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Sgòr Gaoith and Sgòran Dubh Mòr

Sgòr Gaoith and Sgòran Dubh Mòr.   Photo: Al Todd

The high points of "The Feshie Ridge", Sgòr Gaoith and Sgòran Dubh Mòr, are home to some justifiably popular skiing on the West face above Glen Feshie.  A direct descent from the summit of Sgòr Gaoith is a fine way to end your day on your return to Glen Feshie, and "Tom", "Dick" and "Harry" are classic easy angled gully lines in Coire Gorm, below Carn Ban Mor.  Apart from the low lying chutes on Creag Mhigeachaidh which are occasionally in condition, the skiing on this side of the hill is amenable and reliable 

In contrast, the vast Eastern face above Gleann Eanaich is riddled with gullies and ridges, and on arrival from Glen Feshie, it can feel like you are looking down into another world.  The descents here are exciting and commiting, requiring sound judgement to get the right conditions.

The summit gullies of Sgòr Gaoith are set above the loch, with complex rocky ridges separating the lines.  Gasps of "This doesn't look like Scotland" have been heard whilst looking into the various lines!  The gullies below the col between the 2 summits require further exploration, but are generally more amenable.

Coire Olc (with "Olc" possibly aptly meaning "anger" or "evil") is a foreboding place.  Also known as "Fan Coire", 2 large triangular buttresses guard the lower slopes, with a gully passing between them that runs the full height of the face, passing between 2 rocky buttresses within the corrie higher up.  This is "2/3rds Gully", named because the lower section is rarely in condition.  When it is, it banks up to a Grade I climb, and if you could get into it, it would be by far the biggest vertical gully descent in the Cairngorms.  2 lines have been skied either side of the central line, both worthwhile in their own right. 

Just to the North of Coire Olc is Coire Sgòran Dubh Beag, which arguably looks even more like a fan (of the paper variety).  With several shallow, relatively amenable gully lines, there's plenty of choice.  Lastly, the prominent buttress below Sgòran Dubh Beag is split by the striking line of the Willow Spout.

Approach

There are 2 general approaches:  up and over from Glen Feshie, or from below in Gleann Eanaich. Which part of the face you are intending to ski on may dictate your approach.  

From Glen Feshie:  This is the recommended approach for the Sgòr Gaoith summit gullies in particular, but useful for all of the lines described.  From the car park at NH852003, follow the Allt Ruadh path up through the trees.  Where the path crosses the Allt a' Chrom-alltain, it becomes less distinct, but brings you up onto the shoulder just to the south of the very shapely summit of Sgòr Gaoith.  If heading for Sgòran Dubh Mòr, then you could skin up the left branch of the Allt a' Chrom-alltain (a fun ski descent in its own right). 

From Gleann Eanaich: There are various options for parking to the North (Whitewell, Loch an Eilien, Coylumbridge), all with their own limitations due to space.  A bike is recommended for this approach, and as a result, consider parking a little further away, even in Aviemore itself, to reduce the pressure on these locations.  It doesn't add much to your day! 

From the end of the track, ford the outflow of the loch. If heading for the Sgòr Gaoith summit gullies, then make your way along the easily lost path on the West shore.  As frustration kicks in, start to rise towards the band of craggy ground, aiming for slightly beyond the summit so that you follow the line of "Headwind" when you reach it.  A steep heathery scramble follows, which isn't that pleasant with a heavy pack and skis.  Remember, you will need to head back down this way too, and it doesn't get any better in that direction!  Once above the band of craggy ground, you should hopefully find yourself on the easy lower slopes of headwind, which you should be able to follow to the ridge, steepening just below the top.   This approach isn't recommended for the Sgòr Gaoith summit gullies.  The only real advantage of going this way is not having to climb back out after your last run.

If the Willow Spout is complete, then cross heathery ground, making a rising traverse to the mouth of the gully.  Climbing this will bring you out onto Sgòran Dubh Beag, and is useful for skiing the lines below Sgòran Dubh Mòr, as well as the Willow Spout itself. Coire Sgòran Dubh Beag would offer a useful ascent too, if complete through the lower gully. 

Access to the Col gullies can be from below if there is enough snow, otherwise they are easily located from above.

Conditions & warnings

Sgòr Gaoith summit gullies

The face containing the Sgòr Gaoith summit gullies catches the morning sun as you'd expect, but it also has a slight southerly aspect to it.  It is not a place to be on a warm day.  On a day when people were skiing all over the East face of Aonach Mor without issue, and nearby Coire Bhrochain was fine, all 5 of the summit gullies spontaneously avalanched on this face.

