Thursday, 17 February 2011

Starting the year's sun-tan on Sron na Lairig (posted by James)

Walking in to Sron na Lairig, the ridge in the centre.

Sron na Lairig (3* Grade II), Glencoe.

Although the frightening avalanche risk of the last few days has gone down a bit, today I wanted to find a ridge to climb rather than a gully or face route, in order to avoid another potentially lethal encounter with the white stuff.

Sron na Lairig on Stob Coire Sgreamhach's Eastern flank is one of the classic Scottish winter ridge climbs, but I'd never got around to climbing despite this being my second winter in Glencoe.

It would be difficult to find the start of the ridge in mist or cloud, so the clear sky and heavy frost which greeted me when I awoke this morning was just what I needed. The walk-in is delightfully easy and I pretty much jogged the entire way, Sron na Lairig appearing bigger and more defined the closer I got. As soon as I walked into the sun, I could feel its warmth…a real feeling of spring in the air today!

Sron na Lairig from below

Route finding on the bottom half of Sron na Lairig can be a bit tricky when the snow isn't good, and it certainly was not good today. There hasn't been enough freeze-thaw since the considerable snowfall of a few days ago, so I had to do a lot of wading through sugary drifts to get on the climb. On the walk-in I was shocked by the sheer number of avalanches which have happened on nearly all slopes in the last couple of days - everything from huge slides to cornice collapses.

Heavy powder on some slopes

I saw another climber ahead of me turn back from the most usual entry groove onto the ridge, as he was constantly sinking up to his waist in the deep snow and it looked decidedly unstable. Notably the entire ridge was covered in debris from snow slides which have swept down the face in recent days, and I didn't want to risk setting off another one so I avoided the entry groove too.

Much less snow on the ridge itself, all melting fast.

I went right up a steep snow scoop, which was absolutely exhausting. A very thin layer of crust on top of deep powder made for slow progress indeed!

The massive East face of Stob Coire Sgreamhach. Note avalanche trail under the cornice at the top left of the picture.

After traversing left again to gain the platform under the first steep wall, things improved a lot. However everything was thawing quickly, the turf wasn't frozen at all and it felt distinctly like a warm April afternoon!

The top section of Sron na Lairig is absolutely spectacular, the ridge narrows to a thin gangway with awesome exposure to both sides. Not a route to do in strong winds!

Another climbing approaching the narrows.

So a great route, one of the classic ridges, albeit in less than great conditions!

In summary, avalanche risk is still pretty high in Glencoe just now - I saw debris trails on slopes of all aspects. Generally the fresh snow of the last week is still fairly unconsolidated and makes for exhausting work, and the turf remains unfrozen up to at least 900m.

Take care if you're heading out this weekend, the forecast isn't looking good I'm afraid.


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