Sunday, 27 January 2013

Beinn a' Chaorainn Wildlife

On the 23rd of this month Wally and I drove up to Glen Spean and took the thickly forested trail in to Beinn a' Chaorainn.  We hoped to find some grade 1 snow slopes and do a bit of nav practice, and in the avalanche conditions prevailing at the time this seemed a good option.  We quickly discovered however, that the East ridge of Beinn a Chaorainn was all but completely scoured of snow in the lower sections, and then to cap it all the sun came out!

However, the light winds meant that there was plenty of wildlife sign left in the snow, so we enjoyed a bit of tracking, had wowser views of a golden eagle on the ridge, and were able to talk through navigation scenarios and descent routes with realtive comfort.  Its a complex little ridge, with lots of tricky terrain, gullies and lee slopes. We noted a crown wall and avalanche debris at NN386864 in Coire Buidhe.  A good brain workout despite the pleasant conditions.

 The approach is a bit of a bash through the forest but with lovely views of waterfalls and pools on the way. 

 Classic fox tracks in the snow (and human!).  

 Close up of fox tracks. They almost look furry!

 Red deer feeding sign.  Its harder for these animals to find food in the snow as they have to dig for forage. 

 Heading up to the Bealach a' Bharnish.  As we approached the bealach, a golden eagle soared above our heads.

 Looking back towards Glen Spean

A ptarmigan bed- note the two sorts of faecal matter, dry grassy "caterpillars" (normal ptarmigan droppings), and an unpleasant goop called caecum that ptarmigan and grouse typically excrete first thing in the morning apparently!

 Ptarmigan footprints leading to...... Perhaps the golden eagle spooked it?

 Mountain hare prints  (and that pesky human again).
 The sun came out and the wind dropped.

The ridge was well scoured but old cornices persisting in places.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Snowy fun on Aonach Mor

We headed up to Aonach Mor via the gondola at Nevis Range on the 22nd to play in the snow. This was an intentionally easy day, to look at ice axe arrest, snow belays and the snowpack in general.  We encountered soft powder, very unstable windslab, and iron hard neve. We chose the neve to slide on, which was fast and bruising at first, and then funny, as the runs became slower and slower the more we slid. The windslab was classic hard slab,  overlying a couple of softer layers with clear and easy failures (you only had to look at it really and it slid). Finally, we built a shovel-up in the powder- a good diversion and kept us warm whilst building it.

Isolated block of windslab that slid on a soft fluffy underlying layer with minimal tickling.

 A pair of the local ptarmigan feeding and displaying to one another. 
Finished shovel up, bijou, but room for two if they are friends.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Wintery Stob Diamh and Ben Cruachan

I'm playing catch up again- sorry if people are hoping for up to date info on winter conditions, living in the van on and off is not conducive to updating the blog! Wally and I headed to Ben Cruachan on last sunday, with a plan to traverse the ridge from Stob Diamh to Cruachan. Its a fantastic ridge, and even though the visibility was poor for much of the day, the roller coaster ride of summits kept us entertained.  We were slowed down significantly by negotiating the steep slabs and icy terrain as we approached the final summit of Cruachan.  In the failing light at the end of the day, we took the decision not to descend the bealach beyond Cruachan to the dam as others had done previously, aware of a pillow of windslab nestling in the lowest  point, and so stuck to the ridge, for a final weary top in the dark- the safe but tiring option!

 Approaching the Cruachan Dam

Fresh winds and poor visibility once on the ridge.

 Navigation on the ridge is straightforward in the sense that its an easy feature to hand rail, but it is long and tortuous, with lots of small tops, so worth keeping an eye on progress.

 The wind had scoured a lot of the snow from the ridge.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Coire an t-Sneachda and the Cairngorm Plateau

Staying with the Cairngorms theme, but heading north, Wally and I spent a couple of days in the Northern corries at the start of the week.  On Sunday, we had an easy day, recovering from our Beinn a Bhuird trip, and wandered in to Coire an Lochain and practised some basic snowcraft on the hard old snowack in the pack of the coire. Digging buckets and bollards under the current conditions is hard work! On Monday, we felt refreshed from a rest day, and walked in to Coire an t-Sneachda.  We took the Goat Track out of the coire, and wandered across the plateau in deteriorating conditions.

Despite a little fresh snow, the coverage was still very thin in the areas that had been stripped of old snow in the recent thaw. 

 Crampons on for the climb up the Goat track.  On Monday this was icy, steep, with a hard rocky runout. 

 Near the top the wind was gusting and visibility deteriorated rapidly. 

The forecast had indicated that visibility would be good, but in reality cloud descended and the wind whipped up spindrift, making the going tough across the plateau. We dipped in to Coire Domhain to check out some old snowholes, and then headed up Coire Raibert and down via "point 1141".

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Beinn a' Bhuird, Beinn a' Chaorainn and Beinn Bhreac

Inspired by Nick Bramhall's blog about a two day journey around the Dubh Gleann Circuit, Wally and I headed up the Quoich on Friday to explore the Beinn a' Bhuird area. Neither of us know the Southern Cairngorms that well, and were really looking forward to two days on the plateau, with the prospect of three munros and some wintery weather.

The trip began with a leisurely 6km walk from the Linn of Quoich amongst mature scots pine forest. The Allt Dubh Ghleann must be crossed before beginning to climb on to the open hill towards Beinn a Bhuird. Note- this river crossing is impossible in spate.

Approaching the summit of Beinn a' Bhuird.  There was not much snow left on the plateau, but temperatures were already dropping, and wintery weather forecast for later that evening. 

 Looking towards the crags of Etchachan and Ben Macdui.

 Descending west from the summit of Beinn a' Bhuird towards Beinn a' Chaorainn at sunset, on the look out for a camp spot. The old snow was bomber hard, and although the patches were small, cutting steps slowed things down a fair bit.

 We found a dry and flat spot tucked under a small crag by a partially frozen lochain. This is the next morning, striking a very cold camp. 

The weather took a turn for the mistier, and with fresh snow, there was some navigation to be done.  We stomped up Beinn a' Chaorainn in freshening winds, before negotiating our way across the (thankfully) frozen bog to Beinn Bhreac. from here, the gently undulating ridge continued until we could descend back towards the junction of the Quoich Water and the Allt Dub Ghleann.