Posts Tagged ‘snow’

The end of winter

Thursday, May 19th, 2016

Snowdon HorseshoeThe May Day bank holiday meet returned to Bryn Brethynau near Capel Curig, and hopes were high for some Spring sunshine and warm rock. The weather had other ideas however!

On Saturday, Dave D, Carmen and I did a clockwise circuit of the Snowdon Horseshoe, which was very much in winter condition with fresh snow from about 600m. It was sunny though, with the occasional shower, and cloud bases most above the summits with the exception of Snowdon itself.

QueuesNot that many people on our route considering it was a holiday – but looking down to the Miners Track it was a non-stop line of people throughout the day, there must have been many hundreds of them. The final pull up to the summit was under deep snow, more than a foot of it, but of course most people weren't equipped for it, slipping and sliding all over the place. No reports of accidents though so presumably they all lived to tell the tale.

13092150_1164685633555223_2947748059213386847_nThe weather saved its best for the final traverse of Crib Goch, we even had good views of the summit.

While it was still winter on the tops, things were a bit more like Spring in the valleys. Justine Gav and Pete B climbed a 7 pitch Severe, Canyon Rib, in Aberglaslyn Gorge – so obscure that even I've never heard of it, but by all accounts it's worth doing so now on my list!

For DebraRuss and Mike went to the ever-dependable Tremadog where they did 4 routes including One Step in the Clouds with its new first pitch following a recent rock fall. Apparently it was quite hard!

Meanwhile Donal went mountain biking, and Annie did a nice sunny walk over to the Crafnant Valley, calling in at the oldest church in Wales on the way.

Crafnant ValleyThe next day was wet and windy. Carmen and I went on a run, a variation of Annie's walk from the day before, where as well as the church we found a ridiculously overhanging bolt line, presumably someone's project, and returned via Swallow Falls.

The others went on a variety of walks, both low and high level, the common feature being getting wet.

Monday dawned even worse, with just as much winds and even more run. Most people cut their losses and went straight home.

World's EndCarmen and I waited for the promised improvement for the afternoon, and drove east to World's End , one of the limestone crags near Llangollen. We stuck it lucky, as by the time we got there the sun was out. We managed 4 routes before a sudden heavy shower put an end to proceedings.

Justine and Gav headed for Tremadog, where the weather turned even better, and they stayed for another 2 days to make the most of it.

All in all, a pretty good weekend despite the mixed weather, but next time we'll be due our fair share of warm sun!

Some more photos here


Christmas/New Year Meet

Tuesday, January 19th, 2016

This year we stayed at the Raeburn hut. A great hut which we hadn't stayed in for a few years.

It offered a sheltered location from the driving wind and rain which occurred at times. Whilst no hills are on the door step, there are lots of hills, climbing and mountain biking available within a short drive (and a distillery).

Attendees (for varying length of stays between 2-8 days) Simon C, Carmen, Simon F, Debra, Annie, Peter E, Peri, Mike S, Stuart M, Peter W and Sarah W.P1000539

27th December – gave us the best day of the week. Plenty of fresh snow, blue sky and light winds until later in the day. With the best forecast for the next few days Simon and I chose a long walk to Creag Mhor (a Corbett behind Bynack More) which took 5 hrs to the summit. We would never have made it without snow shoes! Meanwhile Simon F, Debra and Peri went munro bagging with a cycle up Glen Tilt to approach an ascent of Carn A' Chlamain. The evening was rounded off nicely with Peri's poached pears and Welsh cakes (which she had prepared the night before just to keep Simon F happy).

P100056428th December – Annie, Pete E, Simon and I headed up another Corbett – The Fara. Annie cheated and hitched a lift to the start of the walk. It would have been good to do the whole ridge – but not in the very strong winds we battled against on top today. Peri enjoyed an exploratory cycle ride from the hut (especially enjoying the downhill sections). Debra cycled whilst Simon F ran around Loch Laggan (about 14 miles) and took him over his target of 1000 miles run in 2015 – so he was reasonably happy yet again.

29th December – Pete E, Annie, Mike, Simon and myself cycled up Glen Garry. While the others carried on cycling to Kinloch Rannoch and back, Simon and I dumped the bikes for a quick ascent of the Corbett Beinn P1030946Mholach. Simon and Debra went bird watching/walking around Rothiemurchus forest – finding that the birds only seem to reside in the car park.  Peri headed back to York to check the extent of the flooding.

30th December – S & D decided they would head off back to the Dales.  As forecast it was very wet and very windy so the rest of us were content with a trip to the Dalwhinnie distillery (unfortunately no tours available – but we were given a free small dram), food shopping in Aviemore followed by a stop in the Laggan cafe (the old store has now re-opened as a cafe and with a few basic shopping supplies) – a nice cafe with a proper fire and much more relaxed than Aviemore.P1000579

31st – After several failed attempts in the past Peter E and Annie enjoyed an ascent of Meall a'Bhuachaille (a Corbett behind Glen More lodge). Simon and I went up Meall na h-Aisre (a Monadhliath Corbett) from Garva Bridge. We extended the walk as conditions were really good in the morning/early afternoon. New supplies of YAC folk arrived in the evening and we stuffed ourselves with soup, haggis and cheese. Given the good conditions forecast for the 1st we were all in bed soon after midnight and were up fairly early the following day.

