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By Rose Norman. On the Saturday morning seven travellers from everywhere between Skye and Edinburgh assembled at Aviemore Youth Hostel to begin a weekend course aptly entitled ‘Winter Skills for Ski Mountaineers’. Our on-foot winter skills were to be developed on the edge of the stunning natural amphitheatre that is Coire an t-Sneachda. The weather was beyond all expectation with windless blue skies and the rocky slopes to the sides of coire bustled with particularly vocal ptarmigan.

Improving ice axe arrests was a key focus and the more enthusiastic ended up trying to get as many arrests into the downhill run as possible. (Although amazingly fun at the time, this had its cost in subsequent bruising). We also practiced our crampon movement, cutting steps, measuring slope angles and navigation. The shortest group member (myself) attempted to enter a semi collapsed snowhole and we shared the stories of when our skills had failed. A childlike happiness while digging in the snow was unanimous.

Sunday was highly anticipated as it involved skis/splitboards. We started out with studying past avalanche forecasts and working out where we could go/avoid in those conditions. The group, which was composed of two splitboarders, one telemarker and the others with varying degrees of newbie-ness on alpine kit, headed up the hill in glorious sunshine. Together we covered route planning, navigation, exploring the points at which where our skins would struggle and how to safely climb steep slopes, including transferring from skis/boards to crampons and vice versa. The heather on the lower slopes also provided excellent cover for transceiver hide and seek.

Our first section of downhill was chosen for its skill improving challenge. Although the slope angle was measured it will not be disclosed as this could prove too amusing to the club’s more experienced members, but let’s just say it was very icy and with convexity. On the one year and one week anniversary of my 1st ski lesson this promised to be ‘interesting.’ Although the more experienced splitboarders managed the descent with infinite cool, it proved more of a learning experience for the skiers. The main lesson was probably regarding the importance of self belief and the satisfaction that always comes from proving initial skills related concerns wrong.

A key discovery of the day was being introduced to jump-turns, a skill with which I’m hoping to gain a (predominantly) healthy relationship. And on the final snow ribbon a reminder to remember to stick boots into downhill mode. Thankfully a touch-my-toes abrupt stop in the heather was marginally less messy than past sub-surface heather snags that allowed for the full test of safety binding release! 

A huge thanks to IBSC for organising this course, it was enjoyed and found useful by all. Our tutor, Mark Ker of Cairngorm Adventure Guides, was excellent in catering for our areas of interest and contributing to the good craic. The consensus is that it would be brilliant to have a similar course at the beginning of next season. The weekend’s photos are credit to James and Matt. 

By Donald Morris.  We joined forces with the Moray Mountaineering Club for this trip and headed to the remote southern area of Druim Uachdar.  The plush coach dropped us at the head of the pass and six of us got off to commence a mega faff and gather all of our bits and pieces.  We then crossed the road and railway to start across the moor to a track on the map.  The initial objective was Sgairneach Mhòr which looked great covered in snow.  

The snow was lying on eastern aspects with western aspects very bare.  Looking back across to the other side of the road showed that A' Bhuidheanach Bheag was not well covered so we congratulated ourselves on a fine choice aided by intelligence from IBSC Militia earlier in the week.  

The juices began to flow on the ascent and left a bit of a mess but once cleaned up no one said anything else. Our descent to the bealach between Beinn Udlamain and Sgairneach Mhòr was a classic of Scottish skiing - keep the speed over the heathery bits and find a continuous line to the bottom.  Friendly weather and lovely snow all made it feel very pleasurable.  

Skins back on, we made the short ascent to Beinn Udlamain where we met more of the MMC party on foot. Skinning and walking were about the same on the day with ascent times quite similar. The party then split and one lot headed towards Fraoch-choire (heather corrie) which was in excellent condition. The radios proved to be very useful in keeping the team together and we all enjoyed a second descent on perfect snow. 

By this time we were becoming aware of the bus departure time from Balsporran Cottage (Beul an Sporrain - mouth of the sporran) so thoughts of a third ascent to Geal Chàrn were ruled out in favour of making it back in time. With hindsight, we might have been able to make it in a similar time as the descent of Geal Chàrn looked more appealing than the long trudge out in ski boots. The juices dried up at this point and it was like lubricating a chain with sand.  

