Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Breezy walk in but calmer and sunny later

A bit windy to start but it turned into a nice calm sunny day by mid afternoon.
We headed into Coire an t-Sneachda so that Ken and Angus could get the chance to lead their first proper winter route up a wind scoured Jacob's Ladder. The snow was softish on the approach but firm and icy in the main gully line.
Still good snow cover in the main gully lines and on the plateau though it looked and felt like spring lower down. The buttresses are now pretty bare and should soon provide good rock climbing!
Monday, 30 March 2009

A lot warmer today

A lot warmer today with the NC crags looking blacker. Angus, Ken and I spent the day on a small crag in the woods looking at ropework and setting up belays. We're back up on the hill tomorrow so hopefully a few pictures. Fi's uploaded some photos from yesterday. See http://www.marmotte.co.uk/blog/2009/03/lots-of-wind-and-snow.html
Sunday, 29 March 2009

Drifting snow and red scoured faces

A nice sunny day but with strong biting SW winds and huge amounts of drifting snow. Ken and Dave were joined today by Kim and Fi in search of the missing rucksack. This was quickly located - no luck with the missing ice axe though.
We all headed up the Coire Cas mesmerised by the huge rivers of sun sparkling spindrift and graupel cascading over the Coire Cas headwall and ridge. Every so often we were buffeted by typhoon like glittering snow devils as we observed ridges of sastruga being created before our very eyes.
Kim and Fi left us as they headed up Coronation Wall into the wind while we contoured around Cairngorm into a calm and sheltered Ciste Mhearid. We had a look at some of the huge snow holes, had lunch, dug avalanche pits near the huge cornice (a very week layer of graupel failed easily when we were digging our pit) and constructed our own emergency shelters.
The winds were a lot stronger in the afternoon as we headed down with hoods up and goggles on. The powder skiing in the Cas and Gunbarrel looked good in the morning though in the afternoon, snow boarders in particular were having a hard time against the wind on the ski area traverse! Other more exposed areas were being scoured down to old icy snow.
In Coire an t-Sneachda quite a few mixed routes were climbed on the rimed rock.
Saturday, 28 March 2009

A cold and bright day

Today I was out teaching Winter Skills with Sarah, Gordon, David and Ken. It was fairly pleasant today and a lot calmer and sunnier than I'd expected. We were expecting blizzards and north westerly winds gusting to 60 mph! However the light to fresh winds were actually coming from a north easterly to northerly direction with only a few snow showers through the day.
There was a fair bit of drifted snow and some interesting cornice and erosion features to look at as we waded through some deep drifts up the hill. Higher up on the Coire Cas headwall and on the Cas ridge the snow was well scoured and frozen hard so ideal for crampon practise. Other sheltered locations were perfect for looking at avalanches tests and examining the multiple layers within the snowpack. The rocks were riming up well with Coire an t-Sneachda looking very white. One of our party lost his Mountain Tech ice axe on the walk down from the top of the Coire Cas tow. He went to look for it and left his rucksack by the side of the Zig Zags which he has now also lost :-(
If you find either please get in touch...
BTW the clocks go forward tonight.
Friday, 27 March 2009

Lyme Disease Petition

Over the next few months while walking and climbing in the countryside, I know I will be bitten numerous times by ticks. They seems especially bad just after the winter so I always check every time after I'm out and remove any I can see..! It's always a nagging worry whether or not I've missed a few or picked up Lyme Disease. Are you a walker, climber or skier and concerned about Lyme Disease too then please sign the petition on the link below.
See http://petitions.number10.gov.uk/Lyme-guidelines/
If you have your own or blog, conditions site, newsletter, newsgroup etc. please add the petition link to it.

Cheers Ron


Cold wild and wintry

Frequent blustery snow showers and gusty sunny breaks this morning though at the moment the fresh snow's not lying at low levels and is getting blasted about at high levels.
The freezing level is to drop to 200 metres and with a lot more snow is forecast for tonight and tomorrow mountain access and the high level roads could be difficult.
The old snow in the gullies will be freezing solid where scoured while other areas will be collecting deep unstable drifts of windslab. The SAIS avalanche forecast is for a high Cat 4. Most of the easy gully lines are complete with the mixed rocky routes freezing up.
Saturday looks bitterly cold and very windy with a high avalanche risk in places...!
See also Fi's report from Thursday at
We still have two places available on the Winter Skills and the advanced Winter Mountaineering course starting on the 28th March 2009. These winter and early spring Easter courses are an ideal preparation for future Alpine and Greater Ranges trips.
Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Tuesday and Wednesday's snowhole expedition report