As a consequence of not being backed by a sizeable platteau, the snow build up can be less than you'd maybe hoped or expected.   That's not to say that considerably sized cornices don't build up, because they do, but it can be a difficult place to get the right balance.

The lines described from Headwind to Avalanche Alley all end in craggy ground.  All 5 level off before the ground steepens again.  It is unlikely that conditions would be favourable to safely descend further.  You will need to climb back out.  

It's also worth pointing out that you can be fooled into thinking that there is continuous snow all the way to the loch, when looking down the summit gullies.  There can be snow filled runnels on the slopes immediately above the loch, but the steep band of craggy ground that is hidden from view will more than likely not be snow covered.

Sgòran Dubh Mòr

It can be difficult to locate the lip of Coire Olc ("Fan Coire") in poor visibility, particularly above Fantasia  The high point of the corrie is at 1060m, East-northeast from summit, and depending upon where you meet it, there are no obvious features from above.  As the corrie is cut into the downward slope from the summit, any cornice present also slopes downward.

Relevant Weather Forecasts

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Relevant Avalanche Forecasts

There is one relevant Scottish Avalanche Information Service forecast for Sgòr Gaoith and Sgòran Dubh Mòr.

The easiest and least serious of the summit lines.  The entry is the steep scoop a few metres to the South of the summit.   The angle quickly relents as you descend into the open bowl of Coire na Caillich.  In lean times, you will naturally follow the obvious runnel.  Just remember to stop before going over the lip!

Other entries into the corrie are possible just to the South - just choose what looks best on the day.

Panorama from the top of the line, with the summit in the background  Photo: Scott Muir
Dave Anderson in the upper reaches of Headwind  Photo: Scott Muir
Looking down the line of Headwind from the plateau, showing the obvious runnel  Photo: Scott Muir
Sgòr Gaoith summit gullies  Photo: Al Todd
Grid Reference: NN903989

Approximate Start Height: 1110m

Approximate Descent: 330m

General Aspect: East

Climbing Grade: n/a

Notes: The top is as steep as it gets
 

This is the superb shallow gully that splits the rib directly below the summit of Sgòr Gaoith.  Best seen whilst carefully looking down from the summit perch, it looks like the gully makes its way between some rock towers set high above the loch. One of the best lines in the Cairngorms.

As you reach the end of the snow, it should be possible to return to the plateau via Headwind if you don't want to re-ascend the line.

Dave Anderson skiing the line of Thunderstruck in 2015  Photo: Scott Muir
Dave Anderson negotiating the narrow section of Thunderstruck in 2015  Photo: Scott Muir
Dave Anderson setting off down Thunderstruck in 2015  Photo: Scott Muir
Looking North from the summit, indicating which line is which  Photo: Scott Muir
Looking across to the summit of Sgòr Gaoith, showing the start of Thunderstruck  Photo: Scott Muir
Sgòr Gaoith summit gullies  Photo: Al Todd
Grid Reference: NN903990

Approximate Start Height: 1115m

Approximate Descent: 300m

General Aspect: East

Climbing Grade: n/a

Notes: Apart from the entry, there is one short lived narrow section lower down. If you can get in the top, you'll more than likely be OK with the narrow section.
 

The Southenrmost of the 2 big funnel shaped gullies, neighbouring Thunderstruck.  Characterised by a wide upper snow field, it narrows to a more traditional gully through a rock band, before leveling out below at a point above the craggy ground, and the likely end of the snow.

Entry is wherever the cornice is to your taste.  The snow arete separating it and "Beast from the East" at the Northern end of the summit bowl can provide the most amenable entrypoint.  

As with "Thunderstruck", it's possible to make your way across to the line of "Headwind" to re-ascend to the ridge again if you don't want to head up the line of your descent.

Dave Anderson skiing the upper snowfield of Katabatic Couloir in 2015  Photo: Scott Muir
Dave Anderson entering the gully section of Katabatic Couloir in 2015  Photo: Scott Muir
Dave Anderson setting off down Katabatic Couloir in 2015  Photo: Scott Muir
Dave Anderson exiting the gully section of Katabatic Couloir in 2015  Photo: Scott Muir
Dave Anderson in the gully section of Katabatic Couloir in 2015  Photo: Scott Muir
Dave Anderson in the gully section of Katabatic Couloir in 2015  Photo: Scott Muir
Looking North from the summit, indicating which line is which  Photo: Scott Muir
Sgòr Gaoith summit gullies  Photo: Al Todd
Grid Reference: NN904992

Approximate Start Height: 1080m

Approximate Descent: 300m

General Aspect: East

Climbing Grade: n/a

Notes:
 

Very similar in character to the neighbouring "Katabatic Couloir", this line starts with a very open bowl, entering a narrower rock walled couloir, before opening up to a level area, most likely at the end of the snow above the craggy ground below.  Arguably, this line is slightly more scenic than Katabatic Couloir.  Not a lot in it!

