Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Winter in Glencoe

It's not been a good winter for the long distance ice climber with high temperatures and a never ending series of low pressure systems battering the UK making it pretty much impossible to arrange holiday in time to make the best of the fickle conditions, yet here we are however with a week to play with in the highlands. A night spent in the back of the car as it was battered by wind and rain high on Rannoch Moor had convinced me that a write off would probably be in order come morning; yet as I met Dom at the car park at the foot of Bidean Nam Bain the weather grudgingly started to improve and we began our walk slightly optimistic as the clouds lifted revealing Stob Coire nan Lochain to be full of snow even if the buttresses did look ominously black.

The coire was busy with teams already in situ on Dorsal aerate, starting up SC gully, and looking at Boomerang. We had decided to have a look at Twisting Gully a III (4) which is one of the classics of the crag and looked from below to be complete. The route begins with and easy now slope into the gully which steepens and splits in two, the left had of these forms the crux with some nice mixed moved up through a sequence of ledges and steps to a small snow slope below a rocky notch. This notch an awkward mantleshelf fell to me and without a good build up of snow or ice felt good value for 4 with only limited placements to work from, once over this it was easy grade I/II terrain to a steep snow exit onto the ridge and into a hurricane.

My crux section mantleshelf, there was a lot less snow and ice build up on Saturday. Photo UKC

Sticking our heads over the top of the cliff we said hello to the 85mph winds that the forecast had predicted, this was particularly interesting for Dom who weighs about as much as a fly. Being blown off your feet at the same time as being shot-blasted in your face with ice crystals is never fun and the 50 or so meters stagger/crawl to the top of Broad Gully (I) was not a great experience; a few meter below the crest down into the coire however and the air was practically still. 

It was still only early afternoon and so we decided to have a go at Dorsal Arete (II) which borders Broad Gully. We had written it off as a bad idea in the wind, but had talked with a number of teams in situ as we decended Broad Gully and discovered it was completely sheltered from the onslaught above the coire rim. We soloed up the bulk of the aerate putting a rope on and moving together only for the knife edge fin just below the top; this feature which and be easily bypassed on the left forms the crux the route and its most memorable photo opportunity with a great shot back done into the coire with the climber seemingly perch on a knife edge surrounded on all sides by air.  Dorsal Arete is great, interesting and exposed but never really hard, and is obviously a favourite with guided parties two of which joined us on the route.

The exposed crux section of Dorsal Arete in nicer conditions. Photo: UKC

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