On the final day we decided that a walk in to Stob Coire nan Lochan (SCnL) would be the best way to finish of our already tired limbs. So once more we began the slow and steady pull up into the corrie again in the rain which turned to snow as we gained height. Legs were definitely slowing down but we still made the corrie floor in a respectable time. Teams were already on Dorsal Arete so we decided to do the first few pitches of Ordinary Route with the aim of ending up and doing some leading on Boomerang Arete. The crux of the inital pitch was quite tricky and I think James was worried we wouldn’t be able to manage it, but after some discussion he romped up it. Darren and I however weren’t quite as quick. I honestly couldn’t have climbed it without leashless axes. I stepped left onto a ledge before the technical 5 crux slab, so had to make a large move onto the spike, before finding a bomber hook for one axe a crap hook for the other. I then spent a while cleaning off the small footholds and working out the sequence for the next few moves. I then moved up balancing on my frontpoints and manteling down on the one axe with a good placement. I was then able to get axes into the neve at the top of the slab, so I was able to move up further. Unfortunately I didn’t have the stamina to get the nut out without a rest on the rope. Once the nut was removed it was a simple romp to the belay.
The second pitch was much steadier and both Darren and I shot up it. I took a small slump when removing a cam as the snow that had seemed solid when I kicked a ledge proved to be less than solid. We arrived at the belay on the arete. Unfortunately the temperature had risen and the snow had turned to rain. This meant that the arete was rather loaded with snow so we decided that the safest option was to bail. A quick abseil and we were at the bottom of boomerang gully, we quickly got out of the danger zone and onto the corrie floor. We then made the long and slippy trudge down the path of slush back to the car park. While it wasn’t a perfect day the technical climbing was awesome and the experience of bailing in winter was a good one to have gained. Jame’s blog post is here.
All that remained was to return to the cottage dry off our gear, pack it all up and begin the 8 hour drive home.
So far this winter thats a total of 6 days of climbing routes (two on PyF and four in Scotland) and one day walking around only for conditions to be poor. So that’s fairly decent bearing in mind how changeable British weather can be. The week was an excellent trip and was certainly money well spent. I learnt an incredible amount from James, both from watching him climb and what he did and from asking him endless questions about snow stability, placing gear, navigation, climbing etc etc. I’ve definitely learnt much more in a week with a guide than I would have done from a week on my own. Now hopefully I can get out a few more times before the winter is over to put the new skills into practice.
As the forecast for the Lochaber area wasn’t too stunning we elected to head over to the Cairngorms on the third day. After a much shorter walk-in we arrived in Coire an t’Sneachda. We had a look around the corrie and the Fiaciall Butress was selected as the crag du jour, as there were already climbers on The Seam, James decided the Invernookie (III,4) was the route for the day. It’s IV,5 under powder according to UKC which is even better, as guess what it was pretty powdery when we went up it. The routes generally looked in good condition with a stunning looking Patey’s Route in the middle of the corrie. My legs were really glad of the short walk in, it was a nice change from the past two days. As the route was considerably shorter I suffered much less from a fitness point of view. My leashless axes and the solid neve coating the route made the crux moves quite easy. Helped by being able to watch Darren struggle on them I floated up the crux moves. A couple of high axe placements and few free climbing moves (a cheeky sidepull) and I was up on to the final rightward ramp up to the top of the Fiaciall Ridge. We scrambled up that and navigated around the top of the corrie, dropping back along the ridge into the ski area car park. Sadly by now my blister on top of a blister had ripped into one massive open wound on the back of my heal. So despite all the taping and the blister plasters for the first few days, I’d still ended up with a wound the size of a 50p peice on the back of my left foot. Once we were back at the cottage it was back into the now routine business of drying off gear and repacking the bags for the following day. The movie for the evening was True Grit, something we’d need plenty of on the final two days.
