Saturday, 28 February 2009

A pleasant cool sunny day




The weather was a lot better than expected today. The sun was out and the winds a lot lighter and less gusty than forecast. I was surprised at how dry the rock and ground was away from the drainage lines and snow melt!
Charlies and Alasdair were learning all about snow and rock anchors and practising dynamic belaying in the spring snow and sun.
Friday, 27 February 2009

Colder weather coming soon

I've had a few days off but will be out over the next three days running a Winter Climbing course and will report on conditions as we find them.
There's still snow outside my cottage from the last big dump of snow and it looks like it will survive until the colder weather arrives from Sunday onwards. Most of the major gully lines are still full of deep snow so will likely set like concrete soon...!
We've still got a few places left on the Winter Skills and on our Winter Munros weekend starting on the 7th-8th March 2009.
There's also one place left on the three day Wnter Climbing course running on the 14th-16th March 2009.


Check out the winter climbing video above and the other ice climbing and skiing videos at http://www.youtube.com/user/RonWalker1955
They were filmed last year around March and April and give an idea of the fantastic winter climbing and skiing conditions in and around Easter 2008.
The BMC International meet is still continuing see http://www.thebmc.co.uk/News.aspx?id=2964

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Thursday, 26 February 2009

Wet and windy now but cold and snowy soon!

The various forecasts for next week look very cold and wintry so rather than complaining about the wet and windy weather folk will no doubt be complaining about all the snow and cold this time next week! ;-)
A lot of the easier gullies are still full of snow and are still quite banked out. With the colder temperatures they will freeze solid and will be a lot more icy and serious than of late.
Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Windy wild and wintry






It was bright and clear but very windy today with the odd few wintry showers...! Today the snowfall was insignificant but the winds weren't!
It was a blustery walk in. We climbed up Jacob's Ladder which was pretty chopped up but frozen really hard. The updraft was interesting and made placing slings or any gear awkward unless they where weighed down by large rocks - in fact my bandoleer of large heavy hexes and slings was above my head for a lot of the time...
Doing anything shielded from the elements in goggles and big gloves was difficult but gave a realistic idea of what you need to be able to cope with when the Scottish weather is less than perfect.
Originally the plan was for the guys to climb as two pairs under supervision. The weather dictated otherwise so we all tied together after the second pitch.
The winds were strong on the plateau though not unusual for the Cairngorms.
After topping out we fought our way, backs to the wind and down climbed down via Windy Col into Coire an t-Sneachda, for lunch and to practise more snow belays - the spindrift got everywhere!
The YouTube video above can also be seen at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F4B2OTZxzrw
"Wednesday dawned fine but with high winds - gusting up to 90mph!" The latest BMC international meet report can be found at http://www.thebmc.co.uk/News.aspx?id=2962
Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Snow anchors and Cairngorm summit


The BMC International meet is now in full swing with climbers enjoying the Scottish conditions...! See http://www.thebmc.co.uk/News.aspx?id=2960
Monday, 23 February 2009

