Scottish Winter Conditions - Full Report

This is the third of our regular series of Scottish winter conditions updates from Dan Goodwin of Dan gives a round up of what has been climbed, where good venues for the weekend might be and also some very important links to avalanche and weather information.

Walking in to Stob Coire nan Lochain, Glen Coe, 120 kb
Walking in to Stob Coire nan Lochain, Glen Coe
© Al Halewood

Al Halewood on The Screen (IV,5) Aonach Dubh, West Face, 97 kb
Al Halewood on The Screen (IV,5) Aonach Dubh, West Face
© Al Halewood
General Overview

There has been some pretty turbulent weather over the last week in the Highlands, sadly the low level cascades have taken the brunt of the thaw and have pretty much vanished now, fingers crossed we don't need to wait another 30 years for it to return.

Things haven't been so drastic in the mountains though, plenty has been getting done with some good freeze thaw cycles pushing through. The theme remains similar with the West being slightly better but the East is catching up.

In the East climbers have ventured back into the Northern Corries again. The Cairngorms have been experiencing considerable problems with fresh snow accompanied by very high winds. I was on Cairngorm last Sunday and there were some valiant digging efforts under way to free the railway lines and get the car parks and roads open.

The Ptarmigan restaurant had all but vanished with only snow tunnels for access. Having dug and dug to get it open the same has happened this week with heavy winds and fresh snow causing further drifting, keep an eye on the Cairngorm Mountain site for up to the minute details on access to the car parks and skiing.

The weather predictions for the coming weekend look promising with a drop in the winds little in the way of precipitation and temperatures staying low. Keep an eye on the avalanche reports there will have been fresh wind slab forming through the week. 


Things remain snowy in the Cairngorms although much of it has settled with some freeze thaw cycles making for less wading. I was able to walk from the Ciste car park earlier in the week crunching up on good hard neve to the summit and back, this may have changed through the week though with further snowfall and high winds.

Climbers have ventured back into the Corrie with routes such as Fingers ridge, The Runnel, Aladdin's Couloir, Fluted Buttress and Hidden Chimney getting ascents. Many teams reporting good firm snow to walk on and the gullies looking in good shape. Team's reported very iced up cracks though making protection hard to find and that all gear required lots of excavation.

The access road has been hampered by continual drifting snow and they have barely opened in the last week, as I write they are still unable to clear the roads but may be able to open tomorrow.

On Creag Megaidh routes have been climbed such as Last Post and Pumpkin, it will be important to check the avalanche forecast and keep an eye underfoot as some strong NE winds during this week will have created fresh slab on some already suspect layers.

Andy Wardle stood beside the road, Cairngorm., 71 kb
Andy Wardle stood beside the road, Cairngorm.
© Dan Goodwin
Looking out of the Ptarmigan on Cairngorm!, 44 kb
Looking out of the Ptarmigan on Cairngorm!
© Dan Goodwin

UKC Ben Nevis correspondent Mike Pescod reported in the forums:

Since the breakdown of the high pressure system and the big freeze we've seen more normal Scottish weather. The temperature has been going up and down with strong winds and regular snowfall on the tops.

Much of the water ice that was present in the cold spell is still in existence above a few hundred metres. Steall Falls has fallen down but the Carn Dearg Cascades are still fat along with Waterfall Gully, Compression Cracks and all around the gulches at either side of the foot of Coire na Ciste. The big steep cascade under Carn Dearg Buttress was climbed today and it offers some very steep climbing for quite a long way.

Higher up again the crags still look very white. The thaw freeze cycles have got the balance right and snow and ice has been building on the big face routes. The gullies have a good fill of snow and ice and are generally in good shape. The major ridges have very good neve on them and offer great climbing.

However January is known for stormy weather and today was no exception. It was wild in the strong southerly wind and fresh snow fell down to 500m or so. More snow will fall tonight and the strong southerly wind will deposit soft snow in the gullies and steep slopes, and cornices will grow over the crags on the north face.

This weekend will bring us good weather and good ice and snow cover however it will be quite awkward getting onto anything safely and even then the threat of cornice collapse and slab release will always be there.

Routes on the lower buttresses will be a good option such as Douglas Boulder, First Platform of NE Buttress, Carn Dearg Buttress and Raeburns Buttress.

Mike Pescod IFMGA
UKC Ben Nevis Correspondent

Lochaber and Glen Coe

Lots of climbing getting done on the West coast where conditions seem to be largely good. All the really low level ice will have gone now but there is plenty in the mountains to aim for.

On Ben Nevis earlier in the week Kev Rutherford was out and climbed on the CIC hut icefalls which have remained in place after the thaw. Other climbs that have been done are; Ledge route, Italian right hand and also Number 3 gully buttress.

In general it's been quiet on the Ben but conditions should be improving with some freeze thaw cycles pushing through helping to build the ice higher on the mountain.

Aoanch Mor's East face has been largely left alone over this week, the high winds creating some fragile, soft and large cornices although people have spied ice forming in Coire an Lochain - one team climbed The Web earlier in the week. On the West face people have climbed Golden Oldie and also Western Rib.

Heading into Glen Coe Number 6 gully has hung in with more ascents. West Chimney on Bidean nam Bien is reported to be in great shape. The usual suspects such as Dorsal arête, Twisting Gully, Boomerang Gully, Ordinary Route and also Raeburns on Stob Coire nan Lochan have seen ascents. Curved ridge was also done this week sporting a good 30 metre grade III pitch of ice at the start. Stob Coire nam Beith has also provided some good icy pitches. Beinn Dorain and Beinn an Dothiedh have all seen plenty of action. The always keen Tim Neill and James Thacker climbed Messiah VII, 7 on Beinn Dorain late last week. Should be a great weekend on West with a good forecast and plenty to head for. 

North West

The North West has sustained a heavy thaw over the last week with rain and high temperatures saturating the pack. But it's not been a mega thaw and plenty of snow has stayed. Some cold clear nights over the course of the week will have helped to bond it together to create good neve and ice higher up. James Edwards was climbing on Sgurr Ruadh earlier in the week experiencing rain first then snow, he reports that conditions have improved as the week has gone on with some good overnight freezing conditions creating neve and some interesting ice at mid to higher levels. Have a look at his blog for further information. People have also been climbing on An Teallach completing the main Ridge traverse.


Skye hasn't seen to much action since the recent spate of excellent looking icefall climbing. The thaw will have stripped a lot if not all of that away now. I very much doubt over the last week that people will have been venturing onto the ridge due to the very high winds. Keep an eye on the forums, I am sure people will be on the island as soon as the weather clears.

  • See Mike Lates' recent report from Skye on the fantastic ice climbing and for some great shots: UKC News  

Weekend Weather Outlook

Avalanche Outlook

UKC Area Reporters Web Pages:

Further links:

Dan Goodwin on the Skye Ridge
© Dan Goodwin
Dan Goodwin runs Mountain Plan; a company that specialises in mountaineering courses throughout the Highlands of Scotland in both summer and winter. Dan has been climbing and mountaineering since a young age and has spent a lot of time in the Alps climbing in the Chamonix area, the Ecrins, the Italian Dolomites, Swiss Urner and Oberland Alps and also the Austrian Venedigar, Otztal, and Stubai Alps as well as throughout the UK and further afield.

  • You can read more about Dan and about Mountain Plan on his website:

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