The annual York Mountaineering Club Winter Weekend for 2023 took place from Thursday the 9th to Sunday the 12th of March and was based at the Aviemore Hostel.  There were 19 club members in the hostel plus Steve G with Bev in their campervan and a good friend Keith who joined us for a couple of walks.  Most of us were able to make the full three nights and some made the journey north after finishing work on Friday.  The weather was forecast to be cold and bright with relatively light winds and there had been a significant, recent fall of snow in the Cairngorms.

Early on Thursday morning Dave M, Dave C and Gav set off to arrive at the Cairngorm Ski Centre car park at 1230. The intention was to take a look into the northern corries to check conditions and climb a low-grade route if possible.  Cold air temperatures and snowfall had produced deep powder snow, recently blown in all directions by strong winds which visibly endorsed the considerable avalanche risk posted by the Scottish Avalanche Information Service (SAIS).  It was decided that climbing any route would be time-consuming at best so a walk into the Coire then up to the edge of the plateau under the front of Mess of Pottage gave us an opportunity to see conditions near the summit and down the ridge back towards the Ski Centre.

Dan S, Nathan and Sam made it to Aviemore in the early afternoon by car.  Derek, despite technical difficulties enroute arrived by train and Steve M, Andrew and Loch by car, later in the day. Tiso café did well with cake sales as did Ellis Brigham outdoor shop with kit hire. Rental boots were collected, whether planned or due to last-minute necessity. Rose M, Iain, Ewart, Laura and eventually Oli T arrived in the evening and worked out a plan for Friday’s activities.

Dave M, Dave C and Gav made an early start at 7am on Friday morning to climb Staghorn Gully on Creagh Meagaidh. The SAIS reports for this area to the west of Cairngorm were favourable for climbing. It was to be a long day. The climb took in every possible surface likely to be encountered in winter mountaineering. Generally, the conditions were lean but sometimes deep powder, sometimes hard snow. Turf, frozen or liquid.  Ice, either rock hard or fragile and lots of it.  All in an unrelenting, difficult to protect and find a solid anchor, twelve pitch outing. It was great to achieve such a full and varied winter climb and to use every possible piece of gear with only one walk-in. Most efficient. Thankfully all head-torch batteries lasted until arrival at the car at about 1:15am.

Andrew, Steve M, Steve G, Iain, Rose M and Keith made a clockwise circuit of the northern corries for their Friday outing. Glorious, clear, blue skies gave fantastic weather conditions with views across Scotland. However, the deep powder made the going quite difficult and crampons were of no use in knee deep soft snow.  Their route took in the Fiacaill a Choire Chais, Stob Coire an t-Sneachda and Cairn Lochain.

Laura, Ewart, Derek and Oli T headed up to Fiacaill Ridge.  Nathan, Sam and Dan S initially aimed for the same route but decided on another option.  Roped up and geared up the team of four made lasting memories as they honed their full portfolio of mixed climbing technique including hooking, torquing, toe-pointing, floundering and belly-flopping on their way up the grade II classic in dry, powdery conditions.  A great effort and rounded off with a continuation loop to Cairngorm summit and descent via the Ptarmigan Station.

Meanwhile Nathan, Dan S and Sam downclimbed the lower slopes of the ridge and went into the Coire an t-Sneachda where they surveyed the crags and the area for future reference and gained invaluable experience practicing skills in the unusual and difficult snow conditions.

Sadly, Loch had succumbed to a bug of some sort which prevented him from straying too far from the facilities at the hostel.  In the afternoon Tracey arrived with Lucy and Brian with Imogen in the late evening.  More plans were made for the next morning and it was apparent that Dave M, Dave C and Gav would miss the start time so would probably not participate.

