Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Parallel A, Lochnagar

Parallel Buttress at Lochnagar. The red line is (roughly) the route we took.
The snow had been falling up on the tops all week but with it being so mild in the valleys it wasn't looking very promising for a weekend adventure. Online reports of massive wet snow avalanches from rotting cornices tumbling down engulfing the Corrie along with failed epics on mostly ice free buttress route didn't do much to install confidence. However by the end of the week, the forecast changed. A nice cheeky cold spell suggested the promise of soft slushy snow and ice being nicely transformed into solid, frozen placements for the climbing tools!

Me leading the first steep gully section of Parallel A Gully (III, 4)
We awoke to cold, clear skies and it being a Saturday. A combination of my 3 favorite things! After navigating the crammed car park below Loch Muick me, Rob and Alastair (an archetypal Scottish chap we met on UKClimbing.com) made the long slog below Meikle Pap over into the Corrie of Lochnagar. Scrambling over the debris cones of the slides earlier in the week was toilsome but the snow was now hard an icey (and incredibly stable) and eventually we reached the MR box below the Douglas Gibson Gully. After spotting a lot of people on the planned route of Eagle Ridge we decided instead to go for Parallel A Gully (III, 4) which runs next to it. Although it was quickly apparent after arriving at the base that nobody had done it since the new snowfall (or possibly this year!).

Alastair negotiating the rock step on the second pitch.
The actual route traverses around this on the left further down.. Oops!
Due to the thawing conditions earlier in the week, a small bergscrund feature had appeared at the start of route which made for an ideal belay spot (a bergscrund is the gap between the snow pack and the base of the crag). After hauling across this I led off up the first pitch on steep frozen snow finding a belay by chance after some rather aggressive digging due to running out the entire 60m of ropes. Rather than traverse left onto easier ground I tackled the gully direct meaning its steep continuation also had to be tackled (which the other guys were incredibly pleased about!).

Rob seconding the last pitch in the dark on soft, steep snow!
Alastair then lead the next steep section through a pinching point, unlike the last pitch however he found some gear (in the form of two rusted pegs) before the overlap and pulled through on thin ice to a belay not far above. Me and Rob hastily followed up to join him at the bifurcation of the gully. After a few more snow pitches (which included a snow cave belay!!) we arrived below the final steepening below the headwall and cornice. By this point it was long since dark but the hollas of other climbers still climbing echoed round the Corrie which made us feel slightly less alone!

So yea the weather on the plataue was lovely!
The final pitch to the plateau was almost Andean in character. It comprised of steep snow flutings (including a chimney!) up to the powder soft cornice. Climbing up this is what I imagine swimming in flour to be like. Alastair spent nearly an hour battling up this pitch in total darkness without a scrap of gear with me and rob discussing what beer we were going to have with our Indian whilst hanging off a single peg. A great lead and a great effort by all (especially rob who did it with two walking axes). An epic finish to an epic day.
No question. Conditions were 'in' at Lochnagar!

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