Wednesday, 13 December 2017

AVALANCHE AWARE & STEEP GROUND

Coire an lochain
Weakness within the snowpack
...and more weaknesses
Safe on steep, broken ground
Rime and ice caked crags
The Vent area
Coire an Lochain and the Great Slab
Hard work getting through the drifts
Afternoon light
Easier ground
Hard walk out in thedrifts
Sunset
More snow fell overnight and into this morning. Stronger Westerly winds making walking anywhere a more arduous affair. Today Mick and I were focusing on Avalanche Awareness & movement on steep ground on Mick's second day out with me. The SAIS Avalanche forecasts will be up and running again on Friday 15th December. Until then the only decisions on where to go and where not to go are the ones YOU make. The avalanche decision and assessment should always be taken into account on every winter journey. We set off at the Coire Cas carpark and after leaving the ski paraphernalia behind we saw no one all day until back at the carpark. Needless to say the going was tough. No footprints or trench to make life easier today. We went to Coire an Lochain, taking nearly two hours to the lochan's, twice the usual time. Eastern and North Eastern aspects have gained a lot of wind slab since yesterday. We kept to a safe area, under the lower crags in the coire. Some frozen turf and plenty of ice around  here. We dug a couple of test pits to assess the avalanche potential. There was weaknesses deep in the half metre snow pack on a North aspect. The strong winds, snow showers and poor visibility gave way to some lovely spells of clear weather in the afternoon. A fine day on the hill and a great work out for the legs and knees again!

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

4 DAY WINTER COURSE

Mick enjoying the Fiacaill Ridge
This is fun! High up on the Fiacaill Coire Sneachda
Coire Sneachda
Goat Track
Fiacaill Buttress
Coire an t-Sneachda & Cairn Gorm
Rime Ice a plenty
More Fiacaill fun
Climbers on Fiacaill Buttress
Alladin's Buttress
A fine day out!
Mick is out with me for a 4 day course this week. He's already got some winter experience in The Lake District and Snowdonia so he is hoping to build on this. Going at your own pace on a bespoke, tailored course are the big pluses of hiring an instructor on a one to one basis. Mick already has lots of confidence so we quickly got onto some exciting ground. We headed into Coire an t-Sneachda. The route into the coire is well trodden so an easy stroll in. It was a fine morning with light winds and sunny skies. We worked across the coire and under the Fiacaill Buttress to gain the notch on the Fiacaill a' Coire Sneachda. There was some nice, icy ground and refrozen snow high up to give Mick some experience in front pointing on the steeper slopes. Most of the snow is still unconsolidated. Up on the ridge the rocks are well rimed with deep banks of snow on the traverse under the crest. We had the place to ourselves. Mick loving every minute of the route up onto the plateau. The winds picked up by early afternoon with plenty of spindrift blowing about. A high windchill on the plateau. Plenty of folk out climbing in the coire. A grand day to be out.
A busy period for me with 11 days of work on the trot. Looking like some great winter conditions on the run up to the Christmas period.

