamstress then went down Belhaven and picked up our gear as we climbed passed. The climbing is very very bold. Belhaven was probably VII, 5 with 3 runners in the crux last 50m pitch. The Gents of the old School would have been in their element! It was interesting to think that the closure of the road and the heavy snow meant that climbers weren't up brushing the snow off the routes and the result is that an almost climbable neve has built up making the climbing very pleasurable and fast but extremely bold. The crags would benefit from a quick thaw and snap re-freeze giving steep Nevis neve on the faces (but no gear). However not everyone thinks like this as you can see on the hoovered lines in the picture of Savage Slit and Fall Out Corner which must have taken an age to clear and would have been quite an undertaking.
There has been a sprinkling of new snow in the NW over the last few days but many climbing venues can still be approached on mostly clear paths with a very high snow line on the Coastal hills, lowering the more inland one goes. On Saturday a strong party made an ascent of Tango In the Night on Sgurr Rudha and found whilst the flake and turf frozen and the climbing good it was very scary; a good covering of snow and neve would have hidden the fact that you are actually just climbing a pack of stacked flakes in a vertical chimney.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Ski Touring on Ben Wyvis

I have been out on the planks ski touring on Ben Wyvis on Tuesday. The forecast wind of 30mph was a bit of an underestimation and when carrying the skis i had the distinct feeling of 'tacking' as if i was on a sailing boat at the corner of each zigzag (the skis on the pack were blowing me over!)

We had planned to go over to the climbing corries and do some descents there, but it was far too windy to even stand up on the top so we skied down the bowl from the South Summit. The snow was very very hard making the skiing very dagerious and not to be recomended at the moment, if you fluff a turn on the very steep ground you will go a very long way and it won't be pretty.

However, the hard freeze is improving the climbing conditions no end in the NW, the turf has remained frozen and the snow is now a hard neve.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Sgurr Ruadh and Glen Sheil

I was climbing on Sgurr Ruadh yesterday. We had periods of heavy rain on the walk in which later turned to snow. The snow on the crag was heavy and wet but the turf was still frozen. I was amazed to see how much snow has gone in the past week. Indeed i saw old snow shoe prints on the path. No need for these now!
Today i was in Glen Sheil and there is substantially more snow the more inland you go from the west coast. The turf was excellent but the snow was again heavy and wet and only just frozen.
Old avalanche debris noted from the recent warm period. There may be still a danger from full depth avalanches as the water lubricates the base. I saw evidence that there had been some avalanches on a smooth grass base.
However the silver linning is that some interesting mid and high mountain ice is forming up as the snow melt runs off.
The Cairngorm ski road was shut again today and has been shut for the last few days, but i would hazard a guess that we're not missing anything exciting just yet. If it thaws then re-freezes you could do White magic as an ice route perhaps!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Beinn Bhan and NW conditions again.

I was in Corie na Poite on Beinn Bhan Today. The first bit of silver tear to the first terrace is there but thinnish. It is not at all there above.
We has a look at Mad Hatters gully but bailed half way up the crux pitch as it was streaming with water (think down my arm, down my torso, leg and filling up my boots).
Snow is soggy and without layers all the way up the mountain. It will re freeze to good neve where it survives the rain that fell today. Freeing level was way way above the tops today and there has been a massive snow loss, but the turf is still frozen.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Thawing and consolidation

The snow is thawing quickly at lower levels and consolodating up high. From the snow pack i exmined at 600m yesterday their is evidence of melt-freeze snow grains where previously i would have expected faceted sugar snow. The snow pack will gain strengh as a result BUT there will be a period of instability whilst water perculates down the pack and possibly causes shearing of weak layers within it.
I was out on Sgurr An Fhidhler yesterday and was at times bodily lifted off the belay stance and dropped back down as the wind grew bored of paying with us. This grew progresivly worse as the day went on and by the end it sounded like a 747 was taking off right next to us. For once the MWIS weather forecast underestimated the wind. However, any day out with views such as these and not another soul for miles around has got to be worth it.
The weather will progressively deteriorate from now till the weekend but it is looking to get colder on Tuesday so it my be that conditions from Tuesday onwards get even better as water if freed up to then freeze into more ice.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Ski touring

