For the fourth day out of the last seven, this morning I found myself yet again walking in to a climb under a clear and freezing sky. Glencoe's "Lost Valley" was a a silent, crisp and frozen place today, and a wonderful start to another adventure in a wild and rarely visited place.
The mighty North-East face of Bidean nam Bian
The North East top of Beinn Fhada's West face is about as obscure as winter climbing locations get in Glencoe. I've never heard of anyone climbing here in recent years, there are only 3 recorded winter routes in the guidebooks and an internet search reveals no clues or information.
It's proper old-school up there… the last route recorded was done in 1969, there are no guidebook diagrams or UKC logbooks and the approach is steep and pathless. Mention it to most winter climbers and they'll say… "where?". It's a world apart from climbing in Coire an't Sneachda.
When on Bidean nam Bian's summit on wednesday I took some telephoto snaps of Beinn Fhada's West face, and sat down with the guidebook on a research mission. There was obvious potential for new routes. The crags aren't all that high, but with 7 days of hard frost having just passed and a fair bit of snow up top, today seemed like the perfect opportunity to go take a look.
Stob Coire nan Lochan
Once I got to the buttresses of the North-East top I nosed around a bit and first of all climbed a nice but very easy rib on the right hand side of the crag. It didn't satisfy my curiosity at all, so I descended down a gully and moved left a bit.
The buttresses I was exploring
I found a nice rocky rib dividing a snow gully with a steep and appealing wall at its base. I had a good look up and down, and with the reassurance of the rope and gear in my bag I decided to give it a shot.
The first moves going up the rock wall were nice, quality moves and at solid grade III. After a few metres you reach a small corner where you need to haul yourself up to the right to gain the crest of the rib. Thankfully all the turf was frozen solid, and after a bit of searching around through the snow I got two really positive axe placements and pulled myself upwards.
The angle relented for the rest of the rib. I got out the guidebook and checked an re-checked the 3 recorded routes, and it definitely wasn't any of them. It was a really nice route, and although short it packed a wee punch.
The start of the rocky rib which I discovered on The North-East top.
The other routes recorded are called "The Midge", "The Cleg" and "The Wasp". So in keeping with this theme, I'm going to call today's route "The Gnat" (III*).
Looking down "The Gnat" (III*)
After climbing "The Gnat", I descended a bit again an set my eyes on the buttress to the right of "The Ramp" on the summit buttress. Again checking the guidebook, I'm sure this hasn't been recorded.
Looking to Buachaille Etive Beag from Beinn Fhada
It gave a pleasant turfy route at about grade II, nothing remarkable but from some angles a very obvious mountain feature. As from some angles it is a wall blocking "The Ramp" from view, I've decided naming it "The Rampart" (II) is an obvious choice.
"The Rampart" is the buttress to the right of the snow gully just right of centre
Once I topped out from "The Rampart" I walked along the Beinn Fhada ridge in bright sunshine to the summit of Stob Coire Sgreamhach. Blue sky all around, the noise of climber's calls echoing from the distant cliffs of Stob Coire nan Lochan.
Today included all the ingredients of a great Scottish winter climbing day. Solitude, cold, sunshine, blue skies. Exploring and challenging yourself in a rarely visited place with only your self-awareness and experience as allies. Spot on.