Sunday, 28 February 2010

Huge snow drifts

The ski road opened at 10.00 am today but with limited parking due to the huge amount of snow still to be cleared. The link road is still buried with two way traffic on the normal down road. The roadside drifts are really impressive with some reaching over 4 metres!
Once you venture off the ploughed ski road travel is very difficult indeed and crawling is a useful technique in some of the bottomless snow drifts! It was well worth it though as we had a great day practising powder ice axe braking, step cutting up over cornices and uncovering and exploring the old group ice caves.
The sun shone and the tops cleared by late afternoon with the corniced and thickly laden slopes of Cairngorm's summit down 'Coronation Wall' to the Cas headwall showing up well from Glenmore. Westerly aspects and corrie headwalls are well buried with several metres of fresh windslab, no doubt overlying last weeks surface hoar frost. We could see some alpine sized avalanches in the future if your hear a whoomf and this weak layer fails...!
Saturday, 27 February 2010

Trail breaking

A day of trail breaking through thigh deep drifts in the local forests and hills to to look at avalanche assessment and dig snow shelters. I took my snowshoes to help the group break trail...! Deep drifts and cornices on sheltered SW aspects even at 500-600 metres. Some windward aspects are scoured with surprisingly good neve for cramponning.
The forest trails are good for cross-country skiing as long as you are not the first one trail breaking.
Friday, 26 February 2010

Lots of digging required!

Lots of digging to get food supplies by people, birds and animals... It's also worth noting that some commodities are low in the shops as the lorries haven't been able to resupply due to the blocked roads.
The A9 has now reopened though the strong winds will no doubt continue to cause problems with drifting. Please check the latest road and ski area reports before travelling.
If you can get to the hills it will be hard work floundering through the thigh and waist deep drifts. The avalanche risk will be very high too so please check the SAIS website. The Cairngorm Ski Area will NOT open tomorrow according to the notice on their website, see below.


Most of the highlands was cut off yesterday and emails wondering why we are not open should not expect a response. The team will continue to work flat out in order to open uplift as soon as it is both safe and feasible to do so. Please do not travel to the mountain without checking the website or listening to MFR for updates.
There has been very heavy snowfall over the last couple of days, up to 2 metres. Strong winds and severe drifting are still preventing us access above Car Park level..."

Check Cairngorm Mountains website for future updates here

The good news is the forest ski trails will be fantastic once trail broken and the mountain pistes awesome once the ski area is dug out. There is also a fair bit of thick ice forming in places too.

See also Fi's blog here for conditions in Aviemore and from the last few days up in the Cairngorms.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

High avalanche risk and snowed in!

A lot of snow has fallen in the past 24 hours blocking many roads throughout the Highlands. The Cairngorm ski area was stormbound today with the access roads and the funicular buried. Travel on foot is arduous with knee, thigh and waist deep snow. Journey times on foot (even with snowshoes and skis!) are taking about four times as long in the lower tracks of the Cairngorm and Glenmore areas due to the deep soft snow. If you can reach them the avalanche risk in the Cairngorms is very very high due to the stormy conditions and the amount of fresh snow that has fallen onto the now buried surface hoar. See the Cairngorm SAIS avalanche reports here
Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Normal winter service plus resumes!

In complete contrast to the last seven days, today provided new navigational and endurance challenges and the ability to ignore the Cairngorm winter narl.
We made the right choice in climbing on Aladdin's Couloir yesterday as today the high avalanche risk, fresh snow, whiteout and painful gusts of wind made even the simplest of tasks difficult!
We headed for the Ribs area to avoid the high Category 4 avalanche risk and to look at placing rock protection while pitching up the rock ribs. Several Glenmore Lodge teams on MIC assessment had the same idea!
With rapidly deteriorating weather and painful gusts we had the opportunity to look at escaping by abbing off with frozen gloves, goggles, ropes and screwgates.
On the return journey wading and staggering back through deep snow drifts with misted frozen goggles and compass in hand was another great test of stamina and endurance - the guys loved it and got the winter message! On arrival back at the Coire Cas carpark the ski road was just about passable though driving down the icy road in white out conditions was yet another challenge! Elsewhere on the hill Fi and Nathan were out with their adventurous training groups and Fi reported a couple of small avalanches being set off by the side of the Alt Mor and a large group of arrogant Lakes rescue dog handlers on training asking them to move on as they were on a training exercise ...
Tonight the roads are very treacherous and I passed by two separate accidents on the A9 - one up on last night and then I was tailgated and spun round by an idiot in a lorry as I tried to turn right off the A9 at the Carrbridge Slochd junction!!!! The A9 is a real death lottery at the Aviemore and Carrbridge junctions especially when drivers don't heed the wintry weather by cutting their speed and keeping a safe braking distance.
Several over due parties and avalanche incidents in the hills too. See the BBC Highlands news here and here.
You can view the full screen Cairngorm winter narl video above on YouTube here

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Aladdin's today

Another good weather and very sociable day looking at ropework and belays in Aladdin's Couloir. We've had almost seven days of cold, calm, sunny weather though it looks like the weather is to change tomorrow
Monday, 22 February 2010

MMM... running out of s's!

