When we were planning the season opener we debated what format we should use.  Once again we were welcomed by the Glen Mhòr Hotel although next year we might need a bigger venue.  We reckon about 70 people turned up to the evening.  A quick calculation reveals that we were generating about 4.9kw of heat at peak output which explains why it got so warm.  If we can harness that energy on the hill then it will be a great season.  

Talking of seasons, we are definitely still in Autumn and maybe late summer with current temperatures.  The great winter of 2009-2010 started this way with the first big snow arriving on the 18th of December 2009.  It didn't stop for some time after that.  

Al Todd delivered a great slide show which included a tour of skiing in Scotland - just what the snow doctor ordered. The slide show had some pictures of Al climbing and winter climbing experience or general mountaineering in winter was a definite advantage last season when faced with ferocious winds and spindrift.  It all added to the fun though.  

Gordon went through the various benefits of being a member of the Club which are many and include discounts and gear deals.  See Member Benefits for more information.

But the biggest benefit of all is being part of a vibrant and welcoming Club which gets out on the hills in winter.  We think the programme we have lined up is great.  Things will change certainly according to conditions but we will have fun no matter what happens!  


The juices have flowed and they have flowed liberally recently. Amongst the highlights of recent weeks have been short tours over to Aonach Beag, various descents on Aonach Mòr, skiing Coire an Lochain on Braeriach and some generally great backcountry action.

The snow in the west is still quite plentiful and the coires of Aonach Mòr are still providing great skiing and mountain settings. The weather has also meant the mountains have been that bit more special, if that makes sense. We recently skied at Aonach Mòr and decided to tour over to Aonach Beag, one of the great hills of the Highlands, and ascend to the summit. The day didn't disappoint.

Despite the recent snow loss, there was still a huge amount on the summit plateaus of Aonach Mòr and Aonach Beag. So much that there was only a short section requiring the use of “grass wax”.

There were some huge cornices at the bealach between Aonach Mòr and Aonach Beag. It was not an exageration to say there are some cornices of at least 10 metres in depth. We used crampons to ascend the narrower rocky section above the bealach and then to the summit. The descent was on some of the best snow we skied this season and being above the north face of Aonach Beag added to the fun. There are some great climbing routes on this face when conditions allow.

From that point we skinned back over to Aonach Mòr and my new skins enjoyed their bristles being touched onto the soft moss of the Aonach. I don't think the Swiss had this sort of stuff in mind when they came up with the funky design.

A quick conference saw us deciding on going back south to Summit Gully which was in superb condition. A step roll-over lead to some lovely snow in amazing mountain scenery. These coires really are great places to ski. The journey out and back to the gondola was on ski and foot and provided a good blast for the tired legs.   

By Donald Morris

Twas a dark and wet night in October 2013 when Mike, Donald and Peter sat down to plan the programme for the coming season.  Various trips were already planned but we needed something in the West Highlands. Glen Shiel offered the obvious location with great scenery and great skiing, potentially. The non-standard nature of the venue also motivated us to stick it down on the programme.  

It was therefore surprising to see so many people turn out for the trip. A brightly clad group met at Inshes car park, all looking forward to some uncertainty and the potential for good skiing. Sociable it certainly was and 13 people departed from the road at breakneck speed. 

Route finding was easy with good paths up the hills.  That said, we hadn't quite decided on a route so some alterations to direction were required early on and a classic burn crossing was the reward for the indecision. The rocks were slippery and one member of the party had a brief frission of excitement caused by both ski boots being below the water line.  

Boots slightly wetter than before, we continued up the glen into the coire. This was classic scottish ski terrain - walking over bogs and having to cross another river even to get to the snow. About an hour and a half saw us at the bottom of a steep snow gully granting access to the slopes above. The skinning was steep and the entire party got some good practice at kick turns. Teamwork was to the fore as good skin tracks were set up for followers to enjoy. 

The upper coire had many features and we commented on how small the numbers of people would be who had stood in those places. The ridges are well trodden but the coires less so. 

