Saturday, 19 April 2014

Learning the Ropes II

February provided me and Cammy with our first real opportunity to climb in winter. Previous to then university, inclement weather and girlfriends had stopped us making the trip North. This quick trip was to Glen Coe, famous for massacre, breathtaking scenery and The Clachaig Inn.
Cammy In The Glen Coe Car Park

After an uneventful drive we arrived just as the rain in the lower valley ceased and the mist started to clear. We put on our kit, at which point I realised my helmet was not attached to the side of my rucksack, hardly ideal as rocks in mountainous areas are rarely as stable as small single pitch crags and ice has a tendency to break. A potentially deadly combination of detritus which can be sent from above either by your own axes or your partner leading ahead. Luckily Cammy had his cycle helmet with him, this had plenty of ventilation, or small stone gaps but was better than nothing.

We raced up the mountain over taking a few parties before we even got to the snow line. The path to Stob Coire nan Lochan was well trod, which made progress faster. We continued moving fast up to the Coire itself, where we stopped well back to check routes, cornices and plan our descent while eating pork pies. Above most routes in the Coire there were large meringues of cornice, some must have been 3 to 4 metres deep. There was evidence of recent small avalanches in the gullies, so those were out of the question. Instead we headed to a famous ridge line, where no cornices were present and parties were already climbing called Dorsal Arete.

Making Good Progress Up The Valley


The weather was fantastic, warm sunshine, hardly a cloud in the sky. Cold on the north facing ridge as we climbed, but this was no bad thing. The recent snows had not frozen and had the consistency of sugar. Had they been subject to the warmth of the sun they would have been even less stable. We made quick progress behind a guided party. Climbing the steep snow up to the first belay round a block quickly, without ropes. At the block a traffic jam had formed as a member of the party was trying to pluck up the courage to summit the Dorsal Fin. While we were waiting there was a crunch, this cornice collapse sent debris down the neighboring gully.

Dorsal Fin (ridge centre of picture)

Guided Party Ahead (climber tackling the fin)

Soon we were climbing again, no substantial protection, just rope looped between spikes up to the end of the first pitch. There was terrific exposure, making a small step up, made slightly worse by the absolute demolition of the snow by the guided group failing to place their feet accurately in each others kicked steps.

View Back To The Car

The next pitch was probably the best I have ever climbed, a little climbing, followed by a walk along a narrow fin of rock. Some my call this contrived as it is easily avoided by a short traverse, but I'd say this is the most appealing line, it sums up why you would climb. Either side of the fin is a 20ft drop into gullies which stretch to the bottom of the Coire, the belay, a small spike of rock, is worryingly far and in these banked out conditions the sling round the fin is slightly dubious. Alot to absorb and savour as you walk along a small ridge as wide as your foot before escaping to the safety of the next belay and  quick pitch to the top.

Cammy On The Dorsal Fin

Cammy finished the climb, it took us a very short time, however we had no option other than to head straight back as we had spent so long waiting for the route to clear. On the way down passing satstrugi worn by the wind, we looked to Bidean nam Bian, and later to the Anoach Eagach Ridge. More challenges for another day. A quick pint and a steak in the Clachaig rounded off a fantastic day.

Cycle Helmet Top Out

Bidean nam Bian

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