1st – Stuart, Peter and Sarah W, Simon C and myself went to do the classic horseshoe of Creag Meaghaidh. We remained mainly P1000631out of the cloud (with just one session of walking around in circles in the clag) with only a strong wind to contend with. Stuart and Simon entertained themselves sledging down a snow slope (repeatedly) and Sarah fell through a cornice (not over the edge thankfully). With Annie suffering from blisters and a lack of enthusiasm for cycling, Peter and Annie went up a Munro by the A9. Back at the hut Simon proved himself to be the undisputed board game champion (well Connect 4 and Scrabble).

2nd – After a slow start deciding what to do in the wind and rain – Simon and I went for a cycle around Rothiemurchus forest, with Pete and Annie opting for walking around the forest. Stuart met some people in a bothy and they joined him in his walk near the ski centre.  Peter and Sara W went Munro-bagging with ascents of Stob Coire Sgriodain and Chno Dearg in the cloud.

Overall a good trip and we did quite well considering the weather. Surprisingly  we failed to make much of a dent on Annie' s drink cabinet (apart from the gin).

Some more photos here


Saturday, February 28th, 2015

The last meet saw us heading to Crianlarich. Unfortunately, the ideal winter climbing conditions did not last and there was a thaw just before our visit.  However, that did not deter Rob, Will & Paul from heading up a day early. After a not particularly early start they headed up to Ben Nevis and climbed 2 pitches of The Curtain (IV, 5) before an abseil retreat.

Ascending Ben Lawers - spindrift

Ascending Ben Lawers – spindrift

By the time they arrived back at the hut a number of us had arrived. Sat was forecast to be the best of the remaining days – with unknown conditions for local ice-climbing Simon, myself and Pete W opted for a walk. I was keen to get a few more munros ticked off – so we headed over to the Eastern side of the Ben Lawers range. It was a snowy walk in (but not too deep) and once higher up on the ridge progress was easier – that is when we weren’t head on into the wind.

Ascending Ben Lawers, An Stuc in background

Ascending Ben Lawers, An Stuc in background

There was a strong wind on the initial ridge up Ben Lawers with plenty of spindrift making it atmospheric (balaclava and goggles remained on for the majority of the day).

Starting descent from An Stuc

Starting descent from An Stuc

We carried on to An Stuc – the descent from which was more than a walk – with some careful route choice and front-pointing required. The rest of the walk proved a lot simpler, and with the wind behind us was more pleasant. 4 munros in all – making a good winter circuit.

Meanwhile, Rob, Will and Paul were still keen to climb and this time headed for Beinn an Dothaidh to climb Stairway to Heaven (III) which was rather banked out with snow. Peri, Liz and Mark headed off with the plan to traverse the Aonoch Eagach, however, the snow conditions called for a change of plan (they meet a couple of other teams retreating) and decided to head up a Corbett instead. Karl, Jamie and Russ also went for a winter walk taking in Ben More and Stob Binnein. Mike unfortunately soon realised that he was not fully recovered and had to turn back and headed back home.

Sat night saw us eating Rob’s leek, potato and chilli soup followed by oodles of cream courtesy of Pete’s whisky cream (to accompany the ton of haggis) and extra cream in the marmalade bread and butter pudding from Peri – thanks chefs. Sat night we checked the forecast hoping that it might have improved – it hadn’t and had actually got worst with gusts of 60-90 mph forecast, along with snow/rain. With a similar but less windy forecast for Monday, a number of lightweights (sensible people) headed back to York.

Simon & I got up early and headed back to the Ben Lawers range to take in a Corbett (Meall nan Maigheach) close to the road. This plan paid off, although the drive was much longer than anticipated due to the ungritted road and finding a sensible place to park.  Navigation was easy as we followed a wall until it stopped and a short walk on a bearing took us to a cairn– not knowing whether this was the highest summit we took a bearing to the other cairn and then retraced our path back down.  It took us just over 2 hrs – even with the car parked further downhill than ideal.

Rob, Mark, Paul, Pete and Will went for a low-level walk along the West Highland Way and returned to the hut rather soaked – at least we had only been snowed upon. Everyone else had fled. Pete decided a bit more exercise was called for and headed out for a run.

By Sunday night we were down to 3 (Simon, myself and Pete) we enjoyed a smaller variant of the communal meal I had planned. We opted for an earlish start on Monday – to get out before things deteriorated. We were a little surprised to look out the window and see everything was now covered in snow at ground level. Attempts to push the car were unsuccessful, so after a session of shovelling we finally made it away from the hut (thanks Pete). We attempted a Corbett just down the road from the hut. Unfortunately, strong winds and deep powdery snow meant that we did not make it to the summit – even using snow shows we occasionally sunk up to our thighs. At just over 700m the wind was unpleasant, visibility was almost zero and we had lost all depth perception – it was time to give up and head home. Meanwhile, Pete opted for another run from the hut before catching the train to Edinburgh.P1120221

A trip to Garbh Choire

Friday, January 2nd, 2015

It must have been 25 years since I first saw pictures of Squareface and Mitre Ridge in Classic Rock, and for all that time I'd dreamed of climbing them. Dreams started to become plans in the last 10 years, but those plans were continually thwarted by the weather. Until last year, when the start of our annual week's trip to Scotland coincided with 3 days of forecast good conditions.

