The thing with Scotland, it can be REALLY awful ;)
The trick is to be in the right place at the right time, whether by good luck or good judgment. Darren and I arrived at the end of a 2 week period when, after some the coldest weather and deepest snow in Scotland for many years, there had been a period when the temperatures had been through the roof. In the Alps, they call it the föhn, in North America the Chinook, and in Scotland they call it the hair dryer. The buttresses below 1100m were black, some remnants of ice held on in the high gullies, and the BMC International Winter Meet had been having some great days rock climbing at Dunkeld and Pass of Ballater.
Enter Perkins and Sheppard, and the temperatures drop and a shedload of snow falls. It's all talent and sophistication on our part, I tell you. 5 days later, we've had days on the Ben, Stob Coire nan Lochan, Aonach Mor, the Northern Corries and (for the first time in about 20 years) a visit to the queen of the east, Lochnagar.
On Aonach Mor we were breaking trail in up to chest deep snow, the first time I've had to do that in Scotland for many years. It should be well set up for a good few days now, with a thaw setting in just after we left on the Friday and now it's gone cold straight after, so conditions should be great.
Meanwhile I'm now back in Chamonix preparing my skis, and Darren is back behind his desk.
Right place right time?
Having just spent a week based out of the Stronlossit Hotel in Roybridge, I can once again confirm that Scottish winter mountaineering is the toughest work I do as a guide. For the last 7 years, I've climbed with Darren here in the same week, more often than not in perfect weather with good to fantastic conditions. This year was the payback: two severe weather warnings in a week for gales with 100mph winds, and global warming restricting ice formation to the final few hundred feet of Ben Nevis. Despite all that, we had a very productive time, with Smiths Route on Gardyloo being the highlight of the week. Nevertheless, it required some lateral thinking and a flexible approach to get the best results.
One thing that struck me while we were fighting our way down the Carn Mor Dearg arete was that, far from being outrageously bad, this was just normal for Scotland - high winds, poor visibility -though it would be considered poor to Armageddonesque in the Alps. It just goes to show that, if you can climb well in Scotland in winter, you can climb well anywhere!
PS: Thanks for the photo of character building conditions on Fiacall Couloir, Darren: