Saturday, 25 February 2017

Lillesvullen (WI4), Svarteberget




I'm not usually one for 'copy and paste' climbing, however when I saw the photos of the ice routes beside Ål Ski Centre on Facebook they immediately moved towards the top of my 'to do' list. There hasn't been so many areas within driving distance from Oslo with good ice conditions this winter, which has lead me to repeatedly return to the same places. Gudbrandsdalen has had some excellent ice but too much of the same thing can quickly become boring. There's numerous parts of Norway that I have never visited though, for example everything west of Gol, so naturally I was keen to fill in some blanks in both respects when I learnt about the routes at Ål.

Lillesvullen, aka Le Petit Svull (WI4) was the easier of the two prominent icefalls in the area and so it seemed the obvious place to start for Anna and me. The harder Storesvullen could wait until Sunday.

Lillesvullen from the main road
It was a relatively short approach from the ski centre car park, initially following a broad ski trail until beneath the route, higher up on the hillside. We cut across a field and began to bash our way up the steeper forested slopes. Here the going became harder, mainly because of the volume of snow together with numerous large boulders to scramble over.

The route is either two or three pitches, depending on whether you include the initial easy first pitch or not. It's about 50m and WI2 and quite out of character with the steeper climbing that follows. We chose to pitch it with Anna leading.

Anna leading the easy first pitch
The real climbing began thereafter, with two pitches of sustained WI4(+) climbing. From the road the route doesn't look particularly spectacular but once stood beneath it all this changes. I led the first steep pitch, which was off-vertical for most of the way. Initially I followed large steps but by the second half of the pitch the climbing had become more sustained. The brittle, dinner-plating nature of the ice made for pumpy climbing due to the amount of chopping necessary in order to get good sticks. Sometimes I would need to quit chopping in one spot and switch to another, which also led to me getting out of shape a little. On many WI4s this would have been the crux pitch, however the next pitch would only be harder.

Me near the top of the second pitch
Relieved to have managed the pump and completed the pitch I settled into belay duties. Alone on my belay ledge my mind began to wonder. 

Like a virgin, hey
Touched for the very first time
Like a virgin
With your heartbeat
Next to mine

Whoa
Whoa, ah
Whoa

I had watched a music documentary on NRK a couple of nights previously that had included a lot of artists from the 80s and now I was paying the price. I don't listen to Madonna. At least it wasn't 'Let It Go' from Disney's Frozen, which had been in my head for much of the time that I was climbing Bjørndalsbekken last month.

Also occupying my thoughts was the volume of snow that had been falling since midway up my pitch. Falling snow has been a fairly rare occurrence this winter and quickly it was covering the bare easier angled sections of the ice. Once Anna joined me at the belay climbing was once again at the forefront of my mind.

Anna near the top of the second pitch
The start of the next pitch looked a tough proposition but Anna was keen to try and lead it. 'It doesn't look too bad' I commented, more for encouragement rather than matter of fact. The weakest line looked to initially be straight up the right side until some fissured ice at this edge of the fall necessitated a short traverse leftwards for approximately 5 metres to a faint open chimney feature. A short way up the pitch Anna clipped to an axe and rested, which marked the start of a sieged attempt up the steep sections of ice.

Anna at the start of the third pitch
At the top of the steepest section of climbing 
Anna was out of sight once she was over the steep, meaning once again there was just the rope tension and falling snow to occupy my thoughts. And Madonna.

Borderline,
Feels like I'm going to lose my mind
You just keep on pushing my love
Over the borderline

Higher up the pitch Anna ran out of screws but to her credit she lowered off a short way in order to remove a couple from lower down, thus reaching the top of the route.

The foreshortened view of the start of the final pitch had partly disguised its steepness. Even seconding the it was no pushover. Particularly the faint chimney, which was vertical for maybe 6 metres but made harder by its featureless nature. I gladly hooked my axes into Anna's placements where possible, given the tendency for the ice to dinner plate.

Even with the crux passage dispatched the climbing remained relatively sustained, albeit at a slightly gentler angle. Lots of chopping still necessary. At one point an axe dramatically blew from the ice without warning, together with a large dinner-plate. Fortunately my other axe was solid at the time. Relieved and happy to be at the top of the route we promptly abseiled it needing just one abalakov on the way, besides trees. 

If this route is a WI4 then it felt right at the top of the grade. There were no easy passages once onto the two main pitches. Conditions felt fat as well, although the dinner plating no doubt offset this. It was an excellent route, albeit not the eye-catcher of its neighbour Storesvullen. It's probably better than all the WI4s that I have climbed in Hemsedal (note, I've yet to climb Teigafossen), with the exception of Hydalsfossen, although that is a WI4+. Not bad creditials for a route that is equidistant to Hemsedal and that took me three winters to learn about. 

My bag buried under fresh snow at the bottom of the route

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Curved Ridge, Buachaille Etive Mor

With Anna still feeling unwell we decided to make the last day an easy one. It was a choice of either returning to Aonach Mor to try something of similar difficulty to yesterday, or do something longer and easier. The conditions on Aonach Mor hadn't been that inspiring to warrant a return. With blue skies expected, Curved Ridge on Buachaille Etive Mor sounded a far more enjoyable outing. Its four star rating would no doubt offer a fine day in the mountains and would of course provide broader experiences compared to simply returning to the same crag as yesterday to climb a second route.

The foreshortened view of Curved Ridge
Being a classic route, and a Saturday, the route was not surprisingly busy. Not too busy to cause major queues however. We opted to take in alpine coils and move together for most of the route in order to improve efficiency. We set 20m between us, which would provide enough rope to place runners through harder sections whilst minimising rope drag. It didn't gain us any advantage in hindsight because we would repeatedly meet with a party in front of us and be forced to make a premature belay. As a result we weren't moving much more than a rope length between belays anyway. Taking an independent line was actually quite difficult as well. Not only because the technical difficulties increased but also because we left the main passage of packed down snow and brushed rock in exchange for deeper, more unconsolidated snow. The net result was that there was no gain to be made and it was better just to get in line. 

Anna climbing the start of Curved Ridge
The climbing was largely straightforward with the exception of a short interesting tech 3 corner halfway up the route. Without doubt though the best thing about Curved Ridge was the awesome, expansive views across Rannoch Moor to the south. Beyond the ridge the ground quickly dropped away to the broad plateau below, giving the ridge a real lofty feel. It was good to climb the route on such a clear day to fully appreciate this, although the gusty, biting wind reminded us that this was still Scottish winter and not Norway.

The crux corner
Not far from the top
Belaying close to the top
Last time I had climbed on Buachaille Etive Mor I had finished at 11pm after a somewhat dramatic day on the North Buttress, or at least somewhere in that vague vicinity. On this occasion it was just 1pm, which allowed plenty of time to linger on the summit and eat some lunch.

A short traverse across the high ground brought us to the col at the top of Coire na Tulaich, which we would use to descend to the base of the mountain. The descent was just as enjoyable as the climb in fact, involving a long bum side from the col to what felt like halfway down. My bum sliding abilities felt a little rusty at first, particularly now that I use axes without an adze, but after a cautious start I worried less about trying to stay in control and sat up as though on a water slide. The numerous bum sliders that had preceeded me meant that a well defined ass-sized halfpipe had formed, making the descent surprisingly controlled given the speed.

View back to the summit
The start of the descent
The epic bum slide down Coire na Tulaich, starting from the col in the back of the picture
View from the gully
Curved Ridge was an excellent choice of route today and fitting finale to the trip. Easy and enjoyable. I even made it to the pub for 4pm to watch the English beat the Welsh in the Six Nations rugby. All things considered, five routes is definitely a successful trip. We could have more done with better health but equally we could have got nothing done - based on the lack of conditions in the run up to our trip. Already I'm already about a return next year. So many supurb winter routes that I still need to climb in this lifetime. 

Buachaille Etive Mor

Friday, 10 February 2017

Nid Arete Direct (V,5), Aonach Mor

Two days had passed by since we had last climbed a route. On Wednesday we had driven to Applecross in the North-West Highlands in the hope of finding some winter conditions but had found little. Temperatures were set to drop towards sea level imminently but with little snow remaining from earlier in the week there was little reason to stick around. Meall Gorm was stripped. Maybe the East and West Buttresses of Beinn Eighe would have been possible but with Anna's cold becoming slightly worse rather than better the three hour approach would be too long. This was actually our first visit to the North-West Highlands so at least we got to explore a new corner of the UK in process. It's a beautiful part of the world - no doubt more beautiful had we left the roads. More beautiful than many parts of Norway in fact and with a similar sparseness. We pushed onto Fort William and civilisation that same day, which meant few more hours driving than planned. Our only souvenir being some giant free range eggs from the local store in Lochcarron.

