Thursday, 18 February 2010

The Z Couloir and Aonach Eagach ridge of Stob Ghabhar

Another gorgeous but freezing morning, another Aonach Eagach! Given the dump of snow to valley level in Glen Coe, we decided to head further south, to the Black Mount, to ascend the comparatively little-known Aonach Eagach of Stob Ghabhar. Stob Ghabhar is a large peak that forms the easternmost termination of the huge ridge from Ben Starav in the Etive.

The day was clear and still right from the start, bitterly cold on the walk-in but as soon as the sun rose the temperature skyrocketed. Before long we had stripped down to our shirts, and I put on my glacier goggles the moment the sun hit us, to avoid snow-blindness. The snow underfoot proved to be an inch or two of undisturbed powder lying on top of old, hard snow: excellent walking conditions with minimal avalanche risk. No windslab in evidence where we were.

In order to attain the summit marked 'Aonach Eagach', you have to climb or bypass a large craggy nose. We chose a Z-shaped snow course up the left side of this face, which I have called the Z Couloir. It's an entertaining Grade I snow climb with a few optional exits and is a good start to the ridge above, in character with the rest of the route. After climbing this, and the broad easy ridge above, we arrived at the real gem of the day: the knife-edged snow crest!

This crest featured a small cornice in places but mostly consisted of a finely-wrought ridge of fresh snow, extremely sharp and exposed on both sides. Although sadly short-lived, this ridge puts the Carn Mor Dearg Arete to shame. I had endless fun breaking trail along here--it felt properly Alpine, and in fact reminded me of the summit ridge of Castor in Switzerland.

The view from the summit was spectacular, and as always, we descended only with reluctance from our audience with the mountain gods.

Photo album from today

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