Saturday, 27 April 2013

Lochnagar Skiing

Skiing on Lochnagar today - hopefully the conditions beta might be helpful to someone:

Lochnagar from the col

So Glenshee shut for the season last week - but there's still plenty of cracking skiing in Scotland for those who are willing to earn their descents, and conditions are only going to get better over the next few weeks.

Walking up the 'ladder' from the col - looks almost alpine

View from the summit plateau
I'm back in Braemar for the weekend and could see from the road that Lochnagar is still holding a lot of snow so I had planned to get out on Saturday to see if I could find some good skiing.  The weather had changed on friday, with a return to 'wintery' rather than last weeks 'spring-like' temperatures which wasn't ideal as I was hoping the milder weather would mean soft snow.  Anyway, I awoke on saturday morning to a dusting of snow on the lawn and a light northerly breeze and thought that Lochnagar was definitely worth a shot.  

I haven't skiied a huge amount on Lochnagar but I think that if you are willing to take on the walk-in there is a huge range of terrain available.  It is high (1150m), holds snow well, and has big open faces as well as tight gullies.  More importantly - although the coire faces NE - the actual aspects of potential descents vary from North-West facing (on the Sentinel Sector) right through South-West facing for some sections of the main crag (for example the main branch of Black Spout).  This means it should always be possible to find good snow somewhere - it's a shame I don't seem to have the experience to take full advantage of this yet!

Lochnagar summit cairn

The had been a reasonable amount of snowfall the previous night and, as it arrived with strong Northerlys, was drifted deep in sheltered locations - I met a woman from the SAIS team who reported windslab on south-facing aspects near the top of Black Spout.  I reached the summit and had a look into the two branches of the Black Spout.  The left (steeper) branch had a steep entry but no windslab, whilst the right branch had an easier entry but lots of fresh slab on the (skiers) left of the entry.  The narrows on the right branch look reasonably well covered at the moment and I suspect would be fairly easy to negotiate on skis.  

Entry to Black Spout LH - although the cornice is small it was steep directly below

Entry to Black Spout RH - fresh windslab on the right of the picture

I decided to drop into the left branch so geared up and stepped down to the cornice.  Whilst the cornice was small, there was a very steep section immediately under it before it rolled back to a more reasonably angle (40 degrees?) maybe 100 feet lower down.  Some walkers had appeared on the edge and were filming my entry on their phones - no pressure then!  I committed to the drop onto what I was hoping to be soft-ish older snow to be hit by the roar of edges on hard ice, and the horrible juddering of the skis trying to get some purchase.  Instinctively I eased the pressure off the edges and managed to control my speed, before putting in a couple more very careful turns to reach the lower section at a more normal angle.  The rest of the skiing down to the junction was the same - very hard, icy snow with little respite.  Below the chockstone (there is so much cover that this is a mere steepening in the angle) I was able to ski fresh snow patches on the (skiers) left bank which was more pleasant although it wasn't particularly well adhered to the hardpack underneath.  Once back in the coire, the fresh snow was heavy, but the old snow was now slushy, giving a much nicer pitch down to the rescue box.

Looking back towards Black Spout

The bottom of Douglas-Gibson gully well banked out
After a quick break I began the walk back up to the col at Meikle Pap, spying a gully just next to Sentinel Buttress en route, which had good cover and was only a short walk back up the tourist path.  I decided that I may as well get another run out of the day and a short hike got me back up to the rim of the coire above the gully - which I figured couldn't have worse snow that what I'd just skiied.  I dropped in with no cornice issues and got a few steep turns in above a cluster of rocks - the snow was hard but not as hard as that in Black Spout, as the face was lower and had seen a bit more sun. I quite enjoy forcing myself to turn on steep ground with hard snow - as if you can deal with committing situations and icy snow then everything feels easy when it's in good condition.  Below the rocks the snow quickly softened up; I'm not quite sure how or why but it gave some fantastic fast skiing back down to the bootpack.

Good snow in a gully near Sentinel Buttress, Southern Sector

From there I headed back to the car, climbing up to the Meikle Pap col, and then skiing most of the way down to the track junction.  The cover is patchy in places though, and I suspect a lot of the new snow will disappear quickly over the next few days.  The walk back to the car felt short and almost enjoyable - I must be fit at the moment!

Lochnagar from Loch Muick

In summary - both branches of Black Spout have great cover for this time of year.  Once the temperature rises and the snow softens to spring 'hero' slush the skiing will be great. I skiied the left branch of Black Spout in such conditions in May 2010 and it was fantastic fun.  There are also plenty of lines with good cover in the Southern Sector from the col right round to Central Buttress.  If anyone is interested Douglas-Gibson gully looked easily ski-able from below the kink, and Raeburn's Gully had a lot of snow in the bottom (although I couldn't see the ice pitch).  I haven't heard of either of these two being skiied but I suspect these are the kind of conditions one would need.  I noticed on the drive home that there is lot of snow on Beinn a'Bhuird also, with all of the gullys in the main coires looking complete.

Finally some words of advice from a friend of mine: remember that things are always in condition - it just depends on your interpretation of 'condition'.

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