/ The demise of Scottish Winter Climbing

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Drexciyan 01 Jan 2020

inevitable? Already happening?

I know it's only the start of January, but Some recent modelling suggests in as little as ten years the Scottish winters could be virtually snowless in any meaningful sense.

I really hope this isn't the case, but the writing does seem to be on the wall perhaps.

Don't mean to be a doom merchant on the first day of the year!

Have been dwelling on this and thought it might generate some interesting perspectives from others.

Off to do my snow dance

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Exile 01 Jan 2020
In reply to Drexciyan:

There has been climbing from mid November until the middle of last week this season already. Last season was poor, the previous season very good.  I suspect we won't know if Scotland is dead, and then only in retrospect, ie looking back over a number of years, for a while yet. 

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Misha 01 Jan 2020
In reply to Drexciyan:

I don't know about the timescale but clearly over time it will become even less reliable / predictable and will eventually pretty much disappear. May be not in 10 years but in 20 to 30? Ironically, the number of winter climbers seems to have increased over the last 10 years or so. Get at it while you can...

Could you post a link to the modelling / related articles? Would be interesting to have a look, as long as it's not too scientific!

Post edited at 20:32
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Coel Hellier 01 Jan 2020
In reply to Drexciyan:

If climate change were to switch off the gulf stream (which has been suggested as possible), there would be good Scottish winter conditions solidly all winter, every year. 

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JCurrie 01 Jan 2020
In reply to Drexciyan:

I did a winter skills course in 89 (+/- 1 year!). It was a winter that never happened and we were forced to use the one snow patch that existed on Cairngorm.

When both my boys were wee the winters were very cold, particularly 2009/2010. The lifts at Glenshee were almost buried.

More recently the Dubh Loch sported ice rarely seen before.

Dont read too much into how this winter is shaping up, it’s just weather, and often it is January when things really get going.

That said, I have a bad feeling that my planned trips will once again have to be put on ice.

Jason

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Martin Haworth 01 Jan 2020
In reply to Drexciyan: Look on the bright side, more opportunities to climb warm rock in Scotland.

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leon 1 01 Jan 2020
In reply to Martin Haworth:

Yes, all year round midges, just what we all dream of.

Post edited at 20:58
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Martin Haworth 01 Jan 2020
In reply to leon 1:

I don't suppose there is any chance it will get too hot for midges!

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leon 1 01 Jan 2020
In reply to Martin Haworth:

Then the leeches will take over etc etc until all that's left are the cockroaches covered in factor 50. 

Happy New Year 😲

Post edited at 21:36
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Misha 01 Jan 2020
In reply to Coel Hellier:

I first heard that a fair few years ago. No idea if it's true. Hasn't happened yet and Scottish winters seem to be getting worse in the meantime...

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Misha 01 Jan 2020
In reply to JCurrie:

Sure, it's just weather day to day and there will be outlying seasons / months / weeks / days but the pattern is fairly clear - it's not getting better for winter climbing!

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bonebag 01 Jan 2020
In reply to Drexciyan:

I hope this is not the case. Last year wasn't great I know but still managed to climb Castle Ridge and Western Rib in almost winter conditions on two days in March. In Feb 2010 I climbed on Steall Falls. A once in every 30 years event apparently. So not all gloom. Ten years is nothing in weather patterns.

It's not a personal attack Drexciyan but we should all be positive and have a cup half full and not half empty. Get out when we can and take advantage when winter arrives. Tricky for those of us south of the border at short notice maybe. 

As another poster said November had some climbing and so did the end of October just. 

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Eric9Points 02 Jan 2020
In reply to Drexciyan:

I asked Andy Nisbet about this a few years ago. Yes winters aren't as good as they were. I think he once said that if he was young now he wouldn't have been a winter climber. 

