Monday, 30 March 2009

Fortune favours the brave

Despite sustained snowmelt caused by rain and mild temperatures overnight, this morning I decided to walk into Coire nan Lochan to see what was left. It rained more or less constantly up to the coire and by the time I stood beneath the cliffs I was soaked!

The snow was pretty saturated so I was doubtful about gully lines, but I decided to start up the Grade I/II rib to the left of Boomerang Gully anyway. The lower stretches of all the gullies were in bad shape. At the dog-leg near the ice step in Boomerang Gully, I entered the gully proper and found a lot of excellent (albeit thawing) neve. Towards the centre of the gully the snow was softer but I stuck to the left edge, which was solid all the way up.

The mixed step had nicely frozen turf and some damp ice on it but was very straightforward in the conditions. I topped out into torrential rain and galeforce winds which blew me off my feet more than once. Conditions on the descent were very difficult indeed.

Looking at the top-outs of other routes, Broad Gully had no cornice but all of the other gullies carried large and very dangerous-looking cornices. SC Gully and NC Gully looked particularly bad, with the top-outs consisting of saturated windslab, something Boomerang Gully was mostly free from.

Note that the thaw is so rapid that the conditions I observed this morning will even by this point be completely different: I doubt any of the gullies will be safe from this afternoon onwards, unless the weather changes. However, a really solid freeze will bring them into excellent shape. Whether this will happen is anyone's guess!

Facebook photo album

Friday, 27 March 2009

Fresh snow

The deep low pressure zone to the North of Scotland is giving us some very changeable weather: sunshine one minute, torrential rain the next! Overall the conditions are blustery and unsettled. Snow showers in the mountains are dumping fresh powder down to about 500m although it is rapidly melting at moderate levels between showers.

Friday, 20 March 2009

The end of winter in Glencoe?

After days of sunshine and hot weather in the Lakes, Isi and I returned to Glencoe to find much the same weather up here! The mountains are looking very Alpine at the moment through the haze, with big snow patches left at high levels. Most of the easy gullies in Coire nan Lochan appeared complete but it is very hot at the moment. A lot of winter routes are being done on Ben Nevis with early starts.

The rock climbing season has taken off, with Polldubh being very busy this morning. We got a few routes done, including an ascent of Fence Edge, a Mild Severe that felt rather tough! As I am an inexperienced rock climber I hope to improve my standard this summer, so things are off to a good start.

More snow is forecast for next week so anything could happen, but at the moment it's feeling very summery in Glencoe.

Click below for some photo albums from the last few days.

Langdale Pikes
The Scafells
Sharp Edge and Polldubh

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Spiral Gully with direct finish

Thanks to Jamie B from the Ice Factor, today Isi and I hitched to the Cairngorms and went climbing in Coire an t-Sneachda. Conditions were better than expected; although it was hovering above freezing, there was a lot of consolidated snow around and the gullies were in reasonable shape. Buttresses were black and a bit damp.

We chose Spiral Gully as our climb, a quality Grade II line meandering up the cliffs. Choosing the more adventurous variations, including an invented Grade III finish up a mixed rib with a couple of technical moves, we had a great day! The first pitch was a tad on the soggy side, so we avoided turf where possible, but on the upper pitches the turf was acceptably frozen and there was even some nice sticky ice to be had.

Weather was on the blustery side with some spindrift and snow showers. As we walked out from the crag in the afternoon, the wind began to pick up.

Upon returning to Glencoe, it soon became obvious that the thaw has affected the snow at all levels. Aonach Dubh has once again been stripped. Not sure what is going on with the snow at the highest levels, but what we need now is a good freeze!

Facebook album from today

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Meall Lighliche by moonlight

Last night I went for a moonlit walk to a summit that is rarely visited--the sub-Munro, non-Corbett Meall Lighliche (778m, to the NW of Sgor na h-Ulaidh). With the bright moon and clear sky, a headtorch was not required and the moon was so bright on the snow that colours were vivid and it looked almost like mid-day! A fantastic hillwalking journey.

I did not get to any appreciable altitude, but can report that the snow I walked on alternated between solid neve and tiring, crusty powder. The surface crust varied considerably, so that in places it offered almost no resistance, whereas in others it would support your body-weight. Beneath the well-bonded crust the pack consisted of rounded thawing grains. Stability seemed to have improved considerably and I did not see any avalanche danger on the steep route I took up the mountainside, which was Grade I in places.