Unlike the lines to the South, it's not easy or worthwhile to try and make your way across to "Headwind", so re-ascent should be made back the way you came.  

The name is in keeping with the weather/conditions related theme for the other lines, but on a descent in February 2018, a dead vole was found lying in the bed of the gully.  There's your beast....

Scott Muir heading for the gully section, February 2018  Photo: Hamish Frost
Chris Fryer exiting the gully in 2018  Photo: Scott Muir
Climbing back out on the ridge between KC and BftE  Photo: Hamish Frost
Matt Pavitt on top of the boulder on the left hand side of the gully in 2018  Photo: Scott Muir
Philip Ebert setting off from the ridge bordering Katabatic Couloir in 2018  Photo: Scott Muir
Looking North from the summit, indicating which line is which  Photo: Scott Muir
Sgòr Gaoith summit gullies  Photo: Al Todd
Grid Reference: NN903993

Approximate Start Height: 1070m

Approximate Descent: 300m

General Aspect: East

Climbing Grade: n/a

Notes:
 

The last of of the summit gullies, the top of this one can be identified easily by the defining (skiers) left wall, which is formed by the small ridge jutting out from the main ridge.  Despite being the deepest and most defined of the gullies on this part of the face, it appears to be the least snow sure in its upper reaches.  The south facing left wall is home to some snow chutes, one of which avalanched on an attempted descent on a warm day, hence the name.  

Once you reach the end of the snow, you will need to return the way you came to get back out.

How the name was decided upon...  Photo: Scott Muir
Descent line on the left, source of an avalanche on the right  Photo: Scott Muir
Looking into the top bowl of the gully  Photo: Scott Muir
Looking North from the summit, indicating which line is which  Photo: Scott Muir
Sgòr Gaoith summit gullies  Photo: Al Todd
Looking towards the top of Col of the Wild (tracks into it)  Photo: Scott Muir
Grid Reference: NN905994

Approximate Start Height: 1060m

Approximate Descent: 250m

General Aspect: East

Climbing Grade: n/a

Notes:
 

Below the col between Sgòr Gaoith and Sgòran Dubh Mòr lie 3 gully systems.  I've skied into the Southernmost line ("Col of the Wild"), but haven't skied into the other 2 yet.  For the time being, they are labelled "Col Gully 2" and "Col Gully 3".  The location details in this description are for "Col of the Wild", but once details are obtained for the other 2, they will be split into separate descriptions.

"Col of the Wild" can be found on the North side of the small ridge than forms the skiers left wall of "Avalanche Alley".   Much less serious than the summit gullies, the entry is a gentle roll over from the col.  The line of the gully bed faces East, but the skiers left slope has a slightly more Northerly aspect, and as such can provide a firmer, safer alternative to the summit gullies on a warm day.  It may be possible in the right conditions to ski out of the bottom of this line, but the reliable snow is as shown in the photos.

Reascend to the col by the gully, or the ridge between it and "Col Gully 2".

"Col Gully 2" looks very simitlar to "Col of the Wild".  "Col Gully 3" looks like it is made up of potentially several lines. I've seen the line marked with red dots complete to the floor of the glen. 

The view of the Col Gullies from Braeriach  Photo: Al Todd
At the end of the useful snow on the day in Col of the Wild  Photo: Scott Muir
Col of the Wild on the left, and Col Gully 2 on the right, from the ridge between them  Photo: Scott Muir
Looking down Col of the Wild  Photo: Scott Muir
Looking towards the top of Col of the Wild (tracks into it)  Photo: Scott Muir
The location of Col of the Wild from the loch  Photo: Scott Muir
The NE slope above Col of the Wild  Photo: Scott Muir
The view from the glen, just before the loch  Photo: Scott Muir
Grid Reference: NN905995

Approximate Start Height: 1050m

Approximate Descent: 250m

General Aspect: East / NE

Climbing Grade: n/a

Notes: Probably the most amenable line on this side of the hill
 

The skiers right side of Coire Olc is open to much potential variation with regards to the line you take.  Basically make it up to suit on the day (hence the name).  The higher the entry point, the more likely that the cornice feature, but the longer the descent on offer.  If descending to find a lower entry point, the shallow rocky ridge requires a little care.  The line of one descent (in 2018) is marked in the photos.  On that occasion, we were a few days late to get optimum conditions, and the point where the various lines meet had a break in it, above the confluence of "2/3rds gully" and "Profanisaurus".

