Tuesday 12 April 2011

The end of winter, but not quite how I had envisaged it.

Early Spring, around late March/early April, is often the best time of year in Fort William. Long days, settled weather, good skiing and/or ice climbing in the hills, and dry midge free rock in Glen Nevis. That is what I had hoped for this year, but it didn’t quite work like that.

Aonach Mor on the 7th April 2010; Blue skies, light winds, great snow.

Aonach Mor on the 6th of April 2011; High winds, heavy and persistent rain and +7°C on the tops. Not quite as nice as this time last year.

Until about the 20th of March, winter was very much in charge. Although the snow cover was good, it was pretty windy, not what you could call settled weather. Then it all changed, bit not in a good way. Conditions returned to November style weather, windy with persistent rain. These seemed to last for weeks, well until a few days day, when suddenly summer arrived.
With the rapid demise of snow and ice in the mild conditions I rapidly lost interest in winter activities, and turned my attention to rock climbing. This year I have been putting a bit of effort into getting strong for the summer, and was interested to see how I would be feeling when I got out on the rock. The answer was quite positive. I had a couple of days up at Sky Pilot, trying the classic traverse Beetle Back. It still feels a long way off, but my attempts this year were certainly more positive than those of previous years. I then had a day at the Ruthven Boulder, and was pleased to repeat a problem that I had climbed there last year, and felt that a big traverse that I would like to do there would certainly be possible if I was able to put in the hours to get all the moves slick.

Enjoying the outlook from Sky Pilot bouldering area on a rare dry day.

Another great out look, this time from Goat crag. Gaz Marshal can just be seen in yellow below the classic 7a+ Mactalla.

Finally I had a day at Goat Crag. It was baking hot, and I didn’t really do anything I hadn’t done before, but enjoyed the atmosphere of the place.
However, that is likely to be it for my Scottish rock climbing this year. The reason for this is that I yesterday I moved South to Llanberis in North Wales. I will miss the space there is in Scotland, and the outlook you get form many of the crags. However, living down here will be great for my climbing, and I certainly won't miss the Scottish midges (they like to pretend they have a midgy problem down here, but compared to the West of Scotland they don't really). 

Monday 4 April 2011

Snow Patch Survey

As readers may be aware, I find snow a very interesting material. I have always been impressed by a few patches surviving right through most summers to become incorporated into the following winter's snowpack. It appears that I am not the only one to show an interest in this. In the summer of 2008 a bloke called Iain Cameron got in touch with me. Each year he collates information about snowpatch survival in Scotland through the summer and autumn; a summary of which published in the Royal Meteorological Society journal Weather. He, and Mark Atinkson (another interested person) were going to do a survey of the remaining snowpatches on Ben Nevis and the surrounding hills. It happened that 2008 had been quite a snowy winter, and even through it was late August we found an impressive depth of snow high in Observatory Gully. 

Myself and Iain Cameron examining the Observatory Gully snowpatch on the 23rd of August 2008,  which had an estimated depth of 10 metres. Photo: Mark Atinkson

The Observatory Gully snowpatch on the 23rd of August 2008. This is probably the most permanent snow patch on the West Coast, and there has been snow here continuously since October/November 2006. The top photo is taken in the bergshund at the top of the patch. Photo:Iain Cameron

I have taken an interest, and where possible been involved with these snowpatch surveys since that first trip up Observatory Gully This year we decided that we would head up to investigate this patch in early spring when it would be at it's maximum depth. This time Iain, Mark and myself were joined by Eric Gillies, a aerospace scientist from Glasgow, and his wife Jenny who is a meteorologist. Between us there was a fair bit of knowledge about snow and weather. Last Saturday (2nd April) we made the long plod up Observatory gully.

Team snow geeks; Eric and Jenny in the foreground, Iain and Mark in the background.

The plan was to recorded the depth of the snow against the steep sides of the gully, and to discuss possibilities of more sophisticated ways to measure snow depth that could be used in future years. Unfortunately visibility wasn't great, but we did manage to get some pictures of  the build up. By comparing with pictures taken in the summer (such as those shown above), and measurements of the snow depth then, Iain estimated the depth of the order of 20 metres at it's deepest point.  Hopefully we will be able to estimate this more accurately by returning in August to what snow remains, and measuring the heights of the rock features the snow was banked up.  However, with plenty of snowfall high up and lots of South-Westerly winds to pile the snow into locations like this, it is looking hopeful that the snow will survive another summer in Observatory Gully.

 Heading off down. The snow up toward the narrowing of the Gully above is very probably the deepest snow on the West Coast hills at the moment. This picture was taken a bit downslope from the position the second picture in this post was taken.