Old cornice and avalanche debris

9th February 2008

Above: Huge pile of old cornice and avalanche debris at the base of Easy Gully in Coire Ardair

The car park was full today and we met a fair few people on the hill. Most were out hillwalking and everyone was staying clear of the gullies.

Most gullies are chockful of old debris, much of it from cornices that fell down on Wednesday night and during Thursday. The Inner Coire, including the final slopes up to the Window, had debris everywhere. Some debris tips had a lot of rocks and soil entrained in them, so much so that from a distance it looks like debris from a landslide.

Quite a few folk seemed spooked by all this and said the avalanche hazard must be ‘bad’ even though they hadn’t seen anything fall down. Snow stability isn’t too bad at all (although cornices still remain a concern) but people’s perception of it is heavily influenced by these big piles of chunky old snow. Estimating the age of avalanche and cornice debris is very difficult for most people simply because they’re not able to look at this stuff all the time. (Most Guides and instructors do have have a good handle on this for reasons that are self evident). A year or two ago an individual – from Dunfermline, if I remember correctly – reported an avalanche to SAIS HQ he thought had happened on a Saturday but had actually occurred nearly a week beforehand. We were in the vicinity on the Saturday and had looked at the debris which was so hard you couldn’t kick your crampons in to it.

The moral of the story is, please do report these occurrences as feedback is vital, but do think carefully about the timing of the event as it will really help us in or ‘accounting’ procedures. Also, do remember that cornice collapse is a separate hazard often, but not always, independent of the avalanche hazard.

Above: a shot looking up Easy Gully today. We did our snow pit above the avalanche fracture line which is visible on the left side of the gully in the top quarter of the photo.

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