Saturday, 19 March 2011

The deepest snow of the winter in Glencoe (posted by James)

Winter perfection on top of Gearr Aonach

The Zig-Zags (Grade I), Gearr Aonach, 16th March 2011

A few days back we had a massive dump of snow in the Glen, the heaviest of the winter and a welcome surprise. And wednesday was arguably the most beautiful day we've had since the start of the season, so despite a 12 hour shift starting at midday, I decided I had to go and make the most of the sun and the snow.

Sunlight catches the top of Gearr Aonach

In need of a short day, I headed towards the Zig-Zags on Gearr Aonach, the classic scramble which makes its way up the middle of the Three Sisters. Even on the walk-in, I was fairly surprised by the sheer depth of some of the snowdrifts, and I became very grateful for the trench cut through the snow by Jamie Bankhead's team a few days before!

A stunning morning...The Lost Valley Buttress

The first "Zig" was heavily banked out with sugary snow, but with a thin frozen crust on top. Hard work indeed! But the higher I got the more the route turned into a scramble rather than a "winter route", and all the rock steps were fairly free of snow or ice.

Deep drifts beneath Gearr Aonach

The sun hit me as I was half way up the Zig-Zags, and I was suddenly warm. For a few minutes a cloud inversion over Rannoch Moor turned a beautiful pink, and the Lost Valley Buttress of Bidean nam Bian was smothered in Alpenglow. It was shaping up to be a truly special morning.

Melting ice half-way up the Zig Zags

The view from the summit of Gearr Aonach is always one of the best in Lochaber, but on wednesday it was utterly spectacular. I'm approaching the end of my second winter in Glencoe, and I'd never seen so much snow in Coire nan Lochan. Instead of the usual cobweb and grid of climber's paths weaving through the snow towards every route imaginable, on wednesday there was just one heading predictably towards Dorsal Arete.

A spectacular moment over Rannoch Moor

I was amazed by the drifts on my way down…where there are usually small ravines to cross over the river, there were just slight depressions in the snow. And it was the easiest, quickest walk down from Coire nan Lochan I'd ever done - just following a knee-deep snow trench rather than going down endless steps.

A very, very snowy Coire nan Lochan

Things have changed a bit since wednesday - most of the lower level snow has melted, but the snow remains pretty unstable on North and North-Easterly aspects, especially high up where there are massive accumulations. My guess is that most of the easier gullies are a complete no-no…but that having been said once there is a re-freeze things could be very nice indeed on the easier snow routes! The winter isn't over yet….


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