Towering high above Glencoe, best seem from the Clachaig, is the mighty West face of Aonach Dubh. Easily a candidate for one of the most imposing mountain faces in Scotland.
With the exception of Dinnertime Buttress it is steep everywhere, huge vertical and overhanging cliffs split by gullies and two horizontal rakes. In winter it is a very committing, intimidating mountain face…in some ways a nightmare for a solo climber as options for retreat are pretty limited.
The massive West face of Aonach Dubh
The mixture of wind direction, freezing level and heavy snowfall over the last few days combined to made the West face a good choice for buttress climbing today. So armed with a high level of psyche that's been building within me over the last week I started heading up the relentlessly steep lower slopes of B Buttress.
Ice starting to form on The Screen
Unluckily for me a it started snowing very heavily on the approach and I was treated to good old full on Scottish winter conditions…but I was in the right frame and I continued.
The weather starts to close in.
To the left hand side of No.3 Gully and to the right of The Pinnacle Face is a rocky rib that runs up to the Upper Rake. In some ways it is surprisingly like a smaller version of Curved Ridge.
The rib runs up the right hand side of the main buttress in the photo
I've been up it a few times in summer before but it is not recorded as a winter route in any guidebook that I've read and it isn't logged on UKC. But today it made a good climb at about Grade II/III - frozen turf, a lot of snow and with ice starting to form. It is broken by two small walls which were awkward with the unconsolidated snow and don't have many positive hooks for axes.
On the rib
The difficulties are by no means over though when you top out of the route, as you then need to escape from the face itself onto the easier slopes above. The steep traverse across the top of No.2 Gully is in many ways the crux of a climb on this part of Aonach Dubh, as the wrong snow conditions can make it a lethal place to be.
A small chimney
Fortunately although the snow was very deep on the traverse, it was also not sliding at all. So I managed climb rocky ground and tenuous ice and break out to the summit slopes above and to the left of No.2 Gully Buttress.
The Ballachulish Horseshoe
Then a blizzard started, and it got heavier and heavier as I waded through waist deep drifts in Coire nan Lochan. There is a great deal of snow up high just now.
Coire nan Lochan under heavy snow
So, a brilliant day. Exploratory climbing amongst rarely visited and intimidating surroundings…something I intend to do more of.
Amazing light on Sgorr Ban
For now I'm calling the route "Number 3 Gully Rib" - Grade II/III. I dare say someone else might have climbed it in the past, if anyone knows please email me!