I was out today in the local Strathconon hills. These hills whilst at a low level are very quiet and can feel quiet wild in places. We took advantage of a 'piested' farm track for as much as possible, once out of this the snow is VERY deep!
There is substantial surface hore in all shady places even at low levels. This will be substantial at munro level. There is again substantial evidence of faceting in the snow pack (weak sugar snow) and as if this wasn't enough there is depth hore at the base of the pack!
When new snow or a thaw comes i would expect very serious avalanches in many locations in the NW.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Snow and Ice conditions in the NW

We have had two days of bright sunshine now up here, however this has been intermittent in some western hills. This has helped the snow on the tops, ridges and anything with a south aspect to consolidate and had helped build up the ice as melt water had trickled down onto the shady north aspects.
There was a MASSIVE spontaneous avalanche on the southern flank of Ben Wyvis yesterday morning when the sun came out causing some melting to trickle down and lubricate a weak layer on a southern leeward convex slope at about 900m. The crown wall was a couple of hundred metres across and over a metre high in places. This same slope avalanched under very similar weather conditions that we has last year.
If you are out touring or walking take great care, the sun is helping to stabilise some previously loaded slopes but it is so desperately cold that many dodgy slopes will remain so.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Beinn Bhan and NW conditions

The conditions in the North West and West are much better for climbing than in the Cairngorms. There is a lot less snow there than in the Gorrms, where skis are pretty essential for moving around unless you are lucky enough to be able to follow an 18 stone snow plough about.

There was fresh snow yesterday in the NW and W and the snow has only thawed at sea level briefly before re - freezing and making walking conditions very tricky (witnessed by two of the UK's finest winter climbers on a new VII in a 33 hr round trip to Knoydart but loosing man points for admitting to wearing crampons on the foot path. Only joking!). There is more snow today falling.

The snow has a hard surface crust caused by vapour transfer in the snow pack meeting the very cold air. The snow bellow this is very faceted (sugar snow) and has very little strength properties. This is a hazard worth keeping an eye on for the future. This top icy layer has a small amount of surface hore on it and if this is not destroyed by wind or a thaw before the new snow fell is a really dangerious layer to look out for and may well be patchy so not spotted by a pit dug in one location but it could exist a couple of metres away on the same aspect.

I have been on Beinn Bhan (Ben Van) and after changing the plan several times due to prevailing conditions ended up climbing Great Overhanging Gully on Giants Wall. This is easier with ice but we didn't find any at all. Indeed a very experienced party had a very 'challenging time' on Sillver Teaar which is in very very poor condition.

There is very little mountain ice on Liatach, Ben Eighe and Fur Tholl basically because we need it to thaw, freeing up the water during the day for it to trickle down and freeze at night in the lines. Please take great care if you go to Poachers Fall etc area as the slope at the top will be a prime avalanche trap.

Best think mixed, low level ice or get on the planks; its not often that you can ski tour right from the car or in my case right from the front door! Indeed i am trying to get a page up on the website about ski touring...


Saturday, January 02, 2010

NW conditions and bad news

Iv'e had many enquirys this season asking if i am still working and climbing as the site and blog havent been updated. I am and have been. I have had a period of time away from the dizzy lights of the internet, but guess it is time to estivate it.
Ive been climbing and ski touring around the NW these past few weeks; i have been staying away from the Cairngorms for a couple of weeks as they are totally totally buried. Last time i was there in mid December i saw two avalanches, backed off and heard the next day about a third.

It is also with a heavy heart that i heard on new Year's eve whilst mid route on the first winter ascent of Safari on the Bonaid Dhonn that my freind and fellow trainee British Mountain Guide Rupert Rosedale was killed in an an avalanche on Ben Nevis. I had heard about it the day it happened but didn't find out it was Rupes till i got a message sent to my phone.

Whilst walking out a friend rang me and told me that the other casualty was another friend Will Wilkinson. Will and i climbed a new line, Chocks Away on Beinn Eighe only a few weeks ago and we were looking forward to a winter of climbing together.

It is a terrible terrible waste. At the moment there isn't an avalanche forecast for the NW; it is such a large and diverse area. I will try and report a couple of times per week on the snow conditions when i am out. We didn't go above 500m on the Bonaid Dhonn (pronounced Bonny Don) but even here there were significant deposits up to thigh level in places. There was a lot of evidence of faceted grains the snow pack - symptomatic of long term cold air temperatures and a steep temp gradient in the snow pack. These grains have very low strength properties and without significant melt freeze to turn them into rounds and increase their strength they will present a significant danger to watch for in the snow pack.