With snow cover starting to creep its way up the mountain, the warmer weather has brought out more walkers to the area. Currently all trails from the car park still have snow on them but the Windy Ridge route (a route which follows ridge on the left-hand side of the main ski area) is by far the clearest, with only occasional patches of soft snow. For this route and any trip up in the hills, I would always recommend carrying full waterproofs, map and compass, just in case. Pop into the Ranger Base if you need any advice about routes/equipment.
The high ground, including the summit paths are still in winter condition. Trails into the Northern Corries still have a lot of snow cover. Be careful of snow bridges across rivers at this time of year, they can be prone to collapse.
The Mountain Garden is pretty much clear of snow now and juniper bushes, which have been covered for months, are enjoying some sun.
During the winter the Ranger Service has been giving the signs a bit maintenance. Over the next month the signs will be going out for The Coire Cas mountain loop (a 2 – 3 hour marked route to the back of Coire Cas) but it will be a while before this is snow free.
- Ptarmigan: can be seen in breeding territory in rocky boulder areas above 700m.
- Ring Ouzel: heard calling and singing around the Mountain Garden and lower slopes of windy ridge
- Dipper: Seen passing though travelling up the burns below the car park
Chris – Senior Ranger
Autumn has truly set in at CairnGorm Mountain with a definite orange hue among the deer grass and the browning of leaves on small shrubs such as Dwarf Birch.
The breeding waders have now left, but there are regular sightings of red grouse, ptarmigan and mountain hares. Soon, flocks of thrushes will be passing through from their breeding grounds in Iceland/Scandinavia.
Many of the berries from upland plants have now gone, leaving only the hardy examples in sheltered stream areas, particularly crowberries. Some interesting plants can still be seen on the mountain, including the carnivorous plants butterwort and sundew (both recognised as the venus fly traps of the wild hills).
Path surveys are carried out on many paths over the Cairngorm Estate. The aim is to take a quantified view of the erosion and to assess whether footpath improvements have been successful. As can be seen here, by providing a good walking surface, braids in the path have been closed allowing large areas of habitat and landscape to recover.
Following a report, from a member of the public of more rockfall on the “Goat Track” in Coire an t-Sneachnda, the Rangers went to investigate. The path still remains in a dangerous area prone to rockfall and caution is advised on this path.
HIE appointed contractor, Aviemore based McGowan Ltd, began work on the Mountain Clear-Up project on Monday the 21st of August. This scope of works will see the removal of redundant uplift infrastructure from the Coire na Ciste area.
. Coire na Ciste Chairlift – Current programme with all  towers removed to ground level along with a portion redundant safety cabling.
. West Wall Chairlift – All  towers removed to ground level. Re-instatement works have been carried out at the Top Station where towers and bases were removed.
. Aonach Poma – Only fencing that was deemed damaged and beyond repair has been removed with a view to future replacement.
McGowan Ltd working with the project management company, Torrance Partnership, along with support from Natural Retreats, are all satisfied that the project is progressing as planned with measures taken to protect the environment and public safety.
There is a designated laydown area within the Coire na Ciste carpark for the temporary storage of debris pending removal.
The first of the planned helicopter lifts to remove the waste materials from the hillside to the laydown area, was carried out successfully on the 6th September. Ross McGowan from McGowan Ltd, will be donating any monies received from this scrap metal to local charities BSSSA and DSUK.
Natural Retreats recently appointed Chris Taylor as new Senior Ranger for the Cairngorm Mountain Ranger Service. Here he tell us a bit more about his first month on the job!
“Well nearly a month to the day, I took over the lead of the Cairngorm Mountain Ranger Service from Nic Bullivant ,who had been with the Ranger Service for 20 years. This was initially quite daunting but thankfully Nic left the service in really good shape and the Ranger Service comes with another brilliant person Ruari who also has 20 years experience on the mountain.”
