Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Roadside winter climbing!

Due to the amount of deep drifting snow and wind slab building up on Cairngorm yesterday we decided to look at ropework and do some roadside ice climbing in a blizzard instead!
This evening my right knee decide to pack in and lock solid due to torn cartilage. No doubt caused by all the post holing in the deep snow and the skiing - so not so good :-(
Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Deep drifting snow

We headed into Coire an t-Sneachda today to look at winter rope-work. It was a calm start to the day but bitterly cold. A relatively easy walk in as the path was well trodden but very circuitous!. However it wasn't such an easy walk when we headed off to flounder up to the Fiacail Ridge Ribs. Today Richard, Steve, Nick and James did well to find and uncover the buried rock belays as we pitched our way to the top! During the afternoon the wind speed had increased and the drifting snow quickly covered our hard won trail on the tedious and knackering walk out!
The strong winds forecast tomorrow will likely significantly change the snow distribution and create a high avalanche risk...
Monday, 28 December 2009

Christmas courses

A nice calm sunny day with the ski area very busy compared to Sunday. More details and photos of how Nick, Steve, James and Richard got on in Coire an t-Sneachda on Fi's blog here.

Sunday 27th December 2009 no water at home and Christmas Winter Mountaineering course flounder and pea soup starter! See Fi's blog here Also photos from Kevin here and Donald here
Saturday, 26 December 2009

Snow snow snow.....

A sunny blue sky day with fantastic ski conditions everywhere. The A9 was clear but many of the back roads are tricky with deeps snow, fallen trees and black ice. Lots of good ice in the Cairngorms UNDER all the snow.... Snow shoes, skis and shovels are essential winter kit for travel! See Cairngorm SAIS Blog for more photos here
Thursday, 24 December 2009

A very white Christmas

Not the blue sky day promised by the weather forecasters. We went downhill skiing to take advantage of the great snow cover on Cairngorm.
Today driving through Aviemore and through the heavy snow laden pine forest it felt more like Norway, or even the French Alps without the sunshine! On the hill the snow was great but visibility very poor in the flat light. Because of this we decided against a ski tour on the plateau to take photos and hit the pistes instead. Despite poor visibilty and skiing by feel I was pleased that not one rock was hit on the upper and middle runs - the cover must be very good indeed!
One or two die hard climbers about, braving the three hour wade into Coire an t-Sneachda. See the Cairngorm SAIS Blog for more details. It's snowing tonight and again forecast to snow more over the next few days.
Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Even more snow!!!

This must be one of the best snowy Christmas breaks for decades...

Yesterday foot travel into the Cairngorm climbing areas was reported to be hard work due to all the deep snow. This morning Cairngorm Mountain ski area are working hard to clear the road and dig out the tows after another substantial overnight fall of snow.

From the ski areas website "Wednesday - About 15 -18" of snow has fallen overnight and we are working to get the road and carpark open as soon as possible - We are still working to clear the roads and carparks and the county plough is now assisting. The tunnel mouth is getting dug out and it looks to be about 15 -18" of fresh snow across the whole mountain. Groomer, Patrol and engineers are out assessing things at the moment.........."

We decided not to bother going climbing today. The skiing should be awesome once the road is open. Anyone walking at Cairngorm may want to consider taking skis or snow shoes as there's going to be a lot of snow around!

YouTube video showing the snow cover in the forest trails at

On a side note we are looking for qualified Winter Mountain Leaders to work over the winter season. Accommodation locally would not be provided so the work would be best suited to leaders living in the Aviemore area and those who can commit to working throughout a six day course including an expedition.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Plenty of snow!

Over the weekend it snowed a fair bit in the Highlands making driving conditions difficult - never mind the climbing!
Saturday started bright and clear until the forecast blizzards arrived from the north. This caught a few folk out though a few notable ascents such as Houdini were still completed in difficult weather conditions, along with the classics such as Hidden Chimney, Fluted Buttress Direct, Goat Track Gully, Runnel, Patey's Route and more!
On Sunday the weather was better with winds from the west and a number of mixed routes and gullies were climbed on the wind scoured north westerly aspects, away from the high avalanche risk. The Message, Haston Line, The Mirror Direct, Genie, Doctor Janis, Doctor's Choice and Fluted Buttress Direct and gullies such as Central, The Runnel, Spiral and much more were all climbed.
Today (Monday) the weather has been more settled with many skiers taking advantage of the good on and off-piste snow conditions. This afternoon we went for a ski tour round he local Slochd forest trails - video below or at
The tracks are shaping up nicely now they've been pisted - still got to dig my car out though...!
Looking ahead it looks like we'll have many happy snowy days to come and a very white Christmas...

