Wide variety of snow surfaces.

21st March 2020

Covid-19 – SAIS general advice regarding mountain activities.
In its daily blogs SAIS forecasters illustrate the mountain landscape with the objective of providing information regarding snow cover and mountain hazards. This information is intended to enable enjoyment of the winter mountains with knowledge and safety and aid decision making and route choice for those planning to visit Scotland’s hills and mountains.
During the current situation with Covid-19 we would encourage all those going outdoors to be mindful of unintended consequences of their actions and the potential impact on medical and rescue personnel. Consider your objectives carefully in relation to current conditions and BE SAFE!
For further information regarding Covid-19 please follow the information provided by Mountaineering Scotland  the British Mountaineering Council  and the  UK Government in respect of understanding your health and potential impact on others.  
With grateful thanks.
The SAIS team
(Above) Dry day and quite cold, too, especially up here on the Carn Liath plateau in the nagging SE wind. Strong enough to re-distribute some snow as windslab on to NW aspects. Check out the sizeable incised notch on the skyline to the right of the photo. That’s the ‘Min Window’ (not ‘The Window’, that’s above the Inner Coire in upper Coire Ardair) and if you look carefully you’ll see a tail of spindrift extending out over this narrow defile.

Pretty much every type of snow surface present at Creag Meagaidh today. Moist, quite dense snow at lower altitudes then, higher up, crusty snow, hard snow-ice and denser old windslab. Recently developed softer new windslab also featured.

Lingering instability now tending to be confined to very steep N to NE above 900m (where it’s heavily shaded), some E aspects – particularly deeper, partially shaded gullies – and NW aspects where there’s some new windslab.


(Above) Detail of the Min Window. Drifting snow that’s been scoured of the plateau. New windslab wasn’t extensive on (mainly NW-facing) lee slopes but it’s likely to continue on and off overnight and become deeper by the morning. Two ski-tourers in the photo as well.

And finally.

This popped up on my news feed this afternoon:-


The full story is found here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-highlands-islands-51990534

I was shopping (or attempting to shop) at my local Co-op store in Newtonmore yesterday and had a topical conversation with the person operating the checkout.
Me: ‘I see that canned goods seem to the latest panic buying items.’
Checkout person: ‘Yes. People have travelled up here from England and cleared the shelves of canned stuff and bog rolls. Some of them have shoplifted it too.’
Me: ‘What, here in Newtonmore? Up from England?’
Checkout person: ‘Yes, from this shop and they weren’t holidaymakers. They were targeting the place.’
Similar tales at Aldi in Aviemore with vanloads of essentials being cleared off the shelves by outsiders.
Words fail me.

Comments on this post

  • Chris Cura
    21st March 2020 7:01 pm

    Thanks very much for all the good, informative work you do. I’ve been following this service for several years now and this weekend looks potentially like the best conditions in ages for Raeburn’s Gully! But with all the social distancing measures and the journey from near Edinburgh to Loch Laggan I’m gonna give it a miss :o( Witnessing the catastrophic effect there’s been in Italy with infected people moving from one area to the other (and the delay in the effect and its detection) I don’t want to risk being responsible for an increase in the strain on smaller highland health services in a few weeks. If I lived local I would go.

    Incline elliptical trainer with weighted jacket in my garage instead then… the mountains will still be there next year.


    • meagaidhadmin
      21st March 2020 7:13 pm

      ‘Caremongering’. Google it, Chris.

      You’re in the vanguard.

      Bless you.

      With thanks for your timely comment.

      The ‘Meggie SAIS team.

  • Grant Duff
    21st March 2020 10:13 pm

    Being local having just returned from the Aberarder car park and a path walk with young children in fresh air, observing social distancing I’ve had a total rethink following the Lochaber Mountain Rescue advice.

    The car park was at peak summer levels for visitors and it seems time to rethink our individual actions! Yes we all want the freedom of the hills in these challenging times but the huge influx of mobile visitors (camper-vans etc) is not positive for isolated areas as this goes forward in the coming months.

    I totally believe in open access to our wild places but in these extraordinary times responsible access and “leaving no trace” has to have responsible lovers of wild Scotland questioning their actions.

    My self isolation has begun!

    • meagaidhadmin
      21st March 2020 10:28 pm

      Amen to that, Grant.

  • Bimbling
    21st March 2020 11:06 pm

    Not sure how getting out of a car, going for a walk and then getting back into a car is a threat to the human population of the highlands. The person on the door of our busy pharmacy today asked about any fever or continuous cough before letting me into a relatively small space with 4 key health workers.

    I really don’t think a hike up Meagaidh is a huge risk. But I guess, you disagree.