We drove up to Braemar on Friday afternoon, May 30th, arriving at Invercauld just after 6, and decided we had time to cycle as far as the Fairy Glen that evening. Good tracks through the forest were followed by rough tracks up the glen, until we were approaching the Fairy Glen. Carmen had had enough biking by then, and suggested that we dump the bikes there for the weekend and walk the rest of the way. "Bang!" agreed my rear tyre as the inner tube exploded.

A lovely camping spot, relatively midgeless, and with a cuckoo for company in some nearby trees – a good spot to linger. But we had a long day ahead, so were early to bed and up before 6 the next morning, on our way by 7. After walking another 8 miles or more, we set up camp on the top of the Beinn a' Bhuird plateau. Following an unusually snowy winter, our intended camping spot in a hollow was under several feet of snow,  so we were forced a bit higher to just below the 1150m contour. Luckily the winds were light as it could have been pretty exposed in bad weather.

Tent duly in place, we headed for the foot of Mitre Ridge. The normal descent was under snow so we picked a way down loose ground by the stream and made our way over the the ridge towards our intended route –  Cumming-Crofton Route (Severe).

The next problem was getting to the start. All approaches to the crag were under deep hard snow, and our route turned out to be the only one that could feasibly be reached at all. But even this involved descending into a bergschrund, chimneying out again higher up, and then making a tricky stride back onto the rock.

I led the first pitch, as it was a chimney with a bit of a reputation – but it turned out to be miles easier than expected. The next pitch was Carmen's, and was both bolder and harder than the S 4a grade suggested, with some tenuous smearing some way out from the last protection. I led the next 2 pitches in one long run out (very traditional mountaineering, with some grass, mud, and loose rock), and Carmen finished off with Bell's Variation – easy but hugely exposed. I then took the final flatter section over the pinnacles.

A magnificent route, and well worth the trip by itself. But we weren't finished yet!

It was only 3.30, so it was now time for Squareface (VDiff). And yet again, the main obstacle was getting there. The normal descent route was a snow-filled gully, so after some investigation we decided on a long descending traverse from the right. This worked fine until we had to cross the aforementioned gully to reach the route. I crossed OK, but Carmen was on her way when a large lump of ice arrived from above – fortunately with no worse result than a bruised shoulder. Later on we watched as a huge rock fell down across the traverse line we'd followed…

I quickly climbed the first pitch – Carmen was safe from the gully, but we wanted to put as much distance between us and the fall line as possible! Carmen led the next. Curiously, the guidebook doesn't follow the obvious crack line, but crosses it and climbs the wall to the right – previous editions take the crack so maybe it's a mistake. I finished with the best of the pitches, up an exposed flake and across an even more exposed wall to the top. Another superb route, though we both preferred Cumming-Crofton.

All that remained was to brave the snow that lay between us and safety, then it was back to the tent for a well-earned meal. To compete the day we walked up to the summit of Beinn a' Bhuird, half a mile away across the plateau.

Next day the forecast was for a fine start, with rain arriving later in the day. Although we were both tempted by Angel's Edgeway, a VS up the edge of the Squareface slab, we couldn't face risky the approach again, so decided on a quick ascent of an obscure 1-star Diff on the other side of the corrie – Pinnacle Ridge on Stob an t-Sluichd.

Although the upper part was clearly visible on the descent, Pinnacle Ridge took an age to find – the guidebook was very vague and working out which buttress to start on required 2 false starts. But eventually after 50m of nondescript scrambling, the ridge narrowed and formed a couple of pitches of nice exposed climbing. I think I took a more direct line on the last pitch, which was more like VDiff or Severe. A good route – not in itself worth the long trek to get there, but a good quick (if you can find the start!) option if you're there for one of the other more famous climbs.

It was now 12.30, and all that remained was the long walk back out, followed by a long cycle (for Carmen)/bike push (for me) back to the car. A few minutes after we'd stowed the gear in the car, it started to rain.

It would be perfectly feasible to do the two Classic Rock routes in a weekend without bikes. Walk to Fairy Glen and pitch camp either Friday evening or early Saturday. Leave the tents there, walk to Garbh Choire, do the routes, and walk back to camp on Saturday and a leisurely walk out on Sunday. Or as one team did, walk from camp, climb Mitre Ridge, and back to Fairy Glen on Saturday, then walk back in again and climb Squareface on Sunday, before heading out.

But I'd recommend doing something similar to what we did. Or add an extra day or two if you get the weather – make the most of a very special place.

We'll certainly be back.

More photos here

Route maps: Friday, Saturday, and Sunday

Aviemore meet

Monday, January 27th, 2014

With Christmas and New Year well and truly behind us, the psyche was good for some winter climbing and the meet fully booked for a long weekend in Scotland. Axes and crampons had been retrieved from storage and dusted off, and the winter guidebook thumbed through. We nervously watched the weather as the weekend drew closer, with flooding in other parts of the country, and a seemingly endless series of Atlantic storms blowing in, we weren’t sure what to expect.