We arrived at the ridge which had large cornices. Almost double corniced in place, there was a debate as to the safety of continuing up the narrowing ridge to the summit. Once committed to though, the ridge was actually very easy and we had only been about five minutes from the summit. 

Mist always adds something to a day in the hills and Sgurr an Lochain looked amazing directly across from us on Sgurr and Doire Leathain. We didn't see the doire leathann at any point though. Too many deer?

Descent number one saw the whole party heading down into Coire a' Chùil Droma Mòr. The snow had some nasty surprises for us though as uniform easy sections were peppered with sudden, invisible sections of very slow, heavy snow. This led to sudden decelerations and was particularly challenging for anyone on telemark gear.  

 

Some of the party continued down a narrow gully which passed through a rock band where a glacial ice fall would have been some years ago. This required careful and committed skiing though with a fall being rewarded by smashing into rock walls followed by a tumble onto boulders. No one did fall though.

The party split at this point with the lowest section skiing back up the route we had ascended earlier and the second lot ascending by the descent route. There was a lot of ascending and descending on the day with GPS devices recording 1766 metres of ascent. I can't see where that was but if it's on the internet it must be true.  

Both parties met up again at the summit of Sgurr an Doire Leathainn and had a look at the much steeper entry into Coire an Lochain. The plan was to descend into this coire and ski out as far as possible before walking back to the road. More confident skiers led the way and the snow was much better in this coire. The entry looked steep from above, and was steep, but a sure footed approach meant that any issues could be dealt with. Some blasted down the slopes and got to the bottom quickly whilst others enjoyed the turns. Everyone smiled.  

Further down, close to the lochan (still frozen) of Coire an Lochain, we headed onwards unsure of how long the snow would last. It ran out above another rock band, similar to that on Everest, at about 630 metres.

Debate ensued as to the best route down and we settled for a rising traverse around the ridge which saved a bit of walking and deposited us at the top of a narrow snow line heading downwards. It was less than a metre wide in places. True to IBSC tradition, we skied to the end of the snow. And I mean the real end...

The glen looked great as we headed down towards a well deserved drink at the Cluanie Inn.  

If you like the sound of this, please join the club and come on one of our events.  See Programme and Membership.  

By Mike Cawthorne

An inch or so of fresh snow lay on the ground at Dalwhinnie as Gordon, Donald and myself set out along the track by Loch Ericht, the cold conditions ushering an end to the recent mild weather. We were all pretty well freighted with overnight gear and skis, boots and poles strapped in a cats cradle to our bikes but Donald with his panniers won the prize for excess baggage. Wobbling and unsteady at first then making decent progress on the gritted track to the lodge. Snow was encountered as we climbed steeply from the lochside and our back wheels skidded and slew. For a while I decided pushing was easier, our antics watched by some red deer and a trio of fed-up looking ponies at a feeding station.

 Rounding the corner Ben Alder with its ridges of blowing snow came into view to whet tomorrow's appetite but it seemed distant and remote and its plateau wind-raked. Snow showers came and went as we threw up our varied collection of shelters, Donald's effort on two wheels now rewarded as a high-end mountain tent complete with flashy logo sprang up. It dwarfed my double hooped bivy and Gordon's more modest half-dome.

Some grub, a brew of coffee, chocolate, and we struck out for Carn Dearg. Its north shoulder had caught recent snow and we skinned slopes awash with spindrift, onto the summit crown, the sun casting shafts of light into An Lairig below but the wind bouncing us about until we stripped our skins and turned about and were propelled downslope.

First a lovely steep descent over wind-packed powder then a long traverse and some great skiing over the shoulder, so good we shouldered skis and waded up for another run. In the last light and falling snow we cut crazy lines over snow-covered heather in a 'hope for the best' final schuss that landed us by the stony track, just about intact.

Too late to go wood foraging we settled and dined on Gordon's boil-in-bag army rations and drank coffee and later watched a matrix of stars in the void.

Wind, snow and hailstones rattled during the night and we cradled our morning brews in a freezing wind and muttered about options. Ben Alder struggled to throw off its cloud and for a while we contemplated a different hill, but a burst of sun had us geared up and on the track for our appointment.

