Tag Archives: Winter Climbing

Cairngorms Winter Mountain Leader Practice

Last Friday night I headed up to the Cairngorms for a weekend of practicing the skills I need for my Winter Mountain Leader assessment in two weeks time. I got to Tesco in Aviemore just in time to stock up before heading to the deserted Ciste car park for a windy night in the back of the Berlingo.

Me in the spindrift feeling happy after some precise navigation

Me in the spindrift feeling happy after some precise navigation

My plan for Saturday was to head up via Coire Laogh Mor and micro-navigate over longish legs (500m – 1km). Testing my pacing and bearings. This went fine except for ‘losing’ 100m on one leg. Perhaps I do need some beads to help me with the hundreds. I did find I was able to count subconsciously whilst thinking about other things, this was a little strange but at the end of counting about 4000 double paces I had tuned in the fine adjustments required for different snow conditions or gradients. The weather was not too bad, visibility came and went but was mostly fine it was just the fierce winds and spindrift that required me to wear goggles and a balaclava that was a good test. Continue reading

Fiacaill Ridge – Coire an t’Sneachda

As part of my training for my Winter Mountain Leader assessment I arranged a couple of days in Scotland with Mark and Lauren (and Vicky had she been well). We were based in Aviemore and were planning to use the Coire Cas car park to allow us the access the Cairngorm Plateau.

Mark and Lauren on the approach

Mark and Lauren on the approach

The weather forecast was for a dry but warm (above freezing at all levels) day with cloud base around 900m. The previous few days had seen a southerly wind and fresh snow so there was a considerable avalanche risk on west through north to east aspects. With the thaw there was also a risk of cornice collapse. Most interesting (grade 1 gullies) routes to the plateau would have a considerable risk from avalanche and so I proposed climbing Fiacaill Ridge between Coire an t’Sneachda and Coire an Lochan. I had scrambled up it with Penny in the summer of 2008 but never climbed it in winter conditions. There is a good description in Scotland’s Mountain Ridges by Dan Bailey.

Lauren on the approach

Lauren on the approach

We agreed to an early start and packed the night before. By 7:30 we were leaving the car park and sliding our way across the piste and onto the Sneachda path. Before too long we donned crampons and they were to stay on all day. We were almost at the front of the procession and it felt good to be amongst the first on the route. From the main path we headed off right and thought light thoughts as we crossed the burn (no one fell in). The snow was quite soft with a hard crust on top. At this stage the crust was not weight-bearing but as we got higher the crust got icier and harder and we took out ice axes.

Moving together with runners on the rope

Moving together with runners on the rope

From the foot of the ridge it is a bit of a slog up to the scrambling section. We went at a steady pace and admired the views back towards Aviemore. There was now a lot of people heading into the coire (am I too paranoid about avalanches?). Eventually it was time to gear up. I did not know what to expect on the crux so we all put on harnesses and roped up. The physical crux was probably pulling up onto a block that was easier if you used two axes to pull on, however the definite psychological crux was stepping along a knife-edge crest and crossing an awkwardly placed rock. I crossed first and took a belay on the far side.

Traversing off the ridge

Traversing off the ridge

At the theoretical crux of the route we saw plenty of ice not attached to the rocks and decided that a detour via the snowslope on the right would be appropriate. I am sure that in better conditions this would even more interest to the route. From here we moved together with me placing runners every so often until we regained the crest. Peering over into Coire an t’Sneachda we could see a team climbing a steep chimney, they didn’t see us! From the crest the summit looked close so I dropped my coils and headed up to the top were I dug a bucket seat to belay from. We got to the top at about 12, Lauren was a little peckish and I was mentally tired.

The snow bunting at pt. 1141

The snow bunting at pt. 1141

We had lunch near the top of the Goat Track but then continued round over the top of the coire to pt. 1141 where we were joined by a snow bunting. Since the summit of Cairngorm was in the cloud and we were all tired from walking through the breakable crust we decided to head down and not bag the summit. With hindsight we should have gone to the summit, then descended to the Ptarmigan Restaurant where we could have caught the train down.

