Wednesday, 9 February 2011

A Cairngorms winter mountaineering day. Feb 8th 2011

After the previous day's aborted attempt to get into Lochain, Tuesday
saw much better weather - we had a view for a start!

However, due to the previous day's snowfall and strong overnight westerlies, SAIS had predicted cat 4 (high avalanche risk) on all slopes from NE through to SE.

Iain still fancied a crack at Astroturfer although he thought it safer to walk in via the Faicaille A Coire An T Sneachda and descend into the route from above - if possible. The first photo shows the Faicaille Buttress and the Lochain crags from the Faicaille A Coire An T Sneachda. On our way along here, we experienced very strong westerlies and between the rock bits - bullet hard neve/ice. Both Iain & Sean found it somewhat demoralising - even if the views were good!

On arriving at the summit of Cairn Lochain, a quick wander over revealed that the cornice above Astroturfer was large. It was vertical for at least 5 foot and although frozen, Sean was not keen (neither was Iain). So, we elected to descend in to Coire An T sneachda if the Goat Track slope was safe which it was - hard snow, although no ice.

Sean was happy to be lowered by Iain as he back climbed down as seen in photo two. Iain did three different lowers overall - a scottish stomper, followed by a boot/axe belay and finally a stomper to get us both on to safer ground.

Snow conditions didn't seem to be so bad, but thereagain, we hadn't ventured on to any east facing slopes although Iain expected cross loading on north facing gullies.

Having arrived at the foot of the Goat Track slope at only 12:30 it seemed a travesty not to get a climb in. Iain offered to take Sean up Fingers Ridge - a pleasant IV'4 close to hand, then the face started to cloud in and it looked as though the weather was about to take a turn for the worse.

As Sean had not climbed Goat Track Gully, a fine little grade two route, Iain offered to guide him up this. Goat Track Gully had been almost totally stripped of its snow almost a week before and was still somewhat bare although the ice had survived making it a top end two if not in reality on the occasion, grade three! Certainly there were two steep ice pitches to contend with low down and then bullet hard ice and turf above.

Sean can be seen approaching the belay stance at the top of pitch three and thoroughly enjoyed the route considering it to be the hardest thing he had climbed to date. Previous routes he has seconded are the Vent (II/III) in Lochain and Red Gully (II/III) in Sneachda.

We topped out on the route at about 4pm and the wind died - four hours later than forecast to do so.

The sky was a leaden grey colour but visibility was fantastic. One could see over the whole plateau in all directions and as far south as Lochnagar. North and West Sutherland could be seen across the Moray Firth and Ben Wyvis could be seen beyond Inverness.

The fourth photo looks in that direction with Glen More far distance, Coire An T Sneachda middle and then Fingers Ridge and the top of Red Gully (left) in the foreground.

The plateau had been stripped of its covering of fresh snow by the wind, although deposits of slab were evident on lee slopes and quite deep in places. Otherwise the cover up there is bullet hard neve and ice and Iain was surprised to see many rock outcrops in evidence on the plateau indicating that whatever the cover - it is thin for the time of year.

Finally, Iain doesn't get many shots of himself doing stuff but here is one. At this point he was lowering Sean on a stomper belay towards the corrie floor. Goat track Gulley takes a line up through the crags just to Iain's left.

As the forecast for Wednesday was for the freezing level to rise above the Cairngorm summits leading to thaw conditions, avalanche category 4 again and blanket cloud/rain for the area, both decided to sack off going out on this day. Maybe they should have with Iain's MIC assessment coming up, but with this being 4 days on the trot for Iain he thinks it's a good excuse to have an extra day off and do some personal admin instead!

All of the pictures from this day out can be viewed here. Iain is next out with clients in the Fort William area for a week starting on Saturday. Regular blog posts are unlikely if he is busy, but you should find updates of what he has been doing posted at the link to the Kendal Mountaineering Services recent photos page above.

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