Supplies were available at the Cairn Gorm Hotel and we all agreed that the joint meet had been a success and the posh bus a nice way to travel.  

Thanks to Dan Moysey and Derek Knox for the pictures.  

By David Ross. Yes the bus ran yesterday to Nevis Range.

After lots of thought and a fair bit of effort, a 17 seater minibus ran to Nevis Range and would you believe it we had sun, new snow, wind, mist, backcountry/coire skiing (Peter), off piste skiing through burns, heather gravel and new snow. And all returned refreshed and invigorated.

Many thanks to all who contributed to an enjoyable day. The craic on the bus was exceptional and while some comments would fall under the heading of ‘too much information’ was all the better for being aired. 

The radios were/are a great success, reception in Caol was crystal clear, just hope Peter did not have the volume on high!

So look forward to the next outing which is 15th March 2015 - Day tour – Drumochter.  

 

By Mike Cawthorne. I will admit the forecast wasn’t promising, so when Martyn and myself rolled up at Chisolm’s Bridge, Glen Affric, I was pleasantly surprised to see so many members in various states of readiness.

 

As we packed the talk was all about route choice, snow conditions, fancy new gear, and whether that igloo Andy and Graham built weeks before would still be standing and give shelter for lunch. Plenty of short straws were packed as well because we were certainly not all going to fit into it.

With skis attached to our sacs we set out along the track with the eventual hope of reaching Toll Creagach. Falling snow drove at us from the down the glen in wet and tactile flakes. Just a passing shower, the optimists among us said. We clomped along in ski boots, heads bowed, and wondering whose idea this madness was. Maybe after a couple of kilometres the drifts seem sufficiently joined for us to don our skis, but it was marginal as we scraped over heather and through burns and sunk a little in the peat. 

Then a little east of Allt Toll Easa a broad snow-filled hollow lured us uphill. At least now it was colder and the horizontal snow merely bounced from us. It could only get better. One reason why Toll Creagach is always on the IBSC calendar, beyond it providing a great ski run and its relative ease of access, is a perception that the hill gives shelter from the west. It’s all to do with that wall of hills, the likes of Càrn Eige, Mam Sodhail, and even the shielding arm of Tom a’ Choinich. Home-spun meteorology and wishful thinking maybe but it had gotten us to this featureless hill-side in a white-out. Anyway it was time for lunch. Where did Andy say his igloo was? No igloo here so we all started digging. At least the labour thoroughly warmed us and in fifteen minutes we’d constructed a decent wind-break long enough for ten backcountry picnickers and we drank from our thermoses as snow rattled overhead at a safe distance.

At least the snow had eased as we clipped into skis again and pushed on for the summit ridge, now only spindrift to contend with. A few of the party turned around before the top. Donald, Martyn and Co reached a wind-scoured place where we could hardly stand, then right on cue, as usually happens on IBSC days, the wind dropped a tad, a half sun appeared and the snow became all gleaming and shadowed, and it looked blinking perfect. It was.


A few inches of fresh on an old hard base and even those of us with rusty technique were whooping as we carved big meanders or went coiling out of sight down steeper lines. Exhibition stuff all the way to the valley, well almost.

The weather closed in for the walk out but the wet flakes were now thudding against our backs and we could trundle along upright and hold a conversation. The talk now about where we would stop for a beverage. The Slater’s Arms in Cannich and we reflected on a fine day and probably the best ski run we’d had all winter.

 

 

 

By Martyn Crawshaw. A short video from the Club event held at Nevis Range.  

 

By Andy Ince. The Club Igloo Camping weekend was held this year in Glen Affric and I was totally amazed that weather and snow conditions were so benevolent. Not only was there settled high pressure with low winds forecast but the previous weeks' snowfall resulted in plenty of low level snow in Glen Affric.