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Planeandsimple 02 Jan 2020
In reply to JCurrie:

I'll second this point. In the last 6 years I've been winter climbing I haven't seen good conditions between Xmas and new year. I stopped booking trips up after the third year in a row of disappointment. Even the winter before last, which was legendary overall had a great start in November then was actually surprisingly poor until after the first week of January. Most reliable conditions tend to occur mid February according to my logbooks. 

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Rigid Raider 02 Jan 2020
In reply to Drexciyan:

I did a ski touring course at GL in January 1999 and there was so little snow we were reduced to skinning up the same patch and skiing back down several times. The lectures were good though.

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scoth 02 Jan 2020
In reply to Misha:

Here's a link to the article I think @Drexciyan is referring to. (links to the actual report are contained within)

https://www.hutton.ac.uk/news/estimating-impact-climate-change-snow-cover-cairngorms

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rogerwebb 02 Jan 2020
In reply to Eric9Points:

Winter is less reliable and the complete stripping thaw more common. In the late 70s when I started it seemed reasonable to save an ambition to skate across Rannoch Moor (with a bit of walking it would be possible) until I was old. Bad choice. (maybe should have decided I was old in 2010)

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Doug 02 Jan 2020
In reply to rogerwebb:

Although the climate is changing, and conditions seem less reliable than before, I can't remember a time when climbers were not predicting the imminent decline/end of Scottish winter climbing  since I started in the mid 70s.  And wasn't there a period in the 1920s/30s which was also very barren ? (memories of old articles in the SMCJ or maybe elsewhere).

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PaulJepson 02 Jan 2020
In reply to Drexciyan:

Is winter climbing in The Lakes and North Wales dead? Comes into condition far less frequently than Scotland but still definitely does come in from time to time. 

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TobyA 02 Jan 2020
In reply to rogerwebb:

>  In the late 70s when I started it seemed reasonable to save an ambition to skate across Rannoch Moor (with a bit of walking it would be possible) until I was old. Bad choice. (maybe should have decided I was old in 2010)

I remember an article about in High about doing that, must have been early 90s but I'm not sure if they did it years before the article was published.

On a vaguely related note, when I had recently moved back to Finland after being there a couple of years in the 90s, my fellow expat mate Dave asked me if I wanted to join him, an American mutual friend, and a Finn in skiing from the Åland islands across the Baltic back to the Finnish mainland. I had just come back from a quick visit to the UK to see my recently born nephew (he is doing his A levels now!) and to attend an early UKC "winter picnic" where I had failed on Sterling Bridge and climbed Green Gully. I had one set of thermals at the time and I hadn't put them through the laundry when Dave called me and asked me to join the ski team. This, and being frankly a bit knackered from climbing in Scotland and travelling across Europe, made me say "I'll come next time" to the offer.  The sea freezing there didn't seem that an uncommon a thing (that winter they opened many of the ice roads in the archipelago), but after the team did the ski successfully they ended up in the Finnish media and lots of others taking their routes subsequent weekends, and I've not heard of people being able to do again in the winters that have followed!

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TobyA 02 Jan 2020
In reply to Drexciyan:

Living in Sheffield and loving winter climbing, out of necessity I'm very interested in winter climbing in England and Wales. https://www.ukclimbing.com/articles/features/chasing_the_very_bloody_ephemeral_scottish_winter_climbing-11510 But I do feel that winter climbing south of the Scottish border is incredibly marginal.

I was reading people were ice climbing again yesterday around Raeburn's Easy Route, and looking at the pics it looked great. I think its only been a few days were there was probably nothing at all in condition in Scotland and that's after what looks to have been a great start to winter for both climbing and ski touring. In England/Wales the thaw appears to have stripped almost all the snow pack and people were happily rock climbing on Tryfan a few days ago in what looked like dry conditions in the sun. The big thaws down here do literally knock out all climbing conditions, whilst still it seems in Scotland the big thaws are still only knocking out 'most' of the climbing conditions - often the top of Ben Nevis or high in the Cairngorms seems to save the day.

