Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Before the start of this year it'd been a while since I had been out in winter just for the sake of enjoyment alone. In 2016 and 2017 walking in the hills was about collecting days for the log book, the worse the weather the better the experience. Now that’s done I really want to focus on being in the mountains both for walking but also for the aspirant winter ML’s forbidden fruit – winter climbing. Whilst on training we were given the impression that a day climbing in winter couldn’t really be counted as a log-able ‘QMD’. A great example of this was when one of my instructors recited when I asked if winter climbing could be combined with a walk to get a QMD.. “if you really want to do your winter ML, a climb in the northern corries walking back over Cairngorm won’t count. You’ll basically need to sell your axes, sell your ice screws and stay away from the buttresses on the north face of the Ben until your certified”. Funnily enough he went on to say he’d give me a fair price when I sell them.. not sure how much it would have cost me to buy them back though! 

Anyway the assessment is behind me now and I’ve been waiting all summer for the season to start. Thankfully the winter this year has already been pretty fruitful, with a cold snap and massive dump of snow happening as early as mid-December. Since then there have been a few thaws but these were mostly minor, with snow staying on the higher crags almost entirely so there has been plenty of fun to be had.

The season started well with a few single day solo missions over to Glen Coe ticking Dorsal Arete (II,3) and Curved Ridge (II/III,3). This was followed by a more serious cold snap allowing the first of a few trips to Beinn Udlaidh in the Southern Highlands. On a perfectly calm and crisp day we managed ascents of Sunshine Gully (III) and Ramshead Gully (III) before racing down for a session in the sauna at the Peak leisure center before it shut!

Further cold weather over Christmas meant that the Lakes just about came in for a few days and I managed another quick solo mission but this time up to Gable Crag ticking Central Gully (III).

Winter conditions returned to the Highlands again in early Jan with lots of snow over the summits and hard frosts freezing everything down to the valley bottoms. We had some amazing winter day scrambling in Glen Coe up Sron na Lairig (II), which was followed by a more ‘atmospheric’ weekend in the northern Corries battling up Fingers Ridge (IV,5) in high winds.

With the onset of further cold weather and yet more snow, another return to Beinn Udlaidh was organised where we managed a quick ascent of Quatzvein Scoop (IV,4) before the weather turned  and the wind picked up. Walking out back to the car felt a bit like being inside a milk bottle being rolled down a staircase! 

Contray to typical Scottish conditions, this year seems to be a season of fairness, with our suffering that day on Beinn Udlaidh rewarded with low winds and cold temperatures the next time out. With a week of drifting snow and westerly winds the east facing crags were a no go zone, so with a need for west facing crags combined with good icey conditions prevailing at Beinn Udlaidh, we chanced a walk into Creag Coire an Dotaidh to see how Fahrenheit 451 (IV,4) was forming.. Ribbons of blue water ice streaming between deep powder at first glance gave the promise of a good fortune, however after an hour of winter sunshine the route started to fall apart around us so we opted for a hasty abseil back to the base. Our consolation prize was a quick ascent of Second Coming (III,4) on the adjacent and shady Beinn Dorain which was in good nick and provided one of the best summit sunsets I’ve seen in a long while.

So far so good.     

Sron na Lairig (II) on a perfect winters day

Moving between the 'fingers' of Fingers Ridge (IV,5) on a rather atmospheric day in Coire an t-Sneachda

Winter wonderland. 

Dan moving up the the exposed rampline below the top of the 1st pitch on Beinn Dorain's Second Coming (III,4). The second pitch ice was a bit thin but still manageable. The traverse at the bottom of the first pitch is amazingly exposed for a III but surprisingly easy once you commit
Sunshine Gully (III) completely choked with ice. Stellar conditions! 

Classic Scottish water ice. Just below the steepening on Beinn Udlaidh's Quatzvein Scoop (IV,4). A really great route in reasonable condition

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