Friday, 2 November 2012

First winter route of the season in Glencoe

First ascent of "The Hermit's Hole" (Grade III*), Aonach Dubh, 1st Nov 2012

For over a week people have been climbing winter routes in good conditions in the Northern Corries of the Cairngorms. I've had a few people express surprise that I haven't been over there "getting some", considering my near-obsessive interest with all things winter.

But the Northern Corries are known for being busy, close to the ski centre and easily accessible…if there's stuff to climb, people will be there climbing it. Anyone who has read this blog for a while will know that I am a recluse by nature, I value solitude very highly and I prefer to see nobody on the same mountain as me. I was willing to wait until the snow and cold arrived closer to home.

 Sunlight on Stob Coire nam Beith

Yesterday morning I opened my curtains to see that winter had arrived in Glencoe. A good dump of snow down to about 750m and a clear sky. It stayed cold during the day, and then last night it snowed steadily above 600m for at least 10 hours.

 10 minutes of clear weather over Beinn a'Bheithir

A cold Westerly wind blew the snow against the cliffs all night. My time to dust off the winter gear and head up high on the West face of Aonach Dubh.

It rained heavily as I trudged up Coire nam Beith…the weight of my winter pack making itself known after a summer of carrying a lightweight hill-running pack. But I felt good, great in fact, so different to how it has always felt in the past on my first few winter days. The hill-running this year has really paid off.

 Prime ankle-breaking terrain in Coire nam Beith

High up on a little-known part of the West face is an area I explored heavily this summer. Turfy grooves and corners all over the place, great for short winter routes and with almost nothing recorded as having been climbed. It hasn't been cold long enough for there to be much frozen turf at all yet, so I was looking for a snowed-up rock route.

 Garbh Bheinn of Ardgour appears through the cloud

In August I found a short but memorable route that took you underneath a huge balancing block and through a miniature cave. It was an obvious choice as a winter route, and this is what I set my sights on today. 
 Heavy snow on Stob Coire nam Beith

Usually my first route of the season will be an easy classic Grade II somewhere. But it all felt right today so my first climbing moves of this season were steep and delicate up the groove that starts the route, and probably about technical grade 4. A pumpy pull-up got me above the blank left side of the groove and I found holds for both feet again.

Climbing through the "cave" was bizarre, enjoyable and something I'll remember for a while. Great hooks for the axes and an enjoyable up-side down pull on my right axe and I emerged from the other side of the cave, and climbed up the end of my own summer V.Diff "Piccolo".

Emerging from the "cave".

Coire nan Lochan was under a lot of snow, an impressive amount indeed for this early in November. Like I say, very little frozen turf yet so choose carefully where and what you climb.

Snow on the Aonach Eagach

So that's the winter climbing season started in Glencoe. Although we will have plenty of thaws to come, this blog will be primarily about my winter climbing and snow conditions in the area for the next few months. To all you fellow climbers out there- have a great season, stay safe and have fun.


1 comment:

  1. Nice report James, and good to see there is a decent amount of snow so early.
    How do you get such excellent photos of yourself climbing solo though?