Pete, Rob and Paul drove up on Thursday night hoping to squeeze in an extra day in the highlands, and made good time reaching our accommodation – Milehouse hut owned by the Ladies Scottish Climbing Club at Kincraig – very comfy and well equipped accommodation within the Cairngorms national park.

Friday morning was dry but windy, as we headed up the Cairngorm ski centre road, and the wind was buffeting the car as we pulled into the Coire na Ciste car park. Given the recent strong winds and current avalanche forecast, we’d decided to play safe and head over to explore ‘Creagan Coire Cha-no’, a small east facing crag that has only been recently developed, with a walk in of less than an hour and some short mainly mixed routes. We got sorted and headed out, strong winds made even walking down the boardwalk steps from the car difficult, but we decided to give it a go, figuring if we could make it to the crag, we would be sheltered from the westerlies whipping across the Cairngorms. We were leaning on our walking poles and battling with every step against the wind as we ascended the ridge, and after what seemed like an age but was probably only 45 minutes we’d covered less than a km, and the wind was increasing with altitude. Sitting down for a rest to avoid being blown over, we decided to retreat back to the car.

P1020528Still keen to not waste our day off, we walked through Glenmore forest past An Lochan Uaine (the green lake – reputedly coloured by local fairies washing their clothes) to Ryvoan bothy where we took shelter to eat lunch. While there we were joined by some volunteer bothy guardians from the MBA who regaled us with stories of what their friends and acquaintances get up to on bothy nights away – I don’t think I will ever take a quiet night in a bothy for granted again! After lunch, a short walk back to the car at Glenmore meant there was still time for a walk around the gear shops of Aviemore before heading back to the hut for dinner, and the arrival of the rest of the club members.

We all awoke on Saturday morning to the sound of wind and rain against the hut windows, so after a leisurely breakfast and much deliberation and planning, by mid morning the weather looked like it was improving a bit so we headed out. Ann, Donal and Peter headed to Rothiemurchus forest to hire mountain bikes, and embarked on a wet and windy ride around the forest trails. Charles headed to Meallach Mhor (769m) up Glen Tromie and added another Corbett tick to his list, while John and Chris headed towards Newtonmore and Carn Dearg (945m), the highest munro in the Monadhliath.

P1020530Liz and Dave, eager to find some snow headed up to the ‘Norries’ with full climbing gear to ‘have a look’ and see what the conditions were like. Those who were out in Coire an T-Sneachda were concentrated around the Mess of Pottage, and despite the conditions they managed an ascent of Jacob’s ladder (I), which included a fairly substantial cornice at the top. The rest of us (Pete, Rob, Paul, Jamie and Karl) headed down Glen Feshie to start a winter walk from the end of the road up to the munro of Sgor Gaoith (1118m). After a climb up the valley to warm up, we found ourselves in the cloud just before we reached the ridge, and full Scottish conditions of strong winds and total whiteout. The next 6 km was spent navigating by compass bearing and pacing, plus the feel of the terrain under our feet and gave some much needed winter navigation practice. We successfully made the summit, avoided the cliffs and dropped back to the Glen, aided by a couple of bum-slides down snow-slopes on route. Commenting on what a great day out it had been on the walk back along the road was perhaps a bit premature, as Karl tripped and ended up in a deep puddle 10m from the car!

P1020547Back at the hut it was Burns night, so once showered and warmed up, the coal stove was going a treat as we enjoyed Jamie’s soup, 6lb of haggis (with Neeps and Tatties of course) and Ann’s cake and custard, washed down with a wee dram and shared stories from the day and much banter. Without a Scotsman in the room to help out I decided that attempting the ‘Address to the Haggis’ would be more of an insult to Burns, so left that part of the proceedings out!

Sunday we were again woken by wind and rain beating against the windows, and it was clear that there was not much enthusiasm for another day of bad weather, with no-one up before 8.30. A call to the ski centre weatherline said the road was closed, with storm force winds on the top which didn’t bode well. One car headed straight back to York after breakfast, deciding to cut their losses and brave the winter conditions along the A9 instead.

P1020557John, Chris and Paul headed down Glen Feshie to explore Coire Garbhlach, and got lucky as the day brightened up and they were able to scramble up a ridgeline onto the top and get a good look, despite the winds remaining strong. The rest of us went for a walk from a very windy Loch an Eilean, (where the waves were so big you could probably have surfed on them) through the forest to the visitor centre at Inverdruie, where by the time we got there the sun was out and we had a cup of tea outside on the picnic tables – how things change! Walking back through the woods gave great views up to the snowy hills, although it was clearly still windy up there.

Back in the hut, after much deliberation and agonising over whether the forecast for tomorrow could be trusted, and what conditions would be like following 2 days of high winds and much wind blown snow, everyone decided to make the trip back to York that night, and save a day’s holiday for another time, so after giving the hut a good clean and tidy we headed back south to York. Despite the weather, we’d had a good weekend and everyone had at least managed to do something on the Saturday, but hopefully the next time we head north the weather will be kinder. For now, I’ll put the climbing axes back into the box and keep fingers crossed that this winter redeems itself later in the season.