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Lots more snow forecast for the weekend

Looking good for the Easter School break...
MWIS PLANNING OUTLOOK: all mountain areas of Britain from Thursday. Overnight rain, snow on higher slopes, will persist into the morning on Thursday before clearing to the east with cold and very showery strong northwesterly winds following. By Friday the winds will be northerly with freezing levels lowering further and snow showers at most levels over the Highlands. There will be potential for significant snowfall, blizzards and severe windchill from Thursday onwards into the weekend. See http://www.mwis.org.uk/mountain/EH.PDF
Fi is out snowholing tonight. Apparently this afternoon it was raining outside at around 1100 metres but was nice and dry and cosy inside the snowhole. Tomorrow the snow level is dropping to 700 metres and it's to snow for most of the day - report and snowy photos later!
Conditions are looking good and we still have two places left on our Winter Mountaineering course starting on the 28th March to the 1st April 2009. We're also running guided Winter Climbing and Winter Skills courses through to Easter or later!


Monday, 23 March 2009

Winter returns

A very cold blustery day with snow showers to low levels. Fi has been out over the past few day with Winchester College teaching winter skills in preparation for their camping and snowhole expeditions.
The Cairngorms snow pack has refrozen hard and the snow showers were described as painful! More details and photos on Fi's blog at
The unsettled and wintry theme on the tops is to continue with "potential for significant snowfall on higher slopes" forecast by the MWIS for the end of the week...
Saturday, 21 March 2009

A day of three thirds and lots of climbing

A lovely calm frosty sunny morning until about 10.15 am, then milder, thick mist, rain and gusty winds until around 3.00 pm when it cleared, cooled and the sun came back out...!
This morning there was a frost in Aviemore but it was plus 3 Celcius on Cairngorm. At dawn the webcams showed a clear sky with very low humidity.
Despite the higher temperatures on Cairngorm with the low humidity the 'wet bulb' effect should be freezing up the snow pack. Also wet and windy weather was due to come in around mid-day before the skies cleared and temperatures dropped later on Saturday - these were the thoughts.
A quick check of the various weather forecasts and live weather stations early this morning and at around 7.00 am a plan was hatched - get out of bed, the crux of the day, travel fast and light, climb up and down as many of the winter routes as possible before the bad weather arrived - ten was good number to try for - Cairngorm's "Decology" ;-)
I arrived in the Coire Cas carpark at 8.00 am and had started up a lovely icy Runnel by 9.00 am. I then down climbed the ridge between Central and the Runnel then up Central RH then down Central LH to the foot of a lovely dry Pygmy Ridge.
A tricky start getting onto the classic rock ridge with crampons before taking them off to climb in big boots on the lovely rough dry rock to the top.
It was only just approaching 10.00 am so I put the crampons back on and headed over to a nice and icy Fiacaill Couloir via a traverse into half a gully (Point 5!). A team of three were heading up a very bare Invernookie on less than wintry conditions.
On topping out the weather had changed completely and visibility was very poor. The snow was softening fast too as I headed over to climb the Mirror.
A quick look at the Mirror Direct which is now broken I then headed up a patchy Mirror in zilch visibility. I couldn't see a thing so lost I followed my nose up a nice snow and ice groove which led to the col of a now wet Pygmy Ridge.
A quick bite and drink and then down Aladdin's Couloir before traversing across and up Jacob's 'step' Ladder - I actually had problems locating the Mess of Pottage crag and the gully due to poor visibility - and it's my back yard!
Back on the plateau it was wet and windy so I called it a day and headed back home to dry off and for a well earned bacon butty!
A day of contrasts with some excellent early morning winter and summer climbing conditions before the early arrival of the wet and windy weather.
Late afternoon and it's now bright and sunny! I've a few photos of the folk I spoke to this morning - please leave a message on the blog...
Thursday, 19 March 2009

Early start and back for lunch in the sun

An early start on frozen snow to get the benefit of last night's frost - that was the plan...!
Unfortunately the blanket of cloud over Cairngorm had kept the temperatures higher than we'd wished. Still we had reasonable firm spring snow on our approach to a misty Coire an Lochain. Our route the Vent had some good interesting climbing on a mix of water ice, soft spring snow and rock at the chockstone.
The cloud seemed to hang around Coire an Lochian although elsewhere it was clear and sunny! On the plus side the mist will have kept the temperatures down and would have helped preserved the ice during the day.
We headed back down to Aviemore for lunch in the sun.
The Vent YouTube video is at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zdDDBDeC4to
Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Warmer and thawing today

Photo above of the Escalator showing the stunning weather yesterday...
Unfortunately the snow was a lot softer today with reports of more rockfall in Coire an t-Sneachda. Climbing conditions change very quickly - with an overnight frost and early alpine start conditions can be good but start a few hours later and the same route can be dangerous to yourself and others in the corrie below...
Looks like the cold weather is arriving next week now - fingers crossed!
Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Stonking snow and sun!