I guess that some may think Igloo camping is akin to sleeping in a fridge but compared to sleeping an a noisy flapping tent or dripping snow cave there's much to commend it. With a good clothing and a cooker or candle burning the air in the Igloo actually becomes warm and condensation freezes to the walls so no dripping. The ample space and headroom makes cooking much more convenient than in a tent.

I was a little surprised that there were so few takers for the camping experience, after all snow is not just for skiing! Graham joined me for the actual overnight camp which meant more apple pie and fruit cake each. Chris injured his back so plans to join us on the April trip and Rhona was keen to camp but had to change plans last minute and joined us for the Saturday along with Donald, Andrew and Graham Bull.

We all met at Chisholms car park in Glen Affric at 09:3am0 and headed up the path by 10:00am. It was a little disappointing to find the track snow free given all the snow along the road and in the fields at Gleurquhart and Cannich. However the stony first 300m was not representitive and soon Graham Boyle and myself donned skis at the first opportunity to ski the rest of the track. I guess the snow cover wasn't ideal since those who carried on walking kept well ahead of us. It was the first time I'd ever managed to ski in before the first deer fence so wasn't going to back down.

We were all on skis before the second deer fence skiing through the pine trees on a foot of snow. The good snow cover continued along the track in and provided wonderful scenic views ofTom a' Choinich.

Stopping for a drinks break below Beinn Eun at 11:30 gave us the boost for the climb up Allt a' Choire Odhar. The snow had formed very steep banks on the west side of the burn and it was a challenge to cross safely with three of us continuing up the East side until an easy crossing point was reached.

It was decided to build the Igloo in Coireachan Odhar at about the 800m contour. This gave panaoramic views to the South but with some shelter from the North Westerly breeze which had strengthened during the morning. We all helped form the level platform for the Igloo before stopping for lunch. It was 1:30pm when Donald, Andrew and Graham Bull headed off up the hill towards Toll Cregach. Radio's allowed us to keep in contact and reports coming back indicated conditions were extremely icy higher up. Rhona, Graham Boyle and myself set to with the Ice Box Igloo Tool to build the 8ft diameter Igloo. Good progress was made with the snow being fairly crystalline and compacted allowing quick filling of the mould . To get a good idea of how the tool operates visit the Grand Shelters Web Site.

 

The Igloo was up to the third course of blocks when Donald and team returned from the icy slopes declaring the skiing a bit scary. Using the part built Igloo as a shelter for the cooker we soon had the water on the stove for tea break and snacks. Break over, we then had the prospect of too many helpers overwhelming the block maker. Donald took a spell at this job and was soon getting the hang of the process and building the third round of the Igloo. With time marching on the day visitors decided to head down the hill before conditions became too icy and light faded. The late afternoon sun provided Donald with some great photography conditions, casting a rosy tint across the hills. We kept in touch by radio until the team reached the first deer fence and they had managed to ski most of the route back.

 

With just two of us to complete the build progress slowed and with another tea break we only completed the build about 6:30pm. It was a very clear starry night so despite the late finish it was a pleasure to be out on the hills with the prospect of spending the night high on the mountain. We decided not to fit the hi viz door cover and allow more ventilation. The trench entrance doorway was facing south east opposite to the wind so there was no problem with any spindrift or draughts. Mats, sleeping bags and cooking kit were soon unpacked and food prepared. Pasta, Mediterranean Bolognaise sauce, grated cheese, spicy Chorizo as main course, Bramley Apple Pies and double cream for dessert, Red Californian Merlot to help with digestion. Fruit cake and Scotch Whiskey rounded off the evening and encouraged us to snooze contentedly after a successful day.

 

The Igloo insulates very well against cold but also sound so despite the breeze outside the quiet inside makes for a good sleep. It is however essential for any winter camping to insulate well from the ground and we both made use of Thermorest self inflating mats. I supplemented with a short piece of Ridgerest. Igloo Ed reckons that a full length Ridgerest and Thermorest will provide comfort down to -30C so we were well in the comfort zone.

The usual comfort breaks interupted sleep (must have been the tea not our age!) but when the sun started to light the Igloo entrance it was definitely time to get breakfast organised and make the most of the day. I must say that saving and apple pie and some double cream really did make the muesli delicious!

