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Avalanches, Arctic Blasts, Dad and Inversions!!

Dad topping out into the start of the Arctic Blast at Cha-No in the Northern Cairngorms

Multi activity over the recent weeks as 2024 gets underway. It's got underway with a varied mix of conditions but all wintery, bluebird days, wild weather, plunging temperatures and snowfall. Since the start of the year though it has given winter in the hills allowing plenty of days out both work and play. The current conditions are going from an ‘arctic blast’ to a westerly blast with high winds and fluctuating temperatures, on the one hand that could do us some favours and develop the higher mountain ice and build a resilient snow base across the mountains or on the other wipe it out and back to square one. Looking at the forecasts I’m holding out hope that the right things are happening.

Jo finding enough ice for upward movement on the right hand icefall at Lurchers

We’ve been out in various places over January. We had some visiting friends during a spell of great weather with inversions putting the snowy tops above the cloud and saw us out at Cha-No and into Lurchers in search of ice. Which we found albeit perhaps slightly early but only by a couple of days if the weather pattern would have held. We climbed the Right and Left  hand ice routes pointed out in the guide at the Northern end of the crag. Jo and Will climbed the right which turned out to have a good claimable three pitches of ice. The Left was a bit broken but had ice for Bianca and me along with a fair ramble over heather and granite in the sun. We also ticked off, International Rib, Plasma Gully and its Asthma finish, Travellers Tales and Trick or Treat between us at Cha-No. Dad and I also had a trip to Cha-No climbing ‘I am 3’ with a variation start shortly after witnessing a natural avalanche.

It was a sobering sight to see a large slide and certainly one that would have seriously hurt us had we not judged it wise to change course. We had arrived at the top of the crag and peered over our intended entry point before thinking the snow to looked to suspicious and continued on to find somewhere safer. Which we did locating the last area which had no slopes above and could be accessed by boulder hopping down a spur to the foot of the crag during which we watched the slope release. This was a slide in an area where should you have been caught in it you would have been washed over some hideous ground. Scottish avalanches do cause burials and fatalities but also cause serious injury not by burial but the ground your washed over either over a cliff or through boulders and broken ground. Snow is heavy and it would only take a small sluff to take you off your feet and into a fall. The avalanche we saw was on a convex slope which essentially means it gets steeper the more you descend, the point at which the angle steepens the most is where it broke away and avalanched that point being known as the ‘convex roll’. It was reported to the SAIS who went to have a look. There is a facility on the SAIS site to report avalanches spotted while out here.

The 'white slide' at Cha-No which broke on the convex role naturally

I had a nice say with Steve working for Alice Kerr covering some winter movement. We moved around the Northern Corries with an eye on movement and avalanche awareness. A bitterly cold day as the ‘arctic blast’ arrived. We had a good look at crampon and movements skills on some icy bluffs within the Corrie which was iron hard in the fiercely cold wind. Jo also headed out with Alice for a day on Aonach Mor climbing the Web in some stunning weather conditions.

Steve going through the motions while wrapped up for the biting cold wind

As that arrived so did my father for a few days ahead of his weekend with the Eagles ski club dinner meet. We managed a varied few days with some climbing in the Cairngorms and ski tour day and even a cross country ski around the woods near Inverness. We found some great snow tucked into the back of Lurchers gully, velvety soft powder. Although in general lower down there is not much of a base to it so some freeze thaw needs to be done to get one.

Dad emerging from the grips of a Cairngorm chimney shuffle

As thing go in the mountains its snowing hard at home in Inverness but it looks like a stormy weekend and perhaps the low lying snow will be stripped away. A wild weekend for working with Durham university ahead. It does look though like the weather in the mountains could be going through some large dumps of snow accompanied by some all important freeze thaw cycles so fingers crossed, either way its been a great January and start to the winter so far and its only early!!

Will and Bianca leaving an atmospheric Cairngorms late in the day

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