Rather than fight the wind and attempt to reach its summit we aimed to reach and play in the immense snowfields below its eastern cliffs. A couple of kilometers in we donned skis and skins and crossed the burn and began steadily gaining height, late morning sunshine striking the twin Leachas and casting blue shadows on the snows.

 

From experience I knew the burn draining Loch a' Bhealaich Bheithe could present a bar to progress. Being fed by a sizable loch it tumbled noisily about snow-covered boulders, its margins uncertain in the drifts. Skis now strapped on our sacs we tried at a few places, toeing with poles, thinking maybe we should play safe and barefoot it across. I bridged a decidedly doggy looking gap and whooped up the far bank, but the others, perhaps wisely, wouldn't follow, and for a good time we climbed on opposite banks.

At some point a snow bridge many metres thick overwhelmed the burn and we reunited to brew and take a late lunch and contemplate our awesome surroundings, the great eastern corries of Alder stretching sun-bathed and in unbroken snow. We skinned as high as our limited time allowed and reached a point just below the Short Leachas.

Ten sumptuous turns and we were back at the crossing. Brief reward for our endeavour maybe, and Gordon reckoned he'd never cycled, walked, skinned so far for so few spins.

We did manage a few more in the heavy powder overlying the heather but downhill from the burn was the usual 'seat-of-your-pants' stuff, Donald leading the charge. Thawing snow and spring warmth by the tents then back to two wheels and mostly freewheeling to the lodge, braking only to ruffle the mane of a pony that now seemed happier with the sun on its back.

Dark on reaching Dalwhinnie and a fish supper stop at Aviemore rounding off a fantastic weekend.

Given the right conditions a traverse of the Grey Corries would be one the highlights of any backcountry ski calendar, and so three of us, Richard, Gordon and myself, headed off early from Inverness. Roy joined us at Spean Bridge where we grabbed bacy rolls and coffee and drove up the bumpy track, halting when it enters the great swathe of Leanachan Forest.

The Grey Corries ridge loomed white and gleaming from morning clouds, racking up the excitement levels. I for one couldn't wait to reach the snowline, especially with the forecast suggesting the shutters were coming down in the afternoon. In an hour or so we had left the conifers and were sitting in a great wedge of the burn that drains Coire Choimhlidh, easing on our ski boots. Maybe we should have done that before getting our feet wet in the crossing, though Roy, the canny fellow, had stone-hopped a little downstream and stayed dry. A steep haul from the gorge and with every step snowy hill chains began to unfurl, especially the icy faces of Aonach Mor and Aonach Beag only a few miles to the southwest.

In late morning sun the Grey Corries ridge appeared smoothed and weighted beneath layers of winter snow, its crest and summit crowns overhung by huge cornices. But as we reached the snowline at about 450metres and applied skins cloud was building over the Aonachs, the wind picking up.

The forecast, so promising earlier in the week, had suggested conditions would to close in a tad by afternoon, and so our plans were fluid. After a hour of uphill I think we all realized a complete traverse would have to wait for a finer day, but we were still keen to reach the summit ridge. The way to Beinn na Sociach was heaped in a mixture of fresh and windblown snow then approaching the first top the slope became scoured and, noting the monster cornices that tottered over the east face, we all reached for our axes.

A brief window to the Mamores and south then the shutters came down. The last metres below Stob Coire Easain were steep, either icy or covered in loose windslab, so we shoveled a lunch pit, brewed coffee, munched snacks, and prepared for a huge 600 metres of descent. In a swirling spindrift and full white-out and with Gordon holding his compass and yelling directions we pointed ski tips down, at first giving the berg-like cornices too much leeway and slipping too far west, so had to kick into a long sweeping traverse and regain the shoulder.

For ten minutes or so I, and I reckon Richard and Roy as well, were skiing to survive, only Gordon went downhill with style and panache, making turns as if some stray official from Sochi might have appeared behind a rock to award marks. At some point we began to see further than our pole tips, then the wonderful unmarked snow ridge of ou ascent ran out below. We gathered, picked our line and carved it up. A mixture of styles to be sure but everyone agreed the best descent of the winter so far. It was a little disappointing we hadn't managed a complete round of the Grey Corries but given the quantity of snow I am sure IBSC will be back before the curtain falls on this remarkable winter.