The view North from Lochcarron
A black-looking Meall Gorm
On Thursday we had headed to Ben Nevis but only made it halfway before turning back due to Anna's cold. With the avalanche forecast in the red from 900 metres upwards we had planned the South-West Ridge on Douglas Boulder, which was more a route to get something done rather than a route high on my to-do-list. Ben Nevis is easy to come back to again on another trip though.

The closest we got to Ben Nevis on this trip
On Friday we made the conservative plan to climb in Coire an Lochain on the East Face of Aonach Mor due to the short approach from the Ski Centre. Firstly taking the gondola to 650m, then a chairlift to 910m, followed by around forty-five minutes' walk up the side of the pistes to the top of the East face. Lots of rime was on display on the various structures on route. There wasn't enough snow to make a bollard above Easy Gully though, but the cornice was only small with a section cleared by previous parties. Descending Easy Gully was straightforward, although the snow consistency changed a couple of times, so needed a little extra care.

Rime build-up on Aonach Mor
Rimed buildings on Aonach Mor
(Photo by Anna Kennedy)
Coire an Lochain
Descending Easy Gully
Anna was keen to do Nid Arete, partly because it was described as a 'good and well protected mixed route' in the SMC guide, despite only getting one star. The second pitch looked to be the better one based on the description so I was happy to do the first pitch, given I had done the majority of the leading on the trip so far. The first pitch also had an alternative start directly up the arete rather than initially skirting it to the left, which seemed the more natural line. It increased the overall grade to V,5, thereby offering a more challenging lead for me without increasing the technical grade for Anna on second.

The direct first pitch proved to be a bold affair. Not much gear and even less good gear. A peg or two might have got me out trouble but I wasn't carrying any. Not many positive holds meant lots of balancy rock-over moves but nothing particularly steep, sustained or committing. Progress was slow as there were large quantities of unconsolidated snow to deal with once again along with a fair amount of rime covering everything. Also turf that was frozen to varying degrees. Towards the top of the pitch the gear improved significantly, although the route finding became more difficult. A blank wall out right blocked my way and so I was forced to backtrack a little way and climb a steep, short groove further left. It was formed between a smooth slab and a slightly overhanging wall and looked awkward and intimidating. Fortunately there were some massive hooks up the steep wall, which made for some briefly excellent climbing. Then just a little higher I found an in-situ peg on a comfortable platform that was ideally suited to a belay. 

Me climbing the direct first pitch
(Photo by Anna Kennedy)
Climbing the hard corner
(Photo by Anna Kennedy)
Anna at the top of the corner
Anna wasn't feeling well enough to lead the second pitch unfortunately so I pressed on. The natural line looked to be straight up the groove above the belay but trying to gain entry to the groove from a couple of points proved far too hard for me. Instead I traversed further right to a vague slabby corner directly over the neighbouring gully. Gear out right was sparse, the moves lacked positivity and it all felt a bit sketchy - evident by the amount that I was chattering to myself. The thought crossed my mind to back off the pitch all together as falling off would have resulted in a nasty pendulum. With enough composure I managed to mount slabby corner though and wedge a large hex behind a prominent crack above. Then the realisation came that the crack formed the back of a large suspect perched block meaning gear-wise my situation was no better. Tentatively I mounted the block and trended back leftwards to gain gentler snowy ground. The climbing now became much quicker and easier and soon I was over the top. Needless to say I'm not sure I would describe the pitch as well protected as described in the guidebook. Maybe I was off route, or just struggling to find anything beneath the snow, although my line fitted the guidebook description. The second pitch seemed a bit of a naff line at any rate as it avoided the main features by taking what felt like an escape route.

There was nothing with which to make a belay on the wind stripped ground above so I simply walked twenty metres from the edge and took up a stance. No great seriousness given my partner was close to 30kg lighter. Anna actually needed to untie one of the half ropes on second to add to the drama. On lead I had just clipped one rope whilst making my looping line out rightwards, ensuring the other rope ran directly up from the belay to minimise drag. This directly running rope now refused to flick rightwards, partly because I wasn't feeding enough slack to allow so. Communication is always difficult when stood 20m back the top of a route though. 

At least we found a way to the top without the need to bail as it's always good to overcome the challenges regardless of the quality of the route. I'm very glad I did the direct variant on the first pitch as it was definitely the better pitch, albeit sometimes without much of an obvious line.

The weather on top was perfect with clear skies and no wind. A rare day during Scottish winter. By now it was 4:10pm with the last gondola due in five minutes. We were inevitably going to miss it but at least this meant we could take in the views a little longer without rushing. The descent on foot from the gondola station was actually pretty easy, following a winding downhill bike track for much of the way. Sometimes it was easier to cut corners straight down the hillside as it was not particularly steep or brutal on the knees. 

