The Winter Migration | Scottish Climbing 2013

Once again it had reached that time of year, things were starting to become very quiet, the days were feeling very short and the nights long. It was time to dig out the axes, dust of the crampons, and head north in search of winter! Every year I finding myself heading to the Scottish Highlands for a stint of winter climbing and mountaineering, and this year was no exception.

Scottish winter can be a fickle beast, with conditions normally less than prefect, a season here can be a frustrating thing a times...

I arrived at the end of a huge thaw to find conditions in a very similar state to those that I left at the end of last season, not the most inspiring of starts, with only the major gully lines still holding snow. I spent the first week out and about with Sam and John, getting tuned back into to winter and climbing a few of the things that still remained in condition, with visits to the northern corries of the Cairngorms and a day on Ben Nevis.

Conditions in Cairngorms on the first week

John approaching the final pitch of #2 gully on Ben Nevis

For the second week of the trip, Sam headed home and we were joined by Caoimhe, just as winter made a reappearance. One of the joys of Scottish winter climbing is that conditions can literally go from bad to good in a matter of days. On our next visit into the Cairngorms it was remarkable to see the difference, with things looking much more wintery!

What a difference a few days make, this is the same corrie that is pictured above. Its always good to spend a little bit of time getting back to grips with being out on the hills in winter, so we spent a day with Caoimhe in Coire na ciste refreshing snowcraft and crampon skills.

Movement skills in Coire na ciste

The rest of the week was spent getting as much climbing done as possible. Caoimhe hadnt done any winter climbing before so was keen to get a few routes under her belt. We started of on a climb called Jacobs ladder, which is a grade 1 snow gully, and was the prefect place for John to do his first winter lead and Caoimhe her first winter route, a great day of firsts!

John and Caoimhe begining to climb on Jacobs ladder.

The next day it was onto facille ridge, a fantastic little grade 2 ridge. Part of the skill in winter climbing, especially in Scotland, is being able to climb not only on snow and ice, but also on rock. As the route followed a rocky ridge line it was a great opportunity for Caoimhe to get to grips with using crampons on rock, something that's a very unnatural feeling.

A very wintery facille ridge!

We spent the next couple of days doing a bit more climbing and a day of winter walking, (always good to have a day out on the hill with a light rucsack). The end of the week brought more snow, which although in the long run would be a good thing it meant that the road up into the hills was closed, so Caoimhe was forced to spend the last day of her trip drinking coffee and twiddling her thumbs- thats Scottish winter for you!

Looking back down the steep start of chimney rib.

Unfortunately I was forced to cut my trip short this year, so the third week was to be my final week. With all the snow that had fallen, the avalanche risk was quite high in the usual climbing areas, so we decided to check out a new spot that none of us had been to before. The advantage of this crag was that it was facing in an easterly direction, which is where the wind was coming from. This meant that most of the falling snow would have been blown off the slopes below, giving the chance of a safer approach to the climbs, with a much small risk of avalanche activity, so it seemed like a good option.

The climbs on the crag where all of a mixed nature, meaning that they are basically snowed up rock climbs, with very little ice building up on them. This style of climbing is more similar to rock climbing and is much more technical than pure ice climbing, so is very enjoyable and allows you to make use of a range of techniques.

For my final day out on the hill I was back on Ben Nevis, where I joined Simon and Eamon to climb a route called Faulty Towers. This was Eamon's first time on the Ben and we got a great day for it, with cold temperatures, clearing skies, and very little wind.

Eamon and Simon at the first belay on Faulty Towers.

Simon at the top of Faulty Towers with a very alpine looking Ben Nevis behind him.

It was a great day to finish off my short 3 week trip, and hopefully I'll be able to get back out for another hit of Scottish winter this season, with days on the hill like this, it would be rude not too!

Jonny is a mountaineering and kayak instructor. He spends his summers paddling around the Irish coastline, and his winters ice climbing and mountaineering in Scotland. He is currently trialling the Target Dry Pioneer Jacket, HikeMid & TrekComfort Socks, as well as the Origin Jacket.