Some photos from the weekend can be found here


Three seasons in a weekend

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

The theme for the weather in the days before the February "winter" meet was one of warmth, wetness, and rapid snow melt. Then as the weekend grew close, the Met Office issued a weather warning for heavy snow and storm force winds. So a typical trip to Scotland then.

Carmen wanted to get some Munros bagged, but has done everything within striking distance of Laggan (the Raeburn Hut), so we drove up a day early to Arrochar. Here we made an Alpine start for a walk up Beinn Narnain and Ben Ime, in normal Autumn conditions – mild and cloudy but with a cold wind on the summits and a thin covering of snow over the highest tops. The forecast was for heavy rain later in the day (hence the early start), and it wasn't wrong, luckily it waited until we were in the car.

We met up with the others at the hut that evening, and made some half-hearted plans for the next day, safe in the knowledge that they'd be scuppered by the weather. But Saturday morning brought blue sky and sunshine, so we had to go out and do something after all. Peri, Antony, Jamie and Paul headed for the trip of Munros south of Loch Laggan. I was dying of man flu, so Carmen and I opted for a low-level walk from the hut to look at the Dirc Mhor (a ravine caused by a landslip on The Fara). Will and Rob decided on the east ridge of Beinn a' Chaorainn (grade II), as if the blizzards did show up it should be a bit sheltered from the westerly winds.

Of course the weather didn't disappoint, and Carmen and I were soon battling into strong winds and horizontal snow along the glen. Being quite low down though, we did get the benefit of a few breaks, with some fine views and even sunshine. It was a bit of a soul-destroying slog thgrough heather and tussocks for the last 3 miles, but we eventually reached Dirc Mhor, and had a brief look at the ravine before it disappeared into another snowstorm. We walked up the Dirc Beag (a companion landslip) and then back over the summit of Meall nan Eagan (just 658m but hard to stand upright in the wind).

The Munro-bagging posse meanwhile had persevered to the summit of Creag Pitridh before seeing sense and saving the other two summits for another less exciting day. Quite impressive they managed to get as far as they did!

Will and Rob completed their route, despite serious doubts at the foot of the ridge as to whether they should continue. "A very wild day with gusts of about 70-80mph and tons of spindrift. The ridge itself is very nice," said Will. "Wild, crawling along some sections, we played making it hard at start and then got a shift on, no cornice where ridge meets top. bearings off top in gusty conditions," said Rob. Will's brave decision to wear brand new plastic boots then led to a slow descent and a return to the hut a few hours after dark.

Sunday was due to be the best day of the trip, and so it turned out with bright sunshine and clear blue skies. Will was still crippled, but equipped with Rob's spare boots and several pairs of socks managed to join him to bag a couple of Munros near Roy Bridge – Stob Coire Sgriodain and Chno Dearg.

Carmen and I meanwhile headed for the route they'd done yesterday, the east ridge of Beinn a' Chaorainn – my man flu had subsided but I still didn't fancy anywhere with a long walk in. Conditions were brilliant, sunshine and gentle winds, a quick walk through the forest being eventually slowed by deep powder on the approach to the ridge. The route itself was great, several tricky options available (most of which we took), with easier alternatives (though still quite serious with some big drops). As expected, the rope we'd brought "just in case" stayed in the sack all day.

The sunshine eventually succumbed to approaching cloud, and the summit was in the clag, but the day was so good (and the hour so early) that we decided to add a few miles to the day by completing the horseshoe to the east and going to the summit of Creag Meagaidh. This was my 3rd visit, but the 1st where the summit was actually visible! A long descent down the south ridge took us back to the car. Despite the fine weather, we had the hills to ourselves, apart from 2 skiers we saw in the distance.

Monday was due to be warm and wet again, but Rob had arranged a guide, so he and Will were up by 5am to try to get to the Northern Corries before the turbo-thaw hit, which they managed with a quick ascent of Droidless (VI 6). "Full winter condition at start of first pitch, after which a spectacularly fast thaw stripped the rime completely by the start of the second pitch. The cracks were still icy on the third pitch so it still felt in winter condition overall. Very cold hands from the running water!".

Also up an an ungodly hour were Paul and Antony, as they needed a lift to the Cairngorms from Will. They made a brave attempt at Cairngorm via Coire an Lochain, but made a tactical retreat after being blown over a couple of times in fast-melting snow. The day was saved with some excellent cake at the cafe!

The sensible among us had a lie-in, followed by a token ascent of Geal-charn Mor, a Corbett near Aviemore, in the drizzle. Almost all the snow from the weekend had gone – winter was over again.

Lots of photos here.

New Year in Elphin

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

For the New Year meet this year, we headed to Elphin, north of Ullapool – a long way away, but one of the best parts of Scotland. If the weather played ball there are fantastic walks to be had, and fantastic winter climbing.

Of course the weather wasn't cooperative, but we all had a great time anyway.