“I have recently been working on the slopes of Lochnagar for Balmoral Ranger Service and before that with the RSPB on a remote island in the middle of the South Atlantic, called Gough (www.chrisongough.blogspot.co.uk). Here I was carrying out surveys on various species of albatross and penguins. On Balmoral, I was carrying out classic Ranger duties including birds of prey surveys, footpath work and guided walks.”
“So what was I thinking, on my first day, when I was first driving up the snow road to Coire Cas? It was actually an amazement at the number of small trees growing at a high altitiude. This is most likely due to reduced grazing pressure from Red Deer and the fact that since the 1940s there has been no burning of the heather (a traditional method of grouse moor management to encourage new growth). Additionally the recreational use also kept deer numbers low supplemented with planting in some areas. The trees continue, albeit in stunted forms way up into the surrounding hills. I regularly see Dwarf Juniper, Dwark Birch and Least Willow whilst walking about.”
“After I reached the car park, within 20 seconds of getting out of my car, I was answering a question about the best route to Ben Macdui. I answered the best I could, which later turned out to be generally accurate. This, I have come to understand, is one of the major parts of the Cairngorm Mountain Ranger Service – giving advice to users of the hill. Coire Cas is a popular starting point for many walks. The car park is at a height of just over 600m so I can see why it is a popular starting point. One of my first jobs was to get out and explore the landscape so that I can answer questions confidently. Whilst out on these walks, I also managed to get to grips with the other main aspects of the job – footpath maintenance. Highlands and Island Enterprise have invested a lot of money in these paths over the last few years and without maintenance they would soon be back to square one. Maintenance involves cleaning the drainage bars and ditches to prevent them becoming clogged. We also repair drainage bars/steps that need immediate attention. I have had a lot of people comment on the quality of the paths “these days”, which is testament to a lot of hard work during the building and subsequent maintenance.”
“If you are interested, I am looking to get more people involved in helping to look after the hill environment. Some jobs, especially with the footpaths, rely on the phrase “many hands make light work”. The first event is the “Real 3 Peaks Challenge” – an organised litter pick of Ben Nevis, Scrafell and Snowdon on 7th October. The national event is being expanded to include other famous peaks, now including Cairn Gorm and Ben Macdui. If you are interested in coming along, we are looking for competent hill walkers, who will walk with a smile. More information and how to book can be found on the “Real 3 Peaks Challenge” Facebook Page. I am also looking to developing a regular Friday Footpath Club in 2018, once a month – much better than going to the gym.
For now I need to keep learning the ropes, learning the ground and seeing how things work. I am meeting neighbouring estates managers and Rangers and getting to know some of the regular hill characters. There is also office based work to do including getting to grips with very important documents about the management of the Cairngorm Estate.
So if you are passing the Ranger Base, do feel free to pop in to have a chat, a Ranger can usually be found there before 10pm and after 3.30pm.”
It is with great pleasure that we introduce to you our new Senior Ranger Chris Taylor who will be starting at CairnGorm Mountain later this month.
Janette Jansson – General Manager at CairnGorm Mountain “Chris brings with him a wealth of knowledge and experience both in a practical and academic sense, we believe he will be a fantastic addition to our Ranger team and look forward to welcoming Chris to the CairnGorm mountain team in the coming weeks.”
Keith Bryers Head of Property & Infrastructure HIE “Chris Taylor has the right mix of experience and qualifications to build on the strong reputation established by outgoing head ranger, Nic Bullivant. We look forward to continuing a close working relationship with the ranger service.”
It’s with a heavy heart that we say farewell to Head Ranger Nic Bullivant.
Nic has been Head Ranger at CairnGorm mountain for exactly 20 years. His passion for these mountain is clear and his enthusiasm and knowledge will certainly be missed.
Jim Cornfoot – Land Manager “Nic has been instrumental in the detailed on going monitoring scheme put in place prior to the railway being built. As well as in his construction & maintenance of the paths on Cairn Gorm Mountain and the wider estate. His friendly and approachable personality certainly made him a great point of contact for visitors to the mountain over the years.
The projects delivered by Nic & his team such as the snow white initiative that reduced human waste in the snow holing sites across the mountain core have been a great sucess.”