A cold shower then a wet meander up and down the routes




I'd arranged a days guided climbing with David so looking at the forecast an early start was in order to make the most of the lower freezing level - well that was the plan.
It was however warmer and mistier than forecast and David's poles were useful for crossing the flooded boulder field to the foot of Aladdin's and Central Gully area.
Through the mist we could just make out the Mirror Direct icefall so out of curiosity we headed up towards the roar of water. Yes the Mirror was a bit of a waterfall!
"Can't be as bad as it looks once you put up your hood and cross under the deluge..." I said to David. In fact it was actually a lot worse!
I placed an ice screw and moved left onto the slightly drier ice to my left but as soon as I looked up the freezing water starting pouring down my front and down my sleeves - "OK David, just as I thought we'll do something else...!"
The old snow in the gully was actually quite good so we put away the rope and climbed up the Mirror then traversed right below a wet Pygmy Ridge, down into Central LH and right across the ridge into Central RH then up a bit onto the rib between Central and the Runnel.
The orginal plan was to move into the Runnel and then up Grooved Rib.
However, the line up the rib to the left of the Runnel had good firmish wet snow and no foot prints so in the end we followed our noses climbed up to the top of the rib which was good fun.
From the plateau we descended Aladdin's Couloir passing several large loose poised blocks on the right (descent) then broke out right (descent) above the narrows and crossed below the Forty Thieves area. We then made our way up to an interesting looking icy gully line with a mixed step and small cornice breaking through the rock band at the top.
This time we belayed and took out the rope for a good entertaining 50 metre pitch back up onto the plateau.
Another quick descent this time down Jacob's Ladder for lunch. We noticed a lot of large TV sized rocks had fallen from Jacob's and the Slant so we made sure we kept away from the lower Mess of Pottage buttress.
It was still early so after lunch we headed up onto the Slant past a number of instructional parties and onto Jacob's Edge. It was at this point that we realised where a lot of rockfall had come from.
The tricky little step just after the rock belay at the start of the Slant and Hidden Chimney had been completely eroded away down to loose rubble. This has been caused by huge amount of tread milling traffic the route has suffered over the past few weeks. I was quite shocked by the extent of the damage caused - it's is really bad. We climbed Jacob's Edge which still had a lot of good old snow but was still broken and loose in several places.
Back on the plateau again, a quick squeeze of the third pair of sodden gloves we called it a day and headed back down. It was probably the wettest I've been all winter but in retrospect we had good fun climbing exploring...!
See the video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LqhHlVmVdd8
In contrast our Winter Mountaineering course had a drier day with instructors Fi and Becky. They were learning basic ropework and setting up belays.
See http://www.marmotte.co.uk/blog/2009/02/basic-ropework-and-belays.html
Also Simon and Mark have now updated their blog following their weeks climbing in the Northern Corries. Some great photos and interesting tales of the near misses and falls they witnessed...!
See http://www.markrankineclimbing.blogspot.com/
Last but by no means least least Morris has uploaded a YouTube video of his snowholing trip over the Friday and Saturday and this can be watched at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8gzN1AzQXhs
Sunday, 22 February 2009

Navigation and snowshelters

Colder today with firm snow and ice for step cutting and crampons.
Fi and Becky took the Winter Mountaineering and Winter Skills groups on a journey navigating up onto the plateau to dig snow shelters. For full details see http://www.marmotte.co.uk/blog/2009/02/navigation-snow-shelters-and-more.html
Morris was out snow holing over this weekend too and sent me this link to his latest video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8gzN1AzQXhs
Saturday, 21 February 2009

DRY, bright, windy and QUIET!





Despite the forecast of rain overnight and on Saturday afternoon it turned out to be a completely dry and fairly sunny day but with a strong SW wind.
Today we had a Winter Skills weekend and five day Winter Mountaineering course starting and I had the able assistance of Becky who was shadowing the course in preparation for her forthcoming Winter ML assessment.
We parked in the shelter of an empty Coire na Ciste and had a good day looking at ice axe arrest techniques and cramponing skills on good spring snow and ice in Coire Laoghy Mor.
In contrast to the last few weeks of queues we didn't see another sole all day - yes School mid-term has passed and February too is almost gone...!
Thursday, 19 February 2009

Colder but misty today

See Fi's blog at http://www.marmotte.co.uk/blog/2009/02/runnel.html
Nice to have a rest today, wash the underwear and catch up on admin...!
We still have one place left on the Winter Mountaineering course starting on the 21st February 2009 - any takers?
Wednesday, 18 February 2009

A dry walk in, nice ice and firmer snow




What a difference a day can make in the Scottish mountains. There hadn't been the overnight frost mentioned on the weather forecast but it was a nice calm day with good visibility. The slush fields of yesterday had almost gone and the the tracks were now much firmer. Much of the soft fresh snow from last week has now gone in places leaving the firmish old snow.
Morris was interested in doing something a we bit harder today so a quick session on how to belay, place and even more importantly how to remove wires and ice screw protection would be needed. We'd spotted some nice ice yesterday though I was torn between this and going for some the classic guidebook routes. The decision was quickly made when we saw the number of people like bees heading for honey racing towards the other routes - I try not to do queues!
The ice and the line turned out to be even better than it looked and I was pleased when I managed to use my one ice screw on the first 40 metre pitch and even more pleased when Morris easily removed the screw and the belay stance wires! Another shorter delicate ice pitch then three easier pitches with mixed steps between good neve had us both smiling all the way to the plateau. A quick snack while taking in the stunning views across the Cairngorm plateau and chatting to Shawn R who was assessing for Glenmore lodge. We then headed over to the Goat Track to look at snow anchors and meet up with Fi, Gareth, Becca and Mark on the Winter Mountaineering course.
We also met Simon and Mark who had been on Hidden Chimney and said it was mainly rock and Danial and Byrony who had easily climbed Jacobs Ladder using single classic mountaineering axes. On our return to the coire floor we had a good look at some of the classic starred ice routes and I can safely say we'd made the right choice...!
Morris is off snow holing this weekend and took a video of his last trip. This can be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oYdfCcDMgJs
Tuesday, 17 February 2009

