January was busy. The gods of the Scottish weather conspired to make every weekend good enough for climbing – so after the escapades on the Ben previously mentioned, I managed to get out every weekend following.
After the unfortunate incident with the Mx-5*, I decided to go with the slightly more sensible option of a Ford Focus diesel estate. This turned out to be a masterstroke, making weekend trips to the mountains easier through the simple expedient of being a mobile tent – folding the back seats forward allows enough room for two to sleep comfortably!
Objective for Saturday was North Buttress (IV 4) on Buachaille Etive Mor. Conditions were good, and the walk-in was very civilised, taking under an hour. A fun scramble up to the ridge put us third in the queue for the route, but we were moving before long. 3 pitches of excellent mixed grooves and chimneys brought us to slabby moving together terrain.
Alek on North Buttress
I had some fun on P3 when my crampon slipped off a spike I was standing on and I started to fall, dropping my ice axe – which caught behind the spike. The axe was attached to a bandolier (none of which ripped somehow) and I came to a halt with a seatbelt-style bruise under my arm. Sometimes you just get lucky.
Typical Scottish views were to be had from the summit in the clag. The descent was OK – we were worried of avalance conditions in Coire na Tullach (not unwisely as it later transpired that four were killed in Stob Coire Nan Beith a couple of miles away that day) but there was a well worn thoroughfare down the coire and all was well.
Ahh, Scottish Winter
We headed south to the Arrochar Alps, aiming for the turfy delights of the Cobbler. The guidebook lured us in with talk of a straightforward and short walk-in – this of course was nonsense, with the powdery snow and 750m of uphill taking the guts of 2 hours. Winds were vicious on the col but we dropped down to the base of Central Peak and all was well. We went for Cave Route (III, 4) which was good value at the grade – the starting ramp was verglassed and tenuous looking, so I opted for an overhanging start on good hooks, after which a wild swing out left to good turf led on to the ramp. No gear for the first 20m disappointingly, with the climbing consisting of scratching up a slab while making the most of a seam of turf in the corner. One hex and 20m of snow-wading led to a decent belay, and another 2 pitches to a ridiculous step down and dynamic swing over the void to good turf and a crap belay. A reasonably straightforward belay led to the top. Some craic.
Alek stayed at mine for a few days, generally buying meat and cooking with implausible weetabix-based sauce. On his advice I cooked Brownies, which were nowhere near as shite as I had expected.
The next weekend was Fort William with QUBMC. I took a couple of days off work and met the guys at Calluna – a lovely hostel owned by Alan Kimber. There was a good crowd over, including Alek and Vladimir. John Orr provided instruction for the novices.
The weather turned very Scottish indeed, ruling out the higher climbs because of the high winds. I went up to the CIC cascades on Ben Nevis with Niall, Conor, Stuart and Thomas and had a play on some of the single pitch ice there. Well worth it if they’re in and it’s a bit windy higher up. There was a great looking grade V cascade on the left which I considered trying but talked myself out of because of the dinnerplateyness (definitely a word) of the ice.
A rest day then Beinn Udlaidh with Thomas and Cecilia – a brilliant ice climbing venue near Bridge of Orchy. This time the walk-in was actually not very taxing, although things were starting to melt and our chosen route (Quartzvein Scoop, IV 4) was not in the nest condition. The initial ramp was quite hollow and had one section of snow over verglas, which took a while. While what ice there was wouldn’t really hold protection, it was very plastic and easy to climb on. It also had the best Scottish belay I’ve ever seen – a little cave between the rock and snow, with room for the three of us to sit sheltered from the wind!
The second pitch was disappointing, being banked out and quite easy. The top was very very windy. I’ve never had trouble walking downhill before, but that day it was almost impossible.
Belaying atop Beinn Udlaidh in breezy conditions
The next day the weather turned crap again so we went drytooling on the granite under Ballachulish Bridge. This is well worth it if the mountains are out – but be warned, there’s a bit of looseness and it’s roadside so watch out for cars and toprope only.
The forecast for last Saturday was amazing, perfect for a long Scottish ridge. To that end, I talked Alek into coming up my way again and we headed up to Glencoe on Friday again. Up at 7 and off we went to do the Aonach Eagach traverse (II) – apparently an ultra-classic. It didn’t disappoint.
Weather conditions were amazing – clear, cold and calm. The initial schlep up Am Bodach (a Munro itself) didn’t take too long and the fun began almost immediately, with a tricky descent onto the ridge proper. From here, it stretches a couple of miles westward over pinnacles and tops.
Alek on the initial tricky descent
It was a great scrambling day out, peppered with a couple of tricky steps and traverses. The pinnacles of the Chancellor were quite sporting, with the added excitement of Alek impaling his calf on his crampon.
Purposeful Soviet stride
Although wearing harnesses and carrying the rope, we never bothered with it, and were at the top of Sgurr Nam Fiannaidh by 1pm, far earlier than expected. We dropped down to the col with the Pap of Glencoe and from there down to the road, easily hitch-hiking back to the car.
The Aonach Eagach is a brilliant day out – well worth keeping for a good day! Great views in every direction and a ‘proper’ ridge for a lot of its duration.
Glencoe and Ballachulish from Sgurr Nan Fiannaidh
Then the weather exploded again, so on Sunday Alek dragged me out trail running along the first bit of the West Highland Way. We did about 7 miles but it wasn’t long before he was well ahead of me – seems like it’s time for some cardio.
Fingers crossed for good weather next weekend to make it 6 weekends in a row in the mountains!
*a disagreement with a kerb. The kerb won