Wednesday, 15 December 2010

An amazing two months (posted by James)

A stunning morning on Ledge Route, Ben Nevis

It looks like the cold is to return tomorrow after the massive thaw of the last few days, so now is a good time to look back on what has been a superb start to the winter.

Until this year, 'early season' to me has meant strong winds, deep powder snow, little or no ice, damp walk-ins and more often that not disappointment when trying to climb.

Alpenglow on the Aonach Eagach, Glencoe

This year has been an exception - I've climbed 10 winter routes already, and nearly all of them in good conditions. And I'm not the only one by any means. The winter climbing community of Glencoe and Lochaber have had a field-day, with routes being climbed that aren't usually done until mid-season, and some which are rarely in condition at all. An Steall Ban in Glen Nevis, rarely in condition at all, has seen at least 2 ascents, and the great ice falls of Aonach Dubh and the Aonach Eagach have been climbed on several occasions.

Winter perfection on Stob Coire nam Beith, Glencoe

And there have been some impressive first-ascents too. I was lucky enough to witness Donald King and Andy Nelson doing the first ascent of Satyr (IX,9) in Coire nan Lochan, and it was certainly something to behold.

Exposed early-season climbing on Dorsal Arete, Glencoe

The weather has been stunning for much of the time, with clear skies and bright sunshine. But with it came deep, intense cold. On Ben Nevis 2 weeks ago I experienced brutal cold the like of which I'd never seen before, leaving me with a frost-nipped finger and sore skin for days.

Early season ice in North Gully, Ben Nevis

Unfortunately the exceptional cold and heavy snow also created some very dangerous conditions as well as I unfortunately discovered in Coire nan Lochan a week ago. I was caught in a small avalanche, and had a very lucky escape indeed.

It's an experience I'm actually glad I had, although it was deeply unpleasant and very frightening. It's good to be reminded how very dangerous this game we play is.

So all in all, a remarkable start to the season. Fingers crossed for more of the same!

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