A good day up Crotched and Spiral Gullies and over to Hell's Lum and then good ice on the Escalator. Then back over down Half a Gully and up Fiacaill Couloir.
Off to celebrate Fi's birthday so more photos to follow tomorrow.
See Fi's blog here http://www.marmotte.co.uk/blog/2009/03/lots-of-gullies-and-some-ice-too.html
Monday, 16 March 2009

Guided winter climbing and taster weekends - March / April 2009

A few of our YouTube videos fom last April 2008 above - click on the YouTube link to see them all...

Snow buildup and conditions in the easy snow gully lines are still very good in the Cairngorm's at the moment. The long term weather forecast is good too, especially for winter gully climbing.
Over the next few weeks and through the School Easter break into April 2009 we're running guided ice climbing and intro winter climbing tasters. We're still running our Aviemore basedWnter Skills courses too!
For the taster weekends no previous winter skills or climbing experience is required.
You do need to be a relatively fit hill-walker capable of walking uphill into the mountains - unlike Norway or France there's no roadside ice climbing crag!
You will be carrying a 10-15 Kg pack uphill with ropes, harnesses, ice axes and crampons for several hours and then back down again after the climbing.
The weather in the mountains can vary from calm blue skies and sunshine to raging blizzards and storms...!
You will be taught basic Winter Skills on the first day and then guided up an introductory ice climb on the second day.
All specialised climbing equipment is supplied apart from 4 season boots which can be hired in Aviemore.
The tasters are not full winter climbing or full winter skills courses - they are simply tasters!
You will be taught the minimum necessary to be safely guided on the route under the close supervision of your MIC qualified guide and full member of AMI.
The cost for the weekend is £210.
We are also running guided winter climbing over the Easter holidays and in April 2009.
The cost is £120 per person per day assuming at least two participants.
If only one participant books the days guiding cost is further increased £170.
For two people booking together the cost falls to £95 each (i.e. £190 for the days 1:2 guiding).
The costs for private guiding and instruction are £170 to £190 (1:1 and 1:2 guide to participant ratio)


Sunday, 15 March 2009

A dry, less windy and clear morning

Today turned out a decent dry day with a lot less wind in the morning compared to yesterday. It was slightly warmer and although the snow wasn't exactly frozen it was OK firm spring snow and fairly pleasant to climb on. It consolidated well with a few good kicks and punches!
Chris decided to try leashless climbing today or rather axeless - until I persuaded him to borrow my hammer...!
With a technical tool apiece we decided against the Grade 4 ice I'd promised and we headed up a delightful Grade 2/3 mixed snow and rock ridge safe from the loose rock funnels and gully belay queues on either side. A quick lunch on the plateau and then we headed down to the car before the forecast gusty afternoon winds and light drizzle started. There's still plenty of snow on the Cairngorm and Ben MacDui plateau for ski touring.
For more details see Chris's blog at http://www.chrishalliday.net/
Fi was up with her winter skills group at Ciste Mhearid today. More details at http://www.marmotte.co.uk/blog/2009/03/navigation-and-snowholes.html
The weather for the next few weeks is looking very promising and with the colder weather being forecast climbing conditions could be stonking - fingers crossed.


Saturday, 14 March 2009

Wet ice and gusty winds

Chris was up today for a few days of of instruction and guided winter climbing. We headed into the corries against the wind driven drizzle and then climbed up the Runnel.
The snow on the approach was surprisingly OK and in the main gully there was firm spring snow and good ice in the chimney. We were fairly sheltered when climbing but were thrown around a bit on the plateau due to the fierce gusts of wind that seemed to come from all directions...!
We headed down just as the ski areas funicular was being closed due to the high winds of 80 to 115 mph.
Read Chris's account of climbing the Runnel at http://www.chrishalliday.net/2009/03/the-runnel/
Over in Coire an t-Sneachda Fi was out with her winter skills group.
Photo at top of some strange goings on with a large group of kids on at the Coire Cas headwall - ratios, dominoes and skittles comes to mind :-(
Friday, 13 March 2009

