Wednesday, 20 January 2010
No.3 Gully, Aonach Dubh (West Face)
Although the weather forecast did not look particularly inspiring today, given the threat of new snow tomorrow I decided to make an effort and swapped my shift with Vicky to give me the morning off. I'm glad I managed to get out of bed! The gusts of wind overnight were terrific, and light fine snow was whirling everywhere as I tramped along the road. The only thing that kept me going was my conviction that the West Face would be a) sheltered; and b) consolidated.
I made rapid progress up the lower tier of B Buttress, although about halfway up I was forced to pop on crampons and get the Alp Wings out to deal with the rock barriers, which were in frustrating icy conditions. In certain conditions the B Buttress approach can be a Grade II climb in its own right, although luckily today the turf was still frozen iron-hard (surprising given all this thaw!)
Just before I reached the Middle Ledge I diverted right to climb the first complete ice pitch in No.3 Gully (Grade II/III). As I had predicted, the snow and ice was in fantastic shape and I was completely shielded from the wind ... if not from the plumes of spindrift blown off the ridge high above. No.3 Gully was complete and in excellent condition, with several steps of beautiful ice and generally well-bonded snow. I passed beneath the Smear but decided it looked a bit delicate for me to be doing on my own.
After the steeper right-hand finish I topped out on the Rake, and proceeded to climb a scoop between No.2 Gully Buttress and B Buttress (Upper Tier). This minor gully, which can perhaps be most consistently described as '2B Scoop' in keeping with the naming convention of the cliff, was uneventful but featured a turfy steepening at mid-height.
I topped out at the Dinnertime Buttress Col in wild, whiteout conditions and made my way down Coire nan Lochan as fast as possible. There is a good track beaten into the snowpack now and the bumslide next to the Lochan Approach buttress is complete.
So: conditions excellent on what snow remains on the West Face, but lots of routes are thin and still others have no snow on at all. Most of the buttresses were dry.
More snow forecast tomorrow so things could change fast.
Photos from today