We wish Nic all the best with his new venture on the West coast of Scotland.
The weather might not have played ball today but things were still sunshine yellow up at CairnGorm Mountain for the Marie Curie Cream Tea.
Today was the 5th time the event has taken place and in true Scottish style it poured it down. But not even the rain could dampen spirits.
Huge well done to all the volunteers that put together a great afternoon. Looking forward to next year already.
Wildlife on Cairngorm Mountain is fantastic, from the famous Ptarmigan Birds & Mountain Hares to the beautiful Ring Ouzel.
The female Ring Ouzel set made her nest in our mountain garden as she does every year sheltered under the funicular tracks.
Our mountain Ranger Ruari has been keeping an eye on the recently hatch baby Ring Ouzel in the mountain garden.
2 days after this was taken the baby Ring Ouzles left the nest for good, the chicks are now almost fully grown and have been spotted around the mountain and even in the base station car park,
CairnGorm Mountain Commis Chef Jeanette McGreggor has been chosen to represent Scotland this Summer in their annual international match against Ireland and gains her 6th cap!
Both Jeanette and her twin sister Elizabeth play for local ladies side Badenoch & Strathspey
Jeanette will travel to Dublin next month to take on the Irish side on Saturday the 15th of July.
Good Luck to the Scottish Team & Jeanette from all at CairnGorm Mountain!
This weekend saw CairnGorm Mountain play host to the finish of the 3 Piste Cycle Sportive.
Over 750 riders took part in the grueling sportive that starts at Pitlochry up to Glenshee, over the Lecht and finishing at CairnGorm Mountain.
Cyclists faced windy conditions most of the way until they reached Nethy Bridge where conditions improved for the remained of the ride through Strathspey and up to CairnGorm Mountain.
Well done all the riders and we look forward to seeing you next year!
We have taken advantage of this mild spell, using snow cover we still have, to continue with our fencing plans and old fencing clear up operations. A lot of old fencing has been removed from the M2 and West Wall areas and also new fencing materials put in location ready for this year’s fencing plan. – Ops1
The Winch Cat
During The Removal Process
Thank you to all the positive comments from our customers regarding our fencing operations and the appreciation of the effort and timescales involved. This project is going to take several seasons to deliver but the benefits for snow capture in the next 15 to 20 years will be vitally important.
During the warm windy conditions on the 29th December, the team removed the old, stored chestnut fencing that is being replaced. Access to locations like the West Wall Poma is very difficult due to steep slopes and needs to be undertaken during the correct time to minimise ground pressures and for the safety of our staff.
Last year our team worked with manufacturers to design implements for our Winch Cat which has improved our ability to remove and install snow fencing on the most challenging terrain within the ski area. This also requires highly skilled drivers using the correct snow conditions to safely conduct the task. The new log grab has allowed the compaction of broken fencing to maximise loads and we now have the ability to reduce manual handling and increase the volume of redundant fencing extraction.
We are working to a fencing plan to renew lines and maximise our potential of catching snow particularly in stormy conditions which often have a very small window of opportunity. The task of replacing and removing broken and redundant fencing should not be underestimated as we have around 32.5km still to be completed. Last summer our small fencing team hand dug every post on the steep section of the West Wall Poma track, down to the elevation where the orientation of the fence is less critical for catching snow as the area becomes more sheltered. The more exposed upper track is critical with snow moving in higher winds. The ground conditions were also a factor at this elevation as peat becomes dominant and posts less secure by hand digging.
The lower section of the WWP track will be completed during this winter as planned, using our newly designed post chapper mounted on our Winch Cat. The scale of the replacement of snow fencing requires concentrating time and manpower on the areas that will make the most difference in the short term and then moving into secondary areas further out. Our primary objective was to renew fencing from the Top station to the Base station which was achieved within the first two summers. The next priority was to renew the fencing from the top of the Ptarmigan tow to the top station and into the Ptarmigan bowl, along with the complete replacement of the White Lady Elephant fence and the White Lady fences which were also all hand dug. Over the past two summers we have concentrated on the Ciste Fairway, the M2 and steepest section of the West Wall Poma all of which have the most exposure to winds within the ski area, they also have the most potential to catch snow which is normally lost in the strongest storms.