On what turned out to be the clearest weather of the week, Ben, Carmen and I walked up the trio of Corbetts that make up Quinag. Carmen had been waiting for years to do this hill, rain always previously stopping play. Despite being snow-free and cloudy, the summits were clear, and it stayed dry. Simon & Debra meanwhile went up Cul Mor, another Corbett near the hut.

Peri, Peter, and Annie now arrived, and with them came storms. The next day was so bad that apart from a few short forays to view some waterfalls being blown upward near the hut, the farthest we got was to the excellent Lochinver Pie Shop.

The forecast for the following day wasn't promising, but Ben, Peri, Carmen and I got out anyway, and had an exciting day in the snow on the Corbett Glas Bheinn. On the col which followed the wind was so strong we were struggling to move, but we persevered in the hope that the wind was being funnelled through the gap and would be better higher up – and so it proved, so we continued to traverse over Beinn Uidhe before descending to the car we'd left at Inchnadamph.

Ben Mor Coigach was our objective the next day, with more snow due before a thaw, but crucially with light winds at first which we hoped would allow us to get across the narrow ridge before conditions worsened. It worked out quite well, with good views (and even – very briefly – some sun). The traverse continued around to Sgurr an Fhidleir, with views of the classic HVS rock climb (and grade-silly winter climb) of the Fiddler's Nose following the main arete. The threatend thaw duly arrived on the last hill, and the snow turned quickly to rain, so we fled back to the cars.

Another wet day saw some on a coastal walk to the Old Man of Stoer sea stack, and others walking/cycling to Sandwood Bay.

On the final day, we did another fine walk, traversing the Corbett of Breabag near Inchnadamph. The snow had all gone, but new snow arrived during the day. A fine trackless hill, there'd be a well-worn path if it were just 100m higher!

Not the best week's weather we've had, but far from the worst, and a trip to the far north west is always good. No Munros, but 6 Corbetts and a Graham (whatever one of those is). We still need to go back to do some of the winter routes!

More photos here
Debra's photos here
Peri's photos here

In which Peri organises a meet that ain't cancelled

Monday, April 19th, 2010


With under a week to the Easter meet in the Cairngorms, reports of apocalyptic blizzards bringing Scotland to a halt convinced me I had acheived the Holy Grail of organising three cancelled meets in a row. But it was not to be. My application to be the fifth horseperson of the apocalypse (the proposed five being War, Plague, Famine, Death, and Crap Weather) has been rejected and we had a very successful meet with lots of Munros being ticked, during the course of which:
*various sheep were bothered by Andrew and Donal, under the pretext of rescuing them from certain death buried deep in snowdrifts
*Rich and Jen went all the way to the Aberdeen sea cliffs before realising they had forgotten their climbing harnesses
* Pete Evans got injured (again)

Since there were a lot of peope and I couldnt remember what everyone had done I asked people to send me some notes. This has cunningly allowed me to just cut and paste verbatim as follows:

Account 1) In which Simon and Carmen conspire to cripple Pete

"Friday. Drove over to Spittal of Glenshee to do our last remaining Munros in the area, Glas Tulaichean and Carn an Righ. We were right on the edge of the area of recent snow – to the south the hills were mainly snow free. Walk up the glen was quick at first, up the line of an old railway, but slowed down as we got higher and met deep soft snow drifts. Once on the hill though we sped up again, crossing nice hard neve. We met the soft drifts again on the traverse to the second summit, and the descent down the glen was again slowed by deep melty snow.

Saturday. A poor start with rain, but the forecast was for sun later so we went with Peter to do Mount Keen, the most easterly Munro, and with a reputation for tedium. The long 7 mile walk in up the glen was pleasant, but the hill itself lived down to its reputation – and again soft deep snow drifts slowed us down. The weather stayed fine though with only the last 50m or so in the cloud – but the earlier rain had only fallen as new snow above about 900m. A 17 mile round trip, and Peter was suffering a painful knee for most of it, but carried on anyway – though was broken for the rest of the trip.

Sunday. A good forecast so we decided on a long walk. From Linn of Dee we walked to Derry Lodge – fast going on a mainly snow-free track. From there to the Corrour bothy was very slow, with the usual soft deep snow hiding all the paths – and nobody else had been daft enough to head in before us so there were no tracks to follow. I nearly suggested turning back it was such hard work. After lunch in the bothy we headed up the euphemistically renamed Devil's Point – Carmen's final Munro in the area. Much easier going, with firm neve again, we even got the axes out when it got worryingly steep. Superb views from the summit, and nobody else in sight, even on the more accessible hills nearby. A long day – 20 miles round trip.

Monday. Fortunately it was warm and wet, so we had an excuse to go straight home."

Account 2) In which Donal and Andrew bother sheep.

"Friday – Donal and Annie took a break from the driving to walk around the Devil’s beeftub. Beware sketch maps and descriptions in books. Walk starts near a ‘prominent’ roadside monument. Having visited a variety of prominent monuments that weren’t right, we eventually spotted the ‘prominent’ one, ten metres down a steep bank and completely invisible and unsigned from the road.

