Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Winter returns

Up to a week ago i was enjoying a well earned rest as the freezing level was way way above the tops and the rain was beating the window... however the vagaries of the North Atlantic weather systems have given us a bit of an Indian Winter (if that isn't a tautology!).
Iv'e been ice climbing on Ben Nevis this past few days re visiting some of the classics. Interestingly the upper sections of many routes such as those on the Orion face as more featured than normal, giving more interesting climbing rather than the usual bank out to the top. This is probably because of the sustained period of cold earlier in the season has resulted in the snow sluffing off these features and not sticking and filling them in.
There have been many teams on Smiths, Point 5, Zero, Slav, Orion Direct, Tower ridge, Comb gully, etc. Basically all the classics. There are reports of ascents on the Indicator wall area but as i haven't seen this bit of the mountain i can't confirm anything. The climbing is very good for axe and crampons but not great for ice screws i.e. it is difficult to fall off and that is defiantly best avoided. Stating the bleeding obvious? Probably.
I left the CIC hut yesterday and as we got back to the car in the evening the weather was just beginning to deteriorate. Here in Conon Bridge (North of Inverness) it is snowing/sleeting heavily and has been all day on a very strong wind. No doubt this will give us an extension to the mixed climbing possibilities. Indeed, the Cairngorms whilst chocked with snow have had black buttresses for a while now.
I noted windslab on several different aspects on the Ben, including the crag aprons. This was often localised depositions due to regional winds but some of it slid and cracked very easily. This will most probably be something to be very aware of during and after the current weather event that is happening now.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Advanced Ski touring / off piste

Today with the promise of to the good visibility we chose the Cairgorms for our advanced ski touring day. However, the clag often hugs the cairngorm plateau and indeed it did today.
We went over to Ben Macdui via Corrie an Lochain and had to point to point navigate on compass bearings as the clous was down. From the summit we skied initially very hard icy snow then hero snow down to the Larig Ghru and booted up Lurchers crag and skied Lurchers gully back to the car park. We looked at snow stability, kick turning, choosing safe lines and off piste ski technique (and the use of essential off piste catch phases such as 'dude', 'awesome' and not forgetting 'radical')
The snow stability was very good, there is evidence of old avalanche activity on all aspects but there was only a very small amount of very localised new slab built up from cross winds in the sides of SW facing gullies. There was still a layer about 6 inches down on a pit dug at about 800m on a south facing slopes which did fail on a strong pull which i was surprised had survived the recent thaw, but the pack was not too worrying on the whole.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Creag Meagaidh

I was on Meagaidh (meggy) today after the ice has all been washed away in the NW in recent days but the freezing level was more like 2000m rather than 900m and the day started with heavy rain on the walk in soaking us to skin. It was warm enough even in the wind to strip down to the chest and put dry thermals on. Wand and Diadem were our intended lines but after a spontainious avalanche came down Diadem (possibly from a cornice colapse) we walked over to Pumpkin and were rewarded with a volley of falling ice from above and the sides which made us think the better of climbing so we went for a walk.
Lots of recent avalanche activity, slab release as well as sluffs all spontainious and some from the last 48hrs.
It is supposed to freeze this night but im not convinced. I'm out again tomorrow so we will see. I'll post pictures later (more camera problems)

Sunday, March 14, 2010


Well, it had to end sometime; the fantastic weather has come to an end and the past few days have been typified by warm wet weather.
Poachers etc is looking much thinner (as it has a small river running down it) and the snow is totally water saturated all the way up the hill all over the NW. I've been on Liathach and Beinn Alligin in the past few days and the snow less has been quite substantial in this last few days and will probably continue in that vein. Temp on the tops is at least +4 and there is very little lapse rate due to the cloudy moist air.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

NW conditions - Liathach and Edinburgh lecture

The great weather and conditions continue in the NW. We are getting a hard frost each night and clear blue sunny skies each day. This is helping build the ice. Poachers received at least two ascents yesterday and White Tiger had a party ascend it. Both route suffered from brittle ice i'm told.
I did George and found it in fantastic condition (you have to breath in when threading the cave due to the ice build up though!)
This week i'm journeying down to Edinburgh on Thursday to present a lecture about Adventure climbing. I'll look at climbing in Scotland, the Alps, NZ anf the Himalaya. I'll talk a lot about new routes and the mentality that goes with them but the theme linking all the adventures will be that you don't have to be a superhero to do it.
It is being given as a part of the EUMC / Tiso series and is at Theatre 183 Old Collage, South Bridge at 8.30 on Thursday. Tickets £6 or £5 if you have a good excuse.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

NW and Cairngorms

The thaw has been on for a few days now and the freezing level has gone up to the tops of the hills, or above, most days and down to the valley at night. This is helping destroy and consolidate some of the weaknesses in the snow pack, which was saturated in a pit dug on Ben Wyvis on a southern aspect at about 700m today.
The snow level has retreated up the hill so it is not possible to ski car to summit any more on Ben Wyvis, we carried for about 2km.
There has been heavy rain on the coastal NW hills (Applecross) and this has been very detrimental to many of the ice routes there. The ice is still hanging on further inland though such as on Liathach.
Conditions this w/e in the Cairngorms were great with hero neve forming in the gullies; the rise in freeing level has done great work there stabilising the snow pack and refreezing the snow to make climbing much more pleasant.
Sorry, no pictures; my rechargeable battery isn't behaving. Will try and fix this asap.
Coda...Also forgot to add lots of avalanche activity in the past 3 days all over the place, saw lots of old avalanches on West and Sw slopes on Wyvis and lots in the Corries, and there may be more if the cornices fail. Y gully area in Lochain i often pretty bad for this

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Friday, March 05, 2010

NW conditions update

The weather has been quite fine and settled this last few days. Fresh snow fell several days ago putting between 2 and 10 inches of new snow on top of the surface hore crystals that were prevalent all over the NW on many aspects. A pit dug on a SW aspect on Ben Wyvis showed the fresh snow on top of this unstable layer but also some interesting things happening near the base of the snow pack with deph hore and faceted crystals and an older deep icy layer all adding to the unstable picture.

The temp rose yesterday by about 9 deg during the day and small, localised slips were noted on Northern aspects. We climbed a new line on Beinn Alligin near Torridon finding excellent conditions. Our line, The Christening, was to the right of the new Webb / Richardson line which takes the ridge to the right of Diamond fire (which looked in good condition). My new axes got a christening and fun was had by all.

This long period of sustained cold has resulted in some very interesting routes getting done in the NW including the second ascent of the summer E2 Marathon Corner up on Ben Loyal (sp?) and possibly a new hard line on Beinn Bhan, but i don't know for sure.

The rise in temp this weekend will give a period of instability in the snow pack but it will cause the ice to grow rapidly in places and the forecast next week talks of warm days and cold nights; perfect for spring ice climbing. This should help form up the high altitude routes on Ben Nevis.

I have included a picture of Deep South Gully on Alligin taken yesterday as someone wanted info on it.