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rogerwebb 02 Jan 2020
In reply to Doug:

Yes, I have that memory of articles about the snowless winters in the 20s too but I fear the doomongers may be correct. Winter seems to start higher than it used too. 

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DaveHK 02 Jan 2020
In reply to rogerwebb:

> Winter seems to start higher than it used too. 

That's the problem for me (and thee too I expect!). Climbers who are happy climbing whatever, wherever are going to find something to do most seasons but mostly on the Ben and Norn Corries. If your main targets are routes with cliff bases of 700m in the NW you're going to struggle.

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vscott 02 Jan 2020
In reply to rogerwebb:

I think this is probably the key - without checking the data, have impression that sustained thaw periods which reduce the snowpack back to very little (esp away from the very highest summits) have become more frequent so conditions now tend to build less through the season.

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DH3631 02 Jan 2020
In reply to Drexciyan:

IMO (and based on my own experience over 30 years), it's far too early to take a view on this winter. Personally, having already had both crampons and skis on in anger, that's good, on the rule of thumb that "anything before new year is a bonus". As mentioned above, there have been some exceptional conditions within the last decade, and 2018 was good, though not classic. Looking further back, finding good conditions has always involved a degree of patience, opportunism and luck, inevitable given we have a temperate maritime climate. Whilst human nature is  to remember the bluebird days, I am sure that every generation of Scottish climbers since the late 19th C. has experienced plenty of trudging about in rain and clag, or staring at the walls, frustrated.

So, I'm not too concerned about the short term (talking purely about Scottish winter conditions...), but my feeling is that one medium/longer term trend, which we might already be seeing, is towards higher temps, on average, in the  thaw part of freeze thaw cycles. Therefore, 100% bare hills mid season will become more common > "winter" for climbers may increasingly mean a series of fairly brief episodes of thin early season conditions, with limited or no build up > decent conditions for classic gully/neve type routes, particularly on lower crags, will become rarer > by necessity, the  emphasis  will increasingly be on snowed up rock routes and/or climbing on the highest crags. In short, more like Lakes/Wales. 

Having said all that, who knows, in a month's time Elliott's downfall may have touched down, you never know.....

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neilh 02 Jan 2020
In reply to Coel Hellier:

Some science mates of mine are predicting mini ice ages in the Uk as the gulf stream is cooled down.Must admit I was a bit shocked to learn this, but  thinking about it, there is an obvious  logic.

Montreal is likely to become a no go area.

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planetmarshall 02 Jan 2020
In reply to rogerwebb:

I don't think the data has been made publically available yet but there was a project last year to digitise Victorian-era weather records up to the present day, including those from the Ben Nevis Observatory.

Might make interesting reading.

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DerwentDiluted 02 Jan 2020
In reply to Martin Haworth:

> I don't suppose there is any chance it will get too hot for midges!

I think you are being a bit pessimistic, I don't think midges will be a problem in Scottish winters in years to come.

The mosquitoes will have eaten them all.

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rogerwebb 02 Jan 2020
In reply to planetmarshall:

I look forward to seeing the results. 

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Misha 02 Jan 2020
In reply to scoth:

Thanks. So broadly more of the existing variability for the next 10-20 years, then a more marked reduction in the number of snow cover days. Of course that is not the same as the number of winter climbing days. I suspect the impact on winter climbing days (particularly routes other than major snow gullies and ridges which go in any conditions) would be more significant.

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aln 02 Jan 2020
In reply to Drexciyan:

I think it means that winter dry tooling in the mountains will become even more acceptable than it already is.

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Eric9Points 03 Jan 2020
In reply to rogerwebb:

> Winter is less reliable and the complete stripping thaw more common. In the late 70s when I started it seemed reasonable to save an ambition to skate across Rannoch Moor (with a bit of walking it would be possible) until I was old. Bad choice. (maybe should have decided I was old in 2010)

True. I remember a Morris Minor driving around on Loch Laggan in 1978. 

