Finlay Wild

Finlay Wild
Hill runner, mountaineer, skier
Supported by Norman Walsh Footwear and Mountain Equipment

Monday, 25 January 2016

Once upon a time when there was snow..

We've had a few weeks of reasonable snow, followed by the devastating thaw on Sunday.

On 16th January myself and Suzy decided to head up into the Mamores. From the forecast it looked like Lochaber could be a better bet than the Cairngorms, although the opposite was true in the end and the cloud came in early.

The Mamores isn't really an obvious choice for ski touring, excepting spring skiing the bowls off Sgurr a Mhaim and a few others, as it's pretty rocky and scree topped, with a fair few narrow ridges. I have always wanted to head up there on skis however as the idea of travelling on skis along the ridge traverse appeals to me. There are also some pretty remote slopes which look like they would be amazing to ski in the right conditions. Also with an eye on the Tranter round, it was worth a reccy.

We headed up from Achriabhach onto the slopes of Mullach nan Coirean. Getting the skis on it was straightforward to start with, but then as it got more rocky it became more awkward. The basic problem was the lack of any significant base! There was quite a bit of soft snow, but not much between it and the (many) rocks. We made our way up into the mist as the wind picked up...

The cloud had come in much earlier than expected. We picked our way along to Pt 917 and then to the col where the north ridge of Stob Ban heads off. We decided to bag Stob Ban, in the mist, then descended back to the col.

This was a fairly ski wrecking sort of descent with what tantalisingly looked like enough snow, but which really wasn't, and the rocks scraped through far too often! Thankfully no major damage was sustained. That done we got the skis on the packs and came down the North Ridge. It was all soft snow so reasonable to just pick our way down the scramble carefully. From the bottom of this there were some nice turns (between the rocks) down the long ridge, and then it got silly as the grass to snow ratio increased.

In Glen Nevis, the wind had dropped and fluffy snowflakes were falling straight down onto the road, turning it white. We enjoyed that silence you get when snow is falling straight down, muffling the earth.

It was a useful day as information gathering for the Tranter - some sections were definitely quicker using the skis, but of course a better base and more consolidated snow were sorely needed. It's potential ski trashing terrain up there - but then again using the ski as a tool for travel, getting all the way along the Mamores would be worth quite a few ski gouges.

Cairngorms Navigation

For Sunday I headed to the Cairngorms. The weather apparently had been brilliant on Saturday so I was kicking myself a bit. I got a reasonably early start going up Cairngorm into the mist, which I felt was likely to clear from the forecast I had read. The snow cover was much better here and I couldn't wait to get a glimpse across the Lairig Ghru. Unfortunately the visibility just got worse and I spent a slow 2 hours on map and compass work to Ben Macdui and back. Finally the cloud lifted a bit at Coire Domhain and I headed down into a fantastic looking Loch Avon basin. Its been ages since I saw the Shelter Stone so gliding down to the base of it and then onto a frozen Loch Avon felt pretty special. It was a quick ski along the flat and then up to the saddle back into the mist. I skied towards the Ciste car park but then thought better of it as the snow gave out, and came over the An t-Aonach back to Coire Cas carpark.

Glenshee Skimo Race 23rd January

There was a record turnout of about 50 skiers for the second race of the season. Although there had been a bit of a thaw, there was still plenty snow around and a course was set on the east side of the resort.
Glenshee start line (Picture: Fiona Wild)

I really enjoyed the course, which mostly ascended at a relatively gently angle with pretty fast open piste descents. I managed to break away from Ben Bardsley and then keep my lead to come in first after 48mins. It was great to see so many folk out racing, and some more lycra speedsuits too. As dusk approached the wind increased, and by Sunday the mega thaw had set in.

Ben Bardsley crosses the finish in second place (Picture: Fiona Wild)

Myself (1st; centre), Ben Bardsley (2nd; left), Jon Morgan (3rd; right)

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Heading East

This weekend I had a couple of good days out. Although the weather wasn't great it was brilliant to see the hills looking much whiter.

On Sunday I skied in the Cairngorms with James W. It was fairly windy with clag and a predicted wee window of clearer weather around noon. We managed to coincide this clearing with getting to The Saddle between Cairngorm and Bynack Mor, for great views of a snowy Shelterstone and a mostly frozen Loch Avon.

The ski down to The Saddle was actually pretty rocky and scoured, but at least it was a safe slope - with this much fresh snow around we were thinking carefully about which aspects to ski, especially when visibility wasn't great either. Going up Bynack Mor was rocky initially but skin-able and then the snow improved. We skied down Allt a Choire Dhuibh with some comedy snow topped heather skiing down into Strath Nethy, then back up and over west to the Ciste car park, with a few minor but illuminating navigational issues.

Skiing down Allt a Choire Dhuibh
In Strath Nethy

Technical Issues
On the final descent one of my new bindings was playing up - it kept releasing at the back piece despite being clipped into downhill mode. This wasn't such an issue immediately as, well, the skiing wasn't that great in heathery hummocks with not (yet) enough base. But it was more of a concern in general, as effectively made the ski useless for proper downhill use.

Back in Aviemore I headed to Mountain Spirit to consult with the guys about what could be going on. My Dynafit Low Tech Race Auto 2.0 bindings are pretty new to the market, so a bit of an unknown, and they don't come with much mounting info. We eventually worked out that probably a crucial metal bar should be mounted the other way round - so hopefully it was just a quick fix.

Rear part of binding showing the metal bar which was initially mounted the other way up.

I will try and clarify this with Dynafit as one picture on their website shows a pair of bindings with the crucial metal bar mounted a different way round on each binding! Presumably the way it is now mounted is far more robust as it holds the plastic rear piece in place solidly.

If you are interested, look at the picture of the pair of bindings on this page, zoom in and compare the bar position on each binding and you will see it's different.

With a fixed ski and a Monday off I debated what to do. There is more snow east currently and I was already half way there from Fort William. With an optimistic eye at the forecast it looked like it could possibly turn good over Lochnagar way. I had seen a glimpse of Beinn A'Bhuird direction from The Saddle which looked plastered. The only concern was that it seemed a few degrees warmer than forecasted - maybe this was a sign that the weather wasn't going to play ball.

Monday morning was snowy and a bit damp. I set off with the first light from Loch Muick up the climbers path towards Lochagar. I managed to get my skis on low down, just after coming out of the forest.

I hoped the weather would clear and I could get up onto the plateau and continue around in a big day loop but sadly the wind increased and the weather just got worse. At around 1050m going up Lochnagar from the Lochnagar-Meikle Pap col I decided to call it a day as I couldn't see much except the thin line of the cliff edge. It was getting gusty with no sign of clearing. Heading down there was lots of deep fluffy snow around, but I had to avoid it as I couldn't see without the rocks to guide me! Skiing down my binding worked fine and I think the problem is now fixed. The hills are staying white this week and the weather looks good for next weekend!