Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Winter comes early

Sat 1st Nov 2008: Northern Corries

The weather was looking good over the last part of this week, so i was optimistic to get out, even if just for a bimble in the snow. However, volunteers (also known as partners) were thin on the ground, so it wasn't till late on Friday night that i collared Dave Strachan and Graham Biostelle, two likely lads who work at AVW and managed to jump in on their trip up north early the next morning.

Come 6 o'clock i jumped in their motor at AVW and was asleep before we made it onto the hawkhill. Waking up somewhere around the Drumochter pass (1500ft), i was greeted by a scene of snow covered hills, much to my amazement! I hadn't seen this much this early in the year for yonks. If there was this much low down, what was it like in the Norries where the base of most routes sit above 3000ft???

Next thing i knew and we were greeted by snow down to the level of Aviemore (generally a good sign that it will be full of snow higher up), then made rapid progress along Glenmore where wer were greeted with fantastic views of the Norries which were PLASTERED in snow. I can't remember ever seeing that much snow up there in the years i have been visitng, so i was quite excited as we headed up the Ski car park road.

It was hovering around the freezing mark as we jumped out of the car and threw all our warm kit on, sorted gear and then bugged out. Soon warming up, we made fairly fast progress into the centre corrie of Coire an t'sneachda (Corrie of the snow). Reaching a hiogh point, it was obvious we were some of the latest climbers to arrive, with the rest of the corrie being covered in climbers, with at one point well over 60 climbers visible from the lochain.
The walk in, with plenty of snow!The Mess of Pottage

Aladdin's Buttress
Dave and Graham beneath the Fiacaill Buttress

We made the decision to avoid the mess of pottage and alladdin's buttress as they were mobbed, so headed west to the Fiacaill Buttress, with the aim of doing a route called 'The Seam' (IV 5)
Having arrived at the gearing up point, we could see one team already on the seam, one on stirling bomber, and one heading up to Invernookie.

Stirling bomber V,7

After a good hour long wait, we made our way up the first pitch, with Graham keen to get on some grade IV ground, so he lead the way with me and Dave bringing up the rear. The first pitch was an easy angled (soft) snow plod until it hit a rock band halfway up, which having not used my axes in anger for over 8 months, i found challenging, but was soon up at the belay beside Graham.
A climber about to start the crux chimney pitch of The Seam

Dave Joined us, and we sorted the gear out then Dave lead through, pushing up some increasingly steeper and looser snow, before he got his first runner in. Few!!! After a couple of exposed steps he was up at the final traverse and made it with relative ease before he noticed his last runner had fallen out, and that any fall off the traverse would mean a long and significant fall then swing to the left. Despite this he made it to the belay stance with no probs and brought both of us up..
Dave watching Graham on the crux pitch


We could now see the crux section of the route, the chimney pitch leading to the summit. It looked an immaculate rock climb, but at this time of year was under a deep covering of powder snow. Graham was keen as mustard to get on it, but a large tangle in the ropes meant he had to wait a while till me and Dave sorted our shit out. Off he went, and made steady progress up the chimney, only stopping to shake some blood back into his rapidly cooling hands, and to dig away at the deep snow cover to find places for protection.

Graham leads up the crux

All too soon and it was my turn to head up. Yikes, this was real grade IV ground, considerably harder and more exposed than anything i had done before. There were a few points where i was happy to have a rope above my head as my hands had turned into blocks of ice, and i had to fish out Grahams very well placed protection at fairly regular intervals, meaning i couldn't get into a rhythm. Despite this, i made my way up to Grahams Belay stance and scrambled up past him to the top, almost puncturing his thigh with my crampons. Sorry...

The view from the top (how many climbers can you spot?)

The thrill of reaching the top was short lived when i was hit with a serious dose of the hotaches, brought on by a combination of hands against cold rock/snow and gripping my axes for dear life. This low point was short lived when i heard the familiar low base notes of the approaching yellow taxi, also known as the RAF search and rescue helicopter. They made a detailed (and low) circuit of the Northen corries, passing within 100m of and well below us at the top of The Seam, then skimming around the corrie and up to cairngorm, before a tour round the neighbouring coire an lochan, then off East to Lochnagar. It seems they were on a familiarisation exercise today, as there were reports of them circling around the North face of the Ben, then the Northern Cairngorms, before taking in the beauty of Lochnagar.

Once everyone was up and safe, we made our way down the Fiacaill ridge (a grade II in its own right in deep snow!) before reaching the col which drops back into Coire an t'Sneachda. Forgoing the safe route, we chose to use gravity to lose height quickly, sliding down the powder slopes on our arse. What a great way to end a climb! Just the walk back to the car, then we can warm up and get some grub. Dave and Graham reminded me of how much fitter they are than me by practically running back to the car, but i made it there in one peice, and was able to appreciate the now setting sun across the alpine wilderness of the Cairngorms.
Twilight in the gorms...

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