However, it is worth stressing that this was a SE-facing slope at moderate altitude, which will have been exposed to the warm sun. These observations will have little bearing on what is going on in the shaded northern corries where most climbers will be operating.

So all is not doom and gloom, but today a thaw has set in as forecast. Let's hope this is the start of a freeze-thaw cycle that will bring things back into good conditions.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Glorious weather

A rare day of glorious weather in Glencoe, with largely clear skies and light winds. Several teams completed the Aonach Eagach today and reported heavy-going in the soft snow (which they did not believe re-froze overnight), although the effort was more than compensated for by the stunning views from the ridge. In conditions such as these the Aonach Eagach is a sensible choice of route, if dodgy slopes are avoided on the way up to Am Bodach and the descent from Sgorr nam Fiannaidh.

All change for tomorrow as the forecast indicates 70mph gusts and incessant rain, with very mild temperatures!

Monday, 9 March 2009

Stob Coire nan Lochan today

No photos from today unfortunately as I have lost my camera and am awaiting its replacement.

Today I decided to head into Coire nan Lochan to have a look at Boomerang Arete. As I was first along the path, the task of breaking trail fell to me. Towards the steepening at the top of the stream this became tiring work, as the snow varied between hard crust and powder up to a metre deep in places!

To avoid the slope of deep snow to the right of the little buttress at the head of the stream, I climbed the buttress itself direct. It made an entertaining little climb, maybe 60-70m in height, at around Grade II/III standard by the line I took. The turf was well-frozen and there was even a decent amount of ice.

Upon reaching the coire, I saw SC Gully avalanche all at once. Seconds later, the lower part of Boomerang Gully went as well. Spindrift was pouring over all the crags: a wild sight indeed. Everything appeared to be very banked-out, and Dorsal Arete seemed to almost merge into Broad Gully and Forked Gully. As I was soloing and due back in work by five, and had just seen part of Boomerang Arete wiped out by an avalanche, I decided to call it a day and head for home. Luckily I managed to glissade most of the way down!

Several other teams were up in the coire today, including the Brenin and a number of groups with Dorsal Arete in mind. What we need now is a good spell of consolidation to sort out all the loose snow.

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Rapid thaw

After overnight rain and drizzle this morning, the hills were rapidly stripped of snow at moderate altitudes. Aonach Dubh West Face is once again looking rather black. Most of the snow above 900m looks to have survived, but a glance of the Bidean crags from the village indicated that some thawing has occurred even at the highest levels. This is all to the good for long-term prospects. In the mean time, a lot of folk had a very damp day on the hill today.

More snow forecast for next week.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

New snow both East and West

Yesterday I headed over to Aviemore with the intention of walking into the Braeriach corries, staying at the dilapidated bothy, and climbing Braeriach. The weather wasn't too bad when I set out, but by the time I reached the Chalamain Gap the snow had set in with a vengeance and the wind was increasing all the time. The Gap was carpeted with several inches of soft new snow making it highly treacherous to cross the boulder-field, necessitating a detour to the North.

Upon entering the Lairig Ghru, the wind reached galeforce proportions from the South, driving vast amounts of snow in front of it. Very quickly, enormous drifts started to build up and progress towards the summit of the pass became difficult. As I reached the Pools of Dee at about 5pm I decided to turn back, as I still had several kilometres left to the Garbh Coire Bothy, which may well be buried in snow by the time I got there.

I then had to walk back to Aviemore, and ended up walking almost the entire way back as I missed the last bus ... although a kind climber gave me a lift along the last mile of the road. A well-deserved pint of Wildcat and a dram or two of whisky in the Old Bridge Inn, and all was well.

Given the high avalanche threat in the Cairngorms I decided to come home early. Overnight, two inches of snow fell in Aviemore. The bus journey back along the Great Glen was spectacular, with all the surrounding mountains shining perfect white. Particularly inspiring was the view of the Grey Corries, Aonach Mor, and Ben Nevis from above Spean Bridge: it looked like a landscape out of the Arctic, pure unbroken white, with huge plumes of spindrift blowing in ragged strips from the summit crests.

Here in Glencoe there has been just as much snow. For the time being the avalanche risk is going to be high indeed, but given how warm the sun is I have hopes for a relatively quick period of consolidation. If things stay cold, good conditions should return in due course!

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Getting colder again

A dusting of snow on the tops this morning and it feels notably colder in the glen. MWIS predicts blizzards and persistent snow showers this week, so our luck could be changing! I have days off on Tuesday and Wednesday so watch this space for updates.