This is the sixth of our regular series of Scottish winter conditions updates from Dan Goodwin of MountainPlan.com. 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.
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.
It's been another busy week on the winter mountains with things remaining in great shape. Over the last week we have seen a thaw through last weekend but temperatures have dropped again this week. It's the perfect pattern for a long season firming up the snow pack so it can hold out through the thaws. Scotland often relies on four big dumps through the course of a season that combined with freeze thaw cycles creates a reliable base from which things can build. I have certainly not seen the amount of snow currently lying in the Cairngorms that's over the last 20 years for me and many others reading this will have many years on me so it would be interesting to hear what the older users think!
The main event of the week has been on Ben Nevis where two of the leading lights Dave McLeod and Andy Turner have been repeating the impressive week Jimmy Marshal and Robin Smith had during the winter of 1960. This involved repeating all the fine first ascents made by Smith and Marshall that week: Smith's Route, Piggott's, Great Chimney, Orion Direct and Point 5 (of which Smith and Marshall made the 2nd ascent). This has all been carried out during the Fort William Mountain Festival, there will be plenty of events happening over the weekend so have a look at the programme for some evening entertainment after a day on the hill.
Check the UKC Winter Conditions Page for up to date info on which routes have been climbed.
Lochaber and Glen Coe
The Ben has been busy with people enjoying the classics. It sounds like the higher lines are still in need of some build up: Smiths and Observatory have been climbed with people commenting on thin and brittle ice. The lower cascades around the CIC hut have remained in place, they offer a good area for getting going on ice giving a selection of pitches from grade 2 to 4.
There has been ascents over the last week on Green Gully, Comb Gully, Tower Ridge, Point 5, Gardyloo gully, NE Buttress, Gardh Gully, Tower Face of the Comb and Slingsbys Chimney this lies on the Observatory Gully side of NE Buttress and runs up to the first platform on NE Buttress and can be a good option in poor weather or when things are looking unstable higher on the mountain.
Aonach Mor has also seen plenty of ascents with people climbing the Twins Left and Right, The Web, Morwind and Turf Walk. Easy gully has its large threatening cornice in place at the top which requires care when heading down the Gully. It can be avoided altogether by approaching the crag from the opposite end and down climbing to the Climber's Col just under the top of the skiers back bowl you then appear under North Buttress and Foosyerneeps (quite a short but packs a punch IV,5).
Down in Glen Coe people have been out enjoying good conditions and some clearer weather than the Eastern ranges. On Bidean Nam Bian Flake route was done. Stob Coire nan Lochan has had a busy week with ascents of SC,NC and Twisting Gullys, Moonshadow, Boomerang, Dorsal arête and Pinnacle Gully. James Thacker along with Allan and Dan Robb climbed Scabbard Chimney V,6 claiming the crag to be in good icy condition. Tilt was also climbed a fine VI,7 some say the finest mixed climb of its grade in Scotland! The Alpine style Aonach Eagach traverse has been busy as well. Further South The Buachaille has been busy as has the mountains and crags around the Bridge of Orchy.
'The crag was in good, not amazing, but decent shape with various complete lines in the grade III-V range. With lots of in-situ threads, solid ice, blue skies and good craic the atmosphere was more continental than Highland, who needs cogne when Scotland is this good...
We climbed Emerald Eyes (stiff III), South Gully of the Black Wall (soft IV) and Peter Pan Direct, Jenny's first Grade V.'
Rob Jarvis is an IMFGA guide and Director of High Mountain Guides
The Cairngorms still has plenty of snow with the crags plastered, unfortunately its been suffering from low cloud making the visibility very poor. It was very busy in the Corries last weekend lots of cueing on the classics, its worth weighing up how many people are ahead of you when on a winter climb - plenty of injuries have been caused by falling blocks, chunks of ice, equipment and people.
The snow is firm and one team who went across the plateaux today (Wednesday) to climb at Hells Lum claimed good firm neve all the way. The crags are all well covered with ice developing in some unexpected places. I know of one team that placed a good screw on the Mess of Pottage. Anchors and runners still require quite a lot of digging to uncover. The Chancer remains in good shape over in Hells Lum and I also spied good looking ice on Sticil Face. Routes that have been done in the last week are in Sneactda, Pateys Route, Honey Pot, Fiachaill Coulior, Invernookie, Haston Line, all the easier gully's, Fingers Ridge and Fluted Buttress. In Lochan The Milky Way, Tracheotomy and Fall Out Corner. Over on Stag Rocks the Cascade was done, the ascentionists commented that it was in great condition and has a variety of line's available.
It will be busy over the next while as its half term for many so this next week could be the time to have a look at some out the way venue's. Travel by ski is still a great option in the Cairngorms and the ski mountaineering is in great shape the last freeze thaw has led to a few icy patches.
Moving down the Laggan Road Creag Meagaidh has been seeing plenty of ticks. There is great ice to be found on South Pipe direct, Smiths Gully, Last Post, Pumpkin and the Wand all of these have been done this week.
