Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Spring snow routes in Glencoe (posted by James)

Stob Coire nan Lochan from Bidean nam Bian

Well things are certainly very different in Glencoe to how they were this time last year. I was out on the hill today for the first time in about 2 weeks due to my time away in Yorkshire, and things couldn't be more different from the last time I was out!

On the 16th March I went up Gearr Aonach via "The Zig Zags", in the deepest dump of snow I've ever seen in Scotland. But you wouldn't think it looking at things now. The thaw has been sustained and pretty drastic, and now I doubt you'll find anything to climb in Glencoe over Grade II.

Central Gully (dividing the two buttresses), and Great Gully on the right

Eager to see how firm the snow up high was, I went for a quick climb up Bidean nam Bian's Central Gully this morning, after the Clachaig's annual staff litter pick along the back road to Glencoe. Central Gully is Grade I under heavy snow, but after a thaw there are two possible cruxes, one in both the left and the right hand fork around Collie's Pinnacle.

A very thin left fork of Central Gully

I first tried the left fork, but found that two much snow had melted from around the chockstone leaving this part of the gully overhanging, thin, and far far harder than Grade I/II! Under these conditions the left hand fork really isn't an option.

Huge holes in the snowpack. This photo doesn't give any scale, but this snow is perhaps 15ft deep.

So I tried the right hand fork, and found a short pitch of excellent ice (steep for the grade) leading to the snow gully above. To my great surprise, this was probably the best quality ice I've climbed all winter!

Excellent ice in the right fork.

The snow in the gully is quite firm and friendly, although with a melting and rather slushy surface, but overall pretty good. I topped out onto Bidean's summit, and then descended by the Grade I "Great Gully" and down Coire nam Beithiach.

Central Gully from the top.

So the winter climbing season in Glencoe is all but at an end I'm afraid…certainly I would doubt many mixed routes are in condition at all apart from perhaps Dorsal Arete, but I haven't actually been into Coire nan Lochan for a while so don't take my word for it!

Bad weather forecast for the end of the week, let's see what happens!


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