This winter has been unusual so far. We’ve had cold clear days with stunning views and then very warm wet days in between. This has stripped back the snowpack leaving bullet hard snow ice called Neve in patches all over the mountains and bare ground between. Typically this is the kind of conditions you’ll find on a late spring day!
Despite all this it’s been a busy winter with lots of people excited to get out into the Scottish hills. This week I’m working for the RAF looking at winter skills and helping some of their instructors work towards Winter Mountain Leaders Awards. Today we looked at using the boot to make a trail, cutting steps to support this and then switched to crampons and had a look at moving on a variety of terrain.
It’s been over a month since I’ve posted on here and what a month it’s been. Unfortunately I don’t have time to go into it all right now. I’ll save that for another post, for the time being though here’s a few pictures from today’s sunny climb at Creag Dhubh.
After Christmas, January is always a month I look forward to. This is mainly because its time to enjoy winter; dust off the crampons and axes, don the waterproofs and head out into the wilds.
This year is no different. The start of January was stunning. We had decided to head over east and weren’t disappointed. The first day was spent climbing a Munro (Sgor Gaoith) I hadn’t been up before and enjoying wall to wall sunshine and skies. The rest of the week was much the same as high pressure stayed in control but with a few grey days. I spent the time doing lots of work on my Nav and successfully completed my winter ML. Jen had a couple friends up to visit who also got lucky and enjoyed their first time with crampons and axes.
Once this was done we decided for a change of scene and headed out west to Glen Coe. This also gave us a chance to catch up with some of the people we knew who had come up for the season. The weather definitely turned but we still managed to get out and bag a Munro (Sgurr Eilde Mor) before Jen had to head south for some work. I stayed up and spent the week doing some climbing with two other instructors and friends; Adam and Mo. They were keen to look at a few places with a view to potential assessments and work in the future so we headed off to the Zig Zags in possibly the wettest weather I’ve been out in. This was followed by a day out on Tower Ridge, Ben Nevis.
More wild weather stripped back the snow even further which was fine as I joined Jen down south for a wedding. A great way to see out the month. Congratulations Alix and James!
Here’s a few pictures from Scotland during January:
Sun in the Cairngorms
The stunning Loch Lochy
Sron na Larig – one of the classic routes I climbed this Jan
View of the van
Jen and I this Jan
Kirsty still smiling despite being knee deep in snow!
My days off this week had mixed weather and mixed success.
First was an attempt at the Cioch Nose, which didn’t get further than the car park for various reasons including sideways rain, waking up late, high winds and a film crew.
The second was a solo of the Northern Pinnacles of Liathach. Graded moderate in the Highland Scrambles North guidebook, this blurs the line between scrambling and climbing. Many people, it would appear, choose to avoid the tricky lower sections of the route opting instead to go and to the fine, airy upper section of the route. Not having done it before I was keen to find out what it’s like.
The walk in is best from the east up Coire Dubh Mor. This is steeper and longer than you’d expect but very rewarding. It has stunning views and is a well kept path, complete with stepping stones for the river crossing. Turning off this and heading into Coire na Caime by small and then larger lochans and hummocked heather gives you a feeling of leaving all traces of civilisation behind. From the loch in the coire you can spy out the line of the route. It’s faint line of weakness up the impressive flanks of Meall Dearg that looks inviting and daunting in equal measure.
The route lives up to the description of “hard at the start” before you gain the clean rock in a fine position. I certainly felt tentative over the moist turf-covered initial section. Being careful and paying heed to the seriousness of the location, I took my time over these initial passages. Once the ridge is gained the nature of the route changes, insecure heather being replaced by airy jumbles of sandstone, and before long the concern had left and the enjoyment of moving over a ridge freely with a light rucksack and only myself for company replaced it. The summit of Meall Dearg came quickly.
From the col behind, the true pinnacles were obvious as stepped terraces of sandstone. The line up these was much better defined leading me to believe that most people probably take the “easy” (as the guidebook puts it) approach. Taking care for the loose section, but enjoying the position and moves, the pinnaces soon passed as well and before I knew it I was on the summit.
A glance at the watch and a quick snack I realised I’d have time to complete and west to east traverse and do some more exploring by heading down the east ridge. I set off passing the familiar terrain of Am Fasarinen, keeping to the crest allowed me to enjoy the passage of the pinnacles. Over Spidean a’Choire Leith and Stuc a Choire Dhuibh Bhig and I was heading down the eastern ridge.
This has tricky route finding and an exposed position feeling like you’re dropping off the edge of the world. Most of the difficulty is, however, mercifully straightforward with care being taken not to descend too far and get caught by the “damp, dark cliffs” at the bottom. These are escaped be traversing right to scree.
All that remained was heading back for a shower with a smile on my face and another great day in the Torridon hills.
My first week in Torridon has been exciting, interesting and above all beautiful. There really is nowhere else in the UK that has the incredible wildness and variety as the North West Highlands.
We took an opportunity of clear blue skies to climb Access Gully and traverse Liathach via the Am Fasarinen Pinnacles (see photo above). In classic ‘spring’ condition we had bullet hard snow ice called neve on the gully then clear rock on the pinnacles, some of the summit ridge involved sun softened snow with big exposure; thrilling. These conditions required good decision making and quite a few stops to switch to crampons.
Starting work involved plenty of paperwork and reading through procedures. It hasn’t all been office based though. We’ve had a go at clay pigeon shooting, archery, sea kayaking, and sorted out a tree to climb.
The sea kayaking was a particular highlight. “super” spring tides meant a little further to carry the boats but also that there was a huge amount of wildlife exposed in rock pools among the kelp that would normally be underwater. This included urchins, crabs, unusual looking fish, shrimps, sea snails, razor clams and more. Further on we accidental interrupted a family of seals who preceded to follow us and coming within a few meters. While we were watched by the seals a white tailed eagle wheeled over head, unmistakable with its giant wing span and tail glinting in the sun.
Our days off were filled with entertainment as well – a grade two scramble up the south west ridge of Ben Dearg and a canoe across Loch Maree to the islands in tricky and cold conditions.
Since then fresh snow has been falling and it feels like winter is not giving in to spring very easily. A few glimpses of sun have poked through though enabling some after work bouldering in the Celtic Jumble of boulders just outside Torridon itself. Full of aretes, cracks and slabs, I’d recommend anyone who enjoys climbing pay it a visit. I’ve never bouldered anywhere as good except perhaps in Fontainebleau.
With a damp, warm, windy and generally rubbish forecast we decided for a bit of a lie in and chill out morning. Finding a spot for this with internet signal, a stunning view and not likely to offend anyone could have been a tall order, luckily Loch Lochy’s shores provided a good answer.