Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Battling spindrift on the North face of Stob Coire Sgreamhach (posted by James)

The North face of Stob Coire Sgreamhach. The line takes mixed difficulties in a line to the summit.

"North Face Direct" (Grade III), Stob Coire Sgreamhach, Glencoe.

Sunday, 27th Feb 2011

Up until a few days ago, it was almost starting to look like the winter season in Glencoe was going to come to an early end. We've had a massive thaw…but thankfully last saturday the temperature dropped again, we had a bit of fresh snow and the old saturated snow-pack started to firm up really nicely.

Knowing it was probably my last chance, on sunday I headed towards a route I've wanted to do for a while, the direct route up Stob Coire Sgreamhach's North face. It is an impressive triangular peak standing tall over Glencoe's Lost Valley, and the route links mixed ground with snow lines as directly as possible to the summit.

The first steep wall

As I started the first steep wall, the snow was still very soft as it had fallen the night before, and unfortunately at this low level the turf wasn't frozen so this first wall was quite spicy to solo! About half way up I came across a very steep corner where all the holds moved when I put pressure on them, so I had to do a rather unnerving downclimb and traverse around.

Blinding spindrift

At about this point, all hell broke loose. The wind quite suddenly picked up, and for the rest of the climb I was fighting through some of the heaviest spindrift I've ever seen. Ski-goggles definitely required! At some points it was so thick I could hardly see my feet!

Whilst climbing one of the steep snow sections I had a bit of a fright. I'd started up an area of grade II ice and only discovered half-way up that it was hollow. I'd kicked a hole through the ice, to find a gaping, evil-looking hole beneath which must have been at least 20ft deep. Needless to say my next few moves were delicate to say the least!

A frightening hole which I very nearly fell down....

Dramatic light on Gearr Aonach, the middle of the Three Sisters.

Above about 800m the snow was very firm indeed and perfect for climbing. After about 2 hours of battling spindrift I reached the last steep section and pulled over a small cornice onto the summit ridge, almost to be blown right down in to the Lost Valley again.

I was very pleased to have got this route done…a really nice route-finding challenge with some areas at the top end of safe soloing ground, and probably the last chance I'd have had to get it done this year.

Plumes of spindrift blowing over the top of Sron na Lairig

Now I'm going to be turning my attention to late season snow routes on the higher mountains…hopefully we'll get some nice sunshine!


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