Monday, 8 February 2010

The Sgor na h-Ulaidh circuit via West Gully

Today, James and I headed up to Sgor na h-Ulaidh with the intention of climbing one of the gullies. The day dawned clear, crisp and cold, and we made good progress along the gentle and enjoyable walk-in, which takes you into an un-named glen where few people venture (compared with most of Glen Coe!) The North Face of Sgor na h-Ulaidh, which means Peak of the Treasure, towers above. It's a great cliff with only a few recorded routes, although I noticed an impressive free-standing ice pillar which to my knowledge has not been climbed. Too difficult for the likes of me!

As we were gearing up under West Gully, one of my crampons--which James was borrowing--snapped at the plastic bail. Unfortunately this rendered the crampon unusable. I offered to lend him my other crampons so he could continue up the walking route, but eventually we decided that he would head for home with the rope while I set off up the gully alone. A misfortune, but at least it didn't break halfway up the route!

West Gully proved to be an easy but interesting climb, mostly on snow but with two short ice pitches. The first of these was a very short groove (about 2m high!) but the second was most fun, a short near-vertical ice chimney in good condition. As the forecast had suggested, there were pockets of soft windslab in the gully (thanks to the spindrift tornados from above) but they were mostly easy to avoid and weren't too much of a concern.

Upon hitting the ridge, the wind became ferocious: far, far stronger than the forecast 15 - 20mph. I struggled along the ridgetop to the summit of Sgor na h-Ulaidh in a strong gale, gusting to the extent that I was forced to lie on the ground at one point to avoid being blown over!

The snow on the face immediately beneath the summit looked to be highly unstable, with all the summit routes being laden in fresh windslab and drooping, soft cornices. Much worse than a Category 2 avalanche risk would suggest. I believe this is due to the wind being an order of magnitude stronger than originally anticipated.

I continued along the ridge circuit to the Munro top, Stob an Fhuarain, then to Aonach Dubh a' Ghlinne before dropping back down a long grassy spur to the glen bottom. The walk along the ridge-top afforded superb views of the enormous South Face of Bidean nam Bian and also the Etive mountains, but was a bit of a struggle due to the high winds!

So: a fantastic hill day, even if it did not go quite as originally planned!

Photos from today


  1. Hi Alex, great blog. I climbed this gully alone a couple of days before you, on the 6th. Having done just a few grade 1 winter routes before I was keen to see what others thought of this route and to know what I'd done, since I wasn't aware about the short ice pitches beforehand! I really enjoyed the climb. Your photo of the ice chimney is great thanks, I didn't get such a close-up! Some of my pics were taken at the same spots as yours, including the rimed fencepost, spooky! I had mist in the gully, giving a great eerie atmosphere but I would have preferred the blue sky. I didn't get any wind on the ridge though. Let me know if you'd like to see my pics. Cheers Ian

  2. Hi Ian, thanks for the positive comments! I think West Gully is fairly typical in the conditions we had it in for a Grade II gully, so a wise choice on your part for a first Grade II (no cornice difficulties, short and well-defined difficulties). It's also quite atmospheric, with that overhanging right-hand wall!

    I would be very interested indeed to see the pictures you took. If you'd like to email them to me, I can be contacted at alex DOT roddie AT gmail DOT com. Cheers!