by Paul Bolton
It was with great trepidation that I endlessly checked the weather and avalanche forecasts in the days leading up to my trip to Scotland. After poor conditions during last year’s trip, when we only managed one day of actual climbing, it surely had to be more successful this time around!
As a precursor to the club trip, I headed up to Glencoe a few days earlier to spend four days on an Introduction to Winter Climbing course. My arrival heralded the start of a week of cold, calm, stable conditions during which time I climbed some classic routes: Twisting Gulley (III) on Stob Coire nan Lochan, Curved Ridge (II/III) on the Buachaille Etive Mor, Left Twin (III) on Aonach Mor and Arch Gully (III) on Stob Coire nam Beith. I then spent my rest day learning how to ski.
On the Thursday Michael, Gerard and Gareth flew up to Glasgow on the morning flight, and being keen to play in the snow made use of the chairlift in the Glencoe ski area to quickly get up above the snowline. Here they made good use of the snow shovel and snow saw that Gerard had been careful to make room for in his luggage!
After meeting up in the Inchree Centre later that afternoon, a plan was hatched by Michael, Gerard and myself to get up early the next morning to climb the Aonach Eagach ridge (II/III). As planned, we were at the bottom of the route just as it was getting light and rapidly headed up Am Bodach to the start of the ridge, unimpeded by any snow until about 150m below the summit. Although the snow was a bit thin in places, conditions were generally pretty good with well consolidated snow. Having crossed the pinnacles and taken in two munro summits along the way, we finally ended up at the Clachaig Inn, where we anxiously waited to see if the Muldoon Taxi service would turn up.
The remainder of the party (Dan, Jane, Dave and Gordon) had arrived in the early hours of the morning, and decided against an early start. Dan, Jane and Dave went scrambling on Gearr Aonach, and finished on the summit of Stob Coire nan Lochan, whilst Gareth and Gordon went for a walk.
Rime – Stob Corie nan Lochan
Whilst Gordon and Dave went walking in the mountains above Ballachulish on the Saturday, the rest of us headed up to Stob Coire nan Lochan. Gareth and I climbed Boomerang Gully (II) before bagging the summit of Bidean nam Bian, whilst Gerard and Michael’s route of choice was Forked Gully (I), after deciding that the right-fork alternative (II/III) wasn’t in condition. Having time to spare after this, they traversed into Dorsal Arete (II) just below the crux, exposed “dorsal fin” pitch, which they then proceeded to avoid by taking the gully up the side. Dan and Jane decided to do their bit for club tradition and got into a long queue on Twisting Gully (III), topping out just as darkness was falling and completing the descent with head torches. To cap the day off I cooked the long awaited (for Dan at least) Sussex Pond Pudding.
The final full day of the trip saw a rise in freezing levels and worsening conditions. Gordon, Dave, Gareth, Gerard and Michael decided to head to the Nevis Range gondola station for either walking or skiing, and Jane decided to have a work day. Eventually Dan and I decided to go to Stob Coire nam Beith, where we proceeded to climb North West Gully (III) on poor quality snow, avoiding the potentially interesting ice pitches due to the water running down behind the ice – typical Scottish conditions. A head-torch illuminated descent and a quick pint in the Clachaig Inn (so that Dan could say his last goodbye to the place) marked the end of what was a very successful winter trip.
Northeast view from Stob Coire nan Lochan.