As mentioned in the heading, locating the top of this part of the corrie can be difficult in poor visibility.  It feels a serious place to ski into, as steep slopes await your climb back out, but it's all the more rewarding for visiting such a special place.

Looking up from the glen, showing the multiple possible entry points  Photo: Scott Muir
The view from the glen, just before the loch  Photo: Scott Muir
Grid Reference: NH907004

Approximate Start Height: 1050m

Approximate Descent: 250m

General Aspect: Northeast/East

Climbing Grade: n/a

Notes: The headwall can feel fairly steep on the climb back out!
 

Whereas the name is in keeping with being located in "Fan Coire", there was a (happy) expletive said when I realised that it was possible to get into this gully, so the name seems apt.

Unlike the other side of the corrie containing Fantasia, this line is much more defined, but with a slightly obscure entrance.  From above, you are looking for a short gully bounded on skiers right by a small arete that curves to the left (with a granite boulder at the top of it), and a couple of short granite outcrops on skiers left.  The gully twists to skiers left under these outcrops to bring you into the main line of the gully, which is basically straight from there to where it meets "2/3rd Gully" annd "Fantasia".  Unless it's exceptional conditions, return the way to descended to get back out.

Looking directly into Coire Olc from below.  Photo: Scott Muir
Close up of the entrance from the glen  Photo: Scott Muir
Looking back up the gully  Photo: Scott Muir
Looking down the main body of the gully  Photo: Scott Muir
The entrance from above  Photo: Scott Muir
The view from the glen, just before the loch  Photo: Scott Muir
Grid Reference: NH907005

Approximate Start Height: 1050m

Approximate Descent: 250m

General Aspect: East

Climbing Grade: n/a

Notes:
 

This broad triangular shaped corrie has several possible descent lines.  The angles are generally more amenable than the features either side.  Skiers right has generally broad open slopes, whereas the closer to Sgòran Dubh Beag you get, the more featured the terrain becomes. 

The most reliable line is recorded here, but at least one other gully line (skiers left of this one) has been skied.   With such a large collection zone, the lower gully does fill readily, and has been seen to be complete, so descents to the glen are possible.

The line marked starts in a small scoop above a leftward slanting shallow gully line.  Hopefully you will be lucky enough to ski right out.

Coire Sgòran Dubh Beag  Photo: Scott Muir
From the end of the snow in late April 2016  Photo: Scott Muir
Looking across the top of the corrie  Photo: Scott Muir
Looking down the most snow sure line  Photo: Scott Muir
The view from the glen, just before the loch  Photo: Scott Muir
Grid Reference: NH907008

Approximate Start Height: 990m

Approximate Descent: 200m

General Aspect: East

Climbing Grade: n/a

Notes:
 

Cleaving the buttress of Sgòran Dubh Beag, the Willow Spout is a striking line, arguably the finest gully in the Cairngorms.  Continuosly steep and narrow throughout, the scenery improves as you descend, with the tight final section the highlight.  It's also the gully with the most vertical descent in the Cairngorms (unless "2/3rd Gully" becomes viable).

The entrance is just to the North of the insignificant top of Sgòran Dubh Beag. Skiers left offers the easiest entry.  Once in, the gully gradually narrows as you descend, becoming deeper until you suddenly exit the rock walls at the bottom.  Just above the final section, there can be a narrow step that is tricky to negotiate.  Slightly more snow than found on a descent in April 2016 would make it significantly easier.

Slightly washed out view of the complete gully late in the day  Photo: Scott Muir
A view of the whole gully on a day it had breaks in it.  Photo: Scott Muir
Close up of the entrance from the glen  Photo: Scott Muir
High up in the gully  Photo: Scott Muir
Looking up the gully  Photo: Scott Muir
The entrance to the Willow Spout  Photo: Scott Muir
The lower section of the Willow Spout  Photo: Scott Muir
The view from the glen, just before the loch  Photo: Scott Muir
Grid Reference: NH908010

Approximate Start Height: 960m

Approximate Descent: 280m

General Aspect: East

Climbing Grade: I

Notes: When lean, there can be a slightly awkward step just above the lower narrow section
 
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