Thursday, 11 March 2010

Aonach Dubh morning

Yesterday I was blessed with a three o'clock start at work, so decided to make the most of it and head up to the West Face of Aonach Dubh. On the approach I immediately noticed the impressive debris from the giant avalanche last week. The debris flows are incredible, quite literally banking out entire watercourses, smashing trees, moving boulders around and generally wreaking devastation on the coire. The debris flows look a bit like a multi-branched small glacier spreading out from the face. The floor of Coire nam Bheithach has been substantially altered and the approach to Stob Coire nam Beith has made much easier, as you can now just walk over the 'glacier' instead of mucking around with that icy slab scramble!

The normal approach to the West Face has also been changed. Usually you walk straight up the steep buttress from above the Lower Falls, but now it is easier to walk up the 'glacier' in No.3 Gully, climbing short ice pitches as you come to them. In this way I rapidly dispatched half of the approach before being forced to cut back left onto the buttress crest. Several of the scrambling sections that are usually easy are now highly banked out in snow, necessitating more care than might be expected.

As I approached the Middle Ledge, I noticed a substantial bergschrund at the foot of No.3 Gully main icefall. The Screen still has plenty of ice on, but is only freezing at night currently.

After traversing a little of the Middle Ledge I proceeded to climb C-D Scoop, something I have been meaning to do for ages as a Grade II gully very close to my house! It's quite easy, mostly Grade I snow but with two short steep ice pitches in good nick. After reaching the Rake, also highly banked-out and displaying crown walls in places, I traversed left and finished up 2B Scoop.

I climbed this route in January and it makes a good finish to any climb on the Middle Tier. Originally graded II, it is now highly banked out and in I/II conditions, with the turf pitch being nothing more than a steep snow bulge. However, the exposed traverse at the top was guarded by a bizarre cornice, so I finished with a short pitch of quite difficult mixed climbing up to the right on the buttress.

Also worthy of note from yesterday is the massive crown wall, with associated seracs and crevasses, at the top of No.2 Gully. I had intended to descend this way, but despite the stable snow pack the impulse not to climb beneath seracs in the heat of the day is very deeply ingrained from previous Alpine seasons! I elected to choose the longer, safer way down by Coire nan Lochan.

Photos from C-D Scoop
An album of avalanche damage photos!

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