Sunday, 29 November 2009

Bidean nam Bian conditions

Today James and I visited the highest coire of Bidean nam Bian to investigate conditions. We discovered frozen turf from about 400m up, patches of hard neve from 600, but only from around 800m was the snow cover continuous. The quality of the snow decreased somewhat with height, as the higher snow has had less of a chance to consolidate.

There is a strong wind blowing from the North at the moment, which is depositing inches-thick windslab all over the place--even on Northerly slopes in some cases, as we discovered today. I would estimate the avalanche danger to be at around Category 4 at the moment. I must emphasise that until consolidation takes place, this buildup of windslab is going to present a significant danger to all mountain travellers. We witnessed the remains of a small avalanche in a cone at the foot of Central Gully, and avalanches are going to be more and more frequent on certain slopes until things settle down. I would estimate the head of Coire nam Beithach (the normal route up Bidean from the Clachaig) to be particularly dangerous just now.

To avoid the windslab, we stuck right to the foot of the cliffs on the way up to our route, where re-frozen meltwater had improved the snow drastically. We were also sheltered from any avalanches from above. However. the centre of the great couloir looked highly loaded and I would not have liked my chances in the middle of it today.

In general, we found the snow to be a totally mixed bag, with areas of hard neve, much windslab, and also regions of loose powder.

In terms of ice, the crags are looking white and ice is starting to build up everywhere. Turf is frozen solid where exposed to the Polar winds, but where buried it was found to be only partially frozen on this mountain. Nevertheless, I expect a lot of the harder mixed routes are in prime condition, and we saw a team heading towards Crypt Route or Flake Route.

Our 'Gangway' up the cliff (as our chosen route was called) was pleasant and short-lived, with spectacular views into the depths of Central Gully. As a Grade II we found it quite easy and I would recommend it as a suitable beginner's route. We topped out onto the summit of Bidean to bitingly cold winds, instantly freezing all moisture on our persons. My hair froze into a tangle of ice that rattled as I moved, and as usual ice formed on the insides of my sleeves (I was wearing my ancient windshirt, aka 'The Death Smock' today).

The descent down the North Ridge of Bidean was uneventful, although we did observe soft snow aretes and cornices starting to form.

All in all, a fantastic day on the hill, even if we did have to get up at silly-o'clock to squeeze the climb in before a shift behind the bar! Conditions are surprisingly good for the time of year, and with a bit of luck all this snow will provide a base to build on for the rest of the season.

Photos from today

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