This weekend was the last winter course we have run and I’m proud to say that we have introduced 53 people to winter mountaineering. It has been a challenging winter from the start. There wasn’t a lot of snow to start with in January and as much as fell in February it was just skin deep and fizzled away in a few days of rain and high temperatures. From mid-February, we had 2 figure temperatures even on the summit of Cairn Gorm but still managed to find enough snow to run all the planned courses. Everyone on our courses went away with a buzz.
Here are some statistic for this winter season.
Booked on a 2 day Winter Skills Course: 36
Booked on a 5 day Winter Mountaineering Course: 14
Booked on a bespoke trip or course: 3
Number of winter courses/trips (combined):13
We are always trying to improve what we offer on equipment and have only the highest quality kit. So we bought a few new bits of equipment for the new Summer season.
Some of the new kit are a MSR Hubba Hubba NX tent. That would be in addition to our already existing MSR Access 2 and MSR Remote 2 tents.
We also replaced all Therm A Rest All Season SV with XTherm Max. The Speed Valve on the All Season was really good for pumping up but it was too much hassle to explain it to everyone and even then it sometimes wasn’t used properly and resulted in loosing air at night. The XTherm Max have a standard valve and a pump sack. That should be a lot easier to use.
Therm A Rest has unfortunately stopped selling the Quadra chairs. Therefore we got 2 more Uno chairs. They are just as comfortable, you just sit a little lower.
The one thing we really look forward to using is the Esbit BBQ. It’s a fold-able stainless steel BBQ. It packs down small enough to fit in a sea kayak and is big enough to have several burgers fizzling away on the grill.
After a 1 month absence of Winter with inversions and two figure temperatures on summits we seem to have winter back. The snow cover has recovered and it all looks and feels very wintry. The Winter skills course this weekend was pretty good with 2 people on it so we could get through the skills pretty well. On Sunday we had very poor visibility from late morning and the wind started to pick up too. This was just like the forecast predicted.
Or is it only temporary Winter? The temperatures are forecast to raise again. But then I only need enough snow for 2 more courses and we certainly have enough about to cover that.
This was long due for me. I joined an avalanche awareness course, which was organised by the Chris Walker Memorial Trust. What a great course. In the morning we had a look at the theory of avalanches and some interesting statistics. in the afternoon we headed up to Coire an Lochain and made a large snow pit to look at different layers. Even considering the mild conditions we had in the last few days with a lot of the snow gone we still managed to find 4 layers in that old snow pack.
This week has seen some really good winter conditions. We had a good cover of snow in most areas and even the Cairngorm Ski area is planning to open the top runs for the first time this season. There is still hope for a good winter.
The walk in to Ciste Mhearad was a bit challenging with white out conditions just before we got in. And I managed to dunk my right boot all the way into a snow covered stream. We made it up there in good time and managed to dig a comfy snowhole within 3 hours. Not the fastest I have done but it was pretty good timing.
The start of the 5 day winter mountaineering course was first wet on Saturday. We managed to find a decent spot for most of the skills. Sunday was pretty wild high up with winds of up to 70mph and blizzard conditions. Therefore we stayed low at the Glenmore forest and did a fair amount of map reading and navigation.
When we went up at Coire Ciste the next day we found some really good winter conditions with snow banking nicely on southerly aspects. We managed to do some emergency snow shelters and had a look at avalanche awareness.
On the expedition we went up to Ciste Mhearad and dug some snowholes on the southerly aspects in the area. There was plenty of depth there to make the holes comfy. At night the temperatures dropped to well below freezing. In the morning we walked up Cairn Gorm and then down the ski area. The all day breakfast in Aviemore was well deserved.
On Tuesday we have gone up to Ciste Mhearad for digging a snowhole and staying overnight. The original plan was to get up there on Monday but the wind was gusting up to 70mph. So that was a none-starter. The weather was just perfect for getting up to the Corrie and we started digging at around 11:00am. The first metre of snow was some of the hardest I have ever encountered. It was like cutting through concrete and had to use a saw to get anywhere. After that it was a bit better with much softer and wetter snow. We had to dig down and than in to make any progress, which meant that it took a little longer than usually and got done after over 5 hours of digging. This had to be the hardest snowhole digging I have done in quite a few years.
The night was very still and there was a magnificent orange growing (almost) full moon. In the morning we went up Cairn Gorm and then down Fiacaill Coire Chas.
So far this winter has been very mild apart from some good snowfall in October and December. The deep gullies still have some snow. However, even Easy Gully (Number 2) in Coire na Ciste is starting to get a bit thin on the snow. We really need some new snow.
The course went really well considering the conditions. We went up to Ciste Mhearad on Saturday to do all the “walking on snow” skills and had a day at easy gully at Coire na Ciste on Sunday. We had some winds of up to 40-50mph and even a few snow flurries.
Checked out the snow conditions at Ciste Mhearad yesterday to see if there is a chance to do some snowholing next week. The is an existing snowhole at the west side, near an old avalanche. There you get about 2.5m depth of snow. At the opposite side you get one spot with about 3m depth but this would need a bit of cooling as it doesn’t look very stable. All the snow is very wet and would be easy to dig but would also mean that you would get soaking wet and the hole would shrink by the morning. It might be an interesting night if we decide to go snowholing.