A much better day today








Another early start to make sure we got into the Coire Cas carpark where we met Danial and Byrony alongside. They had climbed Mont Blanc with us and Jonathan P last summer after doing a Winter Mountaineering course last February mid-term.
Apart from me missing the path turning as I chatted to Morris and the fields of slush on the walk in, today was better than expected. It was mainly dry with less wind and now that a lot of the deep fresh snow has melted, the existing snowpack is a lot firmer.
Today I was with Morris who wanted to experience grade 1 winter climbing and get an idea of basic winter ML ropework techniques.
Coincidentally met Jonathan P with his client heading for the Hidden Chimney queues just as we were kitting up. Apparently they took the Direct line before the bottle neck...!
Today Fi was alongside with Mark and Becca and again coincidentally Simon and Mark from last years Winter Mountaineering course were also alongside on our right...!
Visibility was good and it was all very sociable. I had a good vantage point for photos of all concerned.
The climbing was on softish snow but as long as you used the axe shafts it felt fairly positive. The corniced exits were easily avoided and the snow firmer than expected.
A good day for all and there's a light frost forecast for tonight so condition should be even better tomorrow.
See the short YouTube video clip at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bcxqncj14cI
Monday, 16 February 2009

Soft, wet and windy




Very busy in Coire an t-Sneachda with lots of large groups snaking in and aiding the trail breaking through the the deep wet snow. For the walk in we met up with Fi who was teaching snow pack anchors with Becca and Mark.
An early start meant we actualy had the route to ourselves apart from a shared belay with Di and Ron who were heading off up Hidden Chimney. The Mess of Pottage was literally running with water - in fact Hidden Chimney Direct and the slabs were waterfalls! Generally the snow was soft and wet but with the occasional bit of good ice.
Mike, Tim and I climbed Jacob's Edge with Mike leading the first few pitches while I supervised. Towards the top the windy updraft increased substantially making it difficult to look down or place slings over large blocks which were being blown back up along with the water falls... I then took over and lead the last two pitches up onto the plateau before escaping back down to the relative shelter of the corrie floor.
Although everything was wet we still enjoyed ourselves and met up with Fi, Becca and Mark for the walk out - Fi enjoyed the water so much she managed to find the large pool on the path to disappear into..! See also http://www.marmotte.co.uk/blog/diary.html
The snow has almost dissapeared from Aviemore and the Glenmore and Slochd Nordic trails are now broken.
Sunday, 15 February 2009

Snow shelters and abseiling off mushrooms!





To avoid the crowds and traffic queues, Becky, Sue, Mark, Ben and myself spent the day at an altitude of around 500 metres on the hills at the back of my cottage.
In the drifts the snow was wet on the surface but firm and dry underneath. We looked at avalanche assessment, the construction of emergency snow shelters, snow mushrooms, bucket seats, waist belays, abseiling from and climbing up soft cornices. We also looked at winter navigation techniques.
With the thaw there's been a considerable loss of snow overnight and today at low levels. The back roads in Aviemore are now almost clear though very slushy and wet.
The Cairngorms still have tons of snow though the buttresses are now a lot blacker. Over the next few days it would be wise to stay clear of areas below any large cornices!!
Saturday, 14 February 2009

School midterm madness


Fi was out in Cairngorm's Coire Na Ciste with the Winter Skills group and just managed to get into the lower carpark before they shut the road at 9.30 am.
Everywhere was busy with queues for the carparks, queues for the tickets and queues for the tows. Once back in Aviemore there were queues for the petrol station, shops and Tesco with some drivers just parking anywhere and blocking off access.
It wasn't quite as busy at Slochd today despite good cover on the forest trails and a clear carpark.
The ice dropped off my door lantern above as the temperatures have been milder and the snow pack wetter. The forest skiing is still good. This should help consolidate and firm up the snow. I was out on the hills at the back of my house and found solitude, plenty of deep drifts with little cornices ideal for snowcraft and snow shelters.
I don't intend queueing tomorrow if I can avoid it so if you want to join us and learn how to make snow shelters (igloos and snow caves) and more get in touch.
We can also run day sessions (and walks) for families or groups on the lower hills with less than an hours gentle walk...
See also Fi's report and photos at http://www.marmotte.co.uk/blog/diary.html
Thursday, 12 February 2009

