Sunday, 19 December 2010

Winter Mountain Wildlife

The cold weather has been affecting all of us and it is certainly getting to the wildlife too.  There was plenty of activity in evidence today in the hills, more than I would expect at this time of year, and I suspect that our predators in particular are finding feeding in the big freeze tricky. Fresh snow fell on Arran over night and there were hundreds of animal tracks in the snow in Glen Rosa this morning.

 Dawn lights up Glen Rosa

It was clear that deer, rabbits, small birds and voles had been criss-crossing the glen since the snow stopped falling. In the trees above us, flocks of finches and tits were feeding amongst the branches, until a bold red squirrel came bounding through the tree tops and put them all to flight. Further up the Glen, we could see the deer sheltering in the trees on the lower slopes.  As we began to climb up the Garbh Allt, a steep burn that runs in to Glen Rosa from the west, a pair of golden eagles circled overhead, and after they had gone, a kestrel appeared.

Our plan was to head up under the crags of Beinn Nuis,  and look to see if any of the easier gullies were climbable/soloable (looking for winter ML practice terrain). It was a hard slog up as always, but at least the bog was firm for a change.  Hidden ice amongst the heather made the going very treacherous and after a couple of painful comedy tumbles, the crampons were on despite the soft snow and thick heather. Occasionally underfoot we also saw evidence of the voles that the hungry kestrel had been searching for- strange little galloping tracks, tunnels in the snow and evidence of miniature digging works. It has been said that snowy winters favour field voles in the arms race between predator and prey as it is easier for them to hide from prying eyes under the snow.  Winter is tough on the kestrels and owls that rely on them for food.

Field Vole tunnel in the snow. 

Once up in to the upper coire it became clear that although there was plenty of ice forming on the bog, the chimneys and gulleys were relatively bare.  An easy angled gully that had caught our eye from below looked less inviting close up, with a huge chockstone at mid height and choked with deep layers of powder snow and graupel (pellet like snow- very unstable when fresh).

 The spectacular main face of Beinn Nuis

We traversed out right beneath the face, and gained a shoulder that rises relentlessly to the right hand edge of the crag.  From here it was possible to traverse right again at about grade I, across a fan of better snow, and to gain the main ridge between Nuis and Tarsuinn.

Climbing the shoulder.

Traversing under crags to reach the snow fan on the right.

Once on the ridge we were in the full force of a north easterly wind that bit through all our warm winter clothing. Feathery fingers of rime ice were forming on the rocks and the ground. We clambered up on to the summit of Beinn Nuis, paused for a moment to enjoy the view, and then headed back down via the easier slopes on the South Ridge. By the time we got back to the car it was snowing heavily again. 

Beautiful rime ice formations (sastrugi) on the summit rocks of Beinn Nuis. 


Looking back up Coire A Bhraidain towards Beinn Nuis and Beinn Tarsuinn. 

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