Friday, January 28, 2011

General conditions update

Thankfully the freezing level came down below the summits on Tuesday evening (Tuesday was a double water proof day on the hill and my boots took two days to dry!). It was hovering around Munro height when I was out last weekend in the northern cairngorms and the snow in the easy gullies was good and the snow under ski for touring was also but the visibility was terrible on Sunday and I had my fill of White out skiing.
The snow was firm on An Teallach on thursday but there had been significant snow loss since last Wednesday.
Last night it froze down to sea level and we had fresh snowfall in the Fannaichs and Strathconon bringing the mixed routes back in I would guess.
I'm in the cairngorms this weekend and possibly the nw next week so I will try and be more blog friendly as it is easy to slack off when busy.
Right, better go firewod doesn't chop itself to quote she who must be obeyed.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

An Teallach and New Routes

The freezing level has been hovering about above and near to munro level till Tuesday where it finally lowered in the NW. Monday and Tuesday gave new snowfall to the hills and they now look wintery again. The snow is thicker and a bit lower over the Fannachs and Ben Wyvis than the west coast side of the NW.
The turf was frozen on the summits but had thawed out below that, however things are better now with the night time valley temperatures going below freezing. There is talk of a temperature inversion but i haven't seen it yet.
An Teallach has been quiet. A part was in before me at the weekend in Hayfork gully where the snow low down was soft and laborious but firm and good at the upper half of the gully. Conditions were better in Glas Tholl than Tholl and Lochain. The pictures show Martin Hind and Owen Samuals on a very nice looking new VI on Hayfork gully wall. Martin did tell me the name but i must apologise and say i have forgotten what he said (something to do with the feeding of horses?). I was on grade 1 ridges and gullies for most of the time but managed a short new III,5.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Ice Climbing on Beinn Bhan

Yesterday i was quite surprised when driving in the early morning to Beinn Bhan on the Aplecross peninsular to find 4 inches of fresh snow on the road. Quite a lot of new snow fell on Saturday night but walking in to the corries wasn't to bad at all. Plan A was to be Silver Tear, but it was not there yet, Plan B was to go into the Giants wall corrie but we had concerns about the upper slopes that were to the lee of the wind so we went for the fall back option of March Hare's Gully which topped straight out on the ridge. There was some windslab in the upper section of the gully and we exited rightwards up broken rocky ground just to be sure.
I hope to be out this week again before the big thaw comes at the end of the week. Fingers crossed for the re-freeze.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Northern Cairngorms Climbing

Today was a lovely, sunny if bitterly cold (-10c on top) day. The wind has moved round to the West / NW and continued to move lots of snow about, some more of which fell last night. One of the photos shows a slab being wind eroded from a North aspect but as there is still a lot of dodgy snow on the North aspects then this bad slab will be a problem for a while. It failed when i lightly touched it (the foot imprint at the side was gently pressed in for scale). The other picture shows the top of a due East facing slope that was loaded and ready to go. You should be able to make out the amount of snow blowing around in the picture. We did climb (a new line) on an East aspect but abbed down one side of a ridge and climbed back up the other. The snow on the crag apron was not as bad as the upper gullies and exits which were very nasty looking.
I saw dodgy snow on all aspects that i went on North, East and West (didn't go on anything south facing, but had a text from a very experienced pair who told me they backed off descending down a south facing slope into the Loch Avon basin). So in summary, careful route choice and travel are called for.
The climbing conditions were excellent though once on the crag, fantastic turf helpful ice in the corners and cracks (enough to climb on) and well rimed rocks. No pictures of the climbing though as i took my 'good' camera which isnt at all waterproof.
The weather people talk of a bit of a thaw coming which will be very good to help stabilise the pack i think.
I'm going to go on a low angled, lazy family ski tour on Saturday and it will involve lots of hot chocolate and cake i'm hoping.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Northern Cairngorms climbing and Avalanche conditions

Winter climbing conditons in the Loch Avon Basin (see pictures taken yeaterday) and the Northern Corries are pretty good at the moment. I have heard of people complaining about too much snow and icy cracks but hey, it's winter, so just adjust your objective to suit; there are lots of options.
I was on Carn etchachan yeaterday and found excellent conditions and useful ice in many places. However, the avalanche conditions are quite dangerous in specific locations. On Tuesday and Wednesday morning the wind had a southerly aspect to it loading the newly fallen snow onto anything that was vaugly North in aspect; i.e. most of the climbing venues. I triggered an avalanche on the Goat Track at 9.30am whilst ascending via its blunt spur on the (climber's) right and the avalanche propagated sideways and upwards. The old icy layer from the weekend that i have previously mentioned is acting as a very dangerous sliding layer and will probably be in the pack for some kind to come till we get a strong thaw to melt it.
We continued up the ridge and joked that we had now made the Goat track safer for everyone else! I noted whilst descending down to the bottom of Hells Lum that the snow had a good chance of avalanching here also even though it is on the windward side (probably due to snow accumulations coming down Hells Lum) and again the danger came from the hard icy layer at the top of the old snow pack. Whilst on the cliff i also saw the Grade 1 gully Castlegates Gully between Carn etchachan and Shelter Stone spontaneously avalanche at about 2pm from the top to the bottom.
We had the luxury of being able to do part of the walk back home in the daylight and i noted dangerous slopes on many different aspects. We walked over 1141 and down the ski area. Watch out for the tops of the easy gullies in the Northern Corries as they looked awe full when we walked passed them. The wind changed in the afternoon to a more westerly wind but this will still continue to load a lot of gully exits in the Corries.

Monday, January 03, 2011


On the flight back north i tried to peek out of the windows to see how much snow had gone and help me where i should go for the next few days, but alas the thick cloud obscured the hills below. With reports of the thaw being worse in the west and a new front arriving from the west i went to Lochnagar. I haven't been there for a number of years and must say i really like the place and intend to make the long drive again this winter. Even the easy routes there still boast garden loads of turf and the contrast to the denuded Northern Corries is quite stark.
We tried a hard route on the Pinnacle area as that area appeared the most wintry (see photos) but found that the cracks were full of hard water ice, causing on one pitch a very thought provoking 15m runout of precarious climbing on what should have been a stitch-able crack. We abbed off and moved onto an easier buttress route.
There were about 7 or 8 teams in the corrie on routes up to V. A party on Grovel wall reported slow climbing and laborious digging for gear in the sugary snow on the crag. This was indicative i think of many of the routes at the moment. The snow on the approach and at the top is mostly hard packed and would be desperate without crampons; the ski touring conditions throughout the Cairngorms at the moment wouldn't be much fun until we get some more fresh snow, which may arrive in the next few days.
I'm hearing some good things about ice climbing in several locations and so hope to investigate this later this week.

It's good to be back home