Still plenty of snow in the North West and its starting to stabilise with the recent freeze thaw cycles. Some friends went for a ski tour on Ben Wyvis remarking that it was very icy in places but good snow cover. People have been out climbing as well in the last week Fennien Gully on Beinn Dearg, Hayfork Gully on An Teallach have been done. On An Teallach the comments where made that things had not altogether consolidated in places which made for a long and tiring day.
The island sounds to be having some great conditions with teams on the traverse being treated to the stunning West coast sunsets along with some good snow conditions.
The warm air mass hung over western Scotland longer than predicted last weekend but, as with most of the north-west, conditions in the Black Cuillin are close to ideal now that the cold snap has really kicked in.. Don't be deceived by the south facing, low lying Red hills that are seen in the Sligachan web-cam.
Parties out on Traverses are being treated to stunning light effects, crisp neve and hardly a breath of wind.
The forecast remains good right past the weekend although possibly a weak front passing on Sunday afternoon. There are many descriptions available but I've produced a brief summary of kit and key obstacles along the Ridge for anyone preparing to have a go- http://www.skyeguides.co.uk/Downloads_01.html
Other good possibilities include The Chasm, III on Sgurr nan Eag; Charlie Hill's gallery is well worth visiting for good shots of this amazing route and other stunning photos from Coruisk!:) http://www.ukclimbing.com/photos/author.html?id=34248&nstart=0
My favourite Foxes Rake III, should be good.
The best winter route I've done in the Cuillin was Abraham's Route, IV, on Alasdair which was under similar conditions of good neve for most of the route.
Best conditions are most likely in Coir' a' Bhasteir on the Bhasteir face of Gillean. In addition to the classic Pinnacle Ridge (IV,4) many routes have had winter ascents since the last guidebook. Here are the descriptions.
Fifth Pinnacle (The Bhàsteir Face of Sgurr nan Gillean)
This high face gleams like a white jewel in good winter conditions. The aspect and altitude turn it into an outstanding objective with routes of all grades available.
Just a Boy's Game 170m III * (1993)
Although escapes are possible to the left, this is a good route. Start at the ramp of North-West Face Route and gain an icefall. This gives the first of four ice pitches with snow terraces in between, the third being an ice bay. The route takes a fairly direct route to the summit rocks finishing at a pinnacle on the West Ridge less than 50m from the summit.
North-West Face Route 150m II/III ** (pre-1960)
Start at the bottom of Fourth-Fifth Gully.
1. 50m Ascend rightwards up a ramp running above MacLaren's Chimney until it steepens into a chimney.
2. 50m Climb the chimney and move leftwards through a rock band to the buttress crest.
3. 50m Follow the crest to the summit rocks.
MacLaren's Chimney 50m Very Difficult (1911)
A rather loose chimney climbed direct, which lies left of Forked Chimney and near Fourth-Fifth Gully.
Winter: 50m IV, 5 * (2000)
A good winter pitch; finish up North-West Face Route or Just a Boy's Game (200m to the summit).
Forked Chimney 75m Very Difficult (1898)
Start 15m right of Fourth-Fifth Gully. The chimney is very steep and deeply cut, and pides into two about 30m above the scree. Climb the left branch, back and footing past an overhang. The right branch of the chimney has also been climbed.
Winter: 75m IV,5 ** (1999)
An atmospheric winter climb. Follows the main chimney in 3 pitches. Finish up a snow amphitheatre to the West Ridge.
Gingini Chiminee 35m VI, 6 ** (2000)
The line between Forked Chimney and Flutings Climb is sometimes completed by an icicle dripping past the cave.
1. 15m Climb to the cave.
2. 20m Place good Friend protection in the cave roof, then spirit up the delicate icicle starting inside and working out. The difficulties end after 15m. The easy finishing pitches had to be missed due to icicle failure for the seconds.
Flutings Climb 90m Difficult (1919)
To the right of Forked Chimney are three shallow gullies; this climb takes the right one and is reached by a 30m pitch.
Winter: 90m IV,6 ** (1997)
The longest of the three chimneys is shallow to begin and has a leftward kink at half-height. An excellent winter climb at the top end of its grade.
1. 40m Climb steepening and poorly protected mixed ground into the shallow chimney. At its top move L across the kink and go up the deeper upper chimney for 5m to a chockstone belay.
2. 50m Climb the iced chimney to a steep exit, then the continuing snow gully to block belays just below the West Ridge.
Deep Chimney 70m Difficult (1898)
The chimney starts at the upper left-hand corner of a scree shelf on the right of the buttress. There is a large jammed block near the top.
Winter: 70m IV,5 * (2000)
Follow the summer route. Above the large jammed block a finish was taken on the right wall.
There are two parallel gullies starting a few metres right of Deep Chimney.
Doctor's Gully Left 60m Moderate (1888)
The left-hand gully.
Winter: 70m III (2001)
Follows the summer route, starting at the foot of Deep Chimney at a right-trending fault. Two good icy pitches early season. After heavy snowfall the route banks out and will become far easier.
Doctor's Gully Right 60m Moderate (1888)
Climb the right-hand gully.
Winter: 70m II * (1994)
Start at the large snow bay 50m left of Tooth Chimney and climb the gully going straight up to the ridge over three or four enjoyable bulges.
Copyright Mike Lates
Weekend Weather Outlook
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