Monday 6 February 2017

Winter is Here!

A climber on the cliffs of Cairn Lochan, Feb 5

The last few days have shown that the idea that this winter will continue mild with little snow or even that it is over already is completely wrong in the Scottish Highlands. There has been fresh snowfall and strong winds, leading to avalanche danger, cornice formation and serious winter conditions. The last weekend saw three rescues, two of them of people avalanched, on Ben Nevis, Braeriach and Mount Keen - mountains far enough apart to show that the winter conditions are widespread.

On the 5th I went up onto the Cairngorm Plateau to see what conditions were like. Climbing up the Fiacaill a'Choire Chais I was soon enveloped in cloud. Snow was falling and the wind was cold and gusty. On reaching the Plateau I needed goggles to protect my eyes and to increase definition in the poor visibility. The wind had scoured the terrain, leaving many rocks and boulders visible with patches of snow and ice between them. If the snow cover had been complete it would have been a white-out. Whenever I crossed large areas of unbroken snow I found slopes and dips hard to see. Areas of old snow were hard and icy, the new snow easily sliding off it, making for slippery ground. This was not easy walking.

It being Sunday there were other people about, including many climbers emerging from the frozen, snow-plastered cliffs of Coire an t-Sneachda and Coire an Lochain. At the top of the Fiacaill I met two parties whose leaders I knew undergoing navigation training. The conditions were ideal for that!

A climber on Cairn Lochan

I wandered over Stob Coire an-t Sneachda and Cairn Lochan, not wanting to venture out onto the featureless Plateau and have a navigation exercise myself, and then down the west shoulder of the latter. Here a touch of blue sky high above suggested the weather might be going to clear, as the forecast had suggested. It didn't. Instead it worsened with the clouds lowering so I had no views as I crossed below the corries and back to the car park.

Cloud over Glenmore

The forecast is for continuing snowfalls and high winds - 94mph has been recorded on Cairn Gorm today. Anyone venturing into the mountains should be prepared for winter conditions and check the Scottish Avalanche Information Service avalanche forecast - looking at the SAIS blogs is a good idea too as there are usually pictures showing the conditions - and the mountain weather forecast - I check both the Met Office Mountain Forecast and the Mountain Weather Information Service.

1 comment:

  1. Never write-off the Highlands for winter conditions! Looking forward to a week at Glenmore Lodge at the end of the month 😊😊