By Donald Morris

Two club members left Chisholm's Bridge in Glen Affric on a pleasant promising day. We gazed at the hills to the south, covered in snow, and wondered if we had made the right decision - we had!

We walked with skis on our backs until after the deer fence and then for just another twenty minutes before we could strike uphill to the snow lines in the burn coming down from Toll Creagach.  Tom a' Choinnich looked great as did Sgurr na Lapaich.  In fact every hill looked in amazing condition. 

The snowline was very distinct on the hills; evidence of the weather this season, and once we hit it the skinning was easy straight to the summit of point 951. This day wasn't about tops, it was about descents. We dug a wee pit to check the snow pack before committing to the final slope.  

The conditions under ski and overhead were simply stunning. Blue skies, light winds, superb visibility and lovely soft, snow. We measured the depth at 155cm on south facing slopes.  

 So after the first descent, down the route we had come up, we talked about being satisfied with that as it was so good. However, we decided to head to the top of Toll Creagach and ski back to the burn that way. On the way Gordon decided to jump off the cornice over the burn. He nailed it!

Anyway, onwards and downwards from the summit of Toll Creagach 

So descent number two out of the way, with much whooping and hyperbole, we decided that the legs had enough in them for one more. Up we went to the sop between Toll Creagach summit and 951. Guess what?  More of the same great snow, views and skiing!

This time we headed to the lowest snow on the hill. 

In true club tradition, this meant skiing to the very last snow, across the heather and grass to get maximum value. 

After the snow ran out, all that was left was an hour's walk down the glen to the starting point.  Much fun in the hills!

I was going to type "if you like this, join us on the next event" but you would have liked this so no need to ask.  

Check out our Programme for more fun. At this rate we will be skiing in the summer!

 

By Andy Ince
 
This years Igloo trip was planned for Glen Affric as an alternative to the usual choice of the Great Moss in the Cairngorms. Glen Affric provides a sheltered location with reliable snow and saves me a long drive to boot! The club ran a trip two years ago which was successful even if only three members took part. The burns on the slopes of Toll Easa and Toll Creagach act as excellent snow traps so even if snow cover is sparse there's usually snow for some skiing.

 
This year the forecast for the Saturday was not ideal and to be honest building in whiteout conditions is not much fun so the Igloo build is postponed until April. However myself and Roy went for a very enjoyable ski tour in Glen Affric on the Sunday which was forecast for some sunshine and much less wind.

The road up Glen Affric still had remnants of snow which was very promising as I have yet to ski from Chisholms bridge car park. I was to be dissapointed again but the snow cover above 500m was the best I'd seen. Although we had to walk about 2km along the path it was possiblke to ski with care from the second deer fence gate and we make coffee break at 11am just before the long climb up the slopes of Toll Easa. We headed for the Bealach and stopped for lunch just below the summit of Toll Easa. A quick bit of shovel work resulted in a comfortable sheltered snow bench for lunch and we relaxed in the sunshine and snow showers enjoying the view. 

Just before setting off for the summit of Toll Easa I decided to dig down and check the snow pack for any weaknesses. All the layers were reasonably well bonded and there were no signs on the slopes of any slips, slumps or other avanlanche danger. The slope had a southerly aspect  which lately has been the safer side but its worth checking. Interesting was the depth at this height amounting to about 1.5 to 2 metres. It was obviuos from looking around that there were drifs many times deeper than this.

The push up to the summit was short and steep and made a little difficult by the size of the sastrugi formed by the wind. This made skiing off the summit a tad interesting! Not having skied this year it took me a while to get my act together and link some turns. Skiing off the east towards Toll Creagach took us down to Coireachan  Odhar which provided us with a wonderful mini bowl to link some telemarks in good smooth snow.  We followed Allt a Coire Odhar down being quite cautious near the burn due to steep cornices on the burn itself. Visibilty was quite variable but with enough brightness to cast shadows and enjoy the skiing. That is until we hit the sticky, heavy wet snow on the lower slopes. We started a count of falls competition with my count exceeding Roys until about 7 or 8 after which we lost count with the laughter and frustration. We did make it all the way down without injury but dare I admit restorting to traverses and step turns. Always a good safe stategy when your legs are tiring.

