Scottish Winter Conditions Full Report

This is the first 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.

[Missing photo!]

Welcome to the first in a series of weekly weather and conditions reports for the Scottish Highlands on UKC. The aim is to share information from those who are out in the mountains on a regular and almost daily basis and hopefully give those coming up for weekend adventures a few tips on where to aim for to get those often elusive winter conditions and to avoid those long and fruitless walks.

Please check the sportscotland Avalanche Information Service and the Mountain Weather Information Service while planning your trip, there are some very unique and dangerous avalanche conditions at present. Winter mountaineering often involves gathering all the information that you can to help make a decision on where is best and safest to head for. Keep in mind that all the information that you gather may not appear that way on the ground when you get there and that the decision making and info gathering is carried out throughout the day.

General Overview

The BBC weather reporter stated last night that we where facing the worst weather seen in the last 30 years, she perhaps needs to invest in some axes and a pair of skis.. 'worst' is a matter of opinion!

It's certainly turned to winter in the North and for many other areas of the UK with a wintry period containing an intensity not seen for the last 30 years giving some amazing and unique conditions. One of the first tasks climbers and mountaineers will face is trying to get to the mountains. Many transport links have been disrupted or closed, across the Highlands on Wednesday rail, roads, bus links and airports where closed. For road info the best place to check is the Traffic Scotland website which details conditions and closures for all Scottish roads and also features their 'live eye' web cams. It's worth considering having snow chains to hand and certainly a shovel if you're leaning towards skiing in the Cairngorms - my van is now stuck in the drive!

Lone skier in a sea off powder, Cairngorm Photo: Dan Goodwin, 27 kb
Lone skier in a sea off powder, Cairngorm Photo: Dan Goodwin
© Individual Photographers
The Highlands have experienced winter conditions more akin to those found in North America and the Alps with large accumulations of snowfall, persistently sub zero temperatures and periods of calm weather and light winds. This has created some very dangerous avalanche conditions highlighted by the tragic events on Ben Nevis and Liathach over the festive break. The low temperatures create a snow crystal referred to as surface hoar, which builds on top of the snow pack and without wind or warmer weather to destroy them they remain in place and combined with fresh snowfall will create a highly unstable layer within the pack.

Careful attention needs to be paid to the SAIS forecasts. The weather has created some fantastic climbing conditions with many low level ice lines coming into condition which have not been seen for some years and some incredible ski conditions for touring and pisted skiing. Having been both out on the East and West my feeling is ski East and climb West!


The Cairngorms have seen some huge snow accumulations which will make approaches both dangerous and very hard work to get to. I haven't heard of any teams over the last few days heading into the Northern Corries or other areas of the Cairngorms, the walk ins would be wading at its worst, having looked into the Corries in the last day the crags themselves looked buried and any ice would be under a lot of powder and the mixed climbs would be swamped. There will also be a serious avalanche threat so please read the avalanche report carefully their will be some large avalanches occurring which will have long run outs across the Corrie floors, the ski area has closed the Ciste gully and west wall due to the threat. However some low-level action has been done; Oui Oui at Creag Dubh has formed seeing plenty of ascents. Lots of parties have been seen climbing the pleasant pitch of III on the illuminated road cutting between the Aviemore turn offs on the A9. Note, it would be best if people parked in Aviemore and walked round as the lady who owns the nearby house has vented her annoyance at people parking in her drive. There are also some good icefalls that form around the Slochd section on the A9 infact anywhere that has a drainage ditch seems to be forming ice pitches right up and down the A9 and across the Laggan Road. The ski conditions are once in a lifetime at the Cairngorm ski area with all runs in fantastic shape, they have been doing their best to plough the road but the snow keeps coming, check their website for the current situation with the road.

CIC hut Cascades, Photo: Al Halewood, 186 kb
CIC hut Cascades, Photo: Al Halewood
© Individual Photographers
Eyeing the line on Steall falls, Photo: Al Halewood , 105 kb
Eyeing the line on Steall falls, Photo: Al Halewood
Lochaber and Glen Coe

I was on the Ben earlier in the week, certainly not as much snow cover as the East with much of it stripped with wind in the last few days. Plenty of ice was forming and a team was out on Tower Ridge reporting good neve all the way. Also teams have been seen climbing great looking ice on the lower CIC hut falls and Waterfall gully, the cascades on Compression crack. The conditions have settled on the Ben over the last few days giving some good areas of scoured neve but care should still be taken with pockets of windslab on approach aprons and top outs. Down in the valleys plenty of ice action with ascents made of Steall Waterfall at the head of Glen Nevis and Smoking the White Owl on Sgurr Finnisgaig the small hill left and level with the top Gondola on Aonach Mor.

Glen Coe has seen lots of ice action as well with ascents of Blue Ribband on Aonach Dubh, Number 6 Gully, The Screen, Chasm of An t' Sron, which are in great shape. Also Elliots Downfall has touched down but is very thin at the bottom still. Slightly further south on Beinn Udlaidh there has been some fine conditions with Quartzvein Scoop and Peter Pan seeing lots of ascents lots of other grade IV,4's are in great shape. Beinn Dorain and Beinn an Dothaidh have also seen ascents.


The Big news from Skye was Ian Parnell's and Pete Mcpherson's recent 2nd ascent of Martin Moran's and Nick Carter's Hung Drawn and Quartered on the Bhastir Tooth (VIII, 8) a fine effort. Conditions look to be snowy there with some starting to consolidate and lots of low-level water ice forming. The main ridge traverse will need some more consolidating but will be starting to do so in places although again the last burst of snow will have been put some more down. Teams where out on Bla Bheinn and reported lots of drifting making things hard going. Low down objectives seem to be the best to go for at the moment.

Ian finishing the desperate overhung 3rd pitch, 103 kb
Ian finishing the desperate overhung 3rd pitch
© petemacpherson, Jan 2010
Ian seconding pitch 3 Hung Drawn and Quartered VIII.8, 114 kb
Ian seconding pitch 3 Hung Drawn and Quartered VIII.8
© petemacpherson, Jan 2010
Pitch 2 Hung Drawn and Quartered VIII.8, 117 kb
Pitch 2 Hung Drawn and Quartered VIII.8
© petemacpherson, Jan 2010
Am Basteir and the tooth in Perfect winter condition, 141 kb
Am Basteir and the tooth in Perfect winter condition
© petemacpherson, Jan 2010

North West

Overall there has been less snow than the Cairngorms making things a bit easier for climbing but over this week that will have changed with more snow falling. People have been out climbing and mixed reports have come in on Poachers Fall. It was climbed on the 29th in what sounded like good conditions but others have been to look and not been so lucky. Great Overhanging Chimney has also been climbed on Beinn Bhan. There has been bright sunshine in the North West today triggering avalanches on Southerly aspects. But this sunshine will be helping create some ice with some freeze thaw action. Also I have been into Strathconnon enjoying some of the low level ice in burns and also on some low level crags.There is no SAIS forecast for the area so you need to make you own assessments based on weather and snow conditions. Ski touring conditions will be good with many tours possible from the car.

For some more information: James Edwards (based in the area) keeps a good blog on the conditions and also what the snow is doing which is well worth keeping an eye on. Link: James Edwards' Blog.

Weekend Weather Outlook

Avalanche Outlook

All in all plenty to go at over the weekend so enjoy and stay safe!

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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