Monday, February 22, 2010

Pressendye - Mount Keen ski weekend

Both Saturday and Sunday woke to the clearest of blue skies. That left no choice for what to do, head to the hills with my skis strapped to my back. Pressendye lies north of Tarland a few miles and I'd always wanted to ski it. A couple of years back we took out a bowl on a sister hill but this season, Pressendyle’s south facing slope has been loaded with snow. I started the walk in from the Queens View on the Tarland - Aberdeen road. Blue sky and snow covered landscape, farmers field to Lochnager and beyond. The walk starts with a steep climb until you reach the woodland, under foot the lightest of powder snow. Out of the wood and the first glimpse of Pressendye, looking amazing in the sun, motivation enthused to get to the top. The path sort of doubles back on itself so its a long slog through the forest, the snow is lying on old snow, I'm cutting virgin tracks so it is tough going but then a bit of luck. A couple of walkers join the path and I can follow their footsteps up Pressendye. There was about 3-6 inches of fresh powder around on top of a rock solid frozen spring snow base so the hiking was relatively good. Earlier in the season with no base, your feet were disappearing up to your needs and sometime beyond! The walkers were sitting in the sun at the top. And what a view. 360 degree view of a Scottish winters day at its best. I wanted to ski a different slope from the one I had walked up so I checked it out, it was steep and full cover, time to get the skis on. It was about 2pm, sun at full burn, goggles were needed. While I was getting excited about the powder all the way up, the snow was suffering in the sun. The top was 20-30 cm of fresh blown snow on no base, then 20cm of fresh slabby snow on a hard spring base and lower down and into the trees where the slope was real steep, the snow was turning spring like. This all adds up to a bit of tricky skiing. As I discovered on my first run, mid way down, slope getting steeper, a few good turns have got a bit of speed up and then before you know it, too much weight pressing forward, a quick flip forward and a head plant into the snow. Which I repeated lower down on the second run. Yes, you have to walk back up the hill, only took 20 mins. While the skiing felt awkward, two good s tracks had been laid. Time to head for home, some 2 hour trekking but I would ski down where I had originally walked up. The snow was in the shade of the direct sun so this was a soft powder run on a gentle slope. Plenty of young trees to ski through, much fun. Got down off the hill as the last glowing amber light from the sun fractured through the trees.

Learning the lesson that the best snow was in the shade of the sun, I decided Glen Tanner to be the best place to ski on Sunday. The snow looked stunning from Pressendye. I had some doubts in my mind about the location, its a long walk in, 8 miles, carrying skis, boots, water and food, could I make it? Well, I could try and see how far I could go. The answer was 1/3 of the way up Mount Keen. Took just over 2 1/2 hours to reach the base of the mountain. What a sight. Powder smooth slopes, it's a bit of sexy looking hill anyway so today was a marvel to behold. A hill walker has just been up to the summit and he talked of deep powder, the excitement only grew as I listened. Before that a lie down on the bridge to rest and soak up some warm rays. The temperature was about -10c when I left aboyne and I am sure it was minus something on Mount Keen but I wore no gloves all the way up, in fact keeping cool is a greater challenge. I started following the walkers, quite a lot of foot marks around and it was hard walking, a slip a slide, a fall through some weak spring snow. Then I took a left off the main path to follow a ski tourers tracks. This was good and bad, snow got a lot deeper so harder to walk but then a rock hard spring base was found covered with 3-6 inches of champagne powder. The goal was now simple just keep on this hard base and climb as high as I could for an hour. You had to make sure to kick in to the snow as the slope got more of an incline, you could imagine yourself sledging down on your backside for a few metre if you were to slip. I didn't get as high to get to the real steep slopes off the right of the corrie looking up. The whole corrie was in the shade of the sun. I'm not sure when it had last seen the sun, maybe October or November 2009? The dream run would be from the summit to the left of the corrie. Mega steep with pillows of powder and a gentle get out at the bottom. I expect there would a significant avalanche risk with that route! A touch of wind in the air I stopped, got my ski boots on and prepared to ski. I had to do this snow justice. The lesson I felt I learnt from Saturday’s skiing was the feeling to sit back on the skis more and this worked a treat. Floating along on the whispering powder, s turns smooth and a puff of powder to stop. A look back up to reveal the marks I'd left on the mountain. To be honest I don't see many of them as the camber of the slope hide my line, even from the bottom I saw no trace of me ever being on the hill. Not that, that matters. As you will see no photos from either day, my mobile broke last week but I guess the best camera caught it all. In short the best free skiing weekend of my life thus far.