Wednesday, 24 April 2019

Winter!

The cornice picture! Even in poor snow years impressive features can form.  I took this shot of fellow avalanche forecaster Graham Moss in early February. 
Well, that is another winter over. As described in my previous blog post, it was, in general, a poor winter in terms of conditions. From a personal climbing point of view it was also poor, it was the first winter since I was at school which I have failed to do any winter routes for myself.  There were a number of reasons for this beside the poor conditions. However, I won't go into those here.
As usual my main jobs through the winter was as a forecaster for the Scottish Avalanche Information Service.  During the lean snow periods the work is definitely a lot easier, but less satisfying, than during periods when there is a significant avalanche hazard.

Doing snow science on Aonach Mor in February. Very pleasant!
I also did some work for the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS). The purpose of this work is to improve the snow depth measurement of their SIMBA device (https://www.srsl.com/services/autonomous-ice-measurement/ )
SIMBA is a device which essentially automatically measures snow and ice depth, and relays the information back in essentially real time. They have been used to sea ice for a number of years, there are quite a few deployed around the arctic, and now there is progressively more interest in using them for snow depth measurement. We had one of these devices out in a couple of locations on Aonach Mor, and because I was regularly up there was able to check the readings it was giving. It produced some interesting results that need a bit of interpretation at times, something I have enjoyed working on.
What the Alps should be like, snowy and sunny. The final steep approach to the Aosta hut (Photo Adam).
At the end of the winter I decided to head out to the Alps for some ski touring. I enjoy hut based ski touring, it is an enjoyable way to travel through the mountains. Also allowed me to get a bit of skiing done, something that it feels like Scotland has failed to deliver this season.
Challenging conditions on the Otzal tour. 
This trip I teamed up with another Fort William resident, Adam Macintosh. Adam was planning to head out to the Alps for over a month in his van, and was willing to pick me up at the airport.  The Eastern Alps had had a lot of snow back in January, and so we decided to head to Austria. I had never done the Otzal tour, so we decided to do that. Unfortunately, when I arrived the weather forecast for the whole of the Alps was poor. However, we decided to head up into the mountains and try a slightly shorter version of our planned tour. In the end it all just about worked out and we had a decent tour despite some challenging weather and snow conditions.  At one point Adam announced it was the worst snow he had ever skied! Although it was pretty bad, he later admitted that perhaps he had seen worse at Nevis Range. On the final day we did manage to summit Wildspitze, the second highest mountain in Austria, just before the weather deteriorated again.
Sally, myself, Casper and Adam on top the the Tete de Valpelline. Dent d'Herens and the Matterhorn in the background. 
Lunch stop on the Vallee Blanche. 
Next it was over to Italy where we met up with another couple of Fort William residents; Sally and Casper. Again conditions were quite challenging with a high avalanche forecast issued. However, we did manage a two day tour above Aosta including an ascent of the Tete de Valpelline. This gave great views over to the Dent d'Herens and to the Matterhorn. Finally it was through the Mont Blanc tunnel to Chamonix where on the last day of the trip (for me at least) we skied the Vallee Blanche, a classic long ski decent which I had not done before, on a lovely day and found some good snow.  After that Sally, Casper and Adam headed their own ways (to do some more skiing), and I headed back to the Fort William to start my summer job. That however, is for a blog about another  season.
The walk way up off the glacier to Montenvers. On the way up they have plaques on the rock showing the level of the glacier at different times. I was shocked to see how much had gone since I was last there. This shot is taken at the level of the glacier when I was last on the Mer de Glace in 2001. I would estimate the glacier had lost not far off 100 metres of thickness since then!


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