Conditions had warmed up from the previous day and with the wind creating a light spindrift layer skiing conditions were looking good. With very light sacks we headed up to the summit of Toll Easa where the wind was very much stronger and probably blowing at 50mph. It was not a place to stay long so carefully we turned back and as I was still using the skins they helped to prevent me shooting off like a rocket. Once skins were off we very quickly dropped down to the more sheltered slopes. There was some serious sastrugi but these were easily skied being quite soft.

The surface lower down was smooth and even so we thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the skiing back to the Igloo.

Tea and lunch followed after which we packed up the rest of our gear for the descent down to the path. We headed towards Allt Toll Easa where we had seen a large snowfield on Saturday during the ascent. The ground steepened considerably and a slight crust made the skiing a little more challenging. I was beginning to with I'd brought my new skis with NTN bindings instead of my very light weight Fischers and Riva 3 cable bindings.

The ski down was all over too quickly and the final challenge was to ski out as far as possible. I was determined to make the first deer fence and with old skis this was a fairly easy task. Graham valued his skis more so decided to walk about halfway between deer fences.

The final walk out was on the stony track but with so much distance skied it was no effort compared to my previous trip in December when the walking distance in total for the day was about 6km. I know Graham enjoyed the camping and I hope that I've inspired others to try out the Igloo experience. Let me know if you're interested in the next trip.

 

A large group assembled at Àite Cruinnichidh (the gathering place) in Glen Spean on a snowy and wintery evening. Spirits were high and everyone looking forward to some great skiing out on the hills.  Unfortunately the weather decided to come along too and brought some very high winds. In fact, the conditions on the Saturday were some of the wildest any of us had ever skied in.  

Despite celebrations the night before, everyone was up and ready on time for the day's challenges. There were two plans of action; one group went to Meall Clachaig and the other group continued with Plan A and caught the train to Corrour. There was some unease in the party as the snow was deep and whilst snow plough trains were spotted going up and down the line, there was always the chance that the team would get to Corrour but be unable to get back thus forcing a long and testing ski back over the hills in very challenging conditions. We missed out on that though.  

Arrival at Corrour was special, and windy. Two groups formed and aimed for Leum Uilleim to the west of the Station. Peter led one group on a contouring route round to the south hoping to escape those northerly winds. Another group made a rising traverse in the same direction but higher up the hill. The great thing about Leum Uilleim is its terrain which is varied and provides sport enough for anyone. It looks rocky but there are lots of dips and hollows with great features for skiing. 

As altitude increased, so did the wind. It's hard to explain just how strong the wind was. Everyone has been out in tough conditions and the pictures make it look fairly normal for mid winter. MWIS said gusting 100mph and everyone had difficulty staying on their feet. The danger was in the falling and injury potential. Some of the party had real difficulty staying upright. 

Matt and Gordon decided to make a dash for the summit which was by all accounts extremely challenging. The rest of the higher up party skied back over the gullies and humps to the Station. Fun it certainly was and the wind reducing to hurricane force made it even more pleasurable. 

On arrival at the Station bothy we met members of An Teallach Mountaineering Club. These were the vagabonds that deprived us of staying at Loch Ossian, cheekily booking the place before we did. Some good natured banter followed and they invited us down to the hostel. No one said it, but we all knew that this weekend had been claimed for IBSC. No one nodded in agreement.  

The purchase of Club radios had generated some high energy discussion before the trip but they proved to be very useful whilst on the hill with different parties able to speak with each other through the hurricane force winds. "Pushing them hard" was the message back from the President when he informed us that it wasn't certain they would make the train back north. They did, by five minutes. "Corrour delivered" he exclaimed.  

Train on time again and we were all nearly aboard only it went past the station and then reversed back. This caused some excitement and not everyone heard the explanation so here it is. Apparently, when there is snow on the line, and there was about two feet on this occassion, the train passes the station and clears a path forward. Then it reverses back on to the bit it's just cleared so it can gain traction on the rails to get going again. Remember that for next year.  

