House bound!

Since arriving in Scotland two weeks ago things have been fairly busy, with lots of personal climbing and a little bit of work thrown in for good measure.
Conditions out on the crags have been hard going at times with big accumulations of snow meaning lots of digging to find gear, or long run outs. Not so bad when the snow is frozen, but it can feel a bit insecure when everything your standing on is powder!

Neil arriving at the first belay on a very snowy Astroturfer, slow going!

Most of my time over the last few weeks has been spent in the Cairngorms, with visits to the Northern Corries, Lurchers Crag and Stag rocks, climbing some old familiar routes and some new ones. Its amazing how much climbing is crammed into the Northern Cairngorms.

Eamon making short work of the final steepening on Afterthought Arete.

After being spoiled with reasonably good weather on our first week things began to feel a little bit grim, with a second week of gradually deteriorating weather conditions. The mix of increasing, variable winds, and snow showers was not only having an impact on the snow and avalanche conditions, but also meant that simply moving about the mountains was becoming a bit of an effort.

Blue sky climbing on a banked out mess of pottage, its hard to imagine the weather ever changing on days like this!

This weekend I was out with UUJ mountaineering club, on a mixture of climbing and winter skills work. The plan had been to get out climbing with John and Jonny on Friday, both of whom had previous winter experience, and were keen to crack on with some routes.
Plan A had been to wander up to Cha-no, a slightly smaller crag that is approached from above. Based on the snow conditions it seemed like a good choice, as abseiling in, and onto a route would eliminate the need to move about on any dodgy approach slopes, but a windy forecast meant that even getting to the crag could be a challenge!
Arriving at the car park on Friday morning it was clear that plan A was out the window!  So we made our way into the ciste crag, a much lower lying crag, to find a sheltered little corner and have a look at placing pegs and other skills associated with winter climbing, before dropping onto some snow and revisiting snow belays.

The winter skills team heading towards the blue skies in Corrie t-Sneachda.

Yesterday I headed out with some of the other students for their second day of winter skills. After a very wet and unpromising start, the clouds began to clear, and we spent the rest of the day reasonably dry. The wind had dropped a little from the previous day, but was still gusting enough to ensure an exfoliating face full of spin-drift every once and a while!
There is so much to be gained from being out on the hills when the weather is wild. Wet starts, snow and wind really put you (and your kit) through your paces, and learning how to stay comfortable in these conditions is an important experience for any future winter mountaineers!
The weather today proved to be a little too wild however, with wind speeds of 90 mph forecast it was not a day to be venturing into the hills, so the guys headed west for a trip to the ice factor. Knowing when not to head into the hills is just as important as any other skill they will have learned this week!

Snow shelters at the moraines.

With the forecast set to improve over the next few days, its looking like i’ll be able to get out again before heading west at the end of the week to work with QUB mountaineering club, and after a day of sitting in the house it’ll be great to put the cabin fever at bay until the next spell of bad weather arrives!

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