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
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.
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.
The weekend saw some great weather and milder temperatures. There was also very little wind. On Saturday at Coire na Ciste it was very quiet and only skiers were in the area. At lower slopes the snow disappeared from more exposed areas and was very soft underfoot. On Sunday we went higher to have a look at steeper slopes and work with crampons and harder snow. Furthermore we had a look at cutting steps and climbing up and down small cornices.
The weekend saw again some winds from the east with some snowfall and spindrift. The road up to the Cairn Gorm ski area was therefore impassible. On Friday we walked up to the Sugarbowel car park and then down to the stream. There we did some avalanche awareness and ice axe arrests. After that we went up to the Cas car park and saw the extent of the spindrift. Poor visibility to less than 50m and the snowplough couldn’t really clear much of the snow.
On Saturday we went to Drumochter to get away from the strong winds and have easy access to steep slopes. We managed to go through quite a lot of skills and have a look at some of the big cornices there. Sunday saw some calmer weather. The wind has eased and it was easier to have a look at some rope work.
The last 5 days has seen some really mixed weather. On Saturday we had milder weather with some spindrifts. Because of this the snow gates to Cairn Gorm Mountain were not open. Therefore we went to Drumochter, which had some really good snow conditions. The snow was a bit soft, but really good for doing the sliding skills like ice axe arrest. Sunday looked like much the same but according to other people there were some inversions.
Monday we managed to go high and saw some impressive inversions from 1000m. This meant that we managed to see all the higher tops, while the glens were foggy. When we walked up for the snow-holing on Tuesday the weather was great with some hillfog. However, when we started digging it all cleared up. The snow was in part very easy to dig and we had our snowholes ready after 2 hours. This called for a beer, opened with an ice axe (number one mountaineering tool). We started to do some navigation to get to the summit of Cairn Gorm. The visibility was very poor and you could stand 20m away from a big feature like the weather station on the summit or a ski tow and not see it. We then bailed out early in the morning as there were SSE winds gusting up to 60 mph forecast.
This weekend we had some mixed weather. The avalanche report reflected all the fresh snow we received in the last few days. On Saturday we went up to Coire na Ciste for building emergency snow shelters and checking on the avalanche conditions. We also did some ice axe arresting and cutting steps on some neve snow nearby. On Sunday we headed down to Drumochter because the snow gates at Cairn Gorm were not open. There we encountered a lot of deep snow, which at times was knee deep.
The start of the 24-28 February winter mountaineering course saw some really good weather and mostly low avalanche risks. However, the beast from the east with Siberian winds was looming. By the last night when we were out snowholing it hit us. In the morning we had zero visibility and temperatures of -10C or colder. Therefore we just walked straight down the hill. Just before we got to the Ptarmigan Station near Cairngorm I managed to fall down a wee drop. I ended up in soft snow coming up to my armpits, to the amusement of everyone else. 🙂