Friday, 18 December 2009

Fantastic snow ice buildup in the Northern Corries

"Fantastic snow ice buildup in the Northern Corries"


Following last weekend's great climbing conditions we've had a brief period of milder, wet weather until the refreeze on Wednesday evening. This has resulted in very firm and icy snow in the gullies and surprisingly on the buttresses too. There has also been a rapid build-up of rime ice on all exposed surfaces and that today included many climbers!
We headed into Coire an t-Sneachda this morning and were pleased to find that a light covering of fresh snow had made the approach paths less icy than yesterday. The winds were from the north today so much of the coire was being scoured. This led to an easy amble up the Trident Gully area approach slopes and then, avoiding other climbing parties in the gullies, up the Central Ridge.
The snow in the gullies and ribs was really excellent providing secure first time axe and crampon placements all the way up onto the icy plateau. The snow was so good that even normally tricky mixed rock steps were a doddle.
There is a downside to the good icy buildup though.... belays and protection are hard to find and to dig out due to the carapace of icy snow and rime even for local guides! Also the firm icy nature of the snow is very unforgiving to any poor or lazy crampon and axe technique.
Many climbers will no doubt be wondering which routes are well built up and in good condition? To be honest it would be easier to say what's not in condition as most if not all of the easy to mid grade snow and buttress routes have a great buildup. There is also plenty of ice in the easy gullies and on the buttresses. The only climbs that may not yet be fully built up and really fat are some of the traditional ice routes - I could be wrong here though!
It was actually possible to place ice screws on some of the grade 1 gullies but if you cut through the first 3-5 cm of the ice shell you'll soon realise it's a lot softer underneath and your placement may no tbe as good as you think! There were some large icicle-hung cornices over Jacob's Ladder and around over the Forty Thieves area. The cornices weren't a problem further round the coire and over the Trident Gully area with the gully exits being straightforward. The plateau has a good covering of water ice and hard snow with any fresh snow being deposited on southerly aspects today. We didn't visit it but with today's northerlies I'd suspect deep unstable snow drifts and cornices over the like of Hells Lum crag - high avalanche risk.
Lots of climbers out on the easier routes with queues around the Red Gully and Goat Track areas. Also lots of climbers on and around the Fiacaill Buttress area too. We saw one party starting up Genie / White Magic. Over on the Mess of Pottage there were climbers on the Haston Line, Hidden Chimney and on Honey Pot. Most of the grade 1 and 2 gully lines were being climbed.
In short, conditions were great on Friday but will be changing quickly with the heavy snowfall while I type and it's forecast to continue over the weekend. Please check the latest Cairngorm SAIS avalanche reports and the MWIS weather forecast before thinking of heading out!!!!
Photos later....
Thursday, 17 December 2009

More unsettled but continuing wintry into Christmas

Following the fantastic calm, cold, clear, sunny winter weather over last weekend the weather warmed up and deteriorated early on Monday. There's been heavy rain at low levels for the past few days. Fortunately on Wednesday evening the freezing level again dropped bringing frequent low level snow showers overnight and throughout today (Thursday). The snow fall has been light but the drop in temperature has resulted in icy conditions in the gullies and a buildup of ice and rime on the buttresses. The low level paths were very icy too this morning!
During the brief milder and wetter spell the higher cliffs have continue to provide good (!) winter climbing and even some new routes by the intrepid trio Andy N, Jonathan P and Sandy A. More details on Sandy's blog
The latest MWIS weather forecast for up to Christmas is looking very snowy so double check the weather and avalanche reports before heading out!
Coincidentally SAIS avalanche service is live from today too so make sure you check the reports and visit the blogs.
Monday, 14 December 2009

Sunday's Central Crack Route video

Watch the video on YouTube at
Yes at the end of the video Loch Morlich was completely frozen on Sunday!

Sunday, 13 December 2009

An alpine like weekend - but busy!