    • meagaidhadmin
      22nd March 2020 6:51 am

      Hi John,

      In some ways I agree with you. Going out for a walk on your own in the mountains is about as low risk as it gets when considering exposure to Covid-19. But based on the evidence of what I saw yesterday at ‘Meggie, that doesn’t accurately reflect the reality of what people are actually doing. There were groups of 3, 5 & 6 walking up the path for winter mountaineering or ski-touring outings, chatting to each other at close range etc. in just the same they way you’d expect in pre-virus days.

      The situation in the northern Italian region of Lombardy is so serious that yesterday they proscribed all outdoor activities. Looking at the way the situation is fast evolving in the UK we may be only 3 weeks behind them.

      Thanks for your comment.

  • Stephan
    22nd March 2020 12:24 am

    Yes, we have the same issue here in Cornwall. Lots of people turning up to isolate themselves in their second homes and their holiday lets. And clearing the supermarkets. Like the Highlands the problem is that we only have one major hospital here. The mythical ‘blitz spirit’ has turned into ‘everyone for themselves’. Very sad. Normally I’d be up in Scotland climbing ice but have decided this would be inappropriate just now.

  • Bimbling
    22nd March 2020 9:00 am

    Definitely not intending to be cheeky here for I look at the SAIS blogs every day and they are brilliant.
    Here’s the but…if there was a need for a stronger signal for folk to stay at home then a message saying as much on the website and not providing reports and forecasts would be much stronger than the current message.

    I’m also concerned at ‘demonising’ non-locals. How long before someone calls it in finest Trumpesque style “the lowland virus”?

    Anyway, keep up the great work and informative blogs. I expect it’ll be busy in the carpark today. I’m out on my bike.

  • Guy Hansford
    22nd March 2020 12:56 pm

    It’s a pity that Bimbling didn’t read through your opening advice and see “the potential impact on medical and rescue personnel.”
    ” a hike up Meagaidh” is a fine way to keep fit but we all accept that our activity carries risks of accidents. If a hiker on Meagaidh makes a slight misjudgement and needs to be brought off by the MRT, it puts the whole team at risk from COVID-19.

  • Stephen Bateson
    24th March 2020 8:21 am

    I was interested to see your photo of the Min Window on the 21 March blog. I think the lower of the two ski tourers was probably me. There was another solo skier just ahead of me. It was an interesting day. The wind was blasting across that section of the ridge at (I estimate) a constant 70mph. I was blown off my feet on Meall an t-Snaim. While lying on the ground, I released one ski. The loose ski flew up and bashed me on the back of the head. In 40 years touring this was one of the more challenging days (the worst was on the other Carn Liath on Beinn a Ghlo, when I had to crawl up the ridge, pinioning my skis between body and snow so they didn’t blow away). After being blown over again, I decided to retreat to Carn Liath. But, having struggled against the wind for a couple of hundred metres I concluded that it would be better to continue west with the wind at my back. Remarkably, once I gained Sron Coire a Chriochairein, the wind suddenly dropped and a flat calm ensued all the way to Stob Poite Coire Ardair.
    Thanks for all your great work in helping to keep us safe.

    • meagaidhadmin
      24th March 2020 9:15 am

      I watched the first skier for quite some time. It looked as though he was really struggling to make progress up to the peak, yet from my vantage point a little lower on the plateau it was merely breezy. Over the years I’ve noticed some odd wind effects/speeds at the Min Window due in part, I think, to the venturi effect created by this narrow defile that cuts across the broad ridge. Also, there was a noticeable high level temperature inversion. The Met Office made this comment in their synoptic overview in our area specific forecast issued on the 20th for the 21st,

      “High pressure continues to dominate, bringing dry, settled and cold conditions across all ranges. Freezing levels rising through Saturday in response to strengthening southeasterly winds. Winds may be markedly stronger near and to the lee of summits and ridges during Saturday due to the presence of a temperature inversion.”

      Spot on re. the wind, as you testified! There’s some very clever and able people at the Met Office. The quality of the forecasts we receive is difficult to fault.

      Glad you escaped the maelstrom more or less intact, Stephen. I was en route to Shark’s Fin Gully (Uinneag Coire a Chaorainn) when I took the photo. The shark’s fin is an ephemeral wind-crafted snow feature at the southern entrance to the ‘gully’, which on Saturday looked like a dinosaur’s back rather than a dorsal fin. I saw ski tracks just a little lower down and north of this feature which looked quite new – perhaps yours, or the other skier in the photo?

      Many thanks for your comment.

  • Stephen Bateson
    24th March 2020 4:28 pm

    I appreciate the meteorological explanation. Very interesting. I saw the Shark’s Fin. Those would have been my tracks – I think the other skier came up from Coire Ardair.

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