Despite Anna not feeling on best form for most of this week it's definitely felt a successful trip and we've been very lucky with the weather. With one day left hopefully we can finish with one more climb.

Ben Nevis from the top of the route
Perfect weather at the top of the route
(Photo by Anna Kennedy)
Perfect weather for a descent on foot

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Pot of Gold (V,6), Coire an t'Sneachda

We had taken a rest day on Monday due to the 80mph forecast and because Anna was feeling unwell. She had been suffering from a bad cold that had refused to go away for a week and a half. Luckily on Tuesday morning, against the odds, she was feeling well enough to climb, although the shorter walk-in to Coire an t'Sneachda again needed to be the sensible plan.

With the strong southerly winds appearing (in Aviemore at least) to have picked up in the afternoon of Monday we were a little concerned that the current avalanche report would be out of date by the time we entered the coire with windslab increasing. Particularly given the amount of fresh snow that had fallen whilst we were in the Northern Coires on Sunday.

The provisional plan had been Original Summer Route on Aladdin's Buttress but we didn't like the look of the descent down Aladdin's Couloir, which looked potentially loaded (but probably actually ok after seeing the later avalanche report), as did the coire rim above the route. Instead we opted for Mess of Pottage again with the expectation of an easy approach and exit. I had felt fairly steady on the two IVs that we had climbed at the weekend and so was keen to step up a grade to try Pot of Gold. Oddly I've never climbed a grade V in Sneachda despite having climbed over twenty elsewhere.

A buried Coire an t'Sneachda
Anna led the first pitch, which is shared with the Message, through an interesting blocky section to where Pot of Gold exits right.

Anna leading the first pitch
The traverse at the start of the second pitch was banked out, so I cautiously shuffled my feet rightwards. A few metres further an obvious crack led upwards. The hooks were good in crack but a few metres higher the angle eased back and cliff became massively banked out with snow. Endless sweeping ensued with little apparent change in volume of unconsolidated snow in front of me. Sweeping the snow with my axes to find high placements would leave me covered snow, burying my feet in the process along with any foot ledges that I had previously cleared. And so I would again need to clear the same ledges for a second time. This was the general pattern of events, with lots of time dedicated to brushing snow to find hooks, foot ledges, and gear placements. Often I wasn't totally sure what I was pulling on but if it withstood a couple of tugs then it was probably ok. Far more snow than our two previous days out it should be said.

The start of the second pitch had felt a little more serious. Maybe exacerbated by the tough conditions that were causing me to doubt myself a little, what with not having climbed at this grade for a few years. I had found some good nut placements towards the end of the traverse and in the base of the crack but they were susceptible to being lifted in the event of a fall, which would add extra slack to the system. With my right hand half rope already following a tight arc shape from the change in direction popping off accidentally was something to avoid. A short distance up at the crack the route bore left slightly and allowed me to start clipping my left rope with some minor relief. To put things in perspective though there was more than enough gear throughout the pitch. 

I found the second pitch hard and sustained with so much snow and was relieved to reach the belay, although was a little worried what the third pitch would have in store, given this was the crux.

Me on the second pitch
(Photo by Anna Kennedy) 
Anna, who had little mixed climbing experience prior to this trip with just a few days drytooling, had done remarkably well on our two previous outings but popped off the second pitch midway up. I could see the disappointment in her face. She'd made the mistake of stacking one pick on top of the other only for the lower one to pop off. One of those things you quickly learn not to do again, except with totally bomber hooks.

Anna near the top of the second pitch
The third pitch started where the second had left off with sustained, well protected climbing. Having mounted a difficult step leading rightwards a short distance above the belay I was forced to reverse the moves due to the taut lanyard preventing progress. I had made the schoolboy error of clipping a quickdraw to a rope over the top of my axe lanyards but had failed to notice because of insane amount of snow down the front of me. Second attempt I dug a little deeper and found some massive hooks between some blocks to make the moves a little easier.

The crux parallel cracks through the bulge were tough work due to the amount of snow on the slabby ground directly above. Around four times I needed to pull up over the bulge and then sweep snow on a bent arm, each time reversing the moves back down to the good ledge below. Reassuringly I found the strength and composure to repeatedly go up and down. Eventually I found what felt like some good hooks and pulled through on them with relative ease. 

The remainder of the pitch didn't let up but I felt I had broken the back of the route after the crux. Plenty of gear throughout the pitch again. In fact it's a good job the second and third pitches were short because I was out of runners by the belay on both occasions. 

