A flurry of texts and phone calls the night before we're due to go out, was the norm now. It was either to be the Northern corries, so we could attempt Invernookie ( a grade 4, 2 star route) Or the alternative was Lurchers crag, so we could try Central gully ( another grade 4, 2 star route)
I am now use to the alarm waking me up at ugly times of the morning, my mindset all night and morning was either Invernookie or Central gully. So when i got to the car with Scott and Liam, i found that the plan had changed and we where heading east to Bridge of Orchy. Salamander Gully was the plan, i wasn't complaining. The majority of the climbing i had done in Bridge of Orchy had been great conditions and even better weather. Well this time was by far the best conditions and weather we could have hoped for. The sky was clear, the sun was out and the ice was fat. The route was climbed in 3 pitches. I had first lead over a slight lip, then a gully to the start of the ice, Liam got the second pitch which was the bulk of the fat ice. Then Scott took us to the top via a cracking ice gully.
|Scott Fraser descending in the sun. Photo Connor Grady|
Feeling mightily pleased with our efforts on Sunday in Bridge of Orchy, i had a plan to explore Beinn Udlaidh with Yarek on the Tuesday. Knowing how great the ice was in the area we planned to climb the classic test piece in the corrie, Quartveins Scoop.
Thinking we would have the place to ourselves being that it was early on a Tuesday morning. We where wrong, it was busy. Very busy. As we sat on a rock having a brew and gearing up we noticed people topping out of the route, another party half way up on the belay, another party of 3 just starting to climb and then another party of 2 standing waiting for their shot at the route.
"sod this" i said to Yarek
We decided to climb the route to the left, Ice Crew. As anticipated the weather and ice were near perfect. I had the lead through a nice section of ice through to a mixed gully, topped off with a run out of ice to the first belay, which i didn't notice until later was ideally placed below an intimidating ice chandelier. From here Yarek led through a steep section of ice and traversed right wards near to the top of Quartsvein scoop and out to the ice fields above, which provided a windless sunset over Glencoe. Now to have bluebell sky's when winter climbing in Scotland is a good thing, but to have 3 in the space of a week is a rarity.
|Fantastic conditions, Photo Connor Grady|
|Ice Chandelier at the top of P1 on Ice Crew. Photo Connor Grady|
After returning home from my first trip to Udlaidh I was straight on the phone to Scott and Liam hoping they were free this weekend to return, again I was lucky and had a partner for a return trip 4 days later.
Scott picked me up early Saturday morning, after seeing the weather reports and reading the standard UKC threads I was expecting half of Scotland to be in the car park come Saturday. But to our surprise there where only a few cars parked. Armed with new walking poles we took off through the pig farm (Scot's worst nightmare, pigs, not farmers) then up the track through the woods, now having been on this track only a few days before I remember swearing at Yarek for having poles when i was struggling for grip in the steep ice sections of the walk. But this time it was me who was fairly stable and Scott who was no doubt swearing at me under his breath.
The plan, yet again was to try Quartsvein Scoop, but having spoken to some climbers on the approach and seeing people hacking the route to pieces, which was seeing a lot of traffic during the week. We opted to climb Sunshine Gully. 90m of blue ice, so 2 pitches with a lead each. I started off first up a nice steep section of ice for about 10metres, traversing left to avoid a horrible section of black rock I found some lovely frozen turf then back rightwards to re-gain the ice through the gully. There was not a lot of gear to be had on the gully, but once I found the start of the ice then screws were a plenty. 2 screws were placed in the ice for a first belay, sitting in a comfortable position whilst belaying Scott, what i failed to notice when i traversed to avoid the black rock was my ropes had caught round around a badly placed boulder, as Scott found out when seconding the pitch, but after some swearing and swinging of ropes they were freed, then Scott continued to take over the lead. having underestimated the length of the route when he topped out about 12 meters later. I'll be honest, I was jealous as he got the bulk of the good ice.
Topping out over Udlaidh, with a cloud inversion stretching from the south-west all the way across Glen Coe and the ski center, was impressive. Also in the nick of time as the sun had just started to work it's magic on the Ice of Udlaidh.
3 outings in the space of 7 days, with 3 routes climbed. In perfect conditions. Scottish winter climbing eh?
|Starting P1 of Sunshine Gully. Photo Scott Fraser|
|Start of P2. Excuse the expression of confusing. Photo Connor Grady|
|A joyous top out after a fun climb. Photo Connor Grady|
A few weeks of UN-successful attempts followed. The most eventful was a 5a.m start to climb The Haston Line in the Coire an Sneachda, a route that had been on my tick list for 2 years. Seeing as we where the only car in the Cairngorm car park we thought we'll have a 10 minute snooze. The forecast showed me winds of 30-40mph, which had been the norm for us so far this season. But when we parked the car it was no-were near 40mph, more like 80mph. Needless to say we did not get any shut eye and it felt like being stuck on a roller coaster. Yarek tried to walk out of the car park to the start of the path but just ended up being beaten by the wind. So we decided against anything in the conditions.
|Photo. Jarek Hora|
|Despite the lack of climbing, we managed a nice walk around Loch Morlich. Photo Jarek Hora|
1 week passed, and The Haston Line had seen further ascents.
Scott was the partner for this climb, a route he had climbed last season but was happy to go along with my madness for the tick. I did feel slightly bad for dragging him out of his bed when he was chocked up with man flu, but i felt it was worth it. I think he did too...
Continuing to swear at me, and my walking poles during the walk in, we arrived at the base of the climb just as a team of 3 started the first pitch. That suited both as we had plenty of time to enjoy a brew and gear up. I was determined to lead the climb as it would be my first lead on a grade 4 route. I had gone over the route description a thousand times and watched numerous videos online. The second crux is the corner, you can finish on the slant, hidden chimney or Yukon jacket etc. Now was the time to get on with it. My problem when leading is not being comfortable in my own abilities and eventually having to back off a route. So I wanted to break the mold and comfortable lead the route and also to enjoy the crux. The first chimney was a nice and narrow birth process onto the route, followed by the the second corner, which i thought was the crux, turned out it wasn't. Being a steep corner I managed to torque both of my axes into the back of the chimney and walk up the wall and an awkward little shuffle to slid through the narrow top, which lead onto the ledge belay. Scott however had a hands on approach when seconding, his axe had dropped below his legs and became lodged under the corner. After more swearing and some flexible maneuvering he managed to swing his axe loose and continue to the belay.
I led through the second pitch which was highlighted by the eventual crux, a blank looking wall with a thin left hand crack to the top. again the axes were torqued and the feet followed but my reach was just to short to reach the top of the wall. Luckily the open crack on the left was big enough to fit a good old classic, grit style hand jam. This was the key to unlocking the route.
Set up on the third belay I brought Scott up below me and also found that axes only went so far into the corner, there was a party also on the last pitch on Yukon Jack, then another pair just about to start the last pitch. So Scott lead the last romp to freedom up The Slant. Just at the top out we noticed we hadn't taken many pictures of the climb. Probably due to the biting wind and the use of torquing of axes throughout the day.
|Scott happy to be above the crux corner. Photo Connor Grady|
|It was one of those days. Every bone was cold. Photo Connor Grady|
Personally, I was happy with myself for leading through the chimneys and cruxes and ticking my first grade 4. I try not to take too much notice of grades as I feel leading to be more of a mental capacity then skill or technique. Although it does boost the confidence when looking to improve my grade for the winter.
Thanks to Scott, Liam and Yarek for the banter.
13 outings this season, and so far 8 routes......and counting.