Unforecast heavy snow and morning road disruption





The mountain and avalanche forecasts looked good for today with light winds, sunshine and only the slight possibility of light afternoon or evening snow showers possible west of the A9. The later BBC and the Met Office reports were slightly different with moderate snow forecast for the afternoon. The mountain forecasts were not updated and the reality at 6.00 am this morning was heavy snow and blizzards causing road chaos with many drivers being caught out on badly snowed up roads - I'm glad I have snow tyres.
We were originally going climbing in the Northern Corries at 8.00 am but by 10.00 am we were still waiting in a queue for the ski road to open.
With fresh deep snow, blizzards and whiteout conditions on the hill the climbing prospects didn't look that good anyway. So we cut our losses and headed for Bill Wilsons Glemore ski hire shop. In the end we had a great day x-country skiing in and around the Glenmore forest and a snowy Loch Morlich and our team the Rock Hoppers turned out to be natural snow hoppers - well done!
Touring on the Nordic skis it was like being in the north of Canada or in arctic Norway complete with the reindeer herders hut, snow laden forests and a completely frozen Loch Morlich...
Wednesday, 11 February 2009

A one minute walk and hot chocolate today!


After our wade out from the Northern Corries following yesterdays climbing my suggestion of a technical ropework day on a local roadside crag followed by hot chocolate went down well...
It felt pleasant in the sun as we set up various types of belays, runners and practised moving together. We even found some ice for Dan's ice screws before heading to the Mountain Cafe for hot chocolate and cake!! Alpine and Nordic ski conditions remain fantastic and Fi had a good rest day skiing round our local forest trails. See http://www.marmotte.co.uk/blog/diary.html
Tomorrow will be a large malt loaf climbing day...
Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Winter Skills and Winter Mountaineering courses

The best winter and conditions for over a decade and we we still have several places available on the 14th and 21st of February Winter Skills courses. Please phone or email to book!

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Coire an t-Sneachda





It was calm and sunny but bitterly cold again this morning - minus 13.5 in Aviemore. We'd heard that there was now a good trail into the coire this morning but unfortunately everybody had the same idea and were heading to the same spot for security on steep ground and climbing ropework...! We decided to go up a little bit further and onto a Left Over Rib. This was great fun, free and offered six long pitches of mixed snow and rock to practise on.
The coire was very quite and we only saw a handful of climbers heading up towards Jacobs and the Slant area. A few walker started to descend the Goat Track too but for some reason quickly retraced their steps...!
Later on during the walk down from the Fiacaill Ridge the westerly wind increased to about 45-55 mph blowing large quantities of spindrift and drifting snow onto the NE facing slopes we'd just climbed. The good trails into the coire were being filled in by the drifting snow and quickly disappeared as we walked out.
Monday, 9 February 2009

Minus 18.4 in Aviemore


A lovely sunny but extremely cold day - especially when the wind got up around mid-day. Last night Aviemore was the coldest place in the UK with a low of -18.4 See http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/7878234.stm
A lot of cars seem to be either breaking down and or blocking roads due to the cold weather and or stupidity...!
Walking anywhere in the Cairngorms is still very arduous though we manage to find good hard neve for step cutting, crampons and belays underneath the soft slab in Coire Cas. At least we were following other groups tracks rather than trail breaking today! The skiing throughout the Cairngorms looks fantastic.
Sunday, 8 February 2009

Amazing snow cover in the Cairngorms




A beautiful alpine like day with fantastic snow cover on and off piste. For the first time for several years you could ski back to the Coire Ciste carpark on complete deep snow cover and as good as any alpine ski resort.
Skis and snow shoes were pretty essential for covering any sort of distance through the thigh deep snow on the wind scoured NE side of Cairngorm - as for the southern aspects where a lot of the snow has drifted I can only guess how deep it must be...!!!!! See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cmT0nHBrmh8
I'm out with the Rock Hoppers MC over the next five days and today we looked at route choice, avalanche assessment, crawling, snow shelters, snow anchors, basic ropework, snow climbing techniques, abseiling, ice axe braking and more crawling.
Fi was out in Coire an t-Sneachda with Tamson doing winter skills and managed to walk and crawl up through waist deep snow as far as the main corrie moraine ridge. See http://www.marmotte.co.uk/blog/diary.html
Saturday, 7 February 2009

