A friend recently asked me if I had emigrated to Scotland, as I have just been fortunate enough to spend another 10 days up there which finished with the annual club trip which was organised by Chris. By using weekends to my advantage I have now managed to spend 32 days away on winter mountaineering trips this year and have had a fantastic winter, unfortunately its starting to look like I won’t get a chance to visit again this season.
Prior to the club trip Becky and I headed up to Scotland armed with a van, far too much kit and flexible plans. This resulted in us doing a silly amount of driving to look for good conditions as we took the following route around Scotland: Glencoe => Ullapool => Cairngorms => An Teallach => Glencoe).
The first morning we woke up with a hangover having made it up for last orders in the Clachaig and met up with Dave, Dave and Dave who had been staying in the CIC hut for a week. Due to the weather being both warmer, wetter and windier than expected, we scrapped out plans for North Buttress on Buachaille Etive Mor and headed for the cafe at Nevis Sport.
First Trip to the North West
Penguin Gully, Beinn Dearg (http://mp-m.uk/xUYJI)
After an optimistic interpretation of the forecast (which actually wasn’t far wrong during the day), we headed for the NW Highlands to go and climb the classic Penguin Gully on the remote Beinn Dearg. Having made the long walk in covered in Gortex, the weather started to improve and the conditions from the coire looked ok so we decided to attempt the route. Unfortunately it wasn’t to be as overnight the freezing level hadn’t risen as much as forecast and there had been more precipitation. This caused cruddy ice on the first pitch and more importantly, dangerous windslab above the second pitch. Not wanting an unplanned trip down the gully along with lots of snow, we retreated off a v-thread and got a proper soaking on the walk out back to the valley.
Having spent two days ignoring the forecast that the east was better than the west, we finally caved in and headed to the Cairngorms for some shorter days in the Northern Corries. Both days there were pretty cold days thanks to climbing in the wind, with spindrift being blown up the cliffs.
The Haston Line (http://mp-m.uk/hrDz7)
On the first day we climbed The Haston Line in Coire an t-Sneachda which in theory was a 1 star grade III, 4. It turned out to be both a considerably better route than predicted and also considerably harder, which was great for me as I enjoyed the climbing but it was less ideal for Becky who hasn’t done much winter climbing. I would highly recommend the route to anyone as a 2 star grade IV, 4/5.
The route was brilliant, the first ~55m pitch involved a long ramp line with an easy initial chimney before an award corner step which was very well protected (for the leader) but very thin with no neve or ice on the slab. The next pitch went up one of the corners above, I am not 100% sure I climbed the correct corner, but it was fantastic climbing with some technical climbing up to the corner proper, which turned out to involve proper pulling on axes with little for your feet, something which certainly wasn’t expected on a grade III. An easier final pitch took up to the top, and into the full blown storm which was hitting the Cairngorms. We quickly descended without even removing belay jackets and were back at the car park to meet some crazy skiiers who were heading out for some night skiing…
Hidden Chimney (http://mp-m.uk/UHh5G)
On the second day we had a very brief weather window in the morning, and along with the rest of the winter climbers in Scotland we headed back to the Mess of Pottage. The walk in was beautiful in the sun, although it was clear the wind was still severe up high due to the amount of snow transportation we could see.
Thankfully we were the only team heading for the grade III classic which is Hidden Chimney. We made a semi-direct start to add another pitch of climbing before arriving at the main chimney pitch. This was really enjoyable climbing and there would have been plenty of gear if I wanted it.
As I put my head above the top I was expecting to get hit by a gale force south-westerly, however we managed to top out during a brief lull and even ate our lunch! During the descent the wind quickly picked up again and just after we got back to the car park the weather really turned for the worse, by the time we were in Aviemore it was snowing hard down to valley level.
Back to the North West
Traverse of An Teallach (http://mp-m.uk/JRrhj)
Wednesday had been “The Day” all week, as it had always had a pretty good forecast and what a day it turned out to be! There was either the plan to do the classic traverse of An Teallach, or to head to the Ben for a big climbing day out. Due to the avalanche risk on Ben Nevis we decided to head for the slightly more risky (in terms of weather) option of An Teallach.
With snow down to valley level there was a chance the day was going to be long, but with the weather clearing through the morning we had a lie in and made sure we took fresh batteries for our torches. The walk in was surprisingly quick given the low level snow and after the initial showers had died out we were able to enjoy fantastic views.
The weather never cleared to the blue skies which were had in Lochabar, but most of the time the clouds were above the summits and there was little precipitation, unfortunately this didn’t reduce the wind, but you cant have everything! The route was just spectacular, with untracked snow, interesting mountaineering, broken spectres and fantastic views. The descent was pretty horrific down boggy ground that was covered in wet snow, in the dark and the less said about it the better!
So it turns out that Glencoe is a long way away from An Teallach… After a very long drive we met up with everyone else on the trip, who had all got very wet while out walking. The next few days were forecast to be pretty bad, so decided to acquaint myself with some beer and whisky and not worry about the hills.
Various members completed sections of the west highland way, Becky and Dave lucked out with much better weather than forecast in the hills on Friday and Dave deserves a medal for getting to the summit given the horrific weather in the valleys on Saturday.
Tower Scoop and Smith’s Route (http://mp-m.uk/kS6B1)
After two days sitting doing nothing everyone wanted to get out into the hills. With a slightly dodgy forecast, and a freezing level which wasn’t dropping until half way through the night a number of people headed out with the hope of finding something remotely frozen to climb.
The Ellis brothers, Jason and I all set off from the Ben Nevis car park together, in the rain… The weather improved as it was forecast to, and we were treated to fantastic views on the walk in. The thaw had been pretty bad for all the mid level ice routes on the Ben, however the high level routes were all looking pretty fantastic.
As Jason and I made the long ascent all the way up Observatory Gully we were admiring all of the blue ice, and as there was a party ahead of us we decied to go and look at Tower Scoop. From below this looked great, but it turned out to be more like canyoning than ice climbing thanks to the waterfall running down the first pitch.
After the first route I wasn’t too optimistic about the classic Smith’s route, but there were two parties ahead of us who were climbing the route and reported that the first pitch was in good condition. Given the very cold conditions in the wind it was lucky that we didn’t need to wait around too long and Jason was soon climbing the first pitch.
It was true that the ice on the first pitch was good, although I discovered the hard way that the ice on the second pitch was horrific. Unfrozen mush where it feels like your axes, or useless mono points are going to rip at any moment. Trying to ignore the lack of gear, and exposure below my feet I made progress up the route and was soon at the top of the pitch.
As everything had got wet on the first route, everything was covered in ice, the ropes were thicker with ice than rope! After managing to drop my belay device I discovered that Italian hitches are a royal pain with frozen ropes… Jason was soon at the belay and he ran up the next pitch and made quick work of the large cornice, which was a hell of a long way above any gear.
It was fairly breezy on top and we made a made dash down the red burn to the tourist path. During the descent the weather cleared and treated us to the view that I will never get tired of.
Thanks must be given to Chris for organising the club trip to Glencoe again, although third time lucky really wasn’t the case with the weather!
I have had a brilliant season climbing with new and old club members as well as my usual university friends. I’m now starting to get excited about the forthcoming rock season and have dug my micro wires and cams out from the garage, with the hope of enjoying some sunny rock climbing this weekend.