Thank you to all the positive comments from our customers regarding our fencing operations and the appreciation of the effort and timescales involved. This project is going to take several seasons to deliver but the benefits for snow capture in the next 15 to 20 years will be vitally important.
Sorry it’s been a while since our last update, but the team have been cracking on getting the mountain ready for the 2016/17 season! The recent spell of dry and settled weather has helped us make good progress with many of our ongoing projects and it has also aided the growth of the reinstatement works in the Sheiling area. The before and after pictures below show the difference that just a few weeks can make.
The West Wall Poma project is progressing well, with the steel work installation scheduled to commence on Monday 17th of October. The picture below shows a 20 tonne excavator which has been instrumental in most of the excavations, ground works and lifting and positioning equipment. In this image you can see the driver creating a path of pads for travelling over the route to Tower 16.
As you can imagine, working in this way significantly increases the time take taken to complete tasks, but it is extremely important to us to work in this manner in order to reduce the environmental impact. This will in turn reduce the time needed to restore the area to it’s former condition.
Tower 16 has now been lifted out prior to the new foundations being installed. Once this foundation has set, the tower will be re-positioned. Below you can see work in progress on the new return station foundations.
We are also delighted to announce that we are also about to take delivery of new snowplough/gritter for the 2016/17 season, This new machine will help the team in keeping the access roads open during the winter months, as well as getting it open after period of severe weather and snowfall.
Burial of the new safety-circuit cabling is now well under way on the Coire na Ciste T-Bar. Having this cabling in place underground will greatly reduce the risk down of downtime during the winter season. Laying the cable underground means that the it will be more protected during the winter months. It will make it easier for the team to identify and fix any line faults that may occur during the winter season. Below you can see a digger starting work on the initial trench that that cable will go into. This ground will be fully reinstated once the entire cable is laid.
Below you can see the trenching and cable-laying works in progress. The team expect to complete these works by the end of September.
The project to replace the return station of the West Wall Poma is also now well underway. These works involve the removal of the old return station setup, and installation of a completely new hydraulic return station. The existing top two towers of the two are also being relocated as part of this process. This project will make the lift safer to maintain and operate in the winter and also reduce downtime when the infrastructure experiences heavily ice build-up (a frequent occurrence at the top of our mountain). Rather than simply replace the return station like for like, Natural Retreats are going to be taking advantage of this opportunity by extending the tow itself and therefore make it easier for skiers and boarders to access the Top Station from the West Wall Poma. Below you can that see Tower 17 has already been removed and laid down, ready for relocation.
The picture below, on the left-handside, shows work in progress excavating for new foundations and off-ramp at the site where the new return station shall be. The picture on the right hand-side shows the old station that has now already been removed.
There has also been a significant amount of work done this summer on the Car Park T-Bar. In the picture below you should be able to see the new lifting frames that have been installed to the top of each of the towers on the T-Bar. Again, the reason for these installations is to significantly reduce the lift downtime during the winter season. One of the main reasons for operational downtime on any T-Bar is derailment. This can be either due to windy conditions or customer mishaps. Historically, this has taken the team time to rectify, especially in wintry conditions. The installation of these new lifting frames will significantly reduce the time in which the haul-rope can be replaced and therefore ensure that the tow is able to run for longer during the winter season.
Despite the best attempts of the ferocious midges, the fencing team have been making some excellent progress on the M2 and West Wall areas. The boys have been digging in many of the posts by hand on the steeper sections of the West Wall Poma uptrack, while we have used the post-driving tractor to drive in the posts on the skiers left of the M2. The post driving unit is now nearing the bottom of the M2 run, just above the top of the Day Lodge Poma. Once all of these posts are in place the team will then start nailing on the rails. This new fence will hopefully prolong the winter season, by improving access to the West Wall Poma and back to the Day Lodge. These works are running on schedule and are expected to be completed prior to the start of the the 2016/17 season.