By Derek Knox.  While the main party went to Corrour a splinter group decided to park at Laggan Dam (had to dig our way into the carpark)and head up from Roughburn through the forest.

The snow was about 12 inches deep on the forest trail and, with the snow covered trees, had an Alpine feel to it.

The target destination was Beinn a' Chaorainn or as much of it as time would allow (an attempt to get to Fersit earlier had to be abandoned due to deep snow on the road).

We lunched just inside the forest out of the wind and then headed up Beinn a' Chaorainn.

It was decided to stop just above the outcrop Meall Clachaig and ski down from there. Fun was had by all negotiating the varied snow conditions as we made our way back to the road.

By Helen Rennie.  This was to be a ‘Member’s Choice’ trip, but nobody sent in any suggestions, so by Friday evening, with no news of a tour, our Facebook page had a few posts asking if a trip was going to take place. Fortunately, we have a very dedicated committee, and in just over an hour Donald had made the decision to head to Fionn Bheinn by Achnasheen with a very civilised departure time of 9.00am. 

By the back of 10.00 six of us were at Achnasheen station enjoying the luxury of a covered porch to assemble out kit in and clean heated toilets. Ok guys, might not matter much to you, but for us girls it does make life easier! 

We set off with even some blue sky showing!

After just over half an hour of walking we were able to take the skis off our backs…

…and John began his experiment to see if his old straight telemark skins would work on his new alpine touring skis.

Sadly the experiment didn’t last long and our group diminished to five with John returning to buy new skins!

The snow was soft and grippy and with Fiona leading the way were soon making progress and discovering that the forecast of strong winds increasing with height was extremely accurate!

 

The sun did break through at times though and we were able to get stunning views of Slioch.

As we gained height the grassy tussocks became less pronounced, and the snow more powdery although there were scoured icy areas.

We had originally thought of skiing down the east side and Donald and Fiona approached the summit round the corrie edge to have a look to see what the cover was like.

It was similar to what we had skinned up on and as it was becoming quite a struggle to stay upright in the gusts, we decided to just go back by the way Harry and Rose had approached. Getting the skins off and packed away was challenging to say the least and I don’t think I was the only one that was glad to get the skis back on and head away from the edge.

Just below the summit was grippy ice. 

Then we had the joys of beautiful powder.

Before we were engulfed in a near whiteout!

Lower down though the wind dropped, the visibility improved and Harry led us on a twisting course around the tussocks. Great fun!

More lines of snow kept appearing so downwards we continued. Eventually Rose, Fiona and Harry called it a day but Donald and I decided to get right to the gate, although by that time there had been no snow under our skis for quite some distance!

We were back at the cars in less than 5 hours and with all the tussock negotiation had enjoyed at least 5kms of downhill skiing which more than made up for the less than perfect weather and wet kit .

 

We decided a coffee and a snack would be welcome as we hadn’t really managed to eat much on the mountain, so headed to Ledgowan Lodge hotel - to be greeted by a sign ‘Closed till February’ ! Plan B was hatched - to head to the Garve hotel - only to be greeted with another ‘Closed ‘ sign! However Tarvie Services came to our rescue with great coffee, hot chocolate and chips with cheese, where we all agreed it had been a great day out.

Thanks Donald for making it happen, and hopefully you might have some suggestions for 22nd February 2015 - Club members choice.  

 

A group headed out from the Aberarder car park near Creag Meagaidh and went up Càrn Liath.  This is what happened:

Also at http://vimeo.com/117604436

By Kev Neal.  After one of the worst spells of Scottish weather (10 days I think) - affectionately called conditions forming weather , or weather you would not even go to the shop to pick up a news paper in!!!.  The club trip to cairngorm was changed. Bless the poor Gorms as they had pretty much no coverage for ski touring.

The everywhere else looked amazing, was simply a matter of deciding where to go. Teaming up with the other director of powder whores we decided that meaggy might well have some pretty good conditions.

Neither of us had skied there before so at least it would be fun for all.  Back in the 0’ies I climbed there quite a bitty so was confident it offered ski lines everywhere !

