The last week in the hills has been busy but also mixed with a pretty sustained thaw. Yesterday in the Northern Corries and on the plateaux seemed more like the slim pickings at the end of May rather than mid winter.
Last week I was out with Penrith Mountain Rescue Team in the Cairngorms looking at some skills reinforcement during a journey looking for what we could find to use. We also had a nice skills day with Angela who was up with Chris and Mary and looking for an introductory day. This was then followed up by a busy few days working with Mountain and Water Film Safety on a production in the Southern Cairngorms. Despite a few colder nights it has unfortunately been steadily thawing at all levels. There hasn’t been any northerly’s passing through for quite some time. There has though been some very windy weather coming through with gusts and winds reaching 90 plus on the Cairngorm summits.
We went into the weekend with a visit from a colleague and friend from Kenya Steve who I was rather hoping to show the full blown Scottish winter but we made do with what we had. Heading into the Northern Corries we did a swift skills session in the Corrie before heading up towards Jacobs ladder this was swarmed with teams so opted to head left and find some scrambling ground to the left of the Opening Break switching from winter mode to summer mode before taking the final steepening to the plateaux. Certainly an indicator of the conditions was the numerous parties on the Mess of Pottage climbing things in a summer fashion with snow approaches and then off with the crampons to climb. We warmed ourselves with sun and great views on snow free plateaux. It looked lovely in the sun with snow patches lit up but it was certainly bare. We headed for the summit and down to the Ptarmigan of which was entirely snow free. The ski area was open but the skiing looked limited!!!! It would be possible to head to the summit of Cairngorm via almost any route without touching snow at the moment.
Certainly interesting to think but perhaps the huge and filled car park, diesel generators creating the fake snow, trains and lifts shuttling people up the mountain to slide down are a few of the very drivers that are creating this change in climate and our weather patterns. I am certainly not in a position to stand on my soap box as I have done more than my fair share of driving, flying and even skied in the bizarre indoor ski resort in the Dubai desert. But looking at our actions I don’t think we can deny that we have created the very change that is now giving us the weather conditions and warming that’s happening all around us. It's very clear that the winters are not what they where. Even in my short time I can clearly see that the patterns are now different and that the accumulation of snow and ice are not happening now. It was certainly very visible this summer in the Alps, summer alpinism is perhaps not going to be what it once was and that the climbing season is now reserved for spring and autumn when things have began to freeze. A sad reality I think is setting in now.
Its been great though to show Steve around some Scottish highlights (in my mind). I first met Steve quite a few years ago when going for a bike ride near Ilpoloi an area in Laikipia Kenya. His brother Peter who worked for RVA and I met for a ride and he came along. Since then he came to help at RVA assisting on bike rides and getting some qualifications but it became apparent he had an eye for detail and was put in charge of the stores and since then has moved into the instructing more and more now an SPA on the rock and a Canyon guide since Ben Starches recent visit. He was here competing the Lyon equipment PPE course. His flights arranged to depart from Inverness meant that once the course was completed he could have a few days with us to have a look around and hopefully experience what the Highlands has to offer in quick tour. In a way having spent so many years helping and developing instructors with RVA it was nice for someone to come and see where I developed and became an instructor.
Today though we decided that as its not really winter in the hills it was perhaps better to divert to something else which Scotland has a huge amount of which is rock climbing. We headed along the coast to Cummingston. A dry and sunny day at the coast which I think for Steve who comes from the mount Kenya region a combo of rock and ocean gave a new experience. Its perhaps not the most dramatic of Scotlands coastal offerings but it gave us a fun couple of hours climbing and certainly nice to not be encased in numerous layers, rucksacks and leashes for an afternoon.
Looking ahead it feels a bit like the winter is in limbo at the moment. The mountains are not really in winter bloom at the moment. We have various on through the month though so we shall seek and find conditions but its getting harder. It looks on the long range forecast like there may be a dump of snow at the end of the month perhaps but March is looking fairly warm. But that’s long range forecast and all could change quickly though for winter skills and journeys. Keep an eye on the socials and here for updates on conditions as we go.