Below you can see fencer Doogs nailing on the railings at the West Wall Poma Uptrack, accompanied by a his rather enthusiastic assistant, Druie. Below on the right, you can see the post-driving unit in action on the M2.
Recently the team have been working on essential repairs to strengthen the existing loading area of the Cas T-Bar and remove the elevated queuing platform. This work was required in order to make the structure safer following a comprehensive engineer’s inspection. As we needed to ensure that the tow would be able to run at the beginning of last season, we put a short-term solution in place.
Since the start of the summer we have been working on completing a longer term solution including the necessary groundworks. This solution has improved the line of sight for skiers approaching the cross-over into the Car Park T-Bar dismount area, which has always been an area of congestion. It has also created a safer and wider piste on the lowest Zig Zag and will improve snow making potential in this area, which will benefit many beginners next season on the main route to the base of the mountain. Now that the structural works are well underway, the team have been busy working on the reinstatement of the embankment between the Car Park T-Bar and the water tank at the pumping station, next to the Hill track.
As part of the reinstatement and ground improvement work we are using Seed Aide (pictured above) a pelleted cellulose mulch which we used during the construction of the Funicular Railway. This mulch is blue in colour so that that covered areas can be clearly identified. Although it has a bright blue appearance at first, it will gradually ameliorate with water into a dull, green colour over time. We have used this technique for many past projects where it has been proven to enable regrowth and seeding by stabilising soils on steep banks. As it retains water it also reduces stress on vegetation during dry spells. Although we haven’t experienced many dry days this summer! It also creates a layer of protection beneath the snow cover, and during snow melt into the following growing season.
The pictures above were taken during and after the embankment was reshaped and the stored turfs were relaid. This reshaped area has smoothed previously bulldozed banks, that were created during the construction of the original hill road during the 1960’s. Below you can see work already underway to reinstate the vegetation in this area, using the techniques described above. When the snow falls in the winter, the new works will significantly widen the width of the piste which has historically always been a bottle-neck for skiers making their way down to the lower slopes.
Another week at CairnGorm Mountain brings another list of improvements and nurturing of our beautiful mountain terrain. Much of our CPT uptrack has been reinstated after maintenance works, alongside some brilliant new fencing being laid along the West Wall Poma and West Wall Uptrack. In the Cas Gantry area, there’s been a focus on re-profiling the old bulldozed banks that hail from the 60’s ad 70’s, with great success. Check out our team photos below for another behind-the-scenes look at CairnGorm Mountain life…
Our team are also working tirelessly, removing the rickety old fencing and bundling it up ready for winter – keep up the great work guys!
With the summer season upon us, our mountain teams are well and truly out in full force, rejuvenating and preparing the ground for another year of CairnGorm adventures. From our selection of images below, you can see that full-scale landscaping is underway, with our teams paying close attention to reseeding the grassy areas, to encourage wildlife and reinject some colour back into the landscape after the snow-laden winter season.
On our wonderful blue-sky days it’s easy to see how the mountain is transforming back into the lush, green landscape that’s usually hidden by the snow. With retaining the natural beauty of our incredible mountain always at the forefront of our team’s minds, you can see from the final image that we’ve reinstated the pathway and grassy banks after a whole host of new cabling.
Over the next few years we plan to completely replace all of the old style fencing on the slopes with the new post and rail fencing that you may have seen starting to appear over the last two summers. This new type of fencing has already been proven to capture and retain much more snow than the old chestnut fencing and will therefore aid us in improving snow-holding and potentially extending the snowsports season.The team are currently focusing on the M2 and West Wall Poma up-track.
Below you can see some of the old chestnut fencing being dismantled and bundled, ready for removal in the winter. In this picture you can also see the bundles of new posts that will be installed this summer. These posts were dropped off at key locations around the hill by helicopter.
