With another day of cold temperatures forecast, I gave my axes and crampons a good sharpen and this morning set off towards Creag Meagaidh in search of some ice to climb.
So far this winter I've focused mainly on buttresses and ridge routes, as I'm more comfortable soloing mixed climbs. Ice gullies remain a bit of a mental barrier for me when it comes to soloing on grade III terrain.
But I've been climbing on steeper and more committing routes this winter, steadily improving my technique, strength and mental awareness. So…armed with the psyche and confidence born from stunning weather and the knowledge of my improvement, I decided to take on the challenge of soloing a Grade III ice gully.
I'd been told by a good source (cheers Gary!) that although ice was by no means abundant on Creag Meagaidh just now, conditions in the Inner Corrie were looking okay so I decided to give it a shot.
The Inner Corrie
The walk-in towards Coire Ardair before dawn this morning was truly beautiful…a perfectly clear sky and a moon so bright that I had no need for a headtorch, the snowy cliffs glowing through the dark. And it was cold, the coldest morning I've seen so far this winter.The promise of a memorable day ahead.
A crisp, clear dawn
The Inner Corrie was indeed in better condition than the Post face in Coire Ardair. Although the harder ice lines (The Wand, Diadem etc) are not climbable yet, some of the lower and mid-grade routes were looking better.
After a good look through my binoculars at the crux pitch and exit snow-slopes, I decided to go for Crescent Gully (Grade III).
Crescent Gully (III), the steep line in the centre.
Despite a wee bit of windslab on the low easy pitch, I was delighted by the snow conditions. A lot of nevé around and first time axe placements nearly every time.
The entrance to the crux
Soon I was at the base of the crux. It looked pretty thin, but I could see that it was climbable. A fixed peg in the rock beside me, and a rope in my bag….I could easily retreat from here and call it a day….
But right there and then, I knew that I could solo it. So I did. After some bomber ice in the first few metres I reached more challenging ice, with a few holes around and hollow sections.
The hardest move was a tentative right-foot crampon placement on a short ice pillar, with a contorted step up and to the right on brittle ice. It was hollow behind the ice pillar and I couldn't risk committing my weight to it….so I took the weight on my arms, trusted my axe placements and hauled myself to safer ice above.
Above the crux, which is hidden just below
And then I was on the steep snow above, traversed a cornice, and pulled myself to safety on the summit plateau. It was a great feeling - I'd managed to break a mental barrier which I've wanted to for a while, and I'd kept controlled and level-headed. I was just ready that's all.
It's amazing what you can learn about yourself, during a few hours on a mountain.