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Friday, 18 December 2009

Fantastic snow ice buildup in the Northern Corries

"Fantastic snow ice buildup in the Northern Corries"


Following last weekend's great climbing conditions we've had a brief period of milder, wet weather until the refreeze on Wednesday evening. This has resulted in very firm and icy snow in the gullies and surprisingly on the buttresses too. There has also been a rapid build-up of rime ice on all exposed surfaces and that today included many climbers!
We headed into Coire an t-Sneachda this morning and were pleased to find that a light covering of fresh snow had made the approach paths less icy than yesterday. The winds were from the north today so much of the coire was being scoured. This led to an easy amble up the Trident Gully area approach slopes and then, avoiding other climbing parties in the gullies, up the Central Ridge.
The snow in the gullies and ribs was really excellent providing secure first time axe and crampon placements all the way up onto the icy plateau. The snow was so good that even normally tricky mixed rock steps were a doddle.
There is a downside to the good icy buildup though.... belays and protection are hard to find and to dig out due to the carapace of icy snow and rime even for local guides! Also the firm icy nature of the snow is very unforgiving to any poor or lazy crampon and axe technique.
Many climbers will no doubt be wondering which routes are well built up and in good condition? To be honest it would be easier to say what's not in condition as most if not all of the easy to mid grade snow and buttress routes have a great buildup. There is also plenty of ice in the easy gullies and on the buttresses. The only climbs that may not yet be fully built up and really fat are some of the traditional ice routes - I could be wrong here though!
It was actually possible to place ice screws on some of the grade 1 gullies but if you cut through the first 3-5 cm of the ice shell you'll soon realise it's a lot softer underneath and your placement may no tbe as good as you think! There were some large icicle-hung cornices over Jacob's Ladder and around over the Forty Thieves area. The cornices weren't a problem further round the coire and over the Trident Gully area with the gully exits being straightforward. The plateau has a good covering of water ice and hard snow with any fresh snow being deposited on southerly aspects today. We didn't visit it but with today's northerlies I'd suspect deep unstable snow drifts and cornices over the like of Hells Lum crag - high avalanche risk.
Lots of climbers out on the easier routes with queues around the Red Gully and Goat Track areas. Also lots of climbers on and around the Fiacaill Buttress area too. We saw one party starting up Genie / White Magic. Over on the Mess of Pottage there were climbers on the Haston Line, Hidden Chimney and on Honey Pot. Most of the grade 1 and 2 gully lines were being climbed.
In short, conditions were great on Friday but will be changing quickly with the heavy snowfall while I type and it's forecast to continue over the weekend. Please check the latest Cairngorm SAIS avalanche reports and the MWIS weather forecast before thinking of heading out!!!!
Photos later....
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