Over the last three years I've mentally noted a considerable amount of information about the obscure nooks and crannies of Glencoe that look worthwhile exploring. It's only during this winter season though that I've really started putting that knowledge to good use.
One of the most impressive but infrequently visited places in Glencoe is the East corrie of Stob Coire Sgreamhach, the wild area above and to the West of Sron na Lairig. A huge snow and rock face towers above the corrie below, an arena of continuous steepness that goes all the way to the summit.
Sron na Lairig.
The recent long thaw took a heavy toll on the snow cover in Glencoe, but the East face of Sgreamhach is one of the few areas that survived relatively unscathed. So with much colder temperatures and a good forecast, it was my time to go and explore this unfrequented place.
The walk-in to the face is magnificent. Suddenly you are looking down into the Allt Coir' Eilde Gorge, and it is a truly impressive place. Old snow bridges block the waterfalls and the roar of the river echoes off the tall rock walls to each side.
The Allt Coir' Eilde Gorge.
After a rough walk I arrived at the lower snowfield. The face above was a blank canvas to me - few people have climbed here and I don't know of any named routes. So I set about the thrilling task of climbing a mountain face without knowing what obstacles I'd encounter.
I started up a right-slanting snow gully, and was amazed by some of the crevasses that have opened in the old snow pack. With cracks going up to 20 feet down into the snow, this was certainly a place for concentration.
At almost the end of the snow gully I found two options….either an easy traverse right up steep snow to the top, or a left-slanting shelf that went into the unknown. I agonised for a while about which route to take…. but I was here because I wanted a challenge. It was the unknown shelf for me today.
"The Shelf" - the snow line slanting up right.
Snow and turfy ground above delivered me to another decision. I could keep following the shelf which looked to head straight to the steep snowfield above, or I could try and reach the snowfield by climbing direct through steeper rock and mixed ground to my right. Again I found myself choosing the harder option. I was just having one of those days.
Climbers on the South East ridge of Bidean nam Bian
A rocky groove and an awkward pull over a small chockstone, and I was at the base of the top snowfield. And the next few minutes was something straight out of the Alps….climbing perfect steep nevé directly to a summit, under the glare of a warm sun. Perfection.
Perfect nevé on the final snowfield to the summit
Today might be the end of this winter climbing season for me…I don't know. But if it is I'm happy. One of those days that ticked all the boxes.
My route today. "East face via The Shelf" - (II*).