Cairngorm ski road rage, deep snow and fallen trees



Since the last update there's been snow showers on and off over the past 24 hours...
After listening to the chaos and queues on the Cairngorm ski road this morning I went for wander round my local tracks.
I gave up on my orginal objective up on the hill as progress was very slow and tiring through the thigh deep heavy snow. The skis helped in places but were still very hard work due to the metre deep snow and fallen trees.
The weight snow has brought down lots of branches and has uprooted several trees. The snow cover is complete from forest to hill with cornices and snow aretes (that's at low level!) though needs a few more days to firm up to support the skis near the surface!
If travelling on foot it's waist deep in places and quite dangerous if you don't know what's underneath or know the terraine well.
Friday, 6 February 2009

More snow today and some large drifts forming


There has been a fair bit of fresh snow today and this evening with some deep drifts forming on sheltered southerly and easterly aspects. Travel on foot is extremely difficult in the blizzards and bottomless thigh deep powder. By car it's very difficult too!!
If skiing or driving be very wary of what's actualy under the powder snow as many of the roadside fences, drainage ditches, streams and lochans are completely buried. BTW some cars and four-wheel drives have been driving and parking in very silly places at the side of the road... At Glenmore Loch Morlich is covered in fresh snow though the ice is likely very thin...!
There a very high Cat 4 avalanche risk at the moment. See http://www.sais.gov.uk/page_northern%20cairngorms.asp
For driving conditions see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Hi_ffqXB0c
Thursday, 5 February 2009

Great snow cover and Nordic skiing at Slochd



Deep snow cover and great cross country skiing in the forest trails. Hard work trail breaking though it was well worth it on the run back down through the snow laden forest to my cottage at Slochd. We met Adam and his partner breaking trail so we went round the tracks anti-clockwise and Adam and partner went round clockwise we met in the middle and had a good slide down each others pisted trail...! It's nice to be able to ski from your front door!!
We've been round the upper trails so tomorrow the upper tracks should be fantastic though we need some trail breakers cum pisters for the lower tracks. The old A9 has not been cleared of snow so snow tyres and chains are usefull.

Over a foot of fresh snow this morning at my house!!



Woke to over 35 cm of undrifted fresh snow at my doorstep...!
The A9 at the Slochd summit was closed until about 11.00am this morning so I had to clear almost half a metre of snow from the car and put on snow chains onto the snow tyres. Everything was going great until I got to within 15 metres of the A9 to where the snow ploughs had piled up the deep snow across the old A9 road junction hence the swearng - I wasn't happy!! I had to dig for over half an hour through the compacted snow to get onto the new A9 just as it was re-opened on one lane for a convoy going north. I kept the snow chains on until Carrbridge and by Aviemore the main A9 road was almost clear. See the You Tubevideo at hilttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ac2CGnvZaIo
Skiing should be great so we're out in the forest now. More photos later.. :-)
Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Lots of snow falling today!


As the title says! A bit more and it could be good for x-country skiing.
Tuesday, 3 February 2009

No real snow show yet...

A fair bit of fresh snow in sheltered location though many areas are still wind scoured and icy ? We're still waiting for the really really big dump of snow to low levels that's been forecast though it now looks like we might get more on Wednesday....
Sunday, 1 February 2009

Bitterly cold E to SE wind


Mistier and windier than expected with a strong wind chill factor. It certainly felt a lot colder today though fortunately the winds were less gusty than yesterday.
I had Peter and Martin with me and Fi kept company with us on the walk in and up onto the Cairngorm to Ben MacDui plateau. Conditions were good for crampon practise though you wouldn't want to trip as the snow was quite icy in places and would be difficult to self arrest on. This gave us the opportunity to look at emergency rope-work.
We later walked across Coire Domhain and dug a few emergency shelters just as some snow showers arrived.
Climbing condition were excellent and the Northern Corries routes were very busy with long queues on many of the popular starred climbs. With the forecast snow fall climbing conditions will change rapidly and many areas will likely have a high avalanche risk. See also http://saisncairngorms.blogspot.com/
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