Headbutting the snow.

19th January 2018

(Above) #wrong-tool-for-the-job. Struggled to get my vehicle up to Aberarder Farmhouse…again today. Luckily was rescued by the SNH guys ploughing the track and just managed to slither the car in a somewhat maladroit way up to the SNH parking area.


(Above) #right-tool-for-the-job. SNH’s long wheelbase Land Rover ‘Defender’. Irresistible force meets movable substance. Yes, it just headbutts the snow into submission. Much envy. Admirable characteristics & capabilities which would have come in handy elsewhere today.

There’s a good 30cm of undrifted snow right by the A86 roadside at the moment and this is likely to be topped up a little overnight.

(Above) Trail-breaking on foot,skis or snow shoes will be the order of the day tomorrow right from the car park. ‘The Man Who Must Not Be Named’ put in ski tracks part way up the main Coire Ardair path yesterday so rubbed my hands in anticipation of an easy cruise into the coire (yesterday’s ‘slough of despond’).


(Above) Easy cruise? Wrong!  5km to the lochan.


(Above) Good light intermittently today. Great cover! Deep drifts in any lee areas even at low altitude.


(Above) Actually finding the course of the path was a bit of a mission at times.


(Above) Not even out of the woods yet. Most of his tracks had drifted over and in places totally disappeared. Was still game to see how far I could get. Measured snow depths of 60cm in places further along (undrifted snow). Hard yakka breaking trail…on skis…on the course of the path… so foot-soldiering has little to recommend it just now. ‘Off piste’ trail-breaking in the deep stuff only for the unsound of mind. Access via scoured areas a more sensible option.


(Above) SE shoulder of Sron a Ghoire. Pillows of windslab on high steep lee slopes and more extensive at higher altitudes. The minor col on the near skyline is at about 650m.


(Above) 3/5ths of the way up the coire.  Resistible force meets (what felt like) immovable, deep substance. Was not quite headbutted into submission by it, but close!

A sizeable cornice line runs at right angles to the main Coire Ardair path at it’s highest point (see above). Tricky wee obstacle. Bring a shovel (not really jesting). The higher parts of the path are more wind-exposed which means less depth but bigger drifts in lee areas and near micro features.


(Above) Balloon Gully in Coire Ardair. Top of this distinctive re-entrant is at about 850m, and 670m at the bottom end. The left side is an East to ESE aspect. It’s much steeper than it looks in the photo, too. Now well banked out and quite corniced with some recent cornice debris running out of it – just visible. Large weak cornices a feature of our area at the moment.

Rinse & repeat tomorrow.



Comments on this post

  • Stan Intihar
    20th January 2018 9:41 am

    Pure poetry.
    Your informative posts are a treat to read…Thoreau, Shepherd and Frost would be smiling. 🙂

    • meagaidhadmin
      20th January 2018 3:25 pm

      Very kind words, Stan.
      I’m blushing!

  • Kate Gilliver
    20th January 2018 6:04 pm

    Yes, well done for getting the lovely word ‘maladroit’ in there!
    What fantastic snow cover! Annoyed I’m stuck in snowless south Wales!

  • Colin
    22nd January 2018 2:30 pm

    I probably should know this but what do you mean by a ‘re-entrant’ and what is the significance?

    By the way – always a great blog – keep up the great work.

    • meagaidhadmin
      22nd January 2018 11:14 pm

      Good question, Colin.

      Re-entrant is used in different ways by different users. The critical characteristics are that it’s an indentation in the terrain but also quite a shallow one. Orienteers are very familiar with re-entrants, but in their sport a re-entrant can be a tiny indentation in comparison to Balloon Gully. Gully is a actually a misnomer for the feature shown in the photo. A gully would be much more deeply incised, but when combined the term rolls off the tongue a little more easily then Balloon Re-entrant! The SNH Creag Meagaidh stalkers came across a stranded Met Office weather balloon there years ago hence the name.

      The re-entrant we call Balloon Gully is significant to us here at Creag Meagaidh because it catches a lot of snow due to cross-loading. It’s a really quite steep ‘gully’ and actually faces south – which is useful to us when the winds blow from anywhere with N on it of course – but also gives us a heavily cross-loaded East-facing aspect to look at. (The left hand side looking at the photo). East is a very important aspect here at ‘Meggie due to the East-facing Beinn a Chaorainn, Post Face and other similarly oriented buttresses/crags in Coire Ardair, a total of 3km in length, where there’s a lot of climbing and potential for avalanche. (Let’s add ‘The Window’ to that list too, a popular approach/descent to/from the summit of Creag Meagaidh itself).

      The local wind within Coire Ardair itself more often than not blows west to east – coming from the Post Face towards Aberarder. If the wind over summits come from anywhere between South and West (which it normally does) then the local wind in Coire Ardair is always into your face when walking up the glen. Always. Thus, snow is blowing along the wall of the glen/coire and across this gully, filling it with snow and often creating a cornice.

      In summary, it’s a handy ‘canary in the coalmine’ for us. An East-facing analogue and an early indicator which ‘has a bit of previous’ when it comes to avalanches – some very big, up to a 4m high crownwall in one instance.

      Hope this helps!

  • Colin
    24th January 2018 7:56 pm

    That’s really useful and informative. Thanks.

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