The club assembled at the car park,  12 of us headed up through the trees in deep pow. Not always choosing the best line for skinning as it was hard not to get excited at the prospect of all the snow we could see pretty much everywhere.

With such a large group of varying skills we decided to keep it short and head up on to Sròn a' Ghoire. The shoulder was loaded with loads of fresh and would make a great ski down into the trees and moraine field below.

Alas despite it being perfect on the way in, once we started the skin up Sròn a' Ghoire the wind blew hard for a couple of hours from the south east and ripped all the nice snow away… Never mind it did make the accent real fun on neve.

The ski down was still fun-ish - a mix of wind pack, neve, pow pockets and small areas of rabbit killing slab.  Skiing all the way back to the car is always fun in Scotland as its not every week we get the privilege.

The next day was a different story !

see the blog for a few pics from miles away:- http://meagaidhblog.sais.gov.uk/2015/01/great-general-cover/

By Graham Boyle. I never find choosing the location of ski trips easy, particularly the first one of the winter. Monday was no different with a range of other issues having to be taken into account: the excesses of the festive season, shaking off a nasty chest infection, somewhere other than Cairngorm, shortish day, not too far to walk to get to snow. A scan of the webcams, emails to local on-the-ground contacts, and a look through MWIS and SAIS reports suggested that east facing slopes of A' Chailleach ("the old woman" 930m) and Geal Chàrn ("white peak" 889m) on the Monadh Liath would be holding sufficient snow to make the most of the fine weather and meet my other requirements.  

I was in sociable mood so an exchange of postings on the IBSC Facebook page hooked me up with 2 others looking for somewhere a bit different to ski. So it was that Simon, Dan and I met at the carpark at the end of Glen Road in glorious sunshine, a hard frost on the ground and the promise of good snow cover on the surrounding hills.  

This was only my second visit to the area having been introduced to the hills on a ski trip the previous year in equally fine conditions, by IBSC veterans Andy Ince and Mike Cawthorne, The starting point of the trip was popular for a number of people but a good land rover track soon spread us out, as the various walkers and other skiers peeled off to take their own chosen lines. Underfoot conditions favoured walking shoes so with boots clipped into our skis and hung at the sides of our packs we make quick progress up the side of the Allt a' Chaorainn ("Burn of the Rowan") beyond the end of the vehicle track, where the usually boggy path was secured under a thick skin of ice. The burn had to be crossed at some point but we continued on until we spied a line of firm snow on the far bank before slithering across the iced rocks and gearing up for our ascent.

Having our skis on feet rather than on our packs felt great and we soon picked up a good rhythm skinning up and gaining height on firm neve, crossing the occasional thinly covered patch of heather. Our line took us west above the red bothy and across the normal approach track to A' Chailleach where other walkers were plodding  uphill, making heavy weather of the breaking crust. The day had brought out a number of other hill goers and our own progress was watched with interests by numerous mountain hares in their winter colours, soon darting off across and vanishing against the snow only to be spotted again as silhouettes on the  blue skyline above us.       

The Monadh liath ("grey upland") comes into its own in winter; its vast rolling hills covered in heathers and grasses providing an excellent snow base which is very forgiving when cover is thin. Today we needn't have worried, with snow holding well in the numerous gullies running down from the hills above and we quickly gained height towards Geal Charn.

We reached the top in good time to be greeted by a fresh wind from the west but excellent 360deg views: Creag Meagaidh ("bogland crag") to the south west, Sgor Gaoith ("windy peak") to the east, the hills of Glen Affric and to the north, the Moray coast ribboned in blue. Still one of our last wildernesses and the source of many of our great rivers - Findhorn, Dulain and Tarff we were fortunate to see it yet unblemished by the threatened invasion of wind turbines.    

After a bite to eat and drink, skins were off for a short downhill traverse on excellent snow - dropping further than we needed to take advantage of the line and to give our legs a chance to be reacquainted with muscle and tendon. Skins back on and a freshening wind behind us encouraged us onwards and upwards to our final destination A' Chailleach where the walkers, a group from Newcastle University, had just made it to the summit and in time for Simon to casually be included in their group pictures.