A nice sunny day

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Blown up the Ladder

Fi and Alan went up the Ladder today and coincidentally were climbing alongside Kevin and Joan who were leading under the supervision of Dave M their instructor for the next two days, photo above - small world...!
Unlike yesterday when we had the shelter of Twin Ribs to ourselves and the SAIS observer that area was very busy...
Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Dry bright and mild

The day turned out OK and was completely dry and a lot less windy than expected, although the early morning temperatures were higher. Any superficial snow and rime on the buttresses soon melted leaving the older snow and ice. On any snow slopes extra care was needed as the crampons balled up easily.
Joan, Kevin and I were almost completely sheltered on the lee of the Fiacail Ridge and had plenty of time to look at belays and ropework. Apparently the wind was very strong on the plateau and the summit of Cairngorm. See Fi's blog at http://www.marmotte.co.uk/blog/2009/03/windy-cairngorm.html
Plas y Brenin and several west coast guides were in the Coire Cas carpark today...!
Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Less wind and nice climbing...!

Today I was working on an intro winter climbing course for Tollymore Northern Ireland's National Mountain Centre.
Kevin, Joan and I enjoyed a route on good calf burning wind scoured neve to the right of the Mess of Pottage. We looked at simple rock belays using slings and hexes for runners. It was drier and a lot less windy than yesterday. We had some good sunny spells on the walk out - unfortunately not so nice for tomorrow...

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Wild and wintry

Quite a contrast from yesterday with good refrozen snow though not quite as much fresh snow as I expected.
I was expecting a lot of snow last night but if fell as heavy rain and only really turned to snow at lower levels at around 6:00 am this morning.
The day started quite bright with some unexpected and good sunny spells. We walked into Coire an t-Sneachda against a fairly strong wind, spindrift and on the well refrozen track wearing sun glasses. Visibility in the coire, was shall I say intermittent between the blasts of spindrift, which got in everywhere - we eventualy changed to ski goggles!
A good day for looking at snowpack erosion features, windslab and digging emergency snow shelters. The snow was also great for step cutting and crampon practise.
It was a lot colder so everyone was drier and warmer than yesterday!!!
Despite the stormy weather and fresh snow there were quite a few climbers in the coire.
At around 1:00 pm the ski area was closed due to the winds.
Today's YouTube video above can be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sEISsMd9v6A
Fi was at Bynack More today. See http://www.marmotte.co.uk/blog/2009/03/bynack-mor-almost.html


Saturday, 7 March 2009

Less windy but a lot wetter than forecast

This weekend we are running a winter skills course and winter walking weekend.
The weather was a lot wetter than expected and the winds dropped rather than increased this afternoon.
Steve, Richard, Jeremy, Jean-Alain and I looked at ice axe techniques and avalanche assessment in Coire na Ciste. We then walked up and over into Coire Cas, in heavy blustery rain and sleet.
A lot of wet looking climbers were returning from Coire an Sneachda down the lower slushy ski access track. Rather than increasing the winds in the Coire Cas carpark were negligable by mid afternoon.
Fi, Kim, Peter and Kathryn headed up via Lurcher's to Ben MacDui this morning but due to the strong winds, snow and poor visibilty headed round Coire an Lochain, Coire an t-Sneachda and returned via pt. 1141. See http://www.marmotte.co.uk/blog/2009/03/around-northern-corries.html
Thursday, 5 March 2009