Mark and Lauren at pt. 1141

Mark and Lauren at pt. 1141

On the descent we discussed the options for Thursday and decided that the snow conditions were not good for walking. As a result we bought lift passes and returned the next day to ski from dawn to dusk.

The route

The route

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Greathall Gill

All week we have had sub-zero temperatures and the fells have looked very inviting. However, I have had to be at work. Mark and I hatched a plan to make an early start on Saturday and to get some winter climbing. The weather had a different idea and on Friday evening it rained heavily in St Bees and put down between 6 inches and a foot of new snow on the fells.

Mark in Greathall Gill with Buckbarrow behind

Mark in Greathall Gill with Buckbarrow behind

Our trouble was getting to somewhere we could access the fells from. At Gosforth the road up to Wasdale was very icy and so we decided to head to Santon Bridge and then to park under Irton Pike and walk up to the top of Greathall Gill and have a look to see if there was anything interesting there.

Me on a short rib out of the gill

Me on a short rib out of the gully

It took over an hour to reach the top of the gully but it contained plenty of snow at the ground was frozen (at least at the top). The guidebook mentions two short icefalls halfway up so we descended on the right of the gill until we were level with the falls. Here we geared up and went to ‘have a look’. There was some ice but also plenty of water so we followed the stream in the bottom of the gill climbing the odd section of easy-angled ice and investigating a few interesting looking side gullys. despite carrying two ropes and a rack we never needed them and enjoyed pottering around.

The impressive icicles

The impressive icicles

Towards the top we spotted an impressive series of icicles which could perhaps make a very steep short climb if they had time to fully form.

Mark starting up the final ramp

Mark starting up the final ramp

To finish we chose a ramp on the right hand side, it was a mixture of snow on rock and snow on turf, the key to feeling secure was to find the turf and avoid the slabby rock.

From the top a one hour walk brought us back to the car. It had not been the ice climbing that we went looking for but was definitely interesting mountaineering, and given the conditions I was happy with the result.

Scafell Winter Climbing with Brad

Brad and Kristen are up for 24 hours and the weekend respectively. Whilst Penny and Kristen went for a walk up Middle Fell, Brad and I headed to Scafell to try to get a few winter routes.

Brad on an icefall next to Red Gill

Brad on an icefall next to Red Gill


An early start saw us set off from the parking by the campsite at 7:40 planning to get to the snow before there was any chance of it softening. A brisk walk saw us heading up brown tongue and then gearing up below Red Gill (I/II). After the initial snow slope we climbed an inviting icefall. I chose the left-hand side which was a more gentle angle than the right-hand side that Brad climbed. After his recent time in the Alps Brad was very confident on the ice.

Brad Belaying on Deep Gill Integrale

Brad Belaying on Deep Gill Integrale


The rest of Red Gill took us to Lord’s Rake and a traverse to the start of Deep Gill Integrale (III). The first hundred metres was an easy gully that became increasingly exposed. We started pitching as the ledge got narrow and Brad took the lead for the first pitch. I then lead through continuing along the ledge until overlooking Great Chimney, there was then an interesting mixed section up a flake and slab. Rope drag was becoming significant so I belayed and Brad then led through with a very exposed move round to the right to easier ground and the summit.

Me under Old Professor's Chimney

Me under Old Professor's Chimney


Keen to get another route in we dropped down Deep Gill for fifty metres and then turned right. I was intending to climb Old Professor’s Chimney (II) but we were tempted into New Professor’s Chimney (II/III). It was not in very good condition with a section of rock where ice would have made life easier and more secure. From the Jordan Gap we traversed round to the left back to the summit and our bags.

A quick, 75 minute descent saw us back at the road at 1pm. We were both very happy with getting three interesting routes into a morning. Brad then had to get a train (or bus) back south for a flight to China tomorrow.