Sunday, 10 December 2017

POWDER SNOW WEEKEND

Karen descending Fionn Bheinn 
Storm Caroline passed through quickly last week, here in The Highlands. As forecasted things went much colder from Thursday. We had non stop snow for a couple of days in Scotland.  The NW Highlands and the Cairngorms receiving most of it on the cold Northerly and NW winds. Karen and I headed away for a couple of days up north, basing ourselves at the wee village of Achnasheen. Our weekend was a mix of hillwalking and swimming!
Fuar Toll
On Saturday we headed from Achnashellach and up into Coire Lair. You could never tire of walking up into this area. With two wonderful Munros of Sgorr Ruadh and Beinn Liath Mor on either side of the beautiful glen. As well as these two big hills, there is also the majestic Corbett of Fuar Toll which only just fails to reach the 3000ft mark. Our objective today was to get to the peaceful and seldom visited Loch Coire Lair which is nestled below the impressive East face of Sgorr Ruadh.
Coire Lair and Sgorr Ruadh
The weather forecast was to be cold with frequent snow showers. We certainly got a few of these. When the showers did come through there was limited visibility, even at low levels. The snow showers were short and in between the precipitation we had stunning clear views with some sunshine. Above 300m the going was hard with the fresh, soft snow. It took us double the time to get to our destination.
Loch Coire Lair & Fuar Toll
Timed perfectly, the skies were clear and a lovely view for the swim. As some of you may know, Karen as set here self a challenge this month. She is swimming or 'dipping' every single day in December, This is day 9. It's something she enjoys immensely but she is also swimming the icy lochs for a worthy cause. Raising funds for Child Poverty Action. She has a Just Giving Page if you want to send a donation.
Sgorr Ruadh & Loch Coire Lair
Karen Psyching up for a swim
Beinn Liath Mhor's Eastern ridge
Obviously we are well prepared for the exit out of the icy waters. Several layers of warm clothing,  group shelter and hot chocolate does the trick to bring Karen back to a 'normal' temperature. The time was getting on a bit by now. This far north in mid December and the sun is wanting to be somewhere else. 3.30pm and daylight goes fast. To reach any of the big hills in these conditions requires an early start and some hard graft! Anything that isn't popular with a big trench up the hill side is going to take you double the time probably. We were the only folk on the hill and in the glen today. Even in summer I very rarely see anyone here. It's one of the gems of the northwest. You don't need to even climb the hills for some terrific views.
Sunset over Fuar Toll
Achnashellach train station
We got a few more showers on our way back to the train station at Achnashellach. Unlike in parts of England, we don't have chaos on the roads or rail when there is snow! The train was spot on time back to Achnasheen.
Temperature Inversion below Fionn Bheinn
Sunday morning dawned cold and crisp. Beautiful crystal clear skies above a temperature inversion in the glen. The winds had dropped to nothing and it was a day of wall to wall sunshine. We fancied a day on Fionn Bheinn, a solitary Munro directly above Achnasheen. It was powder snow from Glen to Ben. Once again double the time and effort compared to summer. It was just stunning to be out. We saw four other folk on the hill, they were all on skis. Perfect conditions if you're into ski touring.
Looking west to Sgorr Ruadh and Beinn Liath Mhor from Fionn Bheinn
A distant Ben Wyvis from Fionn Bheinn
I love temperature inversions!
Achnasheen & Monar hills
We headed down the hill and time for another swim to finish off our weekend. Today's loch was Loch a' Chroisg which lies beside the road to Kinlochewe, Loch Maree and onwards to Glen Torridon. Not as chilly here and some lovely Scots Pines scattered along the shoreline for some shelter and warmth (!) after a dip.

Karen in Loch 'a Chroisg
Sunset over Slioch & Beinn Eighe
Plenty of Stags around this weekend
Meanwhile back home and I have a big stint of 11 days work on the trot coming up. My Four day winter courses are proving popular this year. I have two of these in December, a weekend winter skills and a day course. Guess what, the snow looks like it's behaving itself so far this winter. At least another week of cold weather to come. All details are now on my new look website.



Monday, 4 December 2017

SUPER MOON & SUNSETS BEFORE THE ARCTIC BLAST

Cairn Gorm & Northern Corries
Sunset, Strathspey
Last nights 'Super Moon'
Cloudscapes over the Cairngorms
Sunset clouds
A mild day again in Strathspey. Up on the mountains the snow is there, just a slow thaw so I would imagine not much in the way of ice at the moment. We're due a very warm day on Wednesday and then in sharp contrast the Arctic blast on Thursday which will bring very cold conditions and fresh snow fall. It was a nice afternoon in Aviemore. A quick blast up Craigellachie to catch some lovely cloud and late afternoon light over the Northern Cairngorms. Craigellachie really is a fine viewpoint of the entire Northern Cairngorms. From Meall a' Bhuachaille all the way across to the Feshie Hills.

Sunday, 3 December 2017

IMPROVING CONDITIONS ABOVE 900M

Fiacaill Buttress
Fiacaill Coire Sneacda
Alladin's Buttress
Good snow cover, Coire Sneachda
Good snow cover on the Fiacaill
Rimed ice on the Fiacaill Buttress
Top of the Fiacaill Sneachda
Surprisingly good cover of snow above 800m
The last couple of days the temperatures have gone up, but not too much. Hovering below +10 degrees at sea level  doesn't damage the snow pack too much, as long as it's not for a long period of time! Today in the Northern Corries there was still plenty of snow above 800m The summit temperatures were well below freezing so we've had some consolidation in the snow pack. It was a good day to be out. Light winds, cloud above the tops most of the time and some great snow conditions up high. There was a great mix of firm snow, water ice, rime ice and compacted  snow on the Fiacaill Coire Sneachda. Good snowy ledges and good ice axe placements in some of the icy sections.
Even with some thaw the Cairngorms comes up trumps. Full winter conditions still, unlike most places in  Snowdonia and The Lakes where most snow as been wiped out
If you're thinking of a winter skills course then The Highlands should be your first choice for reliable 'proper winter'. Good to hire a local company too, they know the hills so well! I still have some limited weekend availability this winter. Check out my newly updated website for course content.
Some more mild weather over the next couple of days before we get another Arctic blast on Thirsday. Winter continues.....