A low in Aviemore of minus 24 last night and a Magic Marvellous Monday...! Yet another superb cold sunny day with more of the same being forecast for Tuesday. Today we looked at basic ropework and snow belays in preparation for the next few days climbing. The Sunday Youtube video of our team climbing up Fiacaill Ridge can be viewed full screen at
Sunday, 21 February 2010

SSSS superb stunning sunny Sunday

Sunny and minus 15 this morning. We had a fantastic day climbing a buried alpine like Fiacail Ridge, looking into a busy Coire an t-Sneachda and then a quiet Coire an Lochain before returning via Lurchers ridge... We bumped into Danny working for the Lodge at the notch and just missed Fi on the plateau for lunch!
I took plenty of video clips so look out for the YouTube video later...
There's deep surface hoar with good trails and ski tracks everywhere though make sure you stick to the trails on the flats and the uphills!
According to the local Moray Firth radio and BBC Highlands there were quite a few rescues yesterday evening. A serious fall over on the Shelterstone and what sounds like three climbers stuck below the cornice in the Vent. Also see Northern Constabulary reports here
Saturday, 20 February 2010

SSS... stunning sunny Saturday

Another stunning winters day and the start of a new Winter Skills and Winter Mountaineering course.
Today we looked at self belays, ice axe arrests, step kicking, footwork and balance techniques, pidgeon hole step cutting, cramponning and emergency snow shelters.
Similar weather for tomorrow with sun glasses and sunblock essential bits of winter kit!
Fi was nearby with her ladies Winter Skills group and spotted the same strange snow tracks we'd noticed on the walk out (apparently it was a Black Grouse that had landed and then took off!) More details here
Thursday, 18 February 2010

Another sunny yet extremely cold day in the shade

A day of extreme contrasts. Pleasant calm and sunny but extremely cold in the shade. Warm in the sun but with lots of deep sparkling hoar frost in sheltered hollows. Hard trail breaking but great powder skiing... Slab avalanches in coire headwalls, corniced gullies yet stunning winter buttress climbing... See Al's blog for todays climbing conditions here
Wednesday, 17 February 2010

A stunning powder day

A blue sky powder ski day. Great viz and ski conditions from mountain to forest.
Knee deep snow on approaches and white buried crags. Skis and snow-shoes useful for hillwalking...!
Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Lots more snow!

A fair bit of fresh snow has fallen over Aviemore and the Cairngorms recently with a lot more being forecast for this evening and overnight. Today the ski road was closed until mid morning with foot access into the coires in the deep snow hard going for anyone that tried. The skiing should be good once the road is opened...!
Sunday, 14 February 2010

White and wet with crocodiles!

It was extremely busy today with the upper carpark filling up by 8.15 am. The coires were packed full too with large crocodiles and queues on many routes. As the freezing level rose to plateau level the snow turned to rain for a time.
The wet snow on top of firm neve caused our crampons to ball up if care wasn't taken while climbing up the Goat Track. More of a worry were the climbers slipping and sliding while descending and then traversing directly above us with balled up crampons - we were the skittles.
A large school group of twelve following behind us all tied together on two ropes ready to snare any sliding climbers - at least that's what it looked like!!
On the plateau whiteout conditions meant extreme care was required while navigating to the Domhain snow holes for some relocation exercises and then hand-railing the corrie rims back to avoid walking over the cornices. BTW many of the tracks come perilously close to to or over the corniced edges and I'm surprised that more people haven't fallen through them!
Avoiding the overhung cornices we descended by windy col looking at snow belays, basic ropework and abseiling just as the coire began to clear on queue for some more white wintry photos...
Saturday, 13 February 2010

Winter Skills weekend

Some fresh snow today and very busy in Aviemore and the Cairngorm ski centre. We avoided the popular venues and had the place to ourselves looking at basic winter skills, emergency shelters and climbing steep snow slopes and through cornices.


Thursday, 11 February 2010

Continuing wintry for the next week or so

Braeriach cornices 10th February 2010
Fairly settled until after the weekend before the temps plummet yet again. So we're on queue for more snow and no doubt road works and traffic jams for the hectic mid-term school break!
Fi is back from a few days snowholing in the heart of the Cairngorms and has lots of stunning of photos from Braeriach. You can see the photos and spot thethick blue ice at
Also look at Al H's latest videos and his blog to get an idea of the latest climbing conditions. See
It's also worth mentioning that horizontal dual point crampons are often less likely to slice through the soft snow and ice and that traditional axes (with adze and without handles) are more suitable for plunging, clearing the gear placements and digging out the belays on many of the mid grade routes. A number climbers have been baling out or struggling with the latest state of the art ice climbing kit while winter hillwalkers are waltzing up the same routes with a single axe and strap on crampons ;-) Deadmen could also be beneficial for runners on some of the steep snow and run out corniced exits rather than a rack of friends!
Email from Oli below looking for a climbing partner next week:

Hi Ron,

Hope you're well and having a good season.
So far my Scotland trips have coincided with pretty poor conditions and I'm yet to do a Scottish route this season. Fortunately conditions in Wales have been OK and I've managed a couple of ice routes their instead.
Anyway I'm in Scotland next week from Wednesday through to Sunday and am looking for partners, I wondered if you could stick something on your blog or let me know if you hear of anyone in the same situation.
Probably best for anyone interested to give me a shout on 07792656685

Many thanks

Oli Giles
Wednesday, 10 February 2010

It cleared for a time!