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summo 03 Jan 2020
In reply to Drexciyan:

It's not just the UK. Warmest January day ever recorded in Norway on Wednesday. Yesterday you had to go as far as the artic circle in sweden to find a daytime temp below zero. 

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Neil Anderson 03 Jan 2020
In reply to Coel Hellier:

Agreed - initially warming for Scotland; but in 20-30 yr time frame ( and we are already 5-10 yrs in) the loss of gulf stream should restore the sub-artic environment to Northern UK, and even herald a mini-ice age back to the UK.

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galpinos 03 Jan 2020
In reply to Neil Anderson:

Is that still the theory? I thought recent studies on how AMOC and the Gulf Stream work highlighted this wouldn't happen and the UK would feel the increase in global temperature the same as the rest of the world?

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Jim Fraser 08 Jan 2020
In reply to Drexciyan:

People were writing rubbish like this 20 years ago and 40 years ago. 30 years ago, I remember exchanging letters with geographers and letter pages in magazines about whether the sunspot cycle was involved. In the intervening years solar weather effect have become mainstream and we know a lot more about El Nino and the Jetstream. We obviously still have a lot to learn but accurate weather forecasting now stretches out two or three times as far as it did 30 years ago so something is improving.

Climate change? Not new either. Always changing. 

One key point about climate change in Scotland: I am sitting here at over 57 North. There is nowhere else on Earth where I can experience such a warm climate at this Latitude. Only freaky conditions currently allow this. 

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Drexciyan 08 Jan 2020
In reply to Jim Fraser:

Stating that people were writing this rubbish 40 years ago and the climate has always been changing, followed by some disjointed rambling about weather forecasting offers no insight whatsoever. But thanks for your contribution all the same! 

As you say forecasting has improved, so have the modelling capabilities. It is still very hard to make accurate predictions and even harder to couple these with the effects of anthropogenic climate change. Nonetheless there is overwhelming scientific consensus about many of the effects of global warming. Dismissing studies like this as rubbish is at best offensive, but more widely speaking inhibits acceptance of rational thought and therefore progress. Frankly it’s attitudes like yours that should be consigned to history, not winter climbing in Scotland.

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DaveHK 08 Jan 2020
In reply to Jim Fraser:

> Climate change? Not new either. Always changing. 

​​​​​​The new(ish) thing is of course the anthropogenic element.

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Simon Caldwell 08 Jan 2020
In reply to DaveHK:

and hence the speed of change

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Simon Caldwell 08 Jan 2020
In reply to Jim Fraser:

> In the intervening years solar weather effect have become mainstream and we know a lot more about El Nino and the Jetstream. We obviously still have a lot to learn but accurate weather forecasting now stretches out two or three times as far as it did 30 years ago so something is improving.

and the same people who have brought these advances and increase in knowledge, are also pretty certain about the reality of man-made climate change. Why accept part of what they say and then follow up with

> Climate change? Not new either. Always changing. 

It's a useful rule of thumb that anyone who makes this argument knows nothing about climate science and can be disregarded.

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scoth 08 Jan 2020
In reply to Coel Hellier:

I just read this paper which suggests that theory doesn’t have much foundation. https://nicklutsko.github.io/blog/2020/01/07/What-Keeps-Europe-Warm-In-Winter

It concludes the effects of the gulf stream keeping NEurope warm in winter are negligible. The thermal mass of the ocean is the main reason.

But even if the theory proved to be the case, i’m not convinced that Point 5 being constantly in over the winter months will be any consolation of no Gulf Stream, given what that would mean to life in the oceans and indeed us.

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Misha 08 Jan 2020
In reply to Jim Fraser:

The fact that Scotland is milder than other places at the same latitude doesn’t mean that other places aren’t also getting warmer than they have been historically. For example Moscow is about as far north as Glasgow but in winter Moscow is colder due to a continental climate. Of course Moscow won’t be as warm as Glasgow in winter. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not getting warmer there as well.