The prospects for our descent, which we had scoped out further below, were looking very good so we didn't linger over lunch and headed east off the summit on good snow. The SAIS had given an amber warning on east facing slopes so as the gradient started to get beyond 30 deg and with earlier signs of slab we traversed onto safer ground and continued our descent putting in fresh tracks on the way. The decision for an encore was unanimous so skins were on and we climbed back for another chance to nail our turns and enjoy around 500m of decent in almost perfect conditions.

We managed to stay on our skis back to burn crossing at around 450m albeit for the final short section across thinly snow covered heather using a technique which Dan felt we could excel at if it were to become an Olympic downhill event! 

The possibilities on the Monadh Liath are extensive and need to be experienced before this wild place becomes lost to industrialisation. Have a read of Mike Cawthorne's new book Wilderness Dream to get a taste of the magic of these hills and if you are looking to do something other than Cairn Gorm "again" have a nibble at the edge of the Monadh Liath by taking in A' Chailleach and Geal Chàrn.

By Simon Jacyna. For the first trip of the new year, 15 or so members, many new to the club, assembled in the dark at the Tesco car-park. Introductions were made but these all had to be repeated a couple of hours later when we finally got some daylight. A short drive up to the car-park and we were on the path not long after eight.

On the western side there was a worrying absence of snow and spirits sunk a little as we continued to climb An Cabar into the wind, cloud and drizzle with only a little slushy snow underfoot.

However, we reached the summit in good time to see large expanses of deep snow stretching away into the mist below us on the east facing slopes. At last, after about two hours, we could finally put the skis on. A quick check of the map and we split into two groups.

The smaller party headed northwards and, skirting the large cornice, dropped into Coire na Feola for a fast run on good snow. The rest of us went up the ridge a little and dropped into the Coire na Feithe Riabaich.

Lovely firm snow with a dusting of fresh powder, spirits rose rapidly, and we were quickly whooping and swooping, turning, telemarking and tumbling for a run of over a mile. The cloud broke lower down giving us good views of the Moray Firth.

Skins back on and it was back to the top for a second run. By now the cloud was lifting and the wind easing as we skinned back towards An Cabar for the final run of the day. This gave us a very fast & steep run down the SE face, with a couple more tumbles, but it was over too soon.

Skis off, a long drop to the valley floor and then the walk back out with packs somehow getting heavier and heavier but with excellent views to the west in the clear air. We were back to the cars after about 7.5 hours, nine miles and about 1,200m of ascent.


There's nothing like having a date in the diary to provide the motivation to get out on the hills on a day when one's first instinct is to have a lie in. From an unpromising start the day just got better and better and provided ample reward for having to get up at 5 a.m!

 

After the warmest November on record, finally the snow fell in bucket-loads, and the season was on.

With 19 signed up for the trip, including a few new members and quite a few ski-touring for their first time ever, it seemed like we were on for the biggest club trip in recent years.  After a few hiccups with different interpretations of the term "car-park below Glenmore Lodge" (my bad), there we were with the most unlikely of situations - total freedom, fresh powder, blue skies, and a club full of people as excited as I was about getting up and at it...

 

Having spied the wind / snow coming in from the South West, and with there being a warmer, wetter front forecast to move in from the same direction through the day on Saturday, we had picked the Meall a' Bhuachaille ("the Shepherd's Hill") as the most likely candidate for being:

1) accessible with that much snow at road level,
2) having the best chance of clear skies and decent visibility,
3) having a long, sloping mid-mountain / grass-based NE-facing slope where the snow should have settled, sheltered from the storm which brought it, and
4) offering slopes of a gradient sufficiently low to make the trip inviting/accessible for beginners and relatively avalanche safe.
... turning up in the car-parking along the side of the ski-road, Andrew and I could see that the higher slope of the Fiacaill Ridge between Lochain and Sneachda (a similar aspect to our objective) was plastered, and we knew we were in for a special day.  Al's Todd and Bird went looking for Nicky, Jamie and Kenny headed off looking for replacement split-board parts, and the rest of us headed up the south side of the hill to see what was what.  
 
