Saturday, 12 December 2009

A magical day - but not all good news

First of all - I would like to convey my condolences to the family and friends of the mountaineer who was killed in the Lost Valley this evening. The name of the climber has not yet been released but having witnessed for myself how treacherous the paths are becoming with black ice it is easy to imagine a slip turning into something more serious. Take care out there in these icy conditions.

With perfect conditions forecast, Isi and I once again found ourselves walking into Coire nan Lochan this morning. The weather was calm, perfectly clear, and there had been a fierce overnight frost--yet the air itself felt relatively warm! What more could one want? The snow underfoot was as hard as glacial ice and we had to put crampons on from around 800m. The sound of crampons crunching on hard snow was so loud we had to raise our voices to make ourselves heard.

The coire has been comprehensively stripped by the thaw. I doubt many mixed routes are in condition, with the exception of Dorsal Arete, which looked fine. Most of the buttresses are black, albeit with neve on the ledges and some (small) ice weeps forming. Most of the turf is now frozen. It is the easy gullies which are currently in superb condition, with solid neve all the way to the top, except for a few suspect patches of slabby snow atop powder.

We decided to climb Boomerang Gully, as it is the hardest gully currently in condition that both of us had not yet done. The entry slope was straightforward; the mixed pitch in the middle was much less banked-out than the last time I did this route, in March, and required careful route choice. I scouted out several options, discounting two of them out of hand. In the end the runnel to the right 'went' at solid Grade II standard, with an entertaining steep step followed by a traverse out left onto the open face.

The rest of the gully passed uneventfully and the hard snow was a joy to climb. We topped out to yet another sunset of breathtaking beauty from the summit of Stob Coire nan Lochan. As the sun sank in a fireball behind Bidean, blood-red Alpenglow touched the snow-free Aonach Eagach and the Ben, finally vanishing in a flicker before dusk took hold. It is the sort of sight one feels immensely privileged to have witnessed--and yet this is the second time in two weeks that I have been the audience to this greatest display of mountain grandeur.

Cold weather forecast for the rest of this week, and high pressure set to dominate for tomorrow at the very least. I hope to get out as often as possible. Long may these superb conditions endure.

Photos from today

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