From the valley bottom we were able to ski back along the path, carefully avoiding the occassional rock until reaching the deer fence gate. Discretion at this point prevailed and we restorted to walking out and thus saved our ski bases for another day.

It was dissapointing not to have camped and I'm determined to do at least one Igloo camp this season. If you're interested in a camp I hope to do one in April probably about 12th/13th. Let me know and we'll see what conditions are like nearer the time. The alternative would be to take a tent which is something we enjoyed last year on the Great Moss in March. A tent trip is certainly on the cards for a high level May Tour.

By Peter MacKenzie

Spirits were high as the tourists on board looked at us with a mix of amusement and intrigue, though it was quite clear that Scottish trains aren't as geared towards skier-traffic as their Swiss cousins... 

Tulloch Station

We stepped off the train into a blizzard, and quickly drybags were strapped to sledges (the Highland "pulk"); but within 10mins, the sun was out and the mountains displayed their pristine grandeur, blanketed with inches of the fresh stuff we'd come here for. The couple who run the station-house restaurant had just returned from a holiday in warmer climes, and generously offered to take our bags from their to the hostel, so we were off to a great start.

After a quick kit-swap and David's arrival (he was on the later train from the south), 9 optimistic tourers left the hostel and headed towards the SW slopes of Beinn na Lap, in a variety of touring, tele and other gear (Mike's 1996 three-pin tele-binding snapped about 50m from the hut...). Progress was quick, on dry, soft and falling snow, the stiff breeze blowing us up and across the hill, but as we ascended, visibility dropped, winds picked up and quite quickly we were in full-on Highland winter-conditions. We moved as a group of 9 for the first hour, before the group split into a descent-group, bound for tea in the hostel, and a punishment-group, heading further into the fray. The winds got more and more fierce, and after it became difficult to stand, beyond the point where we couldn't hear each other without shouting and once visibility had closed down to about 5 metres, the remnant finally called off the summit-attempt. Taking skins off in those conditions was a matter of lying on top of kit to stop it blowing away, and when skis were finally on, Fee found that the force of the wind blowing her uphill was more than that of the gravity she had been hoping to assist her passage to the bottom.

Still, once off the ridge, the snow was a mix between wind-packed powder, neve, well-caked heather and, eventually, partially frozen bog covered in a skiable layer of slush. The middle section was a delight to ski and everyone was in high spirits at the bottom. There was a crevasse in the peat though which two members managed to inspect in closer detail.  

Some enjoyed it so much they skinned back up the hill for a second descent. Others went to the hostel for lunch. 

Simply being in this amazing place was special. The train access and overnight in the youth hostel really added to the feeling of being in the wild and we were so lucky with the snow that first day. Skis on at the train and skining up from the hostel to the top for some great descents.  

We could not fault, only praise the SYHA and Jan the hostel warden. Loch Ossian was the second ever SYHA hostel in Scotland and what a treasure it is. Amazing location and pretty good facilities. It will soon have mains electricity which is a good or bad thing depending on your point of view. Either way we spent some happy hours in this great place. 

The next morning the weather seemed to have abated slightly but you could still see a large plume of snow being blown off the summit of Leum Uilleim. Various options were discussed including a traverse back to Tulloch via Chno Dearg but it was decided that Leum Uilleim just looked too good to miss.  

There had been a slight overnight thaw which meant we had to walk to the station along the easy track. This only took about 20 minutes though and we started putting our skins on just at the station itself. It appeared quite wild when we were sheltering to put the skins on but once on the moor it started to clear and the hill began to come into view. Leum Uilleim is a superb ski hill with lots of features and it was holding a huge amount of snow also. We skied directly towards the easterly ridge which we knew to be rocky but with the amount of snow it was an easy and pleasant ascent into the ever rising winds.  

