Thursday 4 April 2024

Igloos & Ski Touring on the Moine Mhor

The igloos & the tent

The annual Inverness Backcountry Snowsports Club igloo building trip took place on the last two days of March this year. These trips began back in 2010 after I’d given talks to the club on my adventures with Igloo Ed, designer of the IceBox tool we use to build the igloos, in the Rocky Mountains in Wyoming and some members were interested in building one in the Highlands. (I’ve posted about every igloo trip on this blog, here’s a link to that first one).

Sgor Gaoith from Carn Ban Mor

That first trip we built an igloo on the slopes of Carn Ban Mor on the Moine Mhor above Glen Feshie in the Cairngorms. This year we went back there for the first time in a decade. The snowline was quite high – about 750 metres – so we had to carry our skis a fair while before we could use them.

After the storm

Soon after we reached the snow the dark clouds that had been blowing across the sky thickened. Rain, then hail, then heavy wet snow began to fall. For a short while we were in a blizzard. With the snow sticking to our wet clothing it wasn’t pleasant but we were to be glad of the new snow the next day. 

Into the mist

Eventually the wind died down and the snow faded, leaving us continuing upwards in thick mist. We were aiming for a long shallow stream gully that began not far below the summit of Carn Ban Mor and which holds the snow well. We weren’t likely to miss it but even so we checked maps and took compass bearings.

Braeriach begins to appear

Slowly the mist began to dissipate and the shadowy hanging shapes of steep slopes on Braeriach began to appear. For a while the sun shone as the storm passed over Sgor Gaoith. Our gully appeared and we began to search for the deepest snow. Clouds still swirled across the sky, summits appearing and disappearing constantly.

Starting an igloo

A suitable site selected two IceBoxes were unstrapped from packs and igloo building began. The snow was soft and damp and made blocks easily. Even so it took many hours before the igloos were finished.

Cloud over Monadh Mor

The huge clouds were a distraction as they piled up into constantly shifting shapes catching the setting sun. Up there the wind was still roaring. I crossed the gully to shallower snow and flattened a site for my tent. I usually have to get up for a pee at least once a night (getting older!) and I sometimes read for a bit if I can’t get back to sleep so using a tent means I don’t disturb others. I can also lie in the tent and look at the stars. I do admit that if the weather was stormy I’d have been in an igloo though!

The igloos at night

After sunset the clouds cleared and there was a brilliant night sky, the stars sharp and bright. Across the gully headlamps lit the igloos before everyone settled in for the night.

My tent

Dawn came with a frost, beautiful light, and a chill breeze. Thin clouds quickly started streaking the sky and the brightness soon faded. Two people headed back down to Glen Feshie. The remaining four of us set off across the Moine Mhor plateau for Monadh Mor, a remote Munro.

The cornices

Soon after leaving the igloos we passed above a deep section of the gully overhung with cornices. Here one of my bindings came loose, the ski came off, sped unerringly towards a cornice, and disappeared over the edge. The only way to retrieve it was to descend below the cornices and then walk back up the gully. I hoped I could find it. I soon did and at least had a close-up view of the giant curls of snow hanging above.

Skis back together again. Thanks to Andy Ince for taking the photo.

I’d already thought I was unlikely to make it up Monadh Mor. I now wasn’t even going to try. I didn’t want to lose a ski again far out on the Moine Mhor. I might not find it this time. I also knew that I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the others on the downhill from the summit, partly due to rusty skiing skills but mainly due to my mismatched boots and skis, the former being too light and soft to properly control the latter. Why was I using such a bad setup? Because in a year of looking I’ve failed to find any suitable replacements for my cracked and worn-out plastic boots. Nothing available is anywhere near wide enough for my feet. So I was back on my old leather boots from the 1990s. (For anyone interested I wrote about this in a couple of posts last year – here and here).

Heading for Monadh Mor

The others were on a mix of much more substantial gear – split board, ski mountaineering, heavy duty telemark.

Sgor Gaoith

The undulating terrain of the Moine Mhor was not a problem so I didn’t turn back until the slopes started to steepen and the ascent of Monadh Mor began. I enjoyed the gentle skiing, gliding over the snow, stopping to admire the clouds and mountains. The fresh snow was only a few inches deep and starting to thaw. It had fallen in the storms of the day before. Without those storms we’d have been walking across the Moine Mhor. Only in a few sheltered areas was there any older or deeper snow.

In the tent. Again, thanks to Andy for taking the photo

Back at camp I melted some snow for a drink and chatted to some ski tourers, curious about the igloos. Once the others returned we packed up and skied back across the shoulder of Monadh Mor and down the snow towards Glen Feshie, as far as it went. Then the skis were back on the packs and the long walk out began, straight into the now bright and hot afternoon sun. Soon jackets and hats came off, gaiter and trouser leg zips undone. Still too warm. This was shorts and t-shirt weather. I was glad of my leather boots now. Finally we reached the glen and then the cars and another successful igloo trip was over. I wonder where we’ll go next year and whether I’ll have found some new boots that fit.


Nicki doing the traditional standing on an igloo

Two fine igloos


Sgor an Lochain Uaine & Cairn Toul almost appearing

Looking for a site in the stream gully


  1. I don't know what size boots you seek, but there are some size 28/10 excursions here

  2. Sounds like an interesting & eventful trip Chris, great photos too. All the best from M&H xx