The importance of SAIS – avalanche service

It was horrendous Tuesday. The weather forecast said persistent and torrential rain – one of those days you’d rather spend in the pub or enjoying the north face of Fort William high street.

Despite that I headed up into the coire below Stob Coire nan Lochan to look at the snow. As you do when it’s raining. The trudge up into the coire is brutally steep for a short walk, especially weighed down with climbing gear.

In order to practice buried axe belays I had to trudge all the way to the top of the corrie to find deep snow. The rain continued all day and even at that altitude it didn’t turn to snow, just sleet, meaning an avalanche was a big risk given I’d headed into the north side of the mountain to practice.

Compas Rose

After much practice and getting soaked to the skin I started to head back down, but not before seeing the unstable snow pack break off and a small avalanche head down.

There’s been a serious avalanche on the north side of Ben Nevis with two missing climbers unaccounted for. The importance of checking and understanding the avalanche forecast is not something to be overlooked in a Scottish winter, as is the importance of understanding how the weather will affect the snow.

Check it here: http://www.sais.gov.uk/

Days of dry weather with high winds had created lots of soft windslab on north facing slopes, with no thaw and referee this remained soft and unstable.

Today’s rain was not just enough to soak through my waterproofs to my underwear but it is all that is needed to turn soft unstable windslab into heavy and very unstable slush. If this is lying on top of a layer of more consolidated snow then it’s not going to take much for it to slide.

If you’re heading out this winter make sure you check (and understand) the Scottish avalanche reports.

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