Sunday, 22 February 2015

Creag Meagaidh, Feb'15

Weather forecasts - don't you just love them ! How could we sort out a weekend on the hills without them. The ones I use for planning events are the Met Office, YR, Mountain-Forecast, the SAIS and of course the MWIS. And the prep for this weekend was no exception. We usually make a final decision on the fine detail of a plan two days prior. This weekend we had a tough choice to make - Saturday was looking fine, but Sunday was looking horrendous. A decision was made to go ahead with Saturday, but with the high winds and huge dump of snow expected, Sunday had to be cancelled. 

In the early hours of Saturday (and still dark), I picked Andrew up from Aviemore (oops, I waited at the Cairngorm Hotel only to find out he was waiting at the Cairngorm Guest House), then Christine from Newtonmore. A short drive along the twisty A86 took us to Aberarder, where we met Anne-Marie. The car-park was fairly busy and a couple of tents stood frosted over from a cold night - brrr ! Gear prep'd, we had a chat about the plan for the day - avalanche forecast was considerable on north and east facing slopes and deteriorating weather was predicted from 4pm onwards. Off we went up the path covered in a fresh dusting of snow. Ahead of us we could see a fresh and substantial avalanche on the slopes of Sron a'Ghoice, the sun picking out the detail of the crown. As we walked up through the birch forest, the sun came and went, with the cloud gradually lifting, teasing us with glimpses of Creag Meagaidh ahead. We met one guy limping down the path (he'd been with two mates intending to climb, but twisted his knee in a hole on the path), then another who'd been up to the lochan to take some photos (he'd wanted to go further, but forgot his gaiters !) and were passed by two climbers hiking at pace through the snow. Up to the near the lochan, time for a break for some food before getting into the wind.

The views up Coire Ardair and onto Creag Meagaidh's cliffs were spectacular. We could see the climbers preparing and we pondered the route they would take. Our route to the 'Window' was fairly obvious, though we could see some evidence of small avalanches, and therefore picked a line slightly to the north of the fall-line. Deep snow on the way meant for occasional pauses to catch our breath. Anne-Marie decided the snow was just a bit too much today and instead opted to slide back downhill, practicing ice-axe arrest on the way ! Christine, Andrew and myself continued on, the snow getting deeper. Under the snow we hit hard névé, ice-axes were needed, tho we got away without the call of crampons, cutting steps to get up the last steep section onto the security of flatter terrain. Through the 'Window' (more deep snow) and onto Creag Meagaidh's northern spur. Wind had scraped the snow from the ground, making for easier progress. Quickly we were into the mist - out with map and compass - even having been up here over 20 times, this is a place to get easily disorientated - Andrew kept a check on his Garmin GPS too ! Although we missed 'Mad Meg's Cairn' we hit the summit bang-on. Out with the bothy-shelter, time for a late lunch.

The mist occasionally lifted and we could see snaps of the views northwards. Returning, we had the wind behind us and progress was brisk ! Back to the 'Window' we romped downhill through the snow, admiring the views on route. We returned to the car-park by 4:15pm, the deteriorating weather hadn't arrived as planned (yet). We were well chuffed with what we'd achieved today - we had been the only folk to summit Creag Meagaidh - a 'big-up', guys :)

More photos are in a Flickr album.