You are right that the temperature etc on a given day is just weather and can be a freak weather event. The Beast from the Easy and the very hot summer both in 2018 were such events. But you have to look at the overall trends, which drive the averages and also the incidence of such events. Eventually they turn from freak to average. Well, the hot summers might do at any rate...

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TeeBee 08 Jan 2020
In reply to scoth:

>  The thermal mass of the ocean is the main reason.

But wouldn't the thermal mass be the same for places of a similar latitude? Newfoundland, say, or even Hokkaido. They tend to be colder in winter still, don't they? 

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Jim Lancs 08 Jan 2020
In reply to TeeBee:

> But wouldn't the thermal mass be the same for places of a similar latitude? Newfoundland, say, or even Hokkaido. They tend to be colder in winter still, don't they? 

No, the 'type' of water surrounding each land mass determines its effect to a large degree. Eastern Canada is washed with the Labrador current bringing cold water down from the Arctic. Europe is bathed with warm being brought up from the tropics by the North Atlantic Drift.

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scoth 09 Jan 2020
In reply to TeeBee:

The article indicates prevailing high altitude winds are the factor and the transfer of heat from a warm water mass or cold land mass for the differences in temperatures. (Well that's how I understood it)

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Clint86 09 Jan 2020
In reply to Drexciyan:

I think we will worrying about our very survival in 10 years time.

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In reply to Clint86:

Well,winter is back again. Lovely on Beinn Eighe today with a fresh dusting of snow down to 500 metres.  No wind to speak off More snow to come next week as well.

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TeeBee 09 Jan 2020
In reply to scoth:

>  The article indicates prevailing high altitude winds are the factor

I suppose that makes sense (I couldn't get the article to open), contrary to what I'd previously understood, per Jim Lancs' response.

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Clint86 09 Jan 2020
In reply to The Watch of Barrisdale:

That's great. Magnificent scenery. 

Ten years down the line though........

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The Grist 09 Jan 2020
In reply to Drexciyan:

The last Scottish route I did was a couple of years ago: Astral Highway. Part of me says I should just hang up the axes now and leave it all there. I keep booking weekends North and then the conditions look either dangerous and / or rubbish so I cancel. It is hard to stay positive. I have booked a trip to the Tatras in March. Hopefully that will be more reliable.....we will see. 
But best conditions are generally mid Feb to mid March so we will see what happens. 
You are not alone in feeling pessimistic. 

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Michael Gordon 10 Jan 2020
In reply to The Watch of Barrisdale:

The weekend looks crap but hopefully some improvement afterwards...

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Jim Fraser 12 Jan 2020
In reply to Clint86:

> I think we will worrying about our very survival in 10 years time.

In ten years, the focus will have changed slightly. In twenty years, the focus will have changed again. That will largely be driven by new knowledge about how the atmosphere, oceans, magnetosphere and so on interact. It will also be driven by changes in the personalities involved as new brains are applied to the problems and the old brains retire and die off. 

Almost certainly, digging sh1t out of the ground and burning it will still be seen as the road to nowhere. We will still be examining nuclear fusion only half-heartedly. We will still be largely ignoring Thorium fission. We will still be pursuing sustainability. Renewables will be important. (So exactly the same as they had me writing essays about in Edinburgh in the 70s.)  

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Jim Fraser 12 Jan 2020
In reply to Drexciyan:

It's coming. 

(I'll be in the shed sharpening my edges.)

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Clint86 13 Jan 2020
In reply to Jim Fraser:

In ten, twenty years, I think things will have become out of focus. 

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Toerag 13 Jan 2020
In reply to Coel Hellier:

> If climate change were to switch off the gulf stream (which has been suggested as possible), there would be good Scottish winter conditions solidly all winter, every year. 

and all summer!

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mutt 14 Jan 2020
In reply to The Grist:< It is hard to stay positive. I have booked a trip to the Tatras in March. >

Thats mpre than a bit of a strange response. I hope you are getting there by bicycle!

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JimbotheScot 14 Jan 2020

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