Saturday – Lovely walk along a tarmac road near Tomintoul that had thoughtfully been cleared of snow by the local farmer. Not so the track continuing up the hillside, which provided an entertaining waist deep yomp through virgin snow. Andrew and Donal discovered the sport of sheep dragging. Hoping this can be included in the 2012 Olympics.

Sunday – Peri led us up Lochnagger, as she knew the way. This didn’t stop her going the wrong way within 50m of leaving the car park. [outrageous fibbing, I was just checking the map – Peri] Fortunately, the others had spotted the huge well-trodden motorway leading up the hillside to the right. Real alpine feel on top and Andrew even got to wear his new crampons on the way down (once he’d worked out that they attached to his boots points down).

The Old Man of Lochnagar

Bunkhouse – smart, but rather small kitchen for the number of people. Interesting cooking lesson from two Spanish guys attempting to cook minute steaks: ‘Place steaks in pan and turn burner full on. Allow the room to fill with smoke to create that genuine campfire atmosphere. You know the steaks are ready when the fire alarm rings. (For well done, leave a further 15 mins) ’"

Other people:

*Rich and Jen went cragging twice, but only remembered their harnesses once.

*Debra and Simon went munro ticking and collected the usual number of wildlife shots. Debra reports "We were practically tripping over the [mountain] hares on Sunday – they were everywhere.". They also think they saw wildcat footprints in the snow, but do not mention whether this was before or after the pub.

Debra's photos here

My photos here

A last taste of winter?

Sunday, January 17th, 2010

With a thaw threatened for the weekend, we had one last chance to take advantage of the superb early winter conditions, so Carmen and I took Thursday off and headed for the Lake District after work on Wednesday. The A66 was shut (and had been since Saturday) so we took the long way round to Borrowdale, over 4 hours, via A59, A65, and M6, with a short detour to Penrith chippy.

When I'd phoned earlier that day to ask if the Rosthwaite campsite was open, the owners just laughed, I can't think why. All the facilities were frozen of course, but they let us pitch the tent free of charge (good site, must go back in the summer). It snowed lightly all night, and was still snowing when we got up, so we didn't hang around too long and were soon wading knee-deep snow towards the Raven Crag – home of the summer classic Corvus, and the winter classic Raven Crag Gully, our chosen route. It's a route that comes into condition more often than you might think for a crag at such low altitude, but more often than not has little ice and is therefore correspondingly harder. This year, it's been in what must have been 'normal' condition in years gone by!

The advantage of breaking trail was that it meant we were first on the route for a change. Another pair arrived as Carmen was starting the first pitch, and as I led the second another 6 turned up, so we'd timed it well!

There was a lot more ice than I've seen in most recent photos of the route, we'd found it in excellent condition – which had the advantage of breaking the grade closer to 3 than the 5 threatened in the guidebook for lean conditions.

Pitch 1, an easy warm-up on cruddy ice and powder-covered rock, led to the first main pitch, up a steep icy ramp. The next pitch repaid all the time spent thrutching in gritstone, as a wide icy offwidth led to a splendid ice chimney. Next was the Cave Pitch, described in Cold Climbs with mitts removed to make use of the rock holds, but today covered in thick ice, making for a fine steep pitch, though rather unnerving as the ice wasn't quite thick enough to take screws until after the hard bit!

After bringing Carmen up with the sort of belay best described as 'optimistic', she led the next pitch – a walk up snow to the foot of the final icefall. She obviously felt it wasn't hard enough, so continued up steep snow to a small ice cave part way up the pitch. The icefall pitch is supposed to be the crux, and is often described as the most beautiful in the Lake District. In the conditions we found, it was actually the easiest of the harder pitches, with just a short but well-protected hard step to get over the final lip. And the icicles that presumably contribute to its fabled beauty were long gone, victim to the countless climbers passing by over the last few weeks.

As I topped out, the light snow that had been falling all day, turned briefly to rain before stopping. The icicles on the sides of the gully were dripping. The thaw had begun. A quick descent through wet snow brought us back to the valley, where most of the previous night's snow has already gone, to leave green fields. As we drove off, it started to rain.

Winter's end?

Let's hope not. There's plenty of snow left higher up, waiting for the next freeze. And in any case, we've been spoiled this year – for the past few years (including the excellent ones of 2005 and 2006) winter didn't get properly under way until the end of February!

More photos here.

New Year Meet 2009

Tuesday, January 12th, 2010

This year's new year trip was to the Alex Macintyre Hut, near Glencoe. A dozen of us made the journey north, and for once the snow didn't all melt the day before we arrived. Carmen and I drove up on Boxing Day, everyone else turned up a day or two later.

December 27. Sron na Lairig, grade II. Supposed to be an easy warm up day, but the deep snow put paid to that! The 4km walk in took a couple of hours, under grey skies with occasional snow flurries. The climb itself was trickier than expected, with no ice but loads of powder over rock with a little mostly frozen turf. A great mountaineering route, with some mildly terrifying pinnacles and an a cheval snow arete near the top, for which we roped up. The continuation to the summit took an age, as it was knee-deep snow all the way with little sign of any recent visitors, but also because the skies had cleared so we had to keep stopping to take photos. The summit too was deserted, nobody else had been that way all day despite its being a Munro. The descent was down the NE ridge, with its notorious bad step. Again, harder than expected – all possibilities looked too scary so in the end we abbed down the last section just as the last of the daylight disappeared. Luckily the full moon was bright enough to throw shadows as we continued along the ridge. We opted for an early descent into the valley, at a point where we could see there were no major crags to find a way round. It still took a good hour to cover the 1/2km to the bottom!

