Tuesday, 22 January 2008

4th january 2008 - New Year Blast

I was in Coire an-t-Sneachda on Friday 4th January as well with two young climbers - my sons Duncan (16) and Fraser (14). We turned back from just below the crags in nigh-on impossible conditions. Walking - staggering - back to the car park took forever and was not easy. In the back of my mind I kept thinking of the Bell brothers who died so close to the car park - a tragedy repeated last winter where two young Aberdeen climbers perished in similar fashion. I checked the Weather Station Statistics afterwards and could not believe what I was reading - and have since checked with a meteorological colleague. The wind and gusts were far more severe at Car Park Level than at Cairngorm Summit; and the pretty well constant gusts were fuelled and loaded with all the ices granules imaginable, gathered on the plateau. They were being dumped in Loch Morlich as far as we could make out. Curious thing about the Plateau Weather Station statitics is that for teh 4th January average speeds were 40 -50 mph gusting 60 - 70 mph. On the 9th the average speed was 70 - 80 mph with gusts up to 135mph. But because it was 3 or 4 degrees colder on the 4th the wind chill was every bit as bad as the 9th.Only one thing I would take serious issue with in all the posts on this and that is the comment about 'Winter Hillwalking'. There's no such thing. I'll quote from a piece I wrote 14 years ago - and every bit as relevant in this, the first seriously wintery start to winter in over a decade.

"A little advice to those who would 'climb, if they will'...

1) There is no such thing as winter hillwalking. Hillwalking is a summer pursuit (and in most Scottish summers, you need to be prepared for winter) IN WINTER THERE IS ONLY MOUNTAINEERING.

2) Know your limitations, and don't be afraid to say no. It ain't chicken .. it is just being realistic.

3) Turning back (indeed, not even getting out of the car) isn't an admission of defeat. Its wisdom and sound judgement coming to the fore.

4) Errors of judgement are the main apparent cause of accidents - knowledge, experience, and an ability to use both could be critical. As one of my own mentors frequently reminded me ....."The time to relax is in the pub, not at the top of the climb."

5) Individual responsibility is the name of the game. It is your life, your risk. Never abrogate that responsibility to others. Participate in the decisions, even if you feel like the dampener on enthusiasm. What you perceive as enthusiasm could be rashness. You could also spot someone else's mistake.

6) And finally a message for the experienced. Always keep on teaching. I was climbing at the weekend on the Aberdeen Sea Cliffs, and out of a habit born from much teaching of the less experienced, observed my partner mis-tie a figure of eight. "That's right ....Treat me as a novice" was my partner's response as I pointed out the error; but it was not resentment, more a wish that something he appreciated should continue."

Somehow this seemed to have a resonance to the discussions that have swirled around this post like the ice spicules did that day in Coire an-t-Sneachda. I was out Ski Touring on Beinn Bhreac on Saturday and it was gusting at 50mph all afternoon, but it seemed almost benign compared to Jan 4th.

Bob Reid


Sunday, 20 January 2008

Ski Touring January 2008 in Scotland

The ski touring season started every bit as well as the on-piste season (check out the news reports for the Ski Centres over the w/e of the 12/13 January and the 19/20th January). On Radio Scotland's Out of Doors, Mark Stephen announced the shortest ski report ever, period. "All centres open, all runs complete". Can't be bad. But I'd wager the queues were pretty horrific. So, instead, I headed for Glen Esk and the classic route up Mount Keen taking Braid Cairn (its easterly neighbour) en route. What a day. It took about half an hour's walking to get to the snow. Then it was skins onto skis. Skiing alone, I had forgotten that it can be difficult to separate the skins from the sticky undersides - a bit of a tussle. A continous drift accumulating in the access track up the Burn of Glasscorrie heading up the Round Hill (spot height 664m) from where the photo above was taken. Due north from there was exquisite skinning-up, plenty of glide on perfect snow heading for Braid Cairn, 887m. This was about 7km down by now and having only set off at 11.30 time was advancing. A steep zig-zag up the last steepness of Braid Cairn before the wonderful vistas of Aberdeenshire opened up - looking across Loch Kinord to Morven and Pressendye (now threatened by a proposal for 7 wind turbines).

I sloped off down into the bealach between Braid Cairn and Mount Keen and tackled the latter's steep East Face direct. I abandoned my skis for the last 100 mtrs - marking my trail with my ski poles to retrace in teh gathering mist gloom. By now it was 15.45pm and quite dark. The Ski run out to the Ladder Burn was fantastic - including some hair raising hairpins on the access track. I was down at Glenmark Cottage by 16.30pm thankful for a seat for sandwiches and coffee, before the hour's plod back tothe car park. This is a much better route, being a circuit, than the one written up in the SMC Ski Mountaineering guide.

A week later (19th) still an expectation of snow, I headed for Mar Lodge hoping to ski up Beinn a' Chaorainn but the conditions were not quite so favourable. I'd borrowed Ewan's patent cycle pannier rack for skis (see separate blog). Cycling was however impossible. All the Mar Lodge Tracks were several centimetres deep in sheet ice. It was impossible to even make progress walking without crampons. Any gust of wind would tip you over. Slowly I headed up to the beautiful Glas Fhearnaig, before picking up an interrupted, but followable ribbon of snow northwards. I followed this with increasing difficulty, in windier and windier conditions as far as the summit of Meall an Lundain before (character having long ago been established) heading back down. The skiing down was strainght-forward, almost catching up with several hinds at one point leaping like springbok over the heather and snow patches. Still, an ennervating 5 hours was had by all.

Raeburn Extra

Ewan took some photos while climbing Raeburns which really illustrate what a good early season climb it is. Might only have been technical three but with thin ice and little protection, this really felt like a big route. It is probably buried beneath fathoms of snow by now.

Wednesday, 2 January 2008

Raeburn Early Season III

There's an excellent photo on page 337 of the new SMC Cairngorms guide - a thin looking Raeburns. There is also a tantalising suggestion that Raeburns is excellent early season. So EC and I went and looked on 21st December 2007. The blogs so far posted before Christmas on SAIS Site didn't look promising. However, our best expectations were realised. The route was in very good nick, giving 4 excellent pitches on concrete ice. There was plenty of bare rock around. But looking down showed fantastic snow cover, attesting to the fact that you can judge winter conditions best when looking down. You also have got to get there to judge the conditions. Another blogger has suggested lots doing Black Spout, but much more in condition than BS - another party also did Raeburns - and on closer inspection several other routes were complete including DG Gully - even the icicle finish. Parallel A almost complete too.