Surprisingly busy at Creag Meagaidh
22nd January 2023
(Above) Thawing at all levels today after some sleety snow showers over summits before dawn. Drizzly rain prevailed for most of the morning though that didn’t seem to put people off taking the path up to the lochan beneath the crags in upper Coire Ardair. Some visitor stats for today (just from my own observations): 4 runners in lycra, 10 walkers, and 6 ski tourers boot-packing up the path carrying skis. Saw one hillwalking chap in the Inner Coire toiling briefly but manfully uphill in deep moist snow, then thought better of it and returned to the lochan. Believe me, I felt your pain!
(Above) Left to right: Raeburn’s Gully, Pinnacle Buttress, Easy Gully and the Post Face of Coire Ardair. We have a lot of snow, most of it now thawing. General stability is pretty good but the steep areas below weakening cornices remain a concern. A collapsing cornice here could trigger the slopes below it since there’s still cold weaker snow at depth. Also, the steeply inclined benches and shelves on Post Face and nearby crags are carrying a considerable load of melting snow so there’s some potential for full-depth avalanches here. Falling ice in similar places will also be a hazard in the sustained thaw. As ever, check the SAIS official avalanche forecast for further details.
(Above) Six ski-tourers boot-packing up the main Coire Ardair path in persistent drizzle. Kudos for your enthusiasm. I salute you! Snow conditions didn’t look promising for entertaining downhill skiing so I hope they didn’t have an ultimately frustrating day.
(Above) It’s a small world! Quite coincidentally, bumped into Roland Williams and partner as I was descending the path back to Aberarder this afternoon. Roland is a budding mountain landscape photographer and winter mountaineer who reported an avalanche via the SAIS portal. I’d been in email contact with him a week ago to gather additional info about the avalanche debris he’d seen in the Monadhliath above Newtonmore. Always good to put a face to a name. You can view some of his photos, and photo album, ‘Social Distance’, here: https://www.rolandwilliams.co.uk/exhibitions
I see from his website that Roland is ‘…a firm believer that sometimes the best adventures can be found in the worst conditions!‘ He talks the talk but also walks the walk: his presence at Creag Meagaidh today attests to that!
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22nd January 2023 6:01 pm
Great to meet you in person today and thanks for the kind words! Looking forward to enjoying more of your blog posts, keep up the great work!
Six optimistic ski-tourers
22nd January 2023 8:19 pm
Levels of enthusiasm waxed and waned throughout the day. The quality of the snow never really waxed. The skiing was highly entertaining, but ultimately we ended up running away from multiple avalanches nr The Window. Great third day ski touring!
22nd January 2023 8:42 pm
Well done for getting out and about on skis. Good effort.
Looks like the weather in our neck of the woods will be the same/similar on Monday.
New or old debris? If you did see avalanches coming down please enter the details on the SAIS website – it’s on the right-hand side of the opening page. Reporting and recording avalanches helps us enormously. We had weak cornices around today so it could be that some of them have collapsed as well.
23rd January 2023 1:48 am
Feeling quite ancient now as in the 60s we never had the term “ski tourers”. Took it in turn breaking trail going
up and coming down did “big steps”. We thought that skis were for big girl blouses unless in the Alps or the Scottish ski resorts. Sorry for the non PC remarks but thought it worthwhile commenting while the last of us is still alive. Any comment?
23rd January 2023 9:04 am
There’s some speculation that we get more ski-tourers (aka ski-mountaineers) nowadays at Creag Meagaidh than winter climbers. My personal anecdotal evidence suggests this might be true. I’d also say we get more winter hill-walkers than ski-tourers and winter climbers combined.
The climbing clientele numbers of yesteryear seem to have migrated to the Ben and the Northern Coires of the Cairngorms. I’d also wager that Torridon and the NW gets more climbing ‘traffic’ than ‘Meggie. Partly it’s due to access (the N.Coires is a bit like a roadside crag, Meggie is a long walk-in), partly to do with ice conditions (Meggie’s routes top out at 1050m, and some on the Ben start at that altitude), and I guess Meggie just lost its novelty, too. Even though Meggie has some of the longest – and arguably best – winter routes in the UK, it just doesn’t appeal due to the combination of the aforementioned.
So let’s not be down on the skiers, Stan. We have some great terrain for ski-touring. And – as ski-touring developed as a ‘thing’ during the 1970s – in your pomp a pair of planks would have got you into the top end of Coire Ardair for some winter climbing a lot faster than ‘shanks pony’ on a full snow cover day.
23rd January 2023 12:09 pm
Interesting to see how over decades the ‘preference’ for winter climbing venues changes as a result of improvements in equipment, accessibility, changing climate, social media exposure etc. I agree that routes like Smiths, Last Post, North Post etc are some of the best ‘traditional’ winter routes in Scotland. Meggie was a popular destination in the 80’s when ice conditions were arguably more reliable and prolonged than we’ve seen over the last decade or so, but equally with improved road accessibility to Torridon and the North-West and increased guidebook coverage of these areas, I sense there was shift northwards from the late 80’s/early 90’s onwards. Developments of technical axes for mixed climbing have also influenced the popularity of specific areas over others, leading to a greater focus on the Ben/Northern Coires and more obscure locations previously lacking any ‘traditional’ winter climbing interest. Also it might be argued that there is probably less potential for major new routes at Meggie than on the Ben etc which probably draws leading climbers to these areas and not to Meggie – I don’t recall many references to new routes at Meggie on Scottishwinter.com since it was established. So some complex inter-related factors at play here – but needless to say when conditions are good at Meggie, it rivals anywhere in Scotland for challenge, atmosphere, character and sheer enjoyment…….
23rd January 2023 2:58 pm
/\ That, Keith, is an excellent, well-considered digest. I think you nailed it!
Very many thanks!
23rd January 2023 4:47 pm
Thanks for the kind words – always happy to contribute to the dialogue – if some mountaineering/history orientated student was inclined, there’s probably enough different dimensions to this issue looking at the ebb and flow in popularity of different winter climbing venues over the last 50 years which could easily fuel a PHD I think…….
23rd January 2023 6:27 pm
Hi everyone and thanks for the report and comments.
I was one of the “walkers” on Sunday but am an avid winter climber and have done some ‘whatever you call it’ skiing in my time – Greenland, France, parts of Scotland etc. Five of us were just stretching our legs on our way home to Edinburgh after a Club Meet. Another two were ahead of us, heading home elsewhere. Two of us had wanted to climb but for the poor conditions. I’m still recovering from Covid which I got for the first time. It’s been a while for me what with Covid lockdowns, family illness and personal injury but when in the swing of it, Creag Meagaidh has been a regular venue and will be again I hope if conditions are right. Although a long walk in, it is straightforward but the drive from Edinburgh is shorter than for The Cairngorms or the Ben. On my hit list are Trespasser Buttress, 1959 Face Route, North Post and Norwander to name a few. I’ve enjoyed many of the other classics, especially Smith’s Route twice in one season! So there’s plenty to go for yet and there are always repeats. I’d like to put a good word in for Meagaidh therefore – it has one fan at least! Best wishes Ruth.
23rd January 2023 6:36 pm
An accomplished mountaineering/ski-touring connoisseur, Ruth!
A great endorsement.
24th January 2023 5:07 pm
Aw thanks but I didn’t mean to come across as anything special – I’m not. Just enthusiastic and old! Hope to return to Meagaidh soon. R