The fantastic winter weather has continued through what has been the most pleasant but busiest winter climbing weekend of the season so far....
The Northern Corries were mobbed with many routes having long long queues! We were orginally going to avoid climbing during weekend but as the settled weather was forecast to breakdown on Monday we headed into the much quieter Coire an Lochain - along with another fifty odd climbers!!! Name a route, any route, hard or easy and it was being climbed!!
The snow at the foot of Number 2 Buttresses was good but more crusty than in Coire an t-Sneachda due to the aspect and extra altitude.
In the end we climbed Central Crack Route as it was free when we reached the top of the corrie approach slopes. It was a route that Fi hadn't climbed and I'd last climbed over 15 years ago. It was a Grade III then and Savage Slit was Grade IV in my older SMC and John Cunningham and Allen Fyffe guidebooks!
Central gave us a pitch or two each. Apart from the first crux pitch which was a strenuous iced up crack (hard if not built up) and the awkward squeeze chimney groove above, the route gave excellent climbing on snow, rock and ice without the usual cornice difficulties.
More info and photos on Fi's blog at
Friday, 11 December 2009

Another cracking day with bomber neve on the buttresses

Another great day with superb climbing conditions on the Mess of Pottage and views right across Scotland. With bomber first time placements on the Message the climbing was an absolute joy - so good I almost forgot to stop! The only downside was that the icy conditions meant finding protection was more difficult in the blocked and verglassed cracks, however the positive nature of the climbing more than compensated. A selection of pegs are definitely useful though...!
More details and photos on Fi's blog at
We met Simon and Kenny at the carpark this morning heading off to climb Central Crack Route. Simon had climbed Deep Throat on Thursday and said conditions were superb in Coire an Lochain.
In the Loch Avon basin Jonathan P, Sandy A and Andy N climbed yet another new roiute, a steep gully on Stacan Dubha at V,6.
Thursday, 10 December 2009

Good climbing conditions in the Cairngorms

With the recent thaw and the melt freeze cycles over the past week the snow conditions in the Northern Corries are now surprisingly good. With clear skies and overnight frosts forecast for the next few days the climbing conditions can only continue to improve.
We had expected the easy snow gullies to be in good nick but were surprised by the amount of ice and good neve on some of the classic buttress lines such as Doctors Choice.
Jim H and Beth reported good conditions on Fingers Ridge with great neve reported on the ledges and grooves of some of the harder rock lines too... Andy N and Jonathan P climbed Sax Appeal and again reported great conditions.
Having said all that the ice is still pretty thin and crusty on some of the normal ice routes such as the start of Red Gully. There were climbers on the Slant, Hidden Chimney, Jacobs Ladder, Aladdins Couloir, Central Gully, the Runnel, Spiral Gully, Red Gully, Goat Track Gully and Fiacaill Couloir. As well as several of the harder buttress lines. The crag approaches and aprons (passing by large areas of old avalanche debris from last weekend) are now excellent on good solid snow. There's good neve and firm but crusty snow in places in some of the gullies with very small corniced exits. The buttress routes have a limited amount of rime but were well frosted today with a banking of neve on many of the ledges and grooves making for enjoyable climbing.
We had an enjoyable day climbing Goat-track gully after Spiral Gully. At one point we followed the giant hard icy steps from yesterday that came in from the now icy Fluted Buttress, before following our nose up some lovely untrodden little grooves. What a difference a day can make!!!
Saturday, 5 December 2009


A sharp rise in temperature overnight along with strong southerly winds and rain meant snow stability was very poor indeed on Saturday... We heard about five separated avalanche incidents in the Northern Corries alone and several near misses!
The good news is that nobody was seriously injured and the north facing gully lines still seem well filled up with snow. With no drastic thaws and a few quick freeze thaw cycles over the coming week to consolidate things we could have a good snow ice base in the gullies and grooves. The climbing could be really good once it refreezes again....
There's some great photo's of Cairngorm's snow cover and skiing down Aladdin's Couloir on Friday on the following link here
Friday, 4 December 2009

Winter skiing and climbing continuing to improve

Friday was a wonderful frosty sparkling day on the hills. The Cairngorm ski area was open for advance skiers. The middle runs are much improved and Cairngorm Mountain were running the M1 poma. Off piste conditions sound good on the plateau with one of the NW facing grade 1 gullies in Coire an t-Sneachda full enough to be skied!
The climbing conditions have much improved too with many buttress's being very white and well rimed up and proving popular. However the popular gully lines and ice falls do take a lot longer to come into good climbng condition and really need to fill up with drifting snow and undergo lot of freeze thaw cycles to form good neve - a week or so is not enough unless you like swimming up avalanche chutes!!!
Conditions are reported as reasonably good for hard mixed as long as you don't mind digging but very variable on the easier lines with everything from deep powder, slab and wet snow to crusty older snow and wet to partially frozen ground underneath. The ground surface is frozen where exposed or thinly covered. But extreme care is needed with many of the loose blocks underfoot and any flakes used for belays as they are unlikely to be well frozen in place and easily dislodged on parties below once dug out. Very much good but typical early season conditions. A good time to try out your touring skis and snowshoes and practise avalanche assessment...
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