 
As we toured up through the trees at different speeds, under boughs creaking heavily under the weight of the snow, I think it was Mark who pointed out that the moistness of the snow that had fallen had blasted the trees with white in the manner of the "snow-monsters", for which Japanese tree-skiing is famous.  It is not usual to liken Scottish touring to Japanese powder-sessions, but by the end of the day it almost felt like it.  Agathe and Gaspard got an overview of the Cairngorm corries, and Lizzie & Brigid got their first taste of Scottish ski-touring.  "It's always like this", we told them ;o).
 
 
Nearing the bealach, I ventured out of the well-laid skin-track to get a feel for the snow on the windward side, and it was a complete mixture of wind-affected pow and crust, depth between shin and thigh, quite evidently difficult skiing for anyone without the modern rocker-tips which have taken all the skill out of skiing crust...  And as we approached the crest of the ridge, winds went from "strong" to "don't stop moving", and the group split into strata based on keenness, fitness and equipment - I was glad to have Al Todd's dependable presence somewhere scooping up those at the back of the pack - before regrouping at the top in three tranches for the descent.  Leading the first of these off the NE side, down to Ryvoan Bothy (our chosen lunch-spot and half-way meeting point), there was a comical 100m where I think everyone except Hebe took a tumble on the wind-packed surface-crust, but as one of the club members pointed out, "if you're not falling, you're not skiing hard enough!" And after a few more turns, the snow became a bit more straight-forward, giving rise to cheers and laughter and amazement in equal proportion at what great skiing we were enjoying on this first trip of the year.
 
 
Gliding through the mid-mountain, easily the best skiing on offer, we were soon at the steeper slopes above the bothy, where "Team Ft William", lead by Jordan on his new DPS's, sampled some early season jump-turns and leaping over tufts of sufficiently-covered heather and grass.  Snow just above the bothy was a challenge to most of us, but as demonstrated by Marty on his snowboard and the snow-hare which darted out of a hole not 3ft from my skis as I past, if you know the terrain, the snow and your equipment, it was easy to have a lot of fun and move quickly, and despite a generous helping of tumbles, I think everyone enjoyed it enough to be thirsty for more...
 
 
After regrouping for lunch and mountain-stories in the bothy, everyone was keen for a second lap, so we headed up over the shoulder aiming to make the most of the short December days.  Opting for different steepnesses, lines and starting heights, there was something for everyone on the front side that day, be it low angled trees leading to the parth, moderate trees down to Glenmore Lodge directly, or epic steep lines on what Mark called "the best skiing I've had anywhere, ever", and what massively-experienced Scottish freeride-telemarker Al Bird referred to as "about as good powder skiing as I've ever had in the UK".  Al Todd was working his magic with the camera, and then demonstrated why he'd been on the road-bike all summer by still managing catch up with the ascent team and get a further descent in, being a dutiful father to Angus, on his first club trip; and whilst Lisa swished her smooth and even tele-turns through the high-trees which pepper the limit of the alpine, the lingering sunset colours glinted flickers of evening light on smiling faces - finally not just smiling in anticipation of the season to come (those smiles have been in place for months) but now also smiling at a grand day out where we as a club were blessed with the gift of amazing snowfall and made just the right decisions and were in just the right place at the right time, in great company and in spectacular surroundings...
 
 
What more could you hope for from a club day trip?
 
Happy Christmas to one and all, and I can't wait to ski with you in 2015 - see you up there.
 
P
 
P.S.  And to "face" the rumours, yes, the face-plant photo was me...
 
 
(as an aside, sincerest apologies to the two members who had noted the date down as the Sunday, which had been originally suggested some weeks ago - the correct date was in the emails, had been in the programme on the website for a few weeks, was in the event page on ibsc.org.uk and on the club's Facebook page, but had originally been the Sunday so the confusion was probably inevitable...  In the event, Saturday was definitely the better of the two days for ski-touring, so we would likely have changed it to then anyway, but the main message here is: always keep an eye on the up to date info on the website events' pages, on the emails, and/or on the FBk page)
 
 
 
   

   
© ALLROUNDER