Weaving up through gullies and features the snow got better but was still pretty heavy. Just like the day before, the wind started to really get up also and there was a huge amount of snow being transported onto lee slopes. We did a wee transceiver check and continued upwards. 

Shouting over the maelstrom, we concluded that the first 3 metres of height was probably full of snow and above that there were blue skies but as we got higher the cloud also came in.  Poor Mike had earlier on managed to fix his bindings but years of ski touring had taken their toll and they finally gave up in a fitting place with some great terrain all about. He had to walk down unfortunately. 

The descent was excellent but the first skier had to be careful as we were on a ridge with steep sides and it was hard to get an idea of distance and slope angle. Nevertheless, we made the most of it and club president charged down the hill in typical style. The strength of the club was really obvious on this descent - people on alpine gear, teles and so on.  A great range of equipment but one great descent!

 

We got down quite early and the train north wasn't til after nine pm but we went back to the hostel leaving our skis and rucksacks at the station. No one would steal them! Back at the hostel the craic was good and the super noodles flowed liberally. Jan once again made us feel very welcome. We walked back to the station with our Highland Pulks strapped to rucksacks but we all commented on what a great experience this trip had been. Wild land, great company, drams, laughs, great skiing and wild weather. What more, really, do you want?

If you liked the sound of this trip and are not a member click here to find out more: Membership.  Our next trip should be pretty special - 15th February 2014– Igloo Trip

By Donald Morris

Optimistically, we headed up Ben Wyvis on a wet and warm day. This trip had been changed from A' Chailleach near Newtonmore to Ben Wyvis on account of the poorer weather forecast further south. However when we were driving over from Tore the south side of the Ben didn't look too promising. There had been a lot of snow loss but keep the faith, we said.  Well Mike said actually and continued in this positive theme throughout the day.  

After nearly two hours of walking we still hadn't seen any snow but the ever present cry from Mike was that snow, and lots of it, would be in the gully coming out of Coire na Fèithe Riabhaich.  There was snow but it had turned to the liquid form - water.  We stopped to take stock and it was no hardship to be out in the hills with others and the craic was great.  Apparently there is a Highland version of James Bond called Angus Bond.  He lives near Gairloch somewhere.  

We continued uphill, still carrying our skis, until snow appeared in the form of large, wet patches.  Peter and Mike were so keen they immediately put their skis and skins on and started heading uphill.  The other three continued walking.  It was really starting to snow by this time and the landscape was transformed from brown with some white to white with a wee bit of heather poking through.  

The rest of the party put skins on and we continued uphill in full winter conditions.  It was amazing how much the landscape changed in the space of half an hour.  We were by this time skinning in a whiteout and it was hard to judge slope angle when out front as there were no features to act as a reference.  The ground began to steepen in front of us and we concluded we were on the final haul to the summit ridge just NE of An Cabar. There was no point in continuing upwards in these conditions so we did a quick changeover and got ready for the descent.  

There must be something about skiers in Scotland but everyone loved skiing down the changing slope angles and variable snow.  Mostly the snow was lovely and we were able to descend much lower than had been possible earlier in the day as it was still dumping snow heavily. Sorry but no photos of the descent were taken as it was such good fun but you can see how keen some were in the picture below. Still scouting for a line after most of the snow had run out.  

Once down into the heather again (Ben Wyvis is great as it doesn't have many rocks), we took skis off and all of us were mentally preparing ourselves for a good old Highland trudge down the glen in the dark with skis on our backs. It was not to be though and kind soul deprived us of this experience by offering a lift in his argo cat. We had seen him from a distance when coming out of the coire and it looked like he also had a pair of skis on his back. It turned out to be a gun and he had been after hinds but had no luck. 

We strapped the skis onto the back of the argo and three people on the back discussed an evacuation plan should the vehicle roll whilst traversing the bog. It didn't and we got down safely and not that tired due to the kindness of a stranger in the hills.  

If you like the sound of this please have a look at our Programme for more fun.  

   

   
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