On Saturday Andrew, Steve M, Steve G and Keith decided that remaining at a lower altitude would avoid the worst of the underfoot conditions and make for a more enjoyable walk.  The plan worked out and all had a great, full day on the chain of hills to the north of Loch Morlich. From the visitor centre through woodland past a frozen Green Loch to Ryvoan bothy, and then a good trail onto Meall a Bhuachaille (810 m). Then a succession of summits for nearly 3 miles to Craiggowrie.  All the time with the most spectacular panorama of the northern Cairngorms, from Bynack Mor in the east, across Cairn Gorm and Carn Lochain to Briariach and Sgurr Gaoith, all wrapped in brilliant white.

Laura remained with a higher-level plan. Setting off from Invereshie and Inshriach National Nature Reserve near Feshiebridge as a group of ten to take in the summits of Carn Ban Beag, Carn Ban Mor (1052), Sgor Gaoith (1118), Sgoran Dubh Mor (1111), Geal Charn and everything in between. Tracey, Lucy, Dan S, Nathan, Sam, Rose M, Iain, Brian and Imogen made up the group and had a hard, physical day on the hills and were rewarded with excellent views of the surrounding winter scenery and a lasting impression of the Cairngorms in winter.

On Friday Oli T, Derek and Ewart had been impressed with the views into Coire an t-Sneachda so took the opportunity today to walk in from the north to look at the crags. They were able to exit the Coire to the south west in the region of the Goat Track.  There was a lot of powder snow but safe passage was achieved by remaining clear of the track and scrambling up the boulder field to the side.  A circular route was then completed by turning west around Coire an Lochan and descending the ridge on its western flank before heading to the Ski Centre.  Light winds and incredibly good visibility made navigation straightforward and an enjoyable experience.

Loch was feeling better today but did not want to venture too far and managed to explore the small hills in the Craigellachie National Nature Reserve immediately west of Aviemore. Dave M, Dave C and Gav managed to get as far as three outdoor shops without buying anything, a café for a toastie and lastly the crux was Macdui’s to watch the rugby.

In the evening 20 of us dined at our pre-booked table at the Tamanna Indian Restaurant. Luckily, Loch was feeling better and he was sitting next to me. The meal went down well. Plenty big portions with a bill to match and the ambience around the table was upbeat and lively.  The evening flew by so time spent in the Cairngorm Hotel Bar afterwards was limited to only a quick drink or two before the end of our night.

Sunday morning start was a gentler affair than the previous mornings.  The weather was closing in from the southwest today and becoming warmer with increasing wind.  Nathan, Sam and Dan S departed south after Dan had returned his rental equipment to the outdoor shop.  Derek had a train to catch in the mid-morning and Lucy stayed in and read the papers while her travelling partners went for a local walk on the slopes of Cairngorm.  Andrew, Steve M and Loch headed towards home but were able to stop off enroute to fit in another short walk.

Dave M, Dave C, Gav, Laura, Rose M, Brian, Tracey, Ewart, Oli T, Iain and Imogen took the last opportunity of the weekend to take to the hill.  A relatively short but interesting five-mile leg stretch starting at the Coire na Ciste car park and following a route to pass above the winter climbing crag at Creagan Cha-No.  The circular route was completed by descending the ridge to the north and returning to the car park via the Lochan na Beinne.  The weather was more typical of Scottish Winter with cloud and reduced visibility at higher levels, buffeting winds and snow melting in dramatically warmer temperatures.  Seeing the navigation technique and considerations for such different conditions proved to be another useful experience for all.  The walk was completed by 12:15 which was perfect timing for everyone to call in for a relaxing lunch at the Barn at Rothiemurchus.   A great way to finish before the long drive home.

The weekend was undoubtedly a big success on both a personal and club level.  The weather, although not great for technical climbing, gave everyone a chance to explore and see the northern Cairngorm area at its best.  Everyone put in a huge effort, long routes on soft snow were not easy and the willingness of members to share knowledge, take the lead and help those with less experience was commendable.  Thank you to everyone for participating and contributing towards the weekend and we look forward to more of the same good-natured approach and fantastic weather on the next trip.


Dave M

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  1. A lovely write-up and I wished I would’ve been there as well. Thank you Dave!

  2. Great report. Can’t wait to look back on this as the first of many. T

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