I had a bit of a fright today in Coire nan Lochan, one of those days that leaves you slightly shaken and makes you reflect on how easy it is for things to go wrong.
We've had a large dump of fresh snow a couple of days ago in Glencoe, which is now lying on top of the semi-consolidated old snowpack that has been there since early October. Until some freeze-thaw, this is always a dangerous situation.
A climber on Central Buttress (VII,7)??
With this in mind, I had no plans to do any climbing today so I headed up to do the West ridge of Stob Coire nan Lochan, simply to be up on the tops on another stunning sunny day.
I was paying constant attention to avalanche hazard all the time, as is essential in these snow conditions. None the less, on my way down the West ridge I was caught out, and had a very near miss.
The West ridge of Stob Coire nan Lochan
An area of windslab, not very large, broke away beneath my feet and set me sliding down the slope. An ice axe arrest was impossible due to the terrain, and after a few metres I was brought to a nasty halt. My left leg got caught between two boulders and stopped me with a jolt, as the rest of my body's momentum tried to carry me forward.
For a brief moment I feared broken bones, but when I got myself up again it was very painful but everything seemed in one piece. Ultimately I was very lucky, as if I hadn't been stopped so suddenly I would have continued on the avalanche all the way into Coire nan Beith, and in all likelihood to a sticky ending.
Serious snow on Ben Nevis
So a word of warning. Conditions on some slopes are now very hazardous. The extreme cold of the last two weeks has formed a layer of hoar frost (in some places) on the old snowpack, making a line of serious weakness between this and the new dump of snow. Even on the lowest slopes, the new powder hides extensive horizontal ice flows which you don't know are there until you are already sliding.
Until we have a thaw and re-freeze, serious care is needed. I was taking every caution today, and still nearly had a serious accident.
Remember, it only takes the smallest of slips to do serious harm. Be safe folks.