Over to the southern boundary…

27th February 2023

With another good day forecast I decided to head over to the southern boundary of the SAIS Northern Cairngorms area, Ben Macdui. The question today was which mode of travel to use? Others huddled around the various cairns at the summit had chosen to walk (with boots and/or crampons) or run (with fell shoes and/or microspikes), while I chose to ski.

Cover is generally good on the plateau and I was able to make reasonable progress despite the firm and icy conditions  at higher elevations. The ski back however had little to commend it. The snow cover is greatest on North through East to South-East aspects above 1000 metres. In other areas the bare ground is extensive.

Some softer patches of old windslab still exist giving some respite from the hard surface elsewhere. I use the term windslab cautiously here, as it is easy to associate it with instability. At the moment this old windslab is well sintered, firm and stable, and is unlikely to change much tomorrow. The avalanche hazard is Low. For those interested today’s snow profile is a example of a stable “stepped snowpack” with firmer layers at the base, with gradually softer ones above. This represents a marked contrast from those in early February.

The greatest hazard is the firm and icy snow surface at the moment, especially given the extent of bare ground. An uncontrolled slip or fall will be consequential at the moment especially in steep ground.

In other news the Northern Lights were fantastic in the Cairngorms last night, and the forecast suggests that they may be visible again tonight… https://www.metoffice.gov.uk/weather/specialist-forecasts/space-weather


A view back towards Ben Macdui (left), Cairn Toul (centre) and Sgor an Lochan Uaine (right). Note the icy sections of snow reflected in the glare of the sun.


Fiacaill Buttress Coire an t-Sneachda from near the top of ‘Alladin’s Couloir’. This shows the striking difference between the sunny side, with rock clear of snow on the right, and the cold shady side of the coire still nicely covered in rime ice.


The view looking south-west from the summit of Ben Macdui. Beinn Bhrotain over in the SAIS Southern Cairngorm area can be seen on the left, although it looks like the unimaginatively named Gully A and B are incomplete. Which is probably just as well as they would be bullet hard.


The striking summit of Sgor an Lochain Uaine and the ‘Angel’s Ridge’ seen in profile.


On skis for travel today, but the surface was mainly very firm and icy. Stable but unpleasant for forecasters sporting intramedullary tibial nails. The vibration is best avoided, I can recommend crampons.


The Northern Lights seen from the A9 – hopefully visible again if it is clear for the first part of the night.

Comments on this post

Got something to say? Leave a comment

    Latest Northern Cairngorms Avalanche Report
    RSS Feed
    Keep up to date by subscribing to our RSS feed
Service funded by sportscotland
Forecast data supplied by the Met Office
SAIS Sponsors