Monday 7 November 2016

The enigmatic Aonach Beag snowpatch.

 Approaching Aoanch Beag. The old snowpatch can be seen down and left of the steeper cliffs.

 Iain at the top of the patch where it was over 3 meters deep. 

Myself standing below the patch. It was about 50m from where I am standing to the top right corner. 

With a lot of fresh snow having fallen in the Cairngorms over the past few days, and more forecast, particularly in the West over the next few days it looks like the lasting snows of the winter have arrived. Four snowpatches have survived the summer. These were the Sphinx and Pinnacle patches on Braeriach, the Observatory Gully patch on Ben Nevis, and the Aonach Beag patch. Back in the end of August I had been hopefully that the Point Five Gully patch on Ben Nevis would also survive, but a mild and wet September meant that was not to be. 
Last Saturday myself and Iain Cameron headed over to Aonach Beag to see how the patch there was doing.This was the first day out in potentially could be a very long winter for me.  I was quite impressed with the quantity of snow which remained. The patch was about 50 meters long, 25 meters wide, and around 3 meters deep at it's top edge. We estimated the mass of the patch to be of the order of 700 tonnes. This is, not unusually, the largest of the snow patches to have survived in Scotland this year. It as quite an enigma how this patch survives so well, as it sits at a relatively low altitude (just 920 meters). This is full 200 meters below the other patches that usually survive (The Braeriach patches are at around 1145m, and the Observatory Gully patch 1140m.). The answer is probably due to the combination of it's location (very sheltered with a large catchment area) and the fact this it sits on soil rather than rock, and so air and water don't get underneath to melt it out from below. 

P.S I have just noticed that Iain has had the same idea as me in writing about this patch, you can see his thoughts here.