Saturday, 8 January 2011

An ascent of Stob Coire nan Lochan







After over a month away from mountains and climbing, this week I began to feel the familiar urge to make an audience with the summit gods--which summit I didn't care, I just had to get up high onto a ridge in the sunshine! I failed to get out on either of my days off last week despite the good weather, convincing myself that snow conditions would be too dangerous on most of the routes I'd be interested in.

On Saturday morning, however, the weather was still fine and I wasn't due in work until 5pm. I could wait no longer. Packing my rucksack, lacing up the nailed boots, and donning the tweed, off I stomped towards Stob Coire nan Lochan.

I may have climbed this mountain dozens of times (I have now lost count) by every route within my capabilities, but it remains a favourite. On this occasion the approach path into the coire was heavily iced and extremely treacherous. Mountaineers wearing modern rubber-soled boots found it extremely hard going; conditions didn't warrant crampons, but I found my Tricouni-nailed boots to have significant advantages, and walked happily over iced slabs that others could not cross. Indeed, I overtook several parties of climbers all of whom were having trouble with the difficult conditions underfoot.

Once up into the coire I debated what to climb. Dorsal Arete had a trench all the way up, but without crampons and in dodgy snow conditions I didn't fancy it. In the end I settled for the NW ridge, a scenic walking route crossing the corniced cliff edge.

Conditions underfoot varied considerably. About 6 inches of snow (in all states between powder, windslab, and semi-consolidated) lay on top of old, hard ice. Sometimes I could simply kick steps in the snow, but quite often I had to cut--proper step-cutting with the pick, using the full weight of the axe behind each blow to carve out huge chunks of ice (the adze was simply bouncing off the surface). There is something uniquely satisfying about cutting steps in ice that crampon-clad mountain travel can't quite match.

A snow shower hit while I was high on the ridge, enveloping the mountain in cloud and freezing high winds. I quickly became coated with rime ice, but in such conditions the coarse tweed jacket keeps you far more comfortable than Goretex, and I remained warm and dry despite heavy spindrift and very low temperatures.

Upon reaching the summit, I was rewarded by a gap in the clouds and a fleeting glimpse of the Brocken Spectre. What a great day out!

Photos from today

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