December 28. Definitely a short day this time, a walk up the twin Munros of Buachaille Etive Beag. We'd both done them before but not on as glorious day as this. Plenty of other people about (though most only did the main summit) so the paths were well trodden. Spectacular views in all directions, but especially of Bidean nam Bian and our previous day's route. Meanwhile, Alan and Nigel went for a long walk up Gulvain (near Glenfinnan), finishing long after dark.

December 29. Aonach Eagach (grade II/III). A winter traverse has been on my "to do" list for years, but every previous winter trip to Glencoe has been preceded by a massive thaw. Not so this year! Strong winds were forecast so it was without much optimism that Alan, Rich, Jenny, Carmen and I slogged up the hill. But somehow we managed to be sheltered along the whole ridge – Peter and Annie were on the other side of the valley and had trouble walking due to the wind (or was it the pies?), and Simon, Debra and Ben had a similar experience on Beinn an Dothaidh. It was worth the long wait for winter conditions, we had a magnificent day in clear cold conditions (between -6 and -8 along the ridge). Quick progress at first gradually slowed as we all started to tire, and the ropes came out to safe guard the pinnacled section. But we had passed the tricky bits before the sun set, all that remained was the ascent of the final Munro and the long descent in the dark back to the car we'd left at the Youth Hostel. 12 hours car-to-car, a great day.

December 30. Wild weather was forecast, and duly arrived. Ben and Nigel joined us for a short walk up Sgurr na' h-Eanchainne, a Corbett on the other side of the Corran Ferry. At least I thought it was a Corbett, but realised half way up it was actually a few metres short, so no ticks today, much to Nigel's disgust A nice little hill, with superb views across to the Glencoe hills and further north to Ben Nevis. Peter and Annie pushed their bikes round some snowy woods, I'm not sure about the others!

December 31. Expecting a sunny day, we plumped for the Ballachulish Horseshoe (Beinn a' Bheithir). The ascent up the NE ridge of Sgorr Bhan proved trickier than expected, and soon Carmen and I were on our own. Ben took a long detour round the awkward bit, hoping to meet us later, while Simon and Debra retreated to the nice warm hut. Sadly the forecast sun never arrived and we spent most of the day in the clag. We briefly considered heading back from the col between the Munros, but Ben had left his car at the far end so we pressed on. There was no sign of Ben, but not much sign of anything else either, so we decided not to wait. Navigation on the last section proved tricky, with undulating terrain and loads of identical small lochans, many not marked on the map. But eventually we emerged from the cloud, in roughly the right place. The final descent was a little more entertaining than hoped for, as we had to find a way in the dark round countless small outcrops and a couple of large cliffs, but we made it to the road and soon met Ben, who in best Annie style had bumped into an old friend on the hill and taken the descent from the col. I'm not sure what everyone else did – I think Annie and Peter went up Gulvain, but cheated by taking mountain bikes for the long approach.

New Years Eve. Preparation of the haggis supper was well under way, when suddenly we were plunged into darkness. The main fuse had blown! So we adjourned to a quiet and atmosphere-free Kings House for dinner before returning to the hut – where Nigel had nobly remained to organise an emergency electrician, so we had light in time for the customary new year falling asleep.

January 1. A return to the Beinn a' Bheithir for Carmen and me, this time for some ice climbing. Very slow going through deep powder with a hard crust which sometimes supported, and sometimes gave way. When we reached the north ridge of Sgorr Bhan we saw a small icefall and took the opportunity to stop for a rest and climb it. Nice easy climbing on fantastic ice, Carmen led straight up the middle for a good little 30m grade II. After this, some more crusty powder led to the main route of the day, Russian Roulette II/III. I say 'main' but it's only 50m high! Loads of ice, though more brittle than our first route, with lots of dinner-plating. Back to the sacks just as the last of the light disappeared, and the standard walk-out in the dark.

January 2. We decided on an easy day with a short walk in so went for a look at the Aonach Dubh cliffs on Bidean nam Bian. We didn't bother with a guidebook as we were just looking for some short easy angled ice to play on. Firstly we tried the Allt Coire nam Beithach but there was too much flowing water and not enough ice. Higher up though, there was loads of ice. A steep icy gully looked tempting but probably too hard, and there was a group of 3 just starting (we later found that this was Number 6 Gully, grade IV ***). So we went for an easy looking line of ice further right, which looked about grade II and one or two pitches. One minor epic and 3 pitches later, we reached the top – much steeper than it looked, the last pitch was vertical for a few metres! Harder than anything else we'd done, I reckoned about III/IV. Consulting the book later it turned out to be Squaddies Climb, grade II/III, only mildly humiliating – fun though.

A great week, in great weather – and it was just the beginning of a great winter!

Loads of photos here.
Peter's bike-pushing pictures here.
Debra's photos here.