Snowy morning, sunny aftenoon

Quite snowy this morning though the weather fortunately improved by mid-day. By late afternoon it was actually nice and sunny.
Flat light, windy and a bit misty on the walk in though the snow wasn't too deep. In the coire you could still make out the crags and see the plumes of spindrift descending from many routes. Many of the harder mixed route were being climbed though the gullies were full of deepish fresh snow on top of the old neve they too were being climbed.
We geared up and headed up towards Aladdin's buttress and the Mirror wary of the deep snow on the crag aprons and the spindrift flowing down some routes. We'd thought the Direct ice route would have been very busy today due to the Guides and MIC assessments so we'd left behind our sharp ice axes and crampons. However there was only one team at the base of the Mirror Direct. The top section of ice which only a few days ago was completely detached from the rock also looked a lot more appealing...!
Keith and Fi were keen to give it a go so we had a bite to eat and waited until the other team had climbed up. I got a good video of the spindrift pouring down onto the leader at one point - well done and please get in touch if you want a video copy.
I climbed up clipping the two insitu pegs on the left and then wishing I'd brought my sharp Quarks with clipper leashes as I placed an iffy ice screw. The route is short though quite steep but my blunt mixed tools were OK despite the wobbles in the old axe hooks. BTW the top bit of ice is still a bit detached and needs a delicate touch to avoid it collapsing - no whackers please...!
Keith followed me up and did really well on his first Grade 4 ice route with straight shafted blunt ice tools then Fi, hotly pursued by an arrogant tailgater Nick from Cumbria, who seemed to think women shouldn't climb ice, that beginners shouldn't get in his way or that he shouldn’t be polite and ask to clip into our belay and tangle up our ropes. They were last seen heading up and getting stuck in a groove right of the top Aladdin's Couloir thinking it was Pygmy Ridge... ;-)
We continued up the Mirror on good neve with Keith getting a chance to lead, place gear and set up belays before descending a banked out Aladdin's Couloir which despite all the fresh deep snow in the gully felt relatively stable underfoot.
A good last day with Keith still buzzing at his first steep Grade 4 ice climb.
More details and photos can be found at http://www.marmotte.co.uk/blog/2009/03/lot-of-aladdins.html
I'll upload some more great video footage tomorrow.
Wednesday, 4 March 2009

An absolutely brilliant snowy blue sky day

Tuesday was very stormy with significant overnight snowfall. This morning the car needed cleared of about 7 inches of snow and quite a few of the high roads were closed at the snow gates. They opened the ski road around 9 ish although I was concerned how all this fresh snow would affect my planned walk into the coires and the avalanche risk on the climbs with Keith.
Keith had arranged a couple of days private guiding and Fi came along too to keep us company.
Well the day turned out fine with the skies clearing and the Cairngorms winking in the sun at us!
The local outdoor centre crocodiles were busy at work establishing a good trail into Coire an t-Sneachda which we then followed with ease to the NW facing climbs after they all headed towards the Fiacail Ridge and buttresses...
I had a hunch that the NW aspect would fairly well scoured by the SW and Westerly winds!
Many gullies weren't really an option and had grown fairly large cornices since Monday.
We used safe travel techniques assessing the snow pack as we headed up for the ribs and ridges between the Trident gullies ready to turn back if need be. Fortunately it turned out to be OK and we had the climbing to ourselves. We saw a few folk heading up towards Central Gully and the start of the Runnel behind us but they turned back when they saw where we were heading...
We then followed our noses up scenic Grade 3 ground on a secondary rib up right from the foot of the main rib then two easyish pitches on soft snow with neve underneath that I'd climbed last week. We headed for an interesting little RH technical groove of around an unplanned Grade 4/5 on a mix of neve, rock and frozen turf whick I'd previously spotted...!
We finished after a short steep rocky step onto a sunny squeeky snow and rock ridge that met the plateau between the steep soft corniced gullies on either side.
The plateau was sparkling white and the skies were blue - a great climb and a great day out for us all.
The latest YouTube video above can also be viewed at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dqMR84YeAfU
Monday, 2 March 2009

Coldish in the morning but warmer and winder by mid-day

Apart from the strong southerly headwind this morning and the heavy sleety showers and winds this afternoon, today was actually OK.
The snow was frozen in the morning but by mid-day the buttresses were black and the snow surface softening.
The popular gullies were in good condition but some mixed routes that were being climbed nearby such as the Haston Line and Hidden Chimney were just bare rock - see photo above!
Charles and Alastair wanted to climb some mixed rock, snow and ice and practise belaying.
We made our own route up as we weaved between some mixed rock, snow, ice, turf and in places loose ground as the ice started to thaw...
Good fun and very educational as we had the line to ourselves and could unearth our own gear placements and belays and chat about the erosion problems on popular routes that are being climbed when not frozen or covered in snow.
Fi came in with us today and details of what she got up as she followed my topo from yesterday can be found at http://www.marmotte.co.uk/blog/diary.html
It's now snowing outside my cottage - video later!
Sunday, 1 March 2009

Nice morning with good snow climbing conditions

A pleasant sunny morning in Coire an t-Sneachda with good firm neve on the climbs and a light dusting of snow on the buttresses. During the afternoon the winds got up a bit as a few light snow showers passed creating some atmospheric spindrift on the climb.
Fi was out hillwalking with Kim who was practising her navigation.
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