Winter mountaineering in the Highlands: watch those cornicesWinter has well and truly taken hold in the Scottish Highlands, with good deposits of fresh snow being reported throughout the week.

Winter mountaineering in the Highlands: watch those cornices

The bad news is that some of the drifts are considerable and will require hard work to make any progress. Chest-high drifts are present in some of the Creag Meagaidh gullies and, to quote the Scottish Avalanche Information Service:  “Only the very determined will want to break trail in present conditions.”

Many of the summit plateaux have been scoured, leaving better conditions and most climbing buttresses and ridges have fresh snow. However, unstable windslab and cornices, mainly on north through to east and south-east aspects, mean avalanche risk is considerable (category 3).

All of Scotland’s ski centres expect to be open and running, though Saturday is looking like a better prospect, before winds build on Sunday to give gusts up to 80mph. Last week, the Cairngorm Mountain resort was evacuated as winds reached a reported 140mph and there were long queues as skiers and mountaineers tried to get out of the car park and away from the centre.

The Mountain Weather Information Service says Sunday will be ‘a difficult day on the hills, with ferocious gusts making any mobility difficult where exposed on higher areas’. Snow on the higher ground will gradually turn to rain, even on the mountains, as temperatures rise.

Coming south, Helvellyn’s summit still has its eastern cornice, complete with fracture crack, which should be given a wide berth. Ice has disappeared on paths below 650m, but fell-tops still have a thin covering of ice and snow. Crampons and ice-axe are advisable.

Freezing levels in Snowdonia will also rise, ending above the summits by Sunday, but wind-chill will make it feel more like –12C.