Another misty start looking for the crags before it completely clearing for a time.
It was the last day of our winter mountaineering course cum intro lead climbing so we could push the boat out a bit...
The guys were tired but well up for leading, so rather than taking the easy Jacobs Ladder or Central gully option we headed up for Jacobs Edge.
It was hard work with the snow not the perfect neve but a breakable crust and the belays not nicely dug out as hoped for - it was an adventure into the unknown even for me.
A few sketchy moments looking for runners on the grade two moves and digging for non existent buried belays.
All of a sudden the penny dropped about being organised with gear, slings and having a decent bucket seat and one for the dead rope - a few lessons taught, ignored but now never to be forgotten...
The guys had a great time despite quite a few curses while tangled in slings, sitting frozen at belays or trying to catch a sliding rope...!

The YouTube video above can be viewed full screen at
Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Hunting and wands!

On Monday we looked at placing rock gear and setting up equalised belays at Huntly's Cave. The recent heavy snow has brought down a huge number of trees, including some of the top belays making access tricky.
Today was another cold white day and saw us hunting the crags in nil vis in Coire an t-Sneachda yet again!
We practised ropework, excavated runners from the thickly rimed cliffs and had a really fun climb pitching up the little Pre Buttress onto Fiacaill Ridge. The mist cleared for about 30 seconds to reveal the top half of Fiacaill Ridge (photo above) - no-one was climbing the Hunting!! Climbing conditions were excellent with good neve and ice making the tricky rock sections on our route easier than normal. As we descended off the ridge and out of the mist the hills slightly further west were sparkling in the sun.
We followed the new marker wands (photo above) placed by the Ranger Service (on a quad bike?) back to a busy Coire Cas and homeward...

The YouTube video above can be viewed at
Sunday, 7 February 2010

Snow anchors and shelters

A good calm day today and a lot brighter than expected. With lots of easy accessible deep snow drifts, crevasses and cornices we had a good day looking at snow climbing techniques, belays, basic dynamic ropework and emergency snow shelters. Great climbing condition in the Corries and a great climbing forecast for the coming week...

The winter belays and ropework video above can be found at
Fi and Neil are out with our Adventurous Training groups all this week. More photos and details here
Saturday, 6 February 2010

Milder with great whiteout conditions for nav

Good winter skills conditions especially for navigation on our advanced Winter Mountaineering course...! Tomorrow the freezing level drops so the snow should freeze hard above 600 metres.
YouTube video at
Wednesday, 3 February 2010

A nice day with good vis for a change!

A calm sunny start to the day saw Mark and I following Jules and the 'Lodge' teams into the sparkling white Northern Corries - with our shades on rather than goggles for a change...
Last night there was some overnight silky fresh snow before the skies cleared to give a good frost.
We headed into Coire an t-Sneachda to look at more ropework, belays and to see where we had been yesterday! Our route headed up between Jacob's Edge and Hidden Chimney before joining the later at the crux chockstones. The fresh snow surface was soft but really good as long as you kicked through to the bomber underlying neve. The route including the Direct Start was well banked with good neve and ice though had a steep corniced exit - which Mark really enjoyed!
Other climbs nearbye such as The Haston line alongside were banked up and looked really straight forward as did Yukon Jack and Opening Break. Several teams including Andy N (in Central Gully) reported steep corniced exits around the Trident Gully areas and Fi didn't see anyone climbing Jacob's Ladder or the Runnel! We didn't see anyone either on the harder lines with most teams enjoying the great climbing on the classic easy to mid grade routes in the Corrie.
By mid afternoon the blue sky had faded and the winds had increased from the SE drifting large quantities of fresh snow onto northerly aspects and across the ski roads.
More photos on Fi's blog here
By Thursday the snow cover and climbing conditions will have changed somewhat from today due to the amount fresh drifting snow.
Remember to check the latest Cairngorm SAIS avalanche reports

If you can't see the YouTube video above you can view it at
Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Great climbing but Nil visibility

A lot windier and more wintry than expected today with challenging navigation (white out) into our climb, on the plateau and on the way back out again! I was guiding Mark today when Fi and Alan followed us up Goat Track gully once the belays had been excavated! It was bitterly cold with a strong icy up draught though the climbing conditions were really superb on rimed up neve and great ice. The only other climb we could actually see was Red Gully and that looked superb too and quite banked on the first ice pitch. It was snowing heavily around Aviemore this evening... More on Fi's blog here
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