Friday, 24 July 2009

The Amphitheatre Escape Route, Grade 3 scramble (ish!)

The weather has not been very inspiring this week, with big showers and low cloud being a fixture most days. However, spells of tantalisingly good weather have been making an appearance in between showers, and today after buying a new waterproof in the Fort I decided I could finally justify a hill day whatever the weather! My old jacket was starting to leak like a sieve, making hill days in the rain not really an option.

I headed up to the West Face of Aonach Dubh once again to further my explorations of this mighty cliff. My intention was to find an easy route up through the great Amphitheatre and onto the prominent North Ridge that I have noticed from the glen. Once again, this was a guidebook-free expedition and I aimed to have as little knowledge of this area of the face as possible before starting out.

I began by climbing the lower tier of B Buttress, which is (together with Dinnertime Buttress lower tier) the only feasible way of ascending the lower cliff. I then traversed the Middle Ledge beneath the enormous dripping overhangs of D Buttress as far as No.4 Gully, which leads up to the Amphitheatre itself.

It soon became clear that there was an easy rib of broken rock directly to the right of the gully bed, climbing up amongst impressive rock architecture. Above me towered the enormous unbroken face of E Buttress, the only cliff on the face with a significant concentration of summer rock climbs. The rib I followed proved to be straightforward, although there were a couple of exposed moves: I would give it a Grade 2 scramble rating.

I then entered the Amphitheatre itself, an enormous hanging corrie carved out of the rock of the mountain. No way up lay ahead: I knew of an escape to the right, the South Ridge which I had climbed with Rachael last October. However I wanted to make an escape to the left, without going all the way back along the Rake that is, so I ended up ascending the incredibly loose Great Slab. This is an enormous slab of rock, scoured by ice and covered in the most precarious grit and rubble. Climbing up the slab is like climbing on ball bearings. It is technically easy but the chance of a slip is always there, and for this reason it is the most serious point in the route. It is also where most of the avalanches originate that sweep No.4 Gully over the winter.

My hope had been to climb the North Ridge, a fine crest of rock that made the natural continuation to my route. However, as I began scrambling up to the crest it started to rain heavily, and I decided to find an easier route up.

The shattered ridge to my left looked promising. It proved to be broken and mostly easy, except near the top where there were several steps of Moderate climbing.

All in all it was a good exploratory route through fine rock scenery. My eyes have been opened to just how much potential there is for new scrambling routes on this face.

Photos from today

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