Matt on Invernookie
Back to the Ben for the penultimate day. My legs were beginning to feel it and there was a definite slow down as we slogged up into Coire na Ciste. However we did manage to keep up with a couple of Jame’s considerably fitter mates on the way up the path to the CIC Hut, while they were probably strolling along it was nice to have all the training pay off. We were keen to get on a IV and Central Gully Right Hand (IV, 4)) was clear so we geared up and got on the route. The first few pitches were dispatched quite easily however the final pitch up the middle of the gully was quite tough and I got my first forearm pump of the week. It was excellent to be back on proper steep ice. Also as I was following Darren up the pitch I got quite a lot of ice and spindrift down on my head. Proper Scottish climbing. However I pulled up the steep ice onto the easier ground with a short plod onto the top of the cliff. Conditions weren’t quite so good weather wise and we took a short walk around to the top of Number 4 gully where the snowpack was stable enough to allow a quick walk down the gully back to the CIC Hut and again down to the car. The weather wasn’t quite as nice as it had been the past few days so not as many photos in this post. I’m hoping that I’ll get a few more tho and when I do get my grubby paws on them, I’ll amend this post.
Here are a bunch of great old winter climbing videos from the 1970s. Enjoy!
Allen Fyffe and Hamish MacInnes, Ben Nevis, 1974 …
Norrie Muir and Creagh Dhu, The Cobbler, 1978 …
Norrie Muir and Creagh Dhu, The Cobbler (south peak), 1978 …
John Cunningham and Creagh Dhu, The Cobbler, 1978 …
John Cunningham, Ben Nevis, 1976 …
John Cunningham, Hells Lum, 1979 (Part 1) …
John Cunningham, Hells Lum, 1979 (part 2) …
Darren and I arrived in Scotland on the 8th of Feb at the Distillery Cottages in Fort William for a weeks climbing with James Thacker. The first day involved a very early start to try and beat the freezing level which was due to move above the summits by midday. It was a proper introduction to the vagaries of Scottish winter weather. We raced up into Stob Coire nan Lochan after meeting James at 0600. Sadly we lost the race and the idea of wading up Dorsal Arete or Ordinary Route in slushy snow did not appeal. So we spent the day discussing snowpack stability and avalanche risk along with trying out a number of different snow belays. Not quite the ideal start to the week, but it was to make the following day all the sweeter. Here is Jame’s blog post.
The weather was completely changed the following day. The freezing level was much lower, there was little wind and clear blue skies. We didn’t get up quite as early but we still made good time into Coire na Ciste. After a look at the routes available James decided that Number 3 Gully Butress would be the route for the day. We geared up low in the Coire and trailed the rope up the snow slope to the base of the route. James raced up the route, Darren and I followed quickly as well making short work of the difficulties. Indeed for me the route wasn’t technically hard but I pushed myself on the route so by the final pitch my calfs were getting very pumped. The last few moves on to the summit plateau were a real struggle. However it was a good lesson as I paced myself much more efficiently for the rest of the week. As the day was so nice we walked round to the summit and navigated off the summit down Coire Les to the abseil post. While it was hard to pretend it was whiteout conditions, I needed to get the practice in to shore up my poor navigation. We then dug out a snow bollard to abseil into the corrie with. Then we walked past the CIC Hut and back down to the car park. Jame’s blog on the day.
Gearing up and keen for the route
Moving off the belay
James on the belay
Heading up to the summit
Looking back up into the corrie from the CIC Hut
Unlike last year I’m not going to bother making a massive list of stuff I’d like to do and routes I want to climb. The only time I’ve ever made a New Years resolution or similar that I stuck to was a few years ago when I aimed to run 5k in 30 minutes. So I’m going to keep it simple. The aims are:
Become a capable VS leader (nearly there)
Lead HVS (again not far off)
Climb at the Roaches
Climb at Pembroke
More climbing in North Wales, esp Meirionnydd
Make the club Lundy trip
Should be able to manage most of them, I hope.