By Stu Barton. French Version translated by Nathalie!

[frame align=”left”][singlepic id=439 w=150 h=150 float=][/frame]And then there were two.

Slowly but ever surely the December winter trip is becoming a desperate attempt at justifying the cost of buying equipment, by spending more money on travel and accommodation. No matter, a least we can do some of that proper climbing without taking the excess baggage onto the hill! I sort of wanted to get a grade IV in on this trip not sure whether I could climb at that level, having demonstrated on The Seam that you can’t smear up on ice. But first drastic action was needed. With Pete’s car being out of action I had to buy a new car, new to me anyway, to fit all the gear in. So with Legacy diesel power and a Led Zeppelin sound track we cruised across to Ballater for a reconnaissance*, to plan the forward assault on Lochnagar. A 7km walkabout. Then down to Perth for a camera. Back to bunk house in Braemar.

* French word meaning to go in the wrong direction and get lost.

With the wind picking up on Sunday the walk in, 5km rising from 410m to 900m, was ok but at least at that point we could see where we were going. On the decent into Lochnagar with strong winds hitting the face, I suggested that a gully climb out of the place might be a good idea as standing up was just about possible. This was met with sympathy and understanding from Pete and a compromise was found in the shape of a small ice pitch below Forsaken Gully 90m II.

Having been on Fiacaill Ridge and Ben Nevis in their winter prime, the top of Lochnagar looks very similar. All part of the fun of course.

Monday would be simple. Drive to the Corries from Braemar. Walk in. Aladdin’s Mirror Direct. Descend Aladdin’s Couloir. Drive to Roy Bridge. Meagaidh on Tuesday. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, snow for starters. This was dismissed with Scooby traction although it was a little slow. It can help with the physics but not change them, so we got there later than planned. Next problem was finding the route. You would think Sneachda would be easy to bump into, but when you can only see 10m in front and the snow is soft it makes it a little trickier. Having found the start of Aladdin’s and traversed to the Mirror Direct 25m IV, 4 we started to climb around lunch time.

Pete led the first pitch and belayed me up, and with some gentle encouragement I led the second pitch managing to get 3 ice screws in along the climb. Feeling pretty smug on my belay rock I asked Pete if he thought that the climb was a IV, 4.”Nah…Probably III, 3”, oh well still worth doing. I’m not sure which route we did to the top but ‘trend upwards’ seams to cover it. Not wanting to descend Aladdin’s we went down the ski run back to the car park passing a big machine making all the snow for the mountains.

It’s only when you stop, that you find new aches and pains, that you didn’t have while your were doing nothing at home. Strange. Meagaidh was abandoned on the basis that we’re not fit and wanted to try and make the most of the CIC hut and Ben Nevis from Wednesday. So an easy day on Tuesday at the Corries was proposed and seconded by all the members of the committee.

Tuesday 11th December. A beautiful day. Clouds like a fluffy duvet and consolidated snow to walk on. Complete opposite to yesterday. Pete was thinking of Patey’s Route 120m IV, 5 on the way in, having abandoned the route a few years earlier, but settled for Fingers Ridge 140m IV, 4.

Pete led the first, ‘Start at foot of Red Gully at some easy angle slabs’, and third pitches as they were the ones he didn’t lead last time he climbed it. This left the second and fourth pitches for me. Leading off on the second pitch and reaching a ledge I asked which way the route went. Pete helpfully said he didn’t mind as long as it went in an upwards direction. Further consultation resulted in the route following a rib parallel with Broken Gully. Onwards and upwards. Having to make some committing moves, bearing in mind that the last time I was on a IV was on second and came off 3 times, I was half way through a tricky step up onto a snow banked ledge when a pile of spin drift rained down. There was nothing to do but hold on and hope nothing big hit me. Fortunately nothing did, that is until it finished and I lifted my head and got hit in the face by a piece of ice. At least I had my glasses on. Onwards and upwards. Over blocks given a Difficult summer grade testing every axe placement and crampon hold, I managed to drop a cam (its ok it wasn’t one of mine). Onwards and upwards. To the second belay point with a nice in situ piton. Pete seemed to think that the pitch took a smidgen longer than strictly necessary. I didn’t care. I enjoyed it and on the plus side I was alive. Third pitch was a chimney section leading a belay below the ridge and the ‘Fingers’. My fourth pitch. Setting off along the ridge and not wanting to commit to a move with the gear and Pete only a few metres below; I finally found a good sling placement and then found the move was ok after all. Up to the Fingers, left at the first, lovely axe placement on the second, step round right above the drop, swap hands on the first axe second axe in to pull round and up onto the walkway to the short wall. (Page 222 SMC Scottish Winter Climbs. It’s not me, no really, but you’ll get the idea.)

The short wall had been cleared of snow by previous climbers so the gear placement of a half cam was easier but still delicate moves were required. Topped out over banked up snow, walked 10m and collapsed thoroughly delighted with the climb. Dug out a bucket seat for the belay, now if only Pete would climb faster we might get down before dark.

Tuesday night in Fort William ready for the rest day on Wednesday

Rest Day. Got up, shopped in Fort William drove to North Face car park. Drove back got rest of shopping drove back to car park. A 6km walk from 50m to 680m with 30kg rucksacks. It was very difficult as I had the whisky in the right hand side of my rucksack so I had to remember if I fell to fall to the left.

The CIC Hut is basic but functional with one communal kitchen area and a bunk room. Water is taken from the standpipe outside, the heating and cooking on gas. The composting toilets are a treat, anti-bacterial gel and wet wipes for showers. We had it to ourselves for two nights then more climbers showed up on Friday night. Three nights in the CIC hut with one bottle of Talisker.

Pete resorted to marking the bottle to ration it.

We had planned to do Good Friday Climb 150m III on Thursday. The snow wasn’t inspiring on the way up Observatory Gully and the traverse from Gardyloo to the route looked as though it might give so we decided to abandon the route and escape up Gardyloo Gully 170m II. It was quite a pleasant romp up the mountain culminating in a lovely ice feature. The route description which we read later says, “…lying high on the mountain and being a natural drainage line, it is one of the first routes to freeze up. Under these conditions it provides an interesting passage under a huge chock stone to a steep ice pitch (III, 4).” Damn right. It’s also why you wear a helmet whilst climbing. Pete led out and I was wedged in a slight corner on the right while he hacked away the loose ice to be able to climb. This position was fine until he had to go left, at which point I had a lovely ice shower with the lumps still in it. I then had to untie while Pete pulled the rope through the gear to throw the rope down to haul the rucksack out as it wouldn’t fit through the gap on my back. It’s only when it was 3 metres in the air I realise the walking poles were tied to the outside. Damn. Pete retrieved the bag by abseiling down to get it. I think he enjoyed it. It’s a bit windy on the top. I couldn’t catch every word. It was the usual view from the top and 282 degrees down via Red Burn and path to the hut.

Pete had slipped on the ice on the way back to the hut and bent his thumb back. Not life threatening but bad enough not to be able to pull up on an ice axe. The wind had also picked up, so a walk up to Corie na Ciste was all that was managed on Friday. We decided to get ferry back earlier on Saturday as we had got more done than on previous trips, so we donated the remainder of the loo roll to the hut. I’m sure it will be appreciated. First grade IV lead. Box ticked. Only 11 weeks until the next one.

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