As part of this process we have recently developed a post driving unit that can be mounted on the front of a piste machine. The piste machines can reach areas in the winter that cannot be reached during the summer months by conventional means, so with this new equipment we will be able to address areas (such as the M1 and the Day Lodge Ridge) much more efficiently that we have in the past. This new unit has been designed by our technical maintenance team in partnership with a post driver manufacturer and is thought to be the first of it’s kind, anywhere in the world! This prototype was developed by utilizing the parts and functionality of the extra Pipe Magician we purchased last summer. It has been tried and tested already and will be widely used this winter season.
Above you can see a picture of our existing pipe magician (blue) and the other one that was purchased to develop the new post-chapping unit described above (red). The yellow item is a log grab that was also purchased to assist with the fencing projects. This is also mounted on the front of a piste machine and will be used to move fencing around the hill and remove more of the old chestnut fencing. Below you can also see the finished prototype that we are now able to attach to the front of the piste machines.
The fencing team are making good progress, with a lot of time being spent dismantling and stacking the old chestnut fencing. The old fencing will be removed by piste machine when snowcover allows during the winter. The main areas we are addressing this year are the M2 run and West Wall Poma up track.
The new electric cabling that the team have been installing on the Car Park T-Bar is now completely laid, so the team are now focusing on back-filling and ground reinstatement. Laying this cabling underground will significantly reduce the chance of faults and downtime on the Car Park T-Bar during the snowsports season. Over 50% of those that have filled out our winter survey so far have rated this as a hey area for improving uplift. You can still fill out this survey online here: https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/CairnGormMountain.
In the pictures above and below you can the ground reinstatement in progress as the team make their way down the line of the Car Park T-Bar.
Work is now well underway reinstating the ground within the Ski Area. The ranger team has been busy raking, preparing and re-seeding the ground in key areas such as the Lower Slopes. The main objective of these works is to reinstate the ground after the installation of the new Shieling Sunkid Megastar lift, last summer. As part of this restoration project we have also been able to rectify some of the ground that had previously been bulldozed or excavated in the 1960’s. Below you can see a before an after shot of this particular area, where the regrowth and regeneration of the flora is clearly visible. This work will continue throughout the summer and we will continue to post updates on our progress.
It’s not all about land management this week though, as the team crack on with annual maintenance on the piste bashers. All of our machines are exposed to the extreme weather conditions for long period of time during the winter months. This means that every summer all of our machines are completely re-serviced onsite by our in-house team to make sure they are in good working condition for the next winter season. Below, you can see our newest grooming machine, the PB600 Park Bully, being stripped down, inspected and overhauled.
The team have been busy laying new electrical safety-circuit cabling to all towers on the Car Park T-Bar. This upgrade will help reduce downtime of the lift during the winter by making faults easier to identify and enabling quicker fixes. As part of this process we have also removed over 4km of old steel cabling which previously lay across the ground. The cabling that has been removed will be recycled at our local waste recycling centre. There are also plans to lay the same type of electric cabling on the Ciste T-Bar this summer. In order to complete these works the team needed to dig a trench to lay the cables. This work is ongoing and once completed the ground will be reinstated. The pictures seen below demonstrate this work in progress and we will post again once the works have been completed and the land fully restored.
The team have also been restoring the top of the Hill Track which which was previously washed out as a result of the heavy rain earlier on in the year. Below you can see the before and after shots at this particular section of the track.
The extent of the washout damage was not limited to just the top of the Hill Track. Other large sections of the track have also been restored below the Traverse and 105. Once these works have been completed we will be able to use the Hill Track to deliver part of our Mountain Biking product throughout the rest of the summer.
Today we are digging four trial pits beside the West Wall Poma lift, so you will see an excavator working near to the Ptarmigan Restaurant. The West Wall Poma return station has to be replaced this summer with a modern, safer system. The work today will help us design the new return station foundations, and limit disruption later on in the year.
This work is agreed under Highland Council Planning and Ground Nesting Bird Surveys have been conducted.