Sunday, 20 February 2011

A wild day on the West face of Aonach Dubh (posted by James)

Two climbers ahead of me on Dinnertime Buttress

Dinnertime Buttress (Grade I/II), Aonach Dubh, Glencoe.

With a fairly grim forecast and avalanche conditions today, I headed over to the North face of Ben Nevis just for a walk to see what the snow and ice was looking like. There's a lot of snow, and lots of ice forming too….but unfortunately a big thaw is on the way next week!

When I got down and back to Glencoe, the weather had picked up a bit, so I decided to go climbing after all. On the West face of Aonach Dubh, the mighty cliff viewed so well from the Clachaig Inn, there are few easy routes in winter that are in condition often at all.

As none of the gullies are currently in safe condition, I headed towards Dinnertime Buttress, an easy angled buttress climbed by a short but steep chimney. It was the only place I could think of that would be relatively sheltered from the very strong winds that were blowing.

Dinnertime Buttress in the middle

Snow conditions on the approach were grim…indeed I'd forgot how absolutely relentless the walk-ins to the West face of Aonach Dubh are, especially when the heather and unfrozen turf is coated with a few inches of slush.

Snow conditions in the chimney weren't any better, so all my ice axe placements were in cracks in the rock. Thankfully there are good footholds, as this chimney isn't quite as straightforward as a Grade I/II suggests in these conditions.

Very poor snow in the chimney

As soon as I topped out from the chimney, I could feel the already strong winds really start to pick up. When a gale blows and the cloud starts to close in, the Aonach Dubh can be the most intimidating mountain face I know.

The intimidation factor of Aonach Dubh's West face.

As I entered the cloud and gained the ridge, things turned very wild indeed. I was battered by gusts from all directions, covered in spindrift and frost quickly formed all over me. I couldn't really move at all for a fair while, as walking was impossible. I finally started to make some progress, but it was exhausting work wading through some of the deepest snow drifts I've ever seen.

Deep snow drifts in Coire nan Lochan, my rucksack for scale. This wasn't the largest by any means...

Eventually I managed to find Coire nan Lochan and the walk down into the Glen. The snow in Coire nan Lochan is the deepest I've seen, and it is all still very unstable and unconsolidated. Hopefully we will get some consolidation soon, not just thaw…

So a wild day, and a very different experience from most of my climbing days this winter.


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