Cairngorms National ParkBlog

Ski mountaineering, snowshoeing and enjoying the snowy winter

Posted by Patrick - 18:53 on 22 February 2010

Well it has been some winter so far.Yesterday I had a lovely ski tour up on the Cromdales, cold, windless and sunny. No lift queues just deer, mountain hares, reindeer, grouse and rabbits as my co-mountain users. The conditions are ideal currently for ski touring, last week-end I had a great day down in Glenfeshie with some friends. Looking to Cairngorms yesterday. Copyright PHarrison
The other thing I have been doing this year is snow shoeing for those of you who aren't into sliding around on planks. With the snow we've had so far this year they are a great advantage over walking, you don't sink in as deep and therefore you don't use up as much energy. Earlier in the  year I was assisting on a winter skills course 5 participants were using snowshoes and 5 weren't (we only had 5 pairs available to us) and it was interesting to note two things: first, we sent Dig in! Copyright PHarrisonthose with snowshoes out first in about 40 cm of powder and they would sink in say 15-20 cm, even with being well compacted the five following would still sink up to another 10 cm approx; secondly a gap would appear over a 10 minute period or so between the snowshoers and the walkers of say about 30M, so you can imagine the impact of that over a whole day.
As you know there has been a shed load of snow, the main fall being just before Christmas, then more after New Year and some more just last week (15th/16th feb). So the Highlands and the mountains are looking stunning.
shed load of snow. Copyright PharrisonObviously this amount of snow brings with it its hazards: avalanches and other snow obstacles such as cornices which people can fall through or they can collapse onto people below. Unfortunately 4 people have died this winter and I feel for them, their families and friends. However they died doing what they enjoyed and presumably were aware of the risks. But I wonder whether we, mountaineers, are a bit too accepting of these accidents with an attitude of "accidents will always happen in the mountains." Yes, one has to be realistic about the fact that if one goes into the mountains, in winter in particular, that it is a hazardous place to be. Where and when avalanches will occur is very difficult to predict. The Scottish Avalanche Information Service ( does a fantastic job providing forecasts in 5 areas of Scotland, but that is what they are FORECASTS and they are based on the weather forecast. If the weather changes then the avalanche risk changes accordingly. One also has to be realistic about how much information they can obtain on any given day to provide information for the following day, obviously as the winter progresses they use their knowledge of what has occurred in the snowpack to help them formulate a forecast.For the mountaineer it is very useful information but one also needs to read what is going on on the day and underfoot. Getting back to the point, I think we need to do more as an industry to investigate the root causes of these incidents (and we should look at near misses too) so that we can feed that information back to mountain users.
On a happier note it has been another cracking day here and it looks as if the good weather is going to continue with cold temperatures. The  past couple of mornings it has been down to about -13deg C.
Enjoy it whilst it's good. Patrick

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