Me at the crux on the third pitch
(Photo by Anna Kennedy)
I was grateful that the final pitch up the snowy chimney was a much easier affair given what had gone before. I placed about three runners in order to hastily get to the top of the route but it all felt quite steady in comparison. By the time we were both at the top it was 5 pm, so another late finish. 

Starting the final pitch
(Photo by Anna Kennedy)
Visibility was pretty poor on the plateau but good enough to see the edge of the cliffs to our left. Plus there were footprints to follow, which soon became a highway of footprints leading down towards the ski pistes and eventually to the car park. With a good base of snow the descent was easy.

It was good to get Pot of Gold climbed as it's been vaguely on my radar for a few years now. The route as a whole had felt close to my limit in the conditions that we found. Despite my absence from Scottish mixed it was reassuring to know I probably had another grade in me had the snow conditions better.

That's the Northern Coires chapter of our trip concluded. Not much to keep us here now that it's buried. Next destination is <tbc>.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

The Seam (IV,5), Coire an t'Sneachda

Anna was feeling a little under the weather on Sunday so we opted for the short approach to Coire an t'Sneachda again. Friendlier weather with a lot less wind and better visibility made the walk-in much more pleasant. Better weather we expected to result in more people but we were in the coire at a decent hour.

Fine weather, but a busy day expected in Coire an t'Sneachda

We headed to Fiacaill Buttress, which looked a little more scoured from yesterday's NE winds, so hopefully better snow conditions. Plan A was the Seam, otherwise something nearby at a similar grade. The buttress was relatively quiet as it happened. Just one pair on Houdini and one pair on Smokestack Lighnin', and of course plenty heading up to Fiacaill Ridge.

Approaching Fiacaill Buttress
There was some wind slab on the slopes directly beneath the route, up to about 25cm in places but localised, so no real risk. My only previous visit to Fiacaill Buttress had been on Invernookie, which shares the same start as the Seam. That had been 11 years ago and didn't help much with remembering where the climbs started. Fortunately an in-situ peg confirmed the whereabouts.

Anna led the first pitch, which contained a lot of unconsolidated powder, no ice and little gear, finishing on a comfortable belay platform beneath the large triangular wall at its left end. 

Anna starting the first pitch
I then led a very short pitch around the corner to beneath the main chimney. I needed to delicately balance my way up a short leaning wall with good horizontal breaks and mount it on thankfully well frozen turf. Then traverse leftwards a short way with a step back downwards on route. I'm not sure whether I took the normal line but from the belay it seemed the most sensible option considering I didn't have full confidence that the turf was properly frozen.

Starting the second pitch
(Photo by Anna Kennedy)
Anna seconding the short traverse on the second pitch
Now midway into the climb and it had begun to snow heavily, although there was virtually no wind, so things felt fairly comfortable. A lot more snow than forecast though.

The final pitch was high class, following an obvious chimney. It was fairly sustained but also well protected and never desperate. Plenty of unconsolidated snow needed go be swept but the turf was surprisingly solid throughout. At half height I found myself cramped beneath a roof, which partially blocked the way. With a sling placed overhead I leaned out on some massive hooks and swung left to bypass it. I'm glad I was carrying lots slings as there were plenty of placements between the frozen blocks in the final third. Just shy of the very top a comfortable belay stance was most welcome for the shelter it offered. Definite contender for best pitch of the trip. 
Me on the third and final pitch
(Photo by Anna Kennedy)
Anna seconding the final pitch
It was good to finish the route at a decent hour today (3pm), although the progress had been fairly slow again. A quick scramble down the edge of Fiacaill Ridge and we were soon back in the coire basin. Tomorrow is an enforced rest day due to 80mph winds expected. It looks by far the worst day's weather this coming week so I'm happy to spend it in jacuzzis and coffee shops. Thereafter we're not sure where we will be climbing, although the forecast to only be getting colder as the week progresses.

Descending from Fiacaill Buttress

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Hidden Chimney Direct (IV,5), Coire an t'Sneachda

I've missed Scottish winter climbing. I've missed the weathered cracks, corners and chimneys and rimed rock. For me there is nowhere better to climb in winter than Scotland

...when the conditions are right.

I've even missed the freezing belays, spindrift, upland gales and other general unpleasantness. They're all things that contribute to Scottish winter feeling a full-on experience and ultimately a more rewarding one.

Few climbers visit Scotland from Norway. Many would say I am travelling in the wrong direction. At least if Scotland looks diabolical then I can cut my losses and not get on the flight. A win-win scenario, and with flights fairly cheap it's a worthwhile gamble.

There was little sign of winter ahead of our trip. In fact it only arrived the day before we did. But it definitely arrived. Temperatures on Cairngorm's summit had been around 5 degrees on Thursday, then below freezing and dry in the coires on Friday. It was now Saturday and snow was expected. When and how much was a little unclear, as was the expected state of the coires upon our arrival. Would the turf refreeze before the snow arrived (probably not) and would the cliffs still be black or now white enough for fair game? Worst case scenario we would walk in and walk straight back out.

At 7am we had not started our continental breakfast at the Edinburgh Airport Travelodge. Once on the road the snow on the hills lining along the A9 to the south between Perth and Aviemore suggested the snow had a head start. By the time we were at the Cairngorm Mountain car park it was 11am and it was clear that winter was back.

A headwind blizzard was blowing strongly during the walk-in to Coire an t'Sneachda, meaning it was heads down and hoods up for parts of the way. Occasionally looking up to correct our line. Fortunately visibility was good enough to spy wintery looking conditions on all the buttresses.

Anna walking into a headwind on the approach
Our plan A was Hidden Chimney Direct, as we would have the option to abseil from the top of the first (main) pitch if running short of time. Plus the Mess of Pottage had the shortest routes and shortest approach, so it was a no-brainer. We knew the area would be busy and so our biggest priority was to avoid any queues and get a clean run with our limited time. At least turned up late it is easier to see where the bottlenecks might be. Fortunately the only other team on the route were a good pitch ahead of us, so no worries there. Plus hopefully there would now be a little less snow to clear.

Mess of Pottage
After a three year hiatus from Scotland I was straight back into it. Just a couple metres above Anna's belay some firm pulls on well hooked axes were needed to gain some awkward high foot ledges. Maybe the crux moves, or at least that's how it felt. That or maybe there were a few cobwebs to clear away. The remainder of the pitch was a more slabby angle with good foot ledges and lots of positive hooks in the cracks in the steep left hand wall. Plenty of good gear as well. Little evidence of the previous party remained, with lots of continuous sweeping needed to uncover the banked-out foot ledges. I had forgotten how slow climbing can be on these sorts of routes. After what seemed a good while of inching my way up the route I looked down to see my belayer a mere 15m away. 

Me on the first pitch
The pitch was snowed-up rock for the large part. Just some unfrozen turf on the easier ground below where the route kinked left, although there was no need to pull on it given the leaning gradient. The SMC guide described some thin moves at the top of the pitch in the absence of ice but the moves felt pretty easy thanks to a bomber hook between some rocks that also acted as a stein pull. An excellent pitch.

Anna at the top of the first pitch
It was 3pm by the time we were both at the top of the pitch. There was the option to abseil from the large block, as many choose to do, but it felt as though we needed to continue up the regular line of Hidden Chimney to properly complete the route. Anna led the easy ground leftwards, that is shared with The Slant, to beneath the final gully/chimney from which the route takes its name.

Anna on the second pitch traverse
Despite the modest grade III rating the final pitch was a surprisingly tough proposition. Partly due to the winds, which had switched to a northeasterly direction, leading to a strong updraft of snow in the gully. Regularly I struggled to look down at my feet without my eyes watering from the volume of snow being blown upwards. In fact I could feel my eyebrows starting to rime up. The winds were particularly strong at a large bulging chock stone at the top of the pitch, which lacked neve, ice or frozen turf above it in order to pull through on. Instead I needed to climb a couple of metres to the right and then traverse towards the block from where I could bridge it more easily. I waited what seemed like minutes for the winds to drop enough for me to look at my feet in order to pull through on the final moves. At least no cornice to contend with. By the time we were both at the top it was 5pm. Last into the coire, last out of the coire.

Top of the route at dusk
Visibility was pretty good on the plateau so we opted to follow the coire rim northwards rather than dip back into the coire. We might have saved a little time initially but the exposure to the strong cross winds and scoured rocky ground probably made the descent harder overall. Anna must have slipped over about ten times. Eventually we quit the high ground and dipped back into the mouth of the coire. A clear sky and bright moon at least meant navigation was easy. No need for a head torch, which I had accidentally buried under the ropes and hardware at the bottom of my rucksack. Not many cars in the car park upon our return but given our late start it felt a bonus to have got a route climbed. Plus it had been a good opportunity to suss out conditions for the following day. Good to be back in Scotland.