Friday, 8 January 2010

A very different two days

Stunning weather in the glen at the moment, with deep frost overnight and absolutely calm, clear, and sunny weather during the day. The entire glen is frozen solid, with sections of the River Coe encased in ice, and most of the minor streams reduced to a mere trickle behind huge icefalls.

Yesterday, given the good forecast I decided to do an ascent of Stob Coire nan Lochan using entirely period gear. That meant full-tweed jacket, nailed boots, long ice axe, puttees etc. I ended up cutting a lot of steps! The tweed jacket was remarkably comfortable and effective in the sub-zero, windless conditions, being far more breathable than any modern garment yet also warm. I found the nailed boots to have many advantages, notably their superior performance on iced rocks, but after a while the nails started to conduct heat from my feet into the ground, leading to cold feet despite two pairs of socks!

It was an interesting experiment and I learned a great deal about how climbing was done in the 19th century, and while I can see myself donning the tweeds again when the mood takes me, I will not be throwing away my Alp Wings and crampons just yet.


Today I am in work at 3 o'clock so planned a short jaunt up onto Aonach Dubh's West Face, for a possible ascent of C-D Scoop or C Buttress. However, conditions on the approach concerned me, with a buildup of windslab on the snowslope leading up B Buttress. Having had difficulties with avalanche-prone conditions on that same slope last year, I decided it wasn't worth the risk, and backed down.

On the way back home I noticed that the Lower Falls of Coire nam Beithach appeared to be in good shape. Apparently they were climbed yesterday by several teams. I attacked the first pitch with vigour, but the vertical step didn't feel very secure with my rucksack on, so I left my bag at the bottom and proceeded with greater comfort. Once again, the Grivel Spring Leashes proved their worth.

The climb was delightful. Pitch 1 was steep (tech 4) but short. A large pitch had formed above the cave waterfall I investigated over the summer, and I found that with the river frozen I was actually able to access the cave, which was full of icicles and rather eerie. The ice was a joy to climb, the less steep sections covered in steps and hooks that seemed to have naturally formed as part of the freezing process.

I was forced to avoid pitch 4 as it was looking decidedly fragile from yesterday's traffic, with a spout of water flowing behind hacked-about ice on the vertical section. Didn't really feel like committing myself to about 12m of vertical and near-vertical ice that might fall down with me on it! However, the top pitch was in great shape.

Overall I would grade the climb III,4 as it is mostly solid Grade III but with some short very steep sections.

I also got a good look at the main icefall (or upper fall) of Coire am Beithach, and it does indeed seem to have suffered partial collapse at some point. That said, there is a complete column on the right-hand side and I daresay it is climbable by anyone who is bold enough!


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