Scottish Alpine

Last week saw me taking a trip to the Highlands to enjoy/suffer some winter climbing. The plan was simple. Meet up with Andrew, get back into the swing of the winter stuff and climb some routes. The weather had other ideas. A bit of a thaw had left conditions a bit on the lean side, to say the least!

The last of the snow
Thursday was to be a refresher day. Get the crampons on, dig some belays and get back to grips with the whole winter lark. There was a bit of snow hanging in around Cairn Lochain so we headed up here, along with every other sinner and the  ptarmigans seeking out some winter conditions. After a bit of route finding through the bogs which should have been frozen, we made it to the snow slope. Crampons went on and up we went. A couple of ice axe belays and the like and we called it a day for the winter stuff. Unlikely we’d be needing it. We dandered on up round to Cairngorm and back down via the ski slopes, a bit of a strange experience with the total lack of snow.

Happy with the buried axe
10,000 years bad luck apparently
Ski practice
Day 2 took us to Ben Nevis. Kris had informed us there was still some snow hiding in No.3 & no.4 gully. An early start meant we were at the North Face car park for just after 8. A bit of a slog up the path was well worth it. By the time we reached the hut we were above the cloud line.

The view from the hut
From the hut to the snow slope was a nightmare. This had to be the slickest rock around,  bambi wouldn’t have a look in!

We donned the crampons and made our way up no.3 Gully. The going was a bit awkward. The footsteps were well frozen and you just couldn’t get a good rhythm going. However as it got steeper the going got a bit easier. A great wee route to get a bit of a taste for Winter Climbing again.

Ascending no.3

Once at the top, we got ourselves some grub. The views were simply incredible. Cloud inversion and sunshine made it look like the Alps. The conditions may not have been up to much for climbing, but when you had views like that it more than made up for it. My first time up the Ben so a quick jaunt to the top was in order.

Incredible views from the Cairn

Our descent took us down No.4 Gully, it was easy enough going and didn’t take us too long to get back to the hut. From here it was a quare slog back to the car. Would be a fun line to try on the bike! We got back to the car for around 4 or so, not bad going.

Descent of no.4

Day 3 saw us joined by Andre. We decided to head back into the Cairngorms for a bit of scrambling. The plan was Fiacaill Ridge and possibly Afterthought Arete. We flew up the Ridge overtaking a few groups. This was a fun wee section with some great views and a nice balance of exposure and technical wee steps. At the top we grabbed a bite to eat and had a nosey at the map. We decided not to bother with Afterthought Arete and just go for a dander round the plateua. Another beautiful day up top. Sun splitting the rocks, just what you expect of Scottish Winter!

Heads down missing out on the view

Day 4 and the weather had changed slightly. There was a small dusting of snow on the ground and it was very overcast. We decided to give Curved Ridge a go. The going was awful. The fact the rock was dusted in snow meant every foot hold was slick. Had there been more snow or no snow at all we would have flown up this, especially considering the speed Andre flew up Fiacaill Ridge on Saturday. But it hampered our progress significantly. There were a couple of moments of “why the feck do we bother” but once at the top we realised it was actually good fun despite there being no views at all.  The descent was horrendous. You had to think about every step and more often than not you’d be slipping on something. We eventually made it down in one piece.

Andre keeping a good eye out

So overall a good trip was had. The conditions were terrible for climbing, but the views were magnificent. It more than made up for things.

James and M

Thanks to Andrew and Andre for their company and also to Jonny Parr for the accommodation and advice while we were there. I’ve been out with Jonny in the hills alot and he is one of the best instructors about so look